Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD S03E07 “Chaos Theory” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on: E4, Sundays, 9pm
Writer: Lauren LeFranc
Director: David Solomon
Essential Plot Points:
- We open on Hawaiian music. Juuuust about when you worry we’re about to be told Tahiti is a magical place, we get some context. A flashback to Andrew and May on the beach. It’s the last day of their holiday and they talk about the future. May suggests not going back to SHIELD and she and Andrew settle into the idea of a life together, at least in the short term.
- Back home Andrew is chatting to Phil on the phone when he opens one of Jiaying’s books. Terrigen mist sprays out and a panicking Andrew tries to run before being consumed…
- Back in the present day, Phil and Daisy are arguing over the ATCU’s containment facility. Andrew, following behind them, is taking in everything. He’s cagey, uneasy and to Daisy’s surprise he argues for the prison.
- Phil explains that he and Rosalind are off to brief the president at a secret summit and he wants Daisy to tag along and change Rosalind’s mind about Inhumans. Daisy suggests Andrew reassess Joey so they have a success story to talk about and he agrees.
- On the way through the facility, he passes Mack who’s on the phone and Gemma, heading to the lab. Andrew visibly relaxes talking to a definite human patient and complements her on heading back to work. They chat and she goes to see Fitz, handing him the phone she kept with her and asking if he can retrieve the data.
- Bobbi and May chat and Bobbi mentions they’ve been able to track Lash. May, realising she can use this data to confirm if Andrew is Lash, leaves. She brushes off Daisy on the way and discovers Andrew is offsite with Joey.
- Unaware he’s sharing the room with a serial killer, Joey’s doing great. His powers are under control and he’s eager to be back in the field. Andrew hallucinates Lash murdering Joey but, just, keeps himself in check.
- Back at HQ, Bobbi and Hunter talk. This largely involves Bobbi being sensible and Hunter apologising a lot. It’s also one of the first grown-up conversations they’ve had and the pair are now both on the same page and somehow even cuter. Bless.
- On Zephyr 1, Rosalind arrives and Daisy gives her the tour. They argue over the relative threat Inhumans face and Rosalind makes some worryingly good points.
- Back in the lab, Fitz pulls the data from Gemma’s phone. He finds her message to him, the photo of her with Will and, very politely and quietly, loses it a bit. Then he’s brought up short as he hears the audio recordings she left him. She walks right up to tell him she loves him but doesn’t quite. Because at this point she doesn’t have to.
- At Andrew’s imminent crime scene, May bursts in at just the right time. She sends Joey away and confronts Andrew. He tries to talk her down but finally admits it, and ICEs her.
- Elsewhere, we find out who Mack was on the phone with; Lincoln! The fugitive Inhuman tells Mack he’s worked out Lash is in SHIELD but he needs Mack’s help to prove it…
- May wakes up handcuffed to an abandoned admin facility at Culver University. She and Andrew talk and he explains about the booby-trapped book. He also explains that when he woke up he felt drawn to Inhumans, and couldn’t stop killing them. It made him feel normal and, as the conversation continues, May clearly realises just how far from normal he is now.
- Aboard Zephyr 1, Phil and Rosalind are talking. It’s clear that Operation Persuade Rosalind She’s Wrong was not SHIELD’s most successful op this week. In a very cute moment, Phil is putting his tie back on for the first time in a while to see the President. He struggles because of the prosthetic hand, he and Rosalind share a moment and…Daisy interrupts it to tell them there’s another Quinjet inbound.
- Mack and Lincoln come aboard. Lincoln explains about Jiaying’s ledger and how Lash has been using it to kill Inhumans. Mack figures out that Andrew is the only one who had it, Phil reveals that Andrew and May are off grid and the alarms start going off. Phil steps out of the summit and Lincoln gives them the really bad news; Andrew is still in transition. When his transformation is complete, only Lash will remain.
- Back at the world’s most awkward break-up, Andrew argues that he’s still doing good work. Then he invokes Bahrain and the Inhuman child May had to kill there. She sees just how little of him is left and Phil shows up. He, the team and the ATCU have the building surrounded and want to take Lash into custody.
- Lincoln on the other hand wants to kill him. He panics, attacks Andrew and a chase ensues. As the chaos escalates the ATCU team are all killed, Phil saves Mack, Rosalind is thrown from a high floor and only saved by Daisy. Finally Lincoln gets back on message. After finding the innocent men Andrew killed, May realises enough is enough and talks him down. She tells him why she could break up with him, what a good man he is and Andrew changes back. May smiles…
- …And shoots him multiple times, knocking him into the containment cell. She locks it and the second she does, he’s Lash again.
