Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — The Laws of Inferno Dynamics
Wait a minute. The Darkhold is a book? The bad guy is Uncle Eli? The Book of Eli? Wow, that’s a little weird.
So anyway, in the midseason finale of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., everything gets tied up, which, in and of itself, is a bit of a feat considering we had a new S.H.I.E.L.D., a new S.H.I.E.L.D. director, rogue agents, an anti-Inhuman agenda sweeping the nation, a Spirit of Vengeance, an artificial intelligence, and a bad guy who could seemingly make something out of nothing. Which, of course, Simmons and especially Fitz refuse to believe because of the laws of thermodynamics.
After learning of Eli’s whereabouts as he builds his… whatever machine, former Director Coulson and current director Mace agree to send in their big guns, Daisy, Yo-Yo, and Robbie (what, Mike Petersen was too busy?) to take down the master of inanimate carbon rods, but they quickly learn that Eli is, in actual fact, not creating something from nothing, instead drawing energies from… hell I guess…? In any case, it’s genuinely surprising that not only were so many ongoing storylines wrapped up in this single episode — Uncle Eli was defeated while (temporarily?) taking Robbie/Ghost Rider out of commission, Coulson and Mace put all their cards on the table and come to a new spirit of cooperation, and Daisy was brought back in the fold — but all of this wrapping up also flowed naturally. It’s almost like the writers knew what they were doing all along.
Maybe the biggest question mark still left over from all of the episode’s resolutions was the motivation of Uncle Eli himself, who seemed to be vengeful from his experiences growing up a Mexican man trying to earn his “damn PhD in engineering”. Based purely on his age, it seems like he’d have been going to school in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, but his descriptions of the racism he faced almost made it sound more like he went to school in the ‘60s. It’s a justifiable position to take in some ways, but it also seems overly simplistic to simply say racism made him the supervillainous man he became considering the time frame, but then again, considering the current President-elect, I guess a lot of us don’t actually know anything about racism anymore. Thankfully, there was also a clear sense of remorse coming from Eli about what his actions have cost him and his nephews, and it genuinely seemed to hurt him to have to hold Robbie back in his whatever machine, all helping to make Uncle Eli seem at least a little more well-rounded as a person.
The other big impact players of the episode were Yo-Yo, who, by now, has finally gotten to the point where she feels like a full member of the cast (though her Quicksilver-like powers may prevent her from being featured too often), and director Mace himself, displaying his superstrength and cutting a dashing figure in probably the most impressive-looking S.H.I.E.L.D. suit ever featured on the show. I similarly hope we’ve come full circle with him as well given his talk about teamwork and now that at least his intentions seem fully noble.
Of course things can’t possibly be that bright at S.H.I.E.L.D., not with what we know of this team, and while no cliffhanger in this show will likely ever top Agent Simmons being sucked into that weird monolith thing from the end of season two, AIDA’s turn to the dark side and her abduction and replacement of Agent May with an LMD was certainly a well-executed twist, especially after AIDA took a few bullets headed FitzSimmons’ way, visibly suffering the consequences à la Teddy Flood. I’m actually much more intrigued with where this storyline is going than I ever was with Robbie, Uncle Eli, The Watch Dogs, Senator Bend It Like Beckham, or the scientist ghosts, and, to be honest, of all of the superhero shows on TV right now, I think Agents is probably the most consistently strong. It’s just too bad it’s not and seems like it will never be about any of the heroes we really care about.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — “The Laws of Inferno Dynamics” episode score
The Flash — The Present
In our final Flash episode of the year, we finally learn all of Draco Malfoy’s terrible secrets in a flashback sequence that can best be described as: “Indiana Julian and the Sorcerer’s Philosopher’s Stone” [See all the funny little inverted allusions I just made? There’s at least three of them]. And much like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. everything we’ve seen so far this year has been wrapped up too. Which is weird. It’s almost like the writers of both shows knew we’d be tired of these storylines by now.
In finding out that Julian is not only a forensic scientist but a former adventure archaeologist (and I guess there are some cross-disciplinary commonalities between the two if you really think about it), we learn not only the origin of his Alchemy identity but that he’s basically not responsible for anything he’s been doing as Alchemy, his dig in the Indus Valley from four years earlier having uncovered Savitar, the world’s first speedster and, apparently, a telepathic hypnotist who brainwashed him? I guess when you think about it (in the same way I just put forensic science and archaeology together) any given speedster could have a lot of other, unrelated skills and abilities since they can learn everything at superspeed. Still, feels like a bit of a stretch, but it doesn’t bend the rules of this show too far.
