Week of May 8, 2022:

A Hen in the Wolf House (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. s2 e5) released October 21, 2014 (where to watch)
A Fractured House (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. s2 e6) released October 28, 2014
The Writing on the Wall (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. s2 e7) released November 11, 2014
Scott Hardie | May 22, 2022

A Hen in the Wolf House: Pretty dull episode. The sole highlight was the introduction of Bobbi Morse, who I knew would be on the series and who didn't disappoint in her fun first mission. Seeing Skye's father team up with Hydra doesn't carry the weight that it should because we know nearly nothing about him. What is Hydra's plan -- killing billions may be "awesome" but what do they want to accomplish? The Raina scenes, other than her apparently genuine fear, were all things we've seen before. The Simmons undercover scenes were all things we've seen before. The Skye-is-determined-to-find-out-what-Coulson-is-hiding scenes were all things we've seen before, and I'm getting tired of it. It was done better in a months-long arc in season 1; here it's abrupt and Skye doesn't earn her moral high ground at the end. By showing us what the villains are doing (and how boring it is), the show is robbing itself of mystery and it's getting stuck in wheel-spinning mode; it should restrict itself solely on the heroes' point of view and return to the mission-of-the-week structure that better serves these characters. (3/10)

A Fractured House: This series has bigger problems on the surface, but I want to talk again about one of its most insidious elements: The way that its men see its women. In three separate relationships here, the men act as if they are entitled to the love, forgiveness, and devotion of the women. The show portrays the women as if they're wrong for rejecting these perfectly nice guys as romantic partners. Let's break them down:

Hunter and Morse have a typical TV relationship, by which I mean the sort of relationship that lazy sitcom writers can coast on for years, in which the man is an affable but schlubby man-child and the woman is a perfect ten who is highly competent at everything she does. Add a laugh track and make the jokes broader and you've got According to Jim or King of Queens. AOS apparently thinks our sympathies should lie with Hunter since it portrays the majority of this from his perspective (Morse is too busy actually doing her job), but the scene in the plane cockpit is more honest in acknowledging that Morse would be better off never speaking to him again. Hunter is a pig (he calls it "enjoying his work" when he makes out with women under false pretenses while undercover) and redundant on the team skill-wise (can we just drop him and focus on Morse and May?). And yet Morse invites him to stay when he tries to do the adult thing and leave, because she's written by men who believe that Hunter deserves love and forgiveness despite his manifest unsuitability as her partner.

Ward and Skye are worse. As Coulson forcefully points out, Ward killed numerous S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and tried to kill members of this very team, but he acts as if none of it matters because he's been honest. He gives off some strong aggressive-controlling-ex-boyfriend energy, partly because of actor Brett Dalton's intensity: His transgressions don't matter, you see, because those were in the past, and what he's doing now is being totally honest with Skye! He promised he would never lie to her, and he hasn't! So why doesn't she just forgive him and move on already?! Bad ex-boyfriends try to redefine the terms of relationships to reframe themselves as innocent and to remove any objection that their ex-partners might have to dating them again, and it's unnerving to see that dynamic portrayed here. I don't know what plans the writers have for Ward, so I don't know how much of his behavior is just an act, but to the degree that his feelings here are genuine, his reasoning is creepy. So is his devotion at the end, telling Coulson to put in a good word for him with Skye as he's being loaded into a van to go to his trial and likely execution for treason. (What specifically does he tell Coulson to say? That "this changes nothing," as in, his feelings for Skye and his promises made to her are unchanged, which is not in doubt and certainly not the problem.) And to be really clear about this, Ward's stalker-ex vibes wouldn't be a problem if the show portrayed them honestly for what they are. But by giving Skye feelings for him that she doesn't want, because damn it, he's just that hot or their chemistry is just that undeniable, that's where the show fails, because it reveals that the writer's loyalties are to the couple's would-be relationship and not to Skye's agency as a woman to reject this violent bastard. This misogynist crap from Hollywood does so much real-world damage by encouraging men to keep pushing past women's objections as long as they sense an eventual "yes" after endless times hearing "no."