- Back on Zephyr 1, Rosalind argues for Andrew to be put into containment. If he’s put under in human form, his transformation will be slowed. May, to everyone’s amazement, asks Daisy for her call. Daisy thinks about it and agrees Rosalind is right. May tells them to put her husband under and stalks off. The grim atmosphere is offset by Rosalind asking Phil if he wants to go for a drink. He agrees.
- Back at the lab, Fitz listens to all of Gemma’s recordings and all but breaks down as he realises what she went through. He also figures out that Will’s mission patch looks a lot like one of the symbols they’ve been studying. He speculates that Will may not have been sent by NASA. Or not just NASA…
- Fitz finds Gemma watching the sun come up. They talk about what she said, what she meant and what it might mean for them. For now, they decide to just watch the sun come up. Not together, but certainly not apart anymore.
- May silently weeps on the flight home, remembering how happy she’d been with Andrew.
- Ward meets with Gideon Malick who counsels him against what he’s planning. Ward vows to cut the head off SHIELD and Malick takes a phone call.
- FROM ROSALIND! TWIST!
- She apologises for not getting Coulson to the summit and hangs up. AS PHIL COMES ROUND THE CORNER GETTING DRESSED
- DOUBLE TWIST!
This is one of the tightest-structured episodes of Agents of SHIELD to date. The serial format they’ve adopted this year is really working and this episode in particular does a great job of funnelling a lot of subplots down to one question;
hero or villain?
For Morse and Hunter, that question is answered two different ways. Bobbi’s acutely aware of what she’s lost to get where she is and more so of what she’s almost lost. Hunter, because he’s adorable, is quite happy to continue doing stupid, questionable things to protect her. She isn’t and the conversation they have here puts them back in step and, maybe, on their way out of the show.
Lincoln answers the hero/villain question about himself and SHIELD this week. He comes in from the cold and immediately makes a very bad, and understandable, call. He’s in an interesting place, the last survivor of Jiaying’s approach to Inhumanity and his discomfort makes for some interesting scenes. Either way, Lincoln knows which one he is now and is starting to figure out which one SHIELD is.
Fitz and Simmons know the answer going in: hero. But what then? Fitz’s response to Will, and Gemma’s feelings for him has been subtle, honest work from the start but here it not only escalates but gets even more complex. The love these two have for one another is obvious. If they can get to it is not. This plot could have fallen so flat but instead it’s a weekly highlight of the show. The final scene they have here, not to mention Ian De Caestecker’s heartrending work as he listens to Gemma’s recordings, is an all-time standout for both of them.
For Phil, Daisy and Rosalind the question is far more complex. One of the best scenes this episode is the Rosalind/Daisy confrontation. There’s no front, no politics just two women being completely honest and one of them getting the upper hand. Rosalind, and the ATCU, remain a weak-ish link on the show but this episode goes a long way towards fixing that. We see Rosalind’s point of view, see it challenged and see her organisation and Phil’s take major steps together. Steps that involve breakfast and, thankfully, not yet another SHIELD vs itself season arc…
But the meat of the episode is with May and Andrew. Ming Na and Blair Underwood are two of the strongest parts of this cast and the episode cleverly locks them in a series of rooms together. What follows is the best kind of tragedy, as May realises just how little of Andrew is left and Andrew is blind to how much of him is now Lash. It’s a perfect microcosm of the complex Inhuman problem, as well as its very human cost. It’s also a subtle, complicated issue that powers one of the best hours of season three so far. A highlight in what’s been the show’s strongest season to date so far.
- “Daisy says I could be a real asset to SHEILD, but she says my fate is in your hands.” “Yes, Joey. It is.” Oh Joey. How little you know…
- “Whatever it is just lay it on me.” “I think you’ve been reckless and stupid.” “Can I take back what I just said?” Bobbi and Hunter are adorable. Even more so here when they’re on the same page.
- “Just admit you’re afraid of people like me. Afraid of our power.” “Absolutely.” Rosalind is still a slightly weak link for me but her directness here really helps communicate her viewpoint. Her (possibly) evil viewpoint judging by the end of the episode but still…
- “New look?” “Old look, actually. Been a while.” It’s a sweet little character moment but it also shows just how far Phil, and SHIELD, have come. Very nicely done.
