Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD S03E14 “Watchdogs” REVIEW

Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD S03E14 “Watchdogs” REVIEW

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stars 3.5

Airing in the UK on: E4, Sundays, 9pm
Writer: Drew Z Greenberg
Director: Jesse Bochco

 

Essential Plots Points:

  • Mack is attempting to take a vacation and bond with his brother, Ruben. It’s not going well, especially when Ruben displays some anti-Inhuman tendencies.
  • When an anti-Inhuman terrorist group, The Watchdogs, attacks an ACTU facility near to Ruben’s house, Coulson calls Mack to demand he cut his holiday short and investigate. Ruben (who thinks his brother works in motor insurance) is not amused.

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  • Daisy has been following The Watchdogs online. Until now their bark has been considerably worse than their non-existent bite. Somebody must have stepped in to organise them.
  • Fitz identifies a substance called nitramene as the cause of the implosion at the facility but it has been refined by someone so it can be used as a gel.
  • Coulson recalls that former SHIELD agent Felix Blake was working on an improved version of nitramene, so he goes off to search for him with Lincoln. Coulson knows the location of a number of Blake’s safe houses.
  • Lincoln’s just failed his SHIELD assessment for basically only wanting to be an agent so he can boff Daisy; Coulson wants to see him in action in the field for himself so he can make his own mind up if Lincoln should stay.
  • Mack and Daisy have a difference of opinion over how to track down the Watchdogs. Daisy knows the identity of a few of their members thanks to her hacking abilities and wants to use her powers to interrogate one of them into revealing info.
  • Mack thinks this is a massive abuse of human rights and goes back to his vacation, not that the now-pissed (in both senses of the word) Ruben gives a flying fart.
  • Daisy gets her info by threatening a lesser Watchdog with her powers. Fitz looks on with distaste. She now knows where a Watchdog meeting will take place. Reluctantly Mack and Fitz tag along.
  • They spy on the meeting, and Blake appears to be present.
  • Oddly, Blake’s also at one of the safe houses Lincoln and Coulson are visiting at the same time.
  • As Blake rants Coulson works out he’s a mere hologram but doesn’t tell Lincoln this, so that he can secretly test him.
  • Coulson orders Lincoln to kill Blake but Lincoln only uses a non-lethal bolt, which reveals that this version of Blake is a hologram. Coulson approves of the way Lincoln followed orders but also questioned them. Presumably that’s a pass, then.

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  • Meanwhile, things go disastrously wrong at the Watchdogs meeting when it turns out that Ruben has unexpectedly followed his brother on his motorbike, blowing the SHIELD agents’ cover.
  • There’s a fight between the agents and the Watchdogs in which two key things happen:
    1) Fitz gets hit by some nitramene gel which will cause him to implode unless they can get it off.
    2) Daisy uses her quake powers but the Watchdogs thinks Mack was responsible.
  • Daisy now interrogates another Watchdog to see if knows anything that might help them get the nitramene off of Fitz. This time Fitz seems less disapproving, and though the Watchdogs doesn’t do science, he reveals enough to make Fitz realise they can freeze the nitramene off using liquid nitrogen.
  • The plan works, and Fitz somehow doesn’t even suffer a frost burn in the process.
  • The Watchdogs follow Mack and Ruben and attack them in their house.
  • Mack goes all John McClane, defeats all the Watchdogs single-handedly and really impresses his little brother in the process.
  • Elsewhere, Simmons and May team up on a project to track Andrew/Lash.
  • Back at base Daisy’s research reveals the attack on the ACTU facility was not act of terrorism but a diversion while Malick procured something from the base.
  • At a secret rendezvous the real Blake – who’s in a wheelchair – meets with Malick’s man, Mr Giyera, to hand over what the Watchdogs took from the ACTU facility: a missile. In return, Malick will apparently give Blake and his men the weapons they need to start a war against Inhumans (but judging by the grimace on Mr Giyera’s face, Malick will probably double-cross Blake).

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Review:

This is one of those episodes you really want to like a lot more than you do. There’s a lot to admire in it. Sadly there’s also a lot that misfires in it too.

What it does well is start to explore issues that’ll come to a head in Captain America: Civil War as the human reaction to the rise of the Inhumans makes people to address some pretty delicate moral issues about super humans’ role within society. Characters aren’t being forced to takes sides yet but they’re certainly subconsciously beginning to favour one corner or another in the big forthcoming spat.

In this regard, Daisy is the most complex and yet most believable character of all; on the one hand a bleeding heart liberal who wants us all to hug-a-super, but on the other hand, happy to rip human rights to shreds in the cause of what she sees as the greater good. It’s a dichotomy that exists all too often in the real world; few people outside of the Green party or North Korean leaders are ever wholly consistent in their world views.