Of course the other big news of “The Present” was the starring role finally given to John Wesley Shipp’s Jay Garrick, the Flash of Earth-3, absent since early on in the season, and he makes the most of his full-powered debut, catching the Earth-3 Trickster’s (played by Mark Hammill!) bullets in his winged flash helmet in one of those delicious little moments that only true nerds will appreciate. He then proceeds to get kicked around pretty badly by Savitar [Jay: “I’ll cover Savitar, you just get that stone!”, then he gets grabbed by the neck immediately and Savitar runs off with him in one of the most futile-looking efforts I’ve ever seen on this show], but Barry saves him in the end, so whatevs, old heroes suck. Honesty, his role in “The Present” was mostly giving advice anyway (i.e., bone your beautiful girlfriend while she’s still beautiful/alive), which is good since Joe’s so preoccupied with Wally’s safety lately. Lord knows Barry’s never going to arrive at healthy conclusions without someone else telling him what to do.
Speaking of Wally, Joe, with a bit of advice from HR (in possibly his most substantial [and coherent] moments yet) finally accepts that Wally’s going to become a hero, and he and the team even gift him with his own Kid Flash suit. And stick him with the moniker “Kid Flash” for the foreseeable future. Maybe he’d prefer a codename like “Impulse” instead? There’s an inevitability to this moment, built mostly on how loudly and often the writers have been banging on this point since the season started more than any true reflections of who Wally is, but it’s still nice to have this tire fire of a “Wally’s not ready” storyline over with. On the topic of suits though, I really wish they’d make Jay look less puffy in his Flash outfit and even Wally doesn’t seem as sleek or slender in his Kid Flash uniform as Barry does in his Flash suit.
Eventually, Barry and Jay solve the Savitar problem when they throw the Philosopher’s Stone into the Speed Force, imprisoning Savitar, which seems like a pretty bad idea, but it works, though not before Barry sees a chilling version of the future where Savitar has returned and kills Iris, and thus we have the next chapter of our story laid out for us now that most of the lingering elements of the Flashpoint, Kid Flash, Killer Frost, and Cisco’s dead brother stories have been wrapped up. As a midseason finale, the episode was definitely an impactful episode, an entertaining one, and even a satisfying one, but it wasn’t without flaws. The praise we heaped on last week’s “Invasion!” crossover’s attention to its pre-established relationships felt markedly absent with Julian and Caitlin considering she, just two weeks ago, had kidnapped him, threatened him with her metahuman powers, and displayed a real psychotic streak in doing so. This week he’s just cool with her at a Christmas party? She offers him egg nog and he’s just, like, “Oh hey Caitlin, thanks.”? I guess that’s my only major gripe with the episode, but I just can’t help but feel that “The Present” was another in a series of episodes that wasn’t directly bad but failed to do anything spectacular. I just don’t think there was anything to get really excited about here in “The Present”.
The Flash — “The Present” episode score
Legends of Tomorrow — The Chicago Way
By this point in its existence, Legends of Tomorrow seems to have finally settled into a groove of sorts, one where you, the viewer, just have to accept seemingly arbitrary rules like they have to wait for time aberrations to occur, they can only visit a time period once (so no do overs when they screw up), and sometimes there are things they just can’t change. It’s not a careful or nuanced show, but in exchange for not regularly making a lot of sense in its plotlines, we at least get the departures of deadweight storylines (the Hawks, Vandal Savage, the Time Masters) and a promise that the writers have learned their lessons (trading those self-serious storylines for lighter, more fun newcomers like Nate and Amaya). While it seems unlikely that Legends is ever going to get any better or smarter in its storytelling, but at least you can tell they’re trying, they’d like to be better, and in that way you don’t feel right just calling the show outright dumb. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way Legends of Tomorrow seems to have picked one more rule: The show is probably never going to be VERY good.
The most notable thing I found in “The Chicago Way” is that it was actually a pretty funny episode overall. Legends has always been a humorous show, that much is obvious, but this is the first time that I actually laughed at some of the jokes, and right now I can’t figure out how much of that is because the show’s actually improving and how much is just me finally accepting and embracing this show’s limitations. Travelling back to the era of Prohibition, meeting Al Capone and Elliot Ness, speak easies and tommy guns, that’s all rich territory for the story to take place in too even if I, like Nate suspects of Ray, never saw The Untouchables simply because it seems like such a weird, hyper-real time to be alive. Or dead as Agent Ness nearly finds himself when the Legends fail to rescue him from the machinations of the Legion of Doom (can we call them that now?) — Damien Darkh, Reverse-Flash, and Malcolm Merlyn (whose entrance felt a little over-dramatic and for the sake of the audience). In what was surely meant to be a thrilling rescue, I was particularly happy to see Vixen make use of her powers, calling forth dolphin abilities to dive in and save Ness from his concrete shoe dive, because it’s hard to remember sometimes that she actually has really useful powers. On the other hand… what was happening again? Something about the Legion of Doom helping Al Capone and speakeasies and an amulet? Did this episode’s plot hold together? I don’t even feel like going back to check.