- “I’m simply trying to sort the good from the bad.” “That’s a pretty poor interpretation of a therapist.” Underwood does such a great job with this version of Andrew and this whole scene in particular really drives home the horror and tragedy that define his connection with Lash.
- “Really gotta commit to that shotgun axe idea.” YES YOU DO, MACK.
- “What do you think we should do about it?” “For now… let’s just watch the sun rise.” Fitz and Simmons have been on a bottle rocket of brilliant writing for two seasons now. This whole plot, and the careful way they’re dealing with Gemma’s immense trauma, is arguably the best thing the show’s doing this season.
- The performances. Specifically, Ming Na and Blair Underwood absolutely crush it this week. This is almost more range than we’ve ever seen from May before as she runs the gauntlet from horrified to grief-stricken to resolved and desolate. That last scene, the flashback, is one of the best moments we’ve had from this character so far and sets up so much of her next arc. Not to mention a thousand fan videos set to “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”.
Underwood’s also given a ton to work with here. It’s still Andrew, just, but as the episode goes on we see just how close to the surface Lash is all the time. The moment where May shoots him into the containment cell as Andrew and he appears as Lash a second later is truly chilling but its Underwood’s performance that lands it. When he invokes the inhuman child May had to kill in Bahrain, we feel the same thing she does; horror and the growing realisation that the man speaking almost isn’t there anymore. He’s tragic and monstrous and utterly impossible to look away from.
- The balance. SHIELD has a colossal cast at this point and this is one of those episodes where they all get something to do. As well as the Melinda and Andrew show we get some nice stuff with Mack, Lincoln coming in from the cold, some amazing Fitz and Simmons stuff, a small but perfectly formed bit of Bobbi and Hunter and Phil and Rosalind galore. LeFranc excels at this cast-juggling so let’s hope we see lots more from her. She understands, and explores, each one of these characters with a lightness of touch that gives everyone a moment to shine.
- The structure. Again, SHIELD balances a huge number of plotlines and this episode moves them all along. The ATCU are actually both interesting and kind of useful now, the relationships all take a huge leap forward and there’s an intriguing development about Planet Craphole where Gemma was stranded. The show’s come a long way from season one and this heavily serialised really agrees with it.
- The parade of great female characters. One of the best scenes this episode sees Daisy and Rosalind going toe-to-toe over how the ATCU treats Inhumans and they’re BOTH right. There’s immense variation in outlook, mind set and approach in the show’s female characters and it, along with how diverse the cast are, gives it an energy nothing else on TV has.
- Fitz and Simmons. Remember the first half of season one where, on occasion, they were kind of annoying? Not any more. The quiet resolve that Simmons returned with and Fitz’s unfussy but somewhat brutal honesty make for riveting viewing. Their final scene here is a series highlight for them and marks them out as the most interesting, and mature, (sort of) relationship on the show.
- Not so much bad – more a bit of a niggle. Lincoln comes to Mack for help, agrees to help in the mission to bring in Lash and then completely screws it up before putting it back on track. Emotionally it makes perfect sense; he’s facing down the killer of very nearly all his friends. But narratively it makes him look like a bit of a ditherer.
- The series finally commits to the Phil/Rosalind relationship this episode. Which is good as the relationship feels if not forced then a little strained. That’s to be expected when you’re dealing with two professional spies of course. Plus we see just why it’s strained this episode (OR DO WE?). Still, nice to see progress here.
- Baby Strucker is sufficiently annoying that even seeing him in the recap is almost too much.
- Phil still having his model of the old Bus in his office is adorable.
- Hunter’s undercover hair is still magnificently, relentlessly awful.
- Adrianne Palicki leaning back slightly so she and Nick Blood are kind of sort of the same height when they hug is adorable. We like to think that Bobbi realises Hunter’s a touch sensitive about his height so works around that.
- And only pats him on the head a couple of times a week.
- Lincoln pretty much throws a Hadouken, Ryu’s signature movie in the Street Fighter series, when he attacks lash. Nicely done.
- Shot of the week, and performance of the week for that matter is this. Melinda May, the living embodiment of badassery is put through absolute hell this episode. She holds it together until she’s alone and then, quietly, precisely, comes apart. Ming Na’s so damn good, but this is some of her best ever work.
Review by Alasdair Stuart