Agents of SHIELD brings on classic Captain America bad guys, hints at an upcoming Marvel TV show, and drops references to comics and episodes’ past – Good dogs!
Seriously fun episode with a lot of character development (both good and bad) for the main team. Sure, several of the plotlines seem only tenuously connected, but overall, it works.
The Story Thus Far: Inhumans are popping up all over the world, and after the major catastrophes from the Marvel movies, everyday people in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are getting jumpy, so the domestic terrorist group Watchdogs is ready to pounce on that fear.
Comic Connections in “Watchdogs”
The episode opens in Illinois (or is it Indiana?), where Alphonso “Mack” Mackenzie is catching up with his little brother Rueben, who inherited the family home but has had trouble making the bills. It seems Mack’s family (who call him “Alphie“) are under the impression he works for an insurance company (though which one isn’t clear) rather than SHIELD. Though their parents split up and moved out, they left behind a rather tacky collie statue – and there is no way this was intentional, but did you know Marvel had a collie hero back in the day? Sure, Blaze the Wonder Collie may have been a blatant Lassie rip-off, but still, animal heroes were in vogue back in the ’50s.
Coincidentally, at a nearby (and poorly guarded) ATCU facility, the anti-superhuman terrorist group Watchdogs attack, using a substance similar to Nitramene (designed by Howard Stark prior to Agent Carter season one) to implode the building after taking something from it. Coulson claims Mack’s proximity means he has to be pulled from “family time” to deal with it as other agents are too far away, but Daisy and Fitz get there at the same time anyway, so whatever. Interestingly, Mack, Fitz, and (naturally) Coulson are very familiar with Nitramene, even if Daisy never heard of the archaic substance. Fun tidbit, since the Nitramene imploded the building but didn’t destroy it, the remains of the building are now a ball of metal and concrete thousands of tons in weight, but only dozens of feet across.
The Watchdogs, who tag the scene of the crime after fleeing, are (as mentioned previously) Captain America villains from the 80s. They are most notable for having one of the Super-Patriots as an ex-member (the first Super-Patriot going on to become the fan-favorite grumpy Cap, USAgent, fighting the Watchdogs in this image).
Coulson deduces that the one person he knew most likely to mess with the Nitramene formula was ex-SHIELD agent Felix Blake, who was last seen getting his spine broken by a mind-controlled Deathlok in Agents of SHIELD season one. Felix popped up on the pre-Agents of SHIELD Marvel One-Shot Item 47.
Mack and Daisy have a falling out as Mack, who was negatively affected by alien technology in season two and generally distrustful of enhanced humans, says Daisy shouldn’t be using her powers to interrogate people. She blows him off even as he suggests this might be ignoring the civil liberties of others. Of course, a few scenes later she seems to prove him right by using her powers to terrorize a Watchdog suspect (something Fitz seems to disapprove of, but says nothing). In doing so, she is completely justifying all of the misguided man’s fears, and proving the Watchdogs right. If this kind of behavior keeps up, there’s likely to be a rift between superpowered people and those afraid of them. Maybe even some kind of, I dunno, Civil War or something.
There’s a lot of universe-continuing-to-build is what I’m saying here.
Reuben and Alphonso Mackenzie try to share a few heart-to-hearts over their mutual love of motorcycle building, but time and distance has separated them, and while Mack has mostly dealt with his mistrust of alien-enhanced people, Reuben hasn’t had the same opportunities and is leaning towards the Watchdogs’ sensibilities. It’s not made very clear whether or not Rueben actually joined the Watchdogs, but he’s certainly thought about it. Also, they brothers have thought about a trip to Baja together for years, if only money and work would allow it. EDIT: Alexander Hammil pointed out that the news crawl along the bottom of the screen mentions the gang war in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. A great nod to Daredevil Season Two!
The Watchdogs are traced to a hideout in Easterling Farms in Lake County (which doesn’t help the whole Illinois/Indiana confusion, as the two Lake Counties are an hour and a half away from each other), so Fitz sends out some updated drones for recon (good to bring back the drones that were such a staple of the first season). Despite audible confirmation of Blake’s voice, Coulson remotely tells Daisy not to go in. Then Reuben, who either listened in on Mack’s conversation and followed him or listened in on Mack’s conversation and already knew where the Watchdogs were, blows their cover, forcing Mack to leave – but not before he also tells Daisy to tactically retreat. So what does Daisy do? She decides to go in half-cocked and thanks to her, Fitz gets tagged with some primed Nitramene and Mack is unintentionally misidentified as the Inhuman member of the group by not very watchful Watchdogs. It isn’t until Daisy tries to intimidate/interrogate a hostage back at Zephyr One that Fitz is able to figure out a way to save himself. Man, Daisy going all Dirty Harry on her enemies, isn’t she?