Somehow even worse than that are Fitz and Simmons. I've talked several times about Leo Fitz being out of line for his behavior toward women and particularly Simmons, but he's been slowly escalating (or the writers have gradually brought more of it to the surface) and here it has become really, really clear that he needs to be fired immediately. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt that his recent low-grade anger towards her was due to something more understandable like, I don't know, making him worry about her safety by accepting a dangerous undercover assignment in a we're-colleagues-and-I-care-about-you way. But no, this episode once again raises the matter of Fitz's lovelornness: He's specifically mad at her because he admitted that he loved her and then she left. That's really it! She doesn't get to leave him, or to attend to her career or her agency's mission or even the safety of the world. He needed her, and that's all that matters. Like so many women who are failed by employers that won't fire grade-A creeps and who can't risk their careers or livelihoods by pushing back, so they have to navigate every interaction carefully like it's an emotional minefield, Simmons tries to figure out a gentle new way to talk to Fitz, but he snaps at her and won't let her just be nice to him or focus on their work together. All he wants to talk about are his emotional needs and why she's failing to fulfill them, which is not her fucking job, buddy. It's 100% wrong for him to act like she owes him anything whatsoever beyond basic professional courtesy as a co-worker. It's also wrong for him to be mad at her for walking away when he crossed a line in their conversation, and it's wrong for Mack to take Fitz's side in the "dispute." This shit is classic sexual harassment and would be shut down by any competent HR department that discovered it. I deeply despise Fitz at this point, and Simmons should despise him too -- there's a moment where she steps up to Ward's face to say what Fitz deserves to hear -- and I fear that the show is incapable of rehabilitating him, which is a shame given how many seasons remain.

I've written before about AOS's lack of self-awareness when it comes to its own moral hypocrisy vis-a-vis "good guys" and "bad guys," which I continue to consider its #1 problem, but there's a similar lack of self-awareness about this relationship stuff: The writing of Hunter, Ward, and Fitz is so close to understanding the problem, but the show lacks the perspective to recognize it for what it is. By that, I mean that if the show wanted to tell a story about terrible men who believe they're entitled to love and devotion from women, they'd have nailed it with pretty good writing, but once again they don't realize that they're telling the wrong story about the wrong people. (1/10)

Erik Bates | May 24, 2022

I'm finally getting caught up, and honestly don't think I can separate out enough episodes to give full reviews or discussion on them, so I'm just going to start up again here, because here is where I am. I watched A Hen in the Wolf House tonight.

Scott, to answer your question from a few weeks ago: No, I don't think it feels like CSI: Agents of Shield anymore. However, it still doesn't feel like Marvel, either. S.H.I.E.L.D. vs Hydra feels like Control vs KAOS without the humor. I'm put off by the corporate depiction of Hydra. They just have all these people going to a humdrum job for an evil corporation. I don't get it. Meanwhile, S.H.I.E.L.D. is the militaristic good guy?

I feel like I'm complaining a lot about the show. Granted, I'm still not 100% invested in it, but I'm determined to follow along with our project, knowing that AOS isn't the only thing I have to look forward to.

Was it in this episode that they introduced "one of Hydras new heads"? Please don't tell me that they're taking the Hydra name that literally that they actually bring in two new leaders when one is killed.

Scott Hardie | May 26, 2022

Yes! The corporate depiction of Hydra is really jarring! I have to chalk it up to a lack of imagination: A more thoughtful show might make some kind of satirical points with it, maybe like how we all sleepwalk through jobs without considering the damage we're all collectively doing to the world. (If it's unclear, I'm not too keen on capitalism in its current unfettered form; more fettering please.) This weirdly mundane take on Hydra just feels like the production team is going through the motions of making a relatable show, like some producer ordered the costume department to paint a Hydra logo on the bad guys' helmets so that viewers wouldn't lose track of who the bad guys are. That kind of small thinking pervades the series.

Complain away! I'm doing a lot of complaining, such as my five-paragraph diatribe about sexism above (I'm still ticked), but that's because the show frequently sucks at this stage. I'm disappointed! AOS had a reputation for getting better after The Winter Soldier's revelations about Hydra, and for a little while it did, but at this point it's back to the doldrums of the earliest episodes when it was adrift without a clear mission. I fully expect it to improve, and I'm rooting for it to do so soon.

Speaking of which...

The Writing on the Wall: Not great or anything, but a big improvement over the last few episodes. I could take or leave the Ward stuff, which had some mildly amusing exchanges with Triplett and Morse and Hunter but was otherwise standard cat-and-mouse spy movie stuff. What worked better for me was the storyline about Sebastian Derik and the mysterious symbols. Coulson's revelation that he kept Raina's memory machine was just the jolt that the show needed; a spy agency director must have a certain ruthlessness. The sequence exploring Coulson's memories was simple but effective. The showdown with Derik was a little silly -- yes, take your shirt off to showcase the makeup department's tattoo work! -- but ultimately its revelation was satisfying. I don't know where the story's going next, but I'm glad to leave behind compulsively carving Coulson, who was starting to wear out his welcome. (6/10)

Scott Hardie | May 26, 2022
This comment contains spoilers for The Punisher. Reveal it.

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