There are some great ethical debates here between Mack and Daisy and Mack and Ruben. While the action/adventure tone of the show doesn’t usually allow for lengthy, multifaceted dialogues exploring the moral quagmire of superhuman socio-politics in the way a slower-paced cable show could, Agents Of SHIELD does have a deft, concise way of touching all the relevant issues; it may not always explore them thoroughly but it does raise them, so congrats for that.

However, maybe “Watchdogs” is one occasion on which the show could easily have spent more time on those issues because they were by far the most interesting thing about the episode. Especially when Daisy is using her powers to interrogate members of the hate group. The first time it’s clear that both Mack and Fitz find it distasteful, but later,  when Fitz’s life is in danger and Daisy uses the same logic to justify another interrogation, somehow her approach feels more justifiable. So where do you draw the line?

Other than that, “Watchdogs” is a fairly humdrum affair, despite some cool implosion effects. The Watchdogs are a bland bunch; Blake’s return was hardly something anybody’s been gagging for (we’d guess 95% of the audience went, “Who?” – he’s not that memorable); Ruben bumbling his way into the middle of the Watchchdog meeting and blowing his bro’s cover was almost comedic; the Coulson-puts-Lincoln-through-his-paces plot built to a spectacularly unimpressive climax.

It’s odd that some much of the plot felt like SHIELD-by-numbers because Drew Z Greenberg is usually such a witty and inventive writer, not just on SHIELD but on any show he contributes to. Maybe there was just too much on the shopping list for this show: if, say, he’d been allowed to drop the Lincoln plot and beef up some of those big moral arguments even more the episode may have benefited.

 

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The Good:

  • The nitramene implosion effects were very good.

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  • The episode cleverly made Ruben a really likeable character in his first scene (although he becomes a bit of a prat later on) and then somewhat chillingly has him going, “Awesome!” when the ACTU facility implodes. This is much more effective than making him a typical loathsome racist from the outset.
  • The ethical arguments between Daisy and Mack give the episode some welcome depth. Even better, Fitz is shown to sympathise with Mack’s point of view until it’s his life on the line at which point he’s all, “Be my guest, Daisy!” It’s great to see the show not thinking in simple black and white terms.
  • It’s fun to see the show giving so many little nods to so many other Marvel TV shows and films, especially the way it seems to be paving the way for Civil War.
  • Mack proves you don’t need alien genes to be a hero. The way he talks Ruben through “How To Survive Fascist Thugs Trying To Murder You In Your Own Home In 5 Easy Steps” is hugely entertaining. We especially liked the shotgun axe.

 

The Bad:

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  • Coulson’s leap of logic to pinpoint Blake as the big bad and then handily having a list of known addresses for him all came across as a little too convenient to be true.
  • We actually liked the fact that Lincoln failed his SHIELD entrance exam, it was a just a shame it was so easy to get the decision reversed. It wasn’t like Coulson was asking anything particularly exceptional from him. The whole “testing Lincoln” subplot felt a tad contrived.
  • In most shows, stealing a missile would be a big thing. In SHIELD, though, we were expecting something more jawdropping to be revealed in that final shot. A missile seemed somehow… disappointing.

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  • Fitz seemed to revert to unnecessarily snarky Fitz from season one at some points. Surely he knows Daisy and Mack well enough now not to be quite so, “I’m talking with idiots,” around them?
  • And talking of Fitz, how the hell did he not get some serious frost burn when Daisy sprayed him with liquid nitrogen to remove the nitramene?
  • Sorry, but we really did miss Bobbi and Hunter’s inane banter. It’ll take a while…

 

And The Random:

  • Okay, those new reports were full of Easter eggs and not all of them to Marvel properties:

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  • Brady Kelly was a fictional LA Dogders’ baseball player in Husbands, a short-lived sit com about a gay couple who get married (2011-2013).

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  • The reference to gang wars in Hell’s Kitchen is an obvious shout out to Netflix’s Daredevil.

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  • This mention of the shooting of a law professor in Philadelphia would appear to be a reference to current US drama hit How to Get Away with Murder.
  • Daisy tells Ruben that “Damage Control” will clear up the mess. Damage Control has existed in the Marvel comics universe clearing up superhero/supervillain battles in sporadic appearances since 1989. They’ve headlined a couple of comics mini-series of their own, but more often appear in cameos in other titles. ABC is currently developing Damage Control as a half-hour sitcom for TV.
  • Nitramene was first mentioned in the first episode of Marvel’s Agent Carter, “Now Is Not The End”.
  • Daisy offer to “quake” the nitramene off of Fitz’s neck (he politely declines) but sadly Cisco Ramone isn’t around to go, “Quake! That’s what your codename should be!”
  • Was it just us or did the actor playing Ruben look like Burn (Torchwood) Gorman’s seriously cooler brother from another mother?

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Review by Dave Golder


 

 Read our other reviews of Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD

 

 

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