Warning: This post contains spoilers for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.! Proceed with caution, agents. If you haven’t yet watched this week’s episode, “The Laws of Inferno Dynamics”, we highly suggest you do so before proceeding. Okay? We good? Then let’s go.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans can relate to the opening sentiment in A Tale of Two Cities better than ever these days. Because after an extended break, the show has given us two outstanding episodes back to back, only to go on…an even longer break for the holiday season. But hey, if “Leave ’em wanting more” has become the series’ new mission statement, well, it’s a mission that S.H.I.E.L.D. has gone above and beyond the call of duty in carrying out.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has never shied away from addressing real-word concerns, such as drone technology in Captain America: Winter Soldier or the registration of minorities in its follow-up Civil War. But I’m hard-pressed to think of a moment in recent Marvel movies that’s so clearly ripped from the headlines and so effectively tears at the heartstrings as Eli’s showdown with Robbie in “The Laws of Inferno Dynamics.” The good Doctor Morrow’s made an effective enough antagonist since he was revealed as such several episodes ago, but this week’s episode gives him the one thing that distinguishes a just-okay villain from a damn good one—depth.
After impaling Robbie in a radiation chamber, Morrow explains to him that his use of the Darkhold was never about money or power, but about respect. Since it was the one thing denied him time and again in school and his career. When he describes the condescension with which his colleagues viewed him (“They looked at me like they were better, like they were smarter“), it’s abundantly clear, even without him stating so, that he was a victim of prejudice. And with so much talk throughout this recent and brutal election season about the treatment of Latinos, it’s impossible not to feel the man’s pain; even as he makes Robbie writhe in near-death agony.
Morrow isn’t the only person craving some form of respect this week. Elena returns when Coulson first convinces Mace to use her, Daisy, and Robbie in the assault against Morrow. She’s the character we’ve seen the least of this season, and the one who’s most longed to become a regular part of S.H.I.E.L.D., specifically the life of its shotgun-axe-wielding Mack. I was honestly ready to throw something at the screen this week when it looked like he was about to let her walk off after they’d completed their mission. (I actually shouted, “We’ve never even seen you two kiss!”) Thankfully, S.H.I.E.L.D. came through once more.
The Mack-Elena coupling couldn’t come at a better time either. Because the two characters most fans have been shipping this season (Coulson and May) have themselves a big, artificially intelligent obstacle to overcome in the form of Aida. There was no doubt after Aida was seen assembling a new brain (or recalibrating the one she has) at the end of “Deals with Our Devils” that Radcliffe’s pet project was up to something sinister. But watching her snap Nathanson’s neck like a breadstick while holding May hostage, instantly catapults her to Big Bad status—and makes the wait for S.H.I.E.L.D. 4.5 even more unbearable. Mallory Jansen has been batting a thousand so far this season, effortlessly juggling all the humor and pathos the show has thrown at her. So there’s no reason to think she won’t make for an enemy without peer next year.
I’m just hoping Aida proves to be the one villain the show doesn’t kill off. As an android, it shouldn’t be all that difficult for Fitz or Radcliffe to rewrite her programming, and for her to rejoin the team. In the meantime, though, she’s definitely on Santa’s naughty list this Christmas for how she’s torturing those of us on Team Philinda.
— “The Laws of Inferno Dynamics” is pretty light on action until the team’s battle with Eli’s men, when it rallies big time. Elena running through the melee, lending a super-speed assist to Mace, Mack, and Coulson is the stuff of superhero comic-book dreams. Even if it does borrow a little of its visuals from the Quicksilver scenes in Bryan Singer’s X-Men movies.
— Speaking of comics… We get shout-outs to both the original Ghost Rider and the comic-book version of Quake this week. As well as one for the science-fiction lit nerds among us — Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
— “Okay, forget about the fact that I was moderately attracted to her. This totally goes against the Sokovia Accords.”
— Kudos to the show’s writers for finding an organic way for Daisy to rejoin the team, and one that deepens her relationship with Mace.
— “I do not like magic. Or clowns. Or clowns with knives in the dark.”
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).