While all this is happening, Coulson takes Lincoln with him on a reconnaissance mission checking out one of Blake’s many former SHIELD safe houses, this one in Atlanta, Georgia. Coulson notes that all SHIELD agents have safe houses all over the world – seriously, who pays for these things? The president may not have wanted to know a few episodes back, but I’m genuinely curious. In the comics, only Nick Fury Sr. is known to have dozens of safe houses, but he collected safe houses over nearly a century of espionage work. Anywho, Coulson is using this opportunity to personally evaluate Lincoln, as it seems May gave him poor marks in her evaluation of Sparky as a field agent.
In the basement they find Blake, or at least his hologram, as the real Blake is elsewhere, still in a wheelchair after his encounter with Deathlok. Blake repeats some points made earlier in the episode, that it was SHIELD messing with the Cosmic Cube that (in a roundabout way) led the Chitauri to Earth, and that it was the Avengers who created Ultron, unleashing his horror on the world. It’s Blake, by the way, who says the team is in Indiana, which, you know what? Maybe the Mackenzie household is in Illinois but they were going to Lake County in Indiana? Yeah! Where’s my No Prize?
Back at the Mackenzie house in Illinois, Mack tries to talk down his brother as they are accosted by Watchdog soldiers. Despite Mack’s years of training and field experience, he hesitates when considering how to fight back – though likely he’s just worried about his brother. Still, Mack handily takes out most of the bad guys, even if he nonsensically decides to hand a live ammunition assault weapon to his untrained brother while he continues to use a shotgun full of birdshot. On the upside, this allows him to recreate his greatest weapon, Shotgunaxe, something he dreamed up after cutting off Coulson’s arm in season two. I’ve mentioned before, but that really describes the Black Axe used by the immortal mercenary Black Axe. As 90s as that Marvel UK character is, I want him to guest star on the show now just so Mack can use the Black Axe.
After all is said and done, Mack is taken to a hospital for a bullet wound. Daisy refers to Ruben as “Mini Mack,” then invites him to visit SHIELD while Damage Control cleans up after them. Okay, now maybe I’m reading too much into this, but is this the first explicit use of the term “Damage Control” to refer to the team that cleans up after SHIELD/superhero battles?! ABC has been talking about creating a Damage Control TV series for a while now, and honestly that would be freakin’ awesome, but could they actually be part of or connected to the Agents of SHIELD? Inquiring minds want to know. For the uninitiated, Damage Control was created by the late-great Dwayne McDuffie, and exist as everyday schmos who make their money cleaning up after superfights. They’ve only had a handful of appearances in comics over the years, but their irreverent, self-aware nature makes them ideal for TV.
Anywho, one with the side-story tacked on to this episode. Simmons is reeling from some major situations lately, and is blaming herself for a lot of SHIELD’s strife. Of course, when she mentions how many times someone has been majorly injured, almost died, or died just to save her (especially after she let Lash out on impulse, unintentionally dooming several unconscious Inhumans to death), she may have a point. She attempts to address this by training herself in the deadly spy arts, though the usually stone-hearted May offers her a supportive shoulder. Later the two team up to step-up their attempts to find the Inhuman killer (who is both a killer that is Inhuman and a killer of Inhumans) Lash, aka May’s ex-husband. Simmons even believes a serum developed from Carl “Absorbing Man” Creel’s blood could “cure” him of his Inhuman powers (and insanity). This is due to earlier statements that Inhumans do not have the ability to “turn off” their Inhuman natures, suggesting that Lash’s shapeshifting might be temporary. This does have basis in the comics: the current Ms. Marvel could fully shape-shift when she first appeared, but as her powers stabilized, she has only retained the ability to change size, mass, and dimensions, not appearance. And while 90s Fantastic Force member Devlor was able to shift between normal-looking human teenager and giant ape-like Inhuman, this was said to be a unique and unusual ability that made other Inhumans suspicious of him.
Later, Daisy confirms a link between the Watchdogs and Mallick’s Hydra, and deduce something was taken from the ATCU building before it imploded, and we later see Blake talking to Mallick’s Inhuman buddy (unaware the dude is Inhuman) while handing over the missile(?) the Watchdogs took from the ATCU.
Next week: Can an Inhuman see the future?