Only Human: Old SHIELD Characters Die, New Ones are Born

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Brett Dalton, that you?

Season three ended with a bang and a whimper, but whole new doors have opened for the Agents of SHIELD. What’s up with Daisy? Who is AIDA? What’s an LMD? How’re Alpha Primitives made? And is this the end of Grant Ward? Let’s examine the issues…

Seems each season has ended with a full status quo shake-up, and that’s a good thing. Still, one wonders where they’ll go from here. Plus, with the news that Agent Carter won’t be returning to ABC and Marvel’s Most Wanted won’t be happening as a series, there’s always the possibility those casts could be incorporated into Agents of SHIELD next year in some way (c’mon time travel episode!).

Anyway, on with the show(s).

The Story Thus Far: Hive has a small Inhuman army, several Alpha Primitive soldiers, and the means to turn most of humanity into his mindless slaves. This is the kind of thing the Agents of SHIELD were formed to fight.

Comic Connections for “Absolution” and “Ascension”

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Evil scientists get their own island. What could go wrong?

After a quick nightmare sequence on the planet Maveth, we learn Hive has holed himself up on a remote island missile base, and his Inhumans have taken the station crew hostage (but didn’t kill them interestingly enough; maybe Hive (AKA Ward-Reboot-Nightmare-Hellbeast) was saving them for dinner). May’s team force a Quinjet to “fly” underwater to avoid radar, a neat trick considering this is the opposite of what it was designed for. Once again, SHIELD’s Inhumans wear murdervests, but this time they are more than willing to use them if it means avoiding Hive’s sway. The island-base-full-of-supervillains thing has been a trope going back before even James Bond’s Dr. No, but in Marvel, the most prevalent island base villains are the terrorists of AIM, who legally purchased Barbuda Island in 1990s comics (in the Atlantic, not Pacific), and recently declared themselves a sovereign nation. More recently, some former Avengers legally purchased AIM, and are trying to use AIM Island for good, instead of evil.

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Egotistical billionaire vigilante takes second-highest military position. What could go wrong?

Meanwhile, Talbot has agreed to go along with SHIELD’s Inhuman cover-up in the name of expediency, even helping Fitz impersonate Gen. Andaz (using a green screen; very meta) to get a missile kill code from Defense Department Undersecretary Thomas at the Defense Logistics Building. Coulson succeeds in procuring the code just in time. This is neither here nor there, but in the comics, Tony Stark was Secretary of Defense at some point (and in the current comics, another superhero is being vetted for that job).

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Even with all the new Inhumans comics out, these guys haven’t appeared lately. They should.

Hive’s human lackey, Radcliffe, is sent to fix the computer Coulson’s team disabled, but Radcliffe rightly points out that he’s more of a geneticist than a hacker. It’s refreshing to have genre fiction maintain the idea that most scientists are specialists, not jacks-of-all-trades. “Helping” Radcliffe are a small group of Alpha Primitives who can’t speak, but can recall basic skills, like tool use. Alpha Primitives in the comics still have stunted emotional growth, but are able to talk and form complex thoughts. A few, exposed to pure Terrigen, even surpassed the Inhumans, becoming godlike in intelligence and power. May eventually saves Radcliffe, who immediately tries to defect. Later on, James asks if they can have more attractive female primitives (because he’s just that classy) – Primitives were intended to be genderless in the comics, but some of the more intelligent ones also developed secondary sex characteristics.

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With a face only millions of mothers could love.

Coulson notes that Hive’s strength – and his weakness – stems from the fact that he has a “legion of memories inside him,” including numerous soldiers and geniuses. While this seems like a slight (if unintentional?) allusion to Xavier’s son Legion (who may be getting his own Fox series soon), it more accurately describes the Supreme Intelligence, a conglomeration of all the greatest soldiers and scientists of the Kree Empire. Supremor (as he’s known) does not struggle with an identity crisis, but instead has instantaneous congresses between all of the varying minds inside him whenever deciding an issue. This also allows him to predict galactic events thousands of years ahead of time.

To take advantage of this personality imbalance, Coulson’s team rebuilt the Memory Machine (originally used to torture Coulson into recalling repressed memories in the first season) to weaponize it. Yo-Yo, Mack, and Lincoln build and power it, forcing Hive to randomly relive each personality in his head. The ploy works, as Hive is too jumbled to command his troops for some time, and even gives his enemies the opportunity to escape as Ward did to Fitz-Simmons when he half-heartedly tried to kill them at the end of season one. The team eventually captures him using a combination of SHIELD’s quick-moving containment modules and the ATCU’s gel-matrix pods.

Throughout the entire two-hour finale (or last two episodes, depending on how you look at it), Elena’s cross is handed back and forth between various people. The audience, Daisy, and Lincoln all know the cross is present when someone wearing a SHIELD jacket dies in a Quinjet while in space. This starts a bit subtle, but quickly turns into an almost farcical game of pass-the-McGuffin. As Elena says, a rosary isn’t a lucky rabbit’s foot. If you don’t know what a McGuffin is, it’s something that doesn’t hold a lot of plot significance in-and-of itself, but by it’s existence, moves the plot along. The term is credited to Alfred Hitchcock.

