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MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. Recap: “Wake Up” Is a Rallying Cry for Us All

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. Recap: “Wake Up” Is a Rallying Cry for Us All

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, “Wake Up,” we highly suggest you do so before proceeding. Okay? We good? Then let’s go.

S.H.I.E.L.D., you did it again. You produced another thrilling hour (well, forty-odd minutes) of television that flew by like it was only five minutes, while at the same time giving us more allusions to America’s social and political landscape and a fistful of science-fiction ideas to chew on.

When we last saw Coulson and co., they had reached an understanding with new director Jeffrey Mace, and the ever annoying Talbot, with the three men forming an alliance against Nadeer and her Watchdog stooges. Unbeknownst to them, however, May was — and still is — held prisoner by Radcliffe and Aida, forced to experience a range of simulations he’s programmed in order to keep her preoccupied so she won’t try to escape while her synthetic double spies on S.H.I.E.L.D. The nature of those simulations, however, is what gives “Wake Up” its cerebral heft. Not content to simply receive relaxing spa treatments, May escapes. So a physical challenge is given to her in the form of a bloodthirsty Aida. Unfortunately for Radcliffe, each time she fights Aida, though her memory is wiped afterwards, she becomes better at fighting her (science!). This ultimately leads the sinister scientist to give her what her heart really desires: the satisfaction of having rescued the one person she failed to rescue. It’s her greatest regret, the reason she came to be called “The Cavalry”, and the test brings a peace of mind that’s too tempting for even May to resist.

There is of course an undeniable cheekiness to this episode’s title. The idea of living life sedated, drugged into submission by an overpowering force as it wreaks havoc on the world, is by no means a new one. But it carries more weight than ever. It’s easy to identify with May, struggling to break free and finding a way to do so each time a new scenario is programmed for her. “Wake Up” finds plenty of added value in its premise, with the fake May that Radcliffe has installed at S.H.I.E.L.D. only gradually aware of what she is, and that her feelings for Coulson have been installed in her by a third party. They’re no less real for that, as she realizes when she tries to stop Radcliffe herself but is prevented from doing so by her programming.

Agents of SHIELD

Equally impressive is the way “Wake Up” mines the characterizations of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s supporting cast. Everyone gets a moment of texture here that’s emotionally honest. Mace, for example, bonds with Daisy — in a courtroom no less — over the false faces they’ve been forced to wear throughout their lives. Yo-yo, who finally consummates her relationship with Mack, explains to him (in a bit of meta-commentary) that the reason she wants him to open up to her is because she doesn’t want either of them to become a cliché. Radcliffe displays an almost fatherly affection for the May he’s created. And Talbot shows he’s evolved far beyond his origins as a comical foil for Coulson, exhibiting just a hint of sadness and disappointment along with his usual rage, admonishing his frenemy for getting caught while breaking into Nadeer’s office. “S.H.I.E.L.D. only exists because of me,” he says, and for once we believe him.

Meanwhile, Fitz shows that heartache and lust aren’t the driving forces for his preoccupation with Aida, but rather that he’s been secretly investigating the android’s design. The investigation leads to perhaps the biggest reveal this week: Radcliffe replaced himself with an android duplicate while secretly forming his alliance with Nadeer.

Though our own May is still held captive at the end of “Wake Up”, the show’s ability to keep us fully abreast of what’s going on while maintaining suspense is better than ever. It’s an achievement that more than lives up to the title of this week’s episode. Because Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t just awake. It’s on fire.

Agents of SHIELD 2

Declassified Deliberations

— We shouldn’t have much longer to wait for the inevitable ER reunion between Ming-Na Wen and Parminder Nagra. When it finally happens, I’m hoping it ends with May putting her fist through Nadeer’s smug face.

— “I have a feeling no conversation with that woman is ever fun.”

— While it’s great to hear Mack’s backstory this week, I wish we could have seen it unfold in a series of flashbacks, however long they may have taken to play out. Henry Simmons deserves as much room as possible to develop his character.

— The cross-cutting between May’s struggle to escape and the courtroom drama with Mace and Daisy is handled especially well. This show strikes a balance that few other comic-book based series attain.

— “Cauliflower isn’t great. Today we got kicked in the balls.”

What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).

Images: Marvel/Disney/ABC

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