Here you find the second of six new additions to this countdown, and, like the last (Marvel’s Agent Carter Season Two), it’s a television show. However, unlike Agent Carter Season Two, it’s ranked among the better chapters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not the best chapters, just the better ones.
I really liked season three of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I found myself legitimately excited when Wednesday rolled around every week, and I could log into Hulu and watch the most recent episode. Season three provided us with an intriguing story that seemed well constructed from the outset, introducing us to more characters from the comics while continuing to show the Marvel world outside of the impact of the Avengers (though, to be fair, the Avengers always have some impact).
Season three brings us the MCU’s version of the”Secret Warriors” comic storyline, which was first published in 2008. In the comics, the Secret Warriors are Nick Fury’s strike team designed to challenge Alexander Pierce’s “Black Team”(the Alexander Pierce played by Robert Redford in Winter Soldier), and they go by the code names “White Team” and “Caterpillars”. The latter code name was introduced in the final episode of season two of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., after Phil Coulson told Daisy “Skye” Johnson that she was to be tasked with gathering a team of Inhumans together. This is where the story diverged most significantly from the comics, but that’s alright, because this is the cinematic universe, not the print one. Nick Fury’s Secret Warriors turned out to be Phil Coulson’s Secret Squad of Inhumans, and the Kree origination story of season two—Terrigenesis and all—is at the heart of this new group of superhumans.
The season does well to introduce several of the original members of this strike squad, and goes on to introduce some new additions created specifically for the MCU. Obviously, there is Quake (Daisy), who actually goes by that code name in the very last scene of the third season.There is also Slingshot, or Yo-Yo Rodriguez, who fights corruption in South America before being recruited by Mack McKenzie. We are also introduced to Hellfire, who, in the comics, is part of the Secret Warriors team, but in the television show actually fights for the bad guys. Again, all these are portrayed as humans carried the dormant Kree gene that allows them to become Inhumans through Terrigenesis.
Clearly, Inhumans are at the heart of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. now. Even the season’s villain, Hive—who, in the comics is actually a group of parasites created by Hydra to infiltrate a human body, taking the form of Davey Jones from Pirates of the Carribean—is actually portrayed as an Inhuman: an Apocalypse-like mythical Inhuman with powers to control all others of his kind.
Hive’s role in the season is one of three reasons why I think this was the best season so far. What could have been trite and cliched actually worked out relatively well: Hive was portrayed as a Lucifer character, an inhuman (lower case “i”) with a Messiah complex. The utility of the Inhuman-Human dynamic, gods and man, as it were, is played out with real Christian undertones, clearly invoking ideas of apocalypse and salvation. The final scene, where the dark god is destroyed, is complete with celestial bodies, views of the terrestrial globe below, a golden cross floating in the air, and an almost divine dialogue:
“He’s paying for my mistake,” one character says.
“No, he’s paying for all our mistakes,” answers another.
“I only wanted to make it better,” says yet another, “To feel a connection. But you must feel it already, to sacrifice for them? With all their flaws?”
Then, the answer, “They’re only human.”
The acting in that final scene, particularly by Chloe Bennett, is the best we’ve seen in this show. As a matter of fact, Bennett’s performance in the whole season (particularly the last half) dwarfs what we have seen from her in the past episodes. I made it no secret that I felt her performances were weak in the first two seasons, particularly from a comedic standpoint. This year, she stole the entire show.
That, ultimately, is the second reason why this season was superior to the others: the performances of the characters was far superior to what we’ve seen in the past. Other than, surprisingly, Clark Gregg, whose charm has been slowly waning, particularly in this more brooding season three performance, every character came out of their shell a little bit and gave us far more open, personal views of themselves.
The third reason why I think this season is better than the others is because it has what has been, up to this point, the best single episode in the history of the MCU’s network television shows. An entire episode was dedicated to Elizabeth Henstridge, a flashback to her experiences alone on a desert planet that seems haunted by death. While obviously not as good as The Revenant or Cast Away or Gravity, this episode dealt with the same themes of struggle, isolation, survival, and hope, and was an exhibition of talent on the part of a relatively unknown and unproven actress. Let’s face it, Henstridge does not have the reputation of DiCaprio, Hanks, or Bullock. But she took the burdens cast at her and delivered one of the best performances you’ll ever see in a show based on a comic book. The episode was more than just her performance, though, it was the entire way it was constructed. It was clear that real thought went into it, examining the story and the images both in isolation and as part of a greater series whole.
I think that I just discovered the language to describe why this was the best of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seasons: real thought went into it. And you could tell. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has always had glaring weaknesses (bad comedic timing, bad action sequences, uneven acting, uneven directing, and strange/distracting plot points), and this season did not alleviate them. But, it certainly had real strengths where the other two seasons did not.
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