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Several aliens have attacked Earth claiming to be universal fighting champs.

Then there’s another trope, the Chekov Gun. Hive is essentially frozen in gel and brought to SHIELD’s Playground headquarters, you know he’s going to escape at some point. As Talbot says, the plan seemed as stupid as betting on Wrestlemania, but Coulson seemed to know what he was doing. Hey, did you know there are superhuman wrestling organizations in Marvel? I’ve mentioned them before, but it cannot be repeated enough. Man, it’d be fun to see that sort of thing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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Yeah, that plot sounds familiar.

So while Simmons’ mind is elsewhere – dreaming of a vacation for her and Fitz in the Seychelles Islands – she and Fitz are trying to work with the amoral Radcliffe to find a cure for the Xerogenesis process he created so Alpha Primitives could be turned back into humans. They all seem to agree this is impossible. In the comics, exiled Inhuman leader Unspoken (not Hive) released Xerogen gas to turn China (not Europe) into Alpha Primitives. Hank “Don’t Call Me Ant-Man” Pym reversed the effects by manipulating time itself

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This story was pretty dang good.

As a precaution, Coulson seals up the base, but as Fitz and Agent O’Brien (who recently helped the team in Union City) are checking supplies from Absolution, Montana, in the not-fully-secured hangar, Hive’s “Absolution” contingency activated, releasing Xerogen gas and transforming over two dozen nameless SHIELD agents (along with poor O’Brien and an agent named Marshall) into Alpha Primitives. Near as I can tell, “Absolution” is not a real town in Montana, but it reminds me of another fictional town in the Pacific Northwest: Wonderment, Montana. That was a town founded by freed slaves and others on the fringes of society, and defended by past-their-prime cowboy crimefighters in the underappreciated Blaze of Glory series.

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Well crap.

This is an interesting scene that plays out as the agents of SHIELD trapped in their own home with animalistic monsters. It’s kind of off-putting that only the principal cast escaped unscathed. You’d think that any agents skilled enough to pass academy and loyal enough to stay with the “unofficial” post-Winter Soldier SHIELD would havesome skills. It doesn’t help that the ICER bullets are no more effective against these creatures than they are against Hive’s Inhumans. Well, hopefully Piper (who worked with O’Brien before) survived and can show up next season (and heck, maybe they’ll have found a cure for any non-dead Alpha Primitives by then). It reminds me of a particularly affective issue of Uncanny X-Men in which Jubilee was trapped in the X-Mansion with the “prisoner” Sabretooth (and the equally unsettling What If? follow up).

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Those bands killed the previous two people that wore them. What could go wrong?

The main team (and Radcliffe) are saved when Simmons uses Prof. Vaughn’s third year compiler theory, then realizes their vision is based on infrared and blinds them with heat. No idea what that theory is, but Fitz-Simmons have mentioned their favorite professor a few times. It’s possible he’s Gilbert Vaughn, the father of Wendell Vaughn, the SHIELD agent who becomes the intergalactic hero Quasar (and is currently training the next Quasar).

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Robot arms!

During the struggle, Yo-Yo is shot protecting Mack from some “Killzombies”, and he uses a blowtorch to cauterize her wounds. In the comics, Yo-Yo is also seriously injured in an early mission – she eventually loses her arms, and is watched over by her teammate Stonewall during recovery. She later gets robot arms, because robot arms are awesome.

Hive escapes on the Zephyr, planning to blow it up on the edge of the atmosphere and turning Europe and most of the humans in the Northern Hemisphere into Alpha Primitives (and presumably any Inhuman-descended individuals into swayed Inhumans). Daisy is taken for the ride, as her addiction to his power had her groveling for more, but Lash’s energy apparently inured her to future Hive possession.

Radcliffe is impressed by the job Fitz did on Coulson’s hand, and in return, Fitz installed a wrist-bound interface inspired by Radcliffe’s work on his assistant Anon. With it, Coulson remotely summons another Quinjet, intending to fight Hive alone. Nothing Marvel-related here, but this reminds me so much of Leela’s wrist-thingy from Futurama.

One way or another, most of the principal cast make it onto the stolen the Zephyr. Fitz uses an invisible gun to take out Giyera, May gives Daisy her jacket (and the McGuffin), and Coulson uses holograms (following Watchdog-leader Felix Blake’s example) to imitate the original Star Wars movie (second Star Wars reference in two weeks for Marvel properties).

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Dude’s got a serious case of hive-face.

Hive finally reveals his true face to the camera – it looks pretty decent, as far as special effects go. It’s too bad SHIELD can’t have these kinds of creatures more often…

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Shotgunaxe.

Mack finally has his shotgunaxe! Nice.

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What Fury doesn’t mention, is that he killed J.T.

Ultimately, Lincoln sacrifices himself (while aware of Daisy’s prophecy) to stop Hive. Daisy and Lincoln even have a Peggy-Steve moment, very reminiscent of the first Captain America movie. Hive seems ready to die, after thousands of years of clinging to life, and doesn’t even try to infect Lincoln. They explode noiselessly in space, and that is that. In the comics, Daisy was heartbroken by the death of James during a mission, though she wasn’t aware he was a traitor at the time.

That seems to be it for Hive, though even he’s unsure if his death will mean freedom for those under his sway. James didn’t seem to die, and there are probably some Alpha Primitives left, so who knows what their fates will be?

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Not at all emo!

We then pick up six months later, with news reports of a human “quake” hitting various banks and facilities. Apparently, between the loss of Hive’s influence and the sacrifice of Lincoln, Daisy has gone full emo (dark hair and make-up included) and returned to her old terrorist ways. She’s doing it for the right reasons though (as she sees them anyway), as she gives money and support to Charles Hinton’s widow and daughter. She’s also found new uses for her powers, from using vibrations to block Hive’s blows to making quake-jumps to leap tall buildings. Although Daisy’s been called “Tremors” by Mack, her comic book name is Quake, and she seems to be falling into that role now.

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Who cares if he’s British or not? The accent is cool.

Daisy mentions her “friend” who likes animals – she’s referring to her dad, who thanks to SHIELD’s TAHITI brainwashing, believes he’s a normal veterinarian (and not the supervillain Mr. Hyde).

Coulson (who seems a bit disheveled from stress) is hot on her trail, but interestingly, he refers to someone else as the director – but who? It’s possible (though seems doubtful) that Nick Fury has returned. In current comics, Maria Hill is director (though hints are, she’s going to be replaced soon). Daisy Johnson was actually director for a brief time, but that seems really unlikely, given her fugitive status. It could also be a new character based on an older character.

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For all the sinister things that happen in this storyline, this guy and his computer girlfriend are pretty sweet.

Radcliffe is, interestingly enough, not in jail, although he was involved in official hearings regarding his involvement in the Alpha Primitives problem. To make amends though, he has unearthed an old SHIELD program to create LMDs, including one for his female-oriented artificial intelligence, AIDA. In the alternate reality of the classic Squadron Supreme, AIDA was the Artificial Intelligence Data Analyzer, and friend to heroic supergenius Tom Thumb. Having developed an emotional attachment to her creator, AIDA helped another scientist (a talking gorilla on tank treads, because comics) create an android based on Tom after Tom succumbed to cancer.

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She-Hulk’s in her underwear because plot, that’s why!

And LMDs, of course, have been a tradition in SHIELD comics since the beginning. Life Model Decoys are primarily employed to serve as distractions to enemy agents, as they could pass for the real thing. Some have malfunctioned (or gone “crazy”) over the years, like Max Fury who pestered the Secret Avengers, some lived years believing they were human, like Dum Dum Dugan, and some have been programmed to be fully sapient, like Agent Cheesecake. It’s exciting to think LMDs will finally make it into the Marvel Cinematic Universe proper!

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Subtle.

Of course, this isn’t the first time LMDs have been hinted at. Tony Stark infamously quipped about it in the first Avengers movie, and it was hinted that both Phil Coulson and the Agents Koenig could be LMDs (the latter hasn’t been disproven). And then there was that slipup that had the “LMD Division” shown in the episode “Hub.” A sign at SHIELD HQ appears twice on screen, once with LMDs mentioned, and another time with the mention removed (apparently in post-production).

Of course, the big question is: Is this the end of Grant Ward? He was the agent fans disliked, then the villain fans loved to hate. He’s been kicked out, humiliated, arrested, killed, left on another world, resurrected, rejuvenated, empowered, and now blown up. Radcliffe did say he didn’t think they should lose anymore agents, and he heard Ward was an agent before he became Hive… what if…?

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5 comments

  1. I think that the new director could be either Talbot or May. Either because Coulson gets demoted for letting Hive and the Primitives run amok in the base, or once Daisy goes rogue he thinks he can’t be objective and has Melinda take over, or he wants to devote all his time to Daisy so he puts Melinda in charge to deal with everything else.

  2. Grant coming back seems fairly unlikely, if only because Radcliffe says he wants to give Fitz and Simmons back someone they lost. They didn’t lose Ward so much as “blow him to pieces in the cold vacuum of space.” Plus, the silhouette in the LMD … chamber? … is distinctly female. I’m holding out for Isabel Hartley, because (a) Lucy Lawless is excellent and (b) it would help walk back AoS’s unfortunate killing of all its lesbian characters. If they *are* bringing back a guy, I think Trip’s probably the most likely, since he’s someone that everyone sort of actually liked.

    • I’m betting AIDA is played by a new actress.

      My argument on RoboWard (and it’s a thin one, admittedly), is that Radcliffe knows a) Ward was an Agent of SHIELD, and b) he was taken over by Hive, forcing them to kill him. It’s a flimsy premise, but it could work.

  3. I don’t know about Dalton coming back. They had the “ceremony” after his final episode where he got a SHIELD badge, and everything he’s been posting on social media indicates he’s done. Probably a fake out, but you never know…

    I can definitely see Maria Hill being the SHIELD Director. Cobie Smulders doesn’t even need to have a physical presence. Just “phone in” the assignments via video conference or old school tape.

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