See, the thing with the lesser monster-of-the-week shows (or in this case, time-travel-locales-of-the-week shows) is that they often have a real tough time reconciling what these characters are doing (fixing their latest weekly problem) with what they’re preoccupied with (the overarching plot points fueling their individual storylines). A lot of the time periods we visit on Legends are intriguing on an external level, but they too often have nothing to do with what our heroes are dealing with, and when the story of the episode (which, in “The Chicago Way” was mostly Stein worrying about his time aberration of a daughter and Heatwave still grappling with his thuggish nature), the themes the writers are trying to bring forward can become tortured to the point that they don’t sink in. Heatwave made out okay in the episode because it called for his criminal leanings to win the day, but how did anything that happened really make Stein’s situation any better other than convincing Sara they shouldn’t kill Lilly?
It was nice to see Rip back though. And to see them finally take advantage of Ray’s shrinking abilities. That speed-stealing gun sucked though. Also, was it just me or did the guy who played Capone look like a more annoying Shia Laboeuf?
Legends of Tomorrow — “The Chicago Way” review
The Walking Dead — Hearts Still Beating
At the end of the day, some people are just born to die. It’s not necessarily right, it’s certainly not always fair, but damn, it really feels good when death comes to the right person, and boy does Spencer ever feel like somebody who was always supposed to die. I know I hated him from the first moment we met him, with his creeper, probably secretly a rapist face. Maybe we wouldn’t judge him or his actions as harshly in real life, but he looked irredeemable from the start and he became irredeemable in the end. Then splat, guts everywhere.
That was really the highlight of “Hearts Still Beating” as we move into that long period of literally two months before the season starts back up. It may not exactly have been a surprise that something horrible was going to happen to Spencer as he gradually pivoted from mostly useless to full-on sh*theel, but it still felt good to see his guts spill out in one of those moments you knew no one could likely recover from. Scratch that, it felt great, good riddance to sh*tty rubbish I say. Plus some other stuff happened too.
If there was an arc to “Hearts Still Beating”, it would certainly have to be the rebuilding of Rick Grimes as he finally regained his resolve after Negan’s latest visit to Alexandria. He may never have seen the true horror of Negan messing around with his faucets, making spaghetti sauce, or sitting down to a meal with his family, but he did see that things will only get worse if they don’t do something. I could still have used another “They’re screwing with the wrong people” moment from Rick, but the episode was at least effective in re-energizing the show with a forward sense of direction rather than the spinning and twirling in place that’s been most of season seven.
And that’s really all I have to say about “Hearts Still Beating”, at least that’s all I have to say of substance. There are words to be expressed about Negan shaving his beard (something that never happened in the comic because he never had a beard), the bullet-riddled boat on lake zombie (couldn’t they have found a bail-out bucket before heading out?), Daryl’s captive fake out and escape (“naw, naw, he’s not losing spirit, he’s getting mad”), the death of Fat Joey sandwich eater, the failure to launch in the Kingdom (“Okay, I’ll just go to my secret, hidden trailer and cry then”), how clean that face shot on Olivia was, how stupid it was for Rosita to waste one bullet on one shot instead of making many bullets in secret and waiting for a great shot, does Sasha’s plan to kill Negan still matter now that two other people have taken their shot and failed, and whoever that guy in the boots was, but all of that pales in comparison to my main thoughts on the episode because… it was just a lot of stuff. If you severely edited down this entire season so far, there might be hope for it as a whole, but right now I’m having a lot of trouble getting into it because it’s all been so exhausting. I know that some parts were necessary, some stuff benefitted from a longer time to gestate, and I even liked the second episode entirely leaving Negan’s side of the story alone because we needed a breather after the first, but most of season seven has felt like a bunch of stuff that happened more than a sequence of events that made up a story. We’re here now, where we maybe knew we’d be as the tribes slowly unite to fight Negan, and that is what matters most, but it was such a slog to get here that… well, I just don’t want to talk about it anymore.
The Walking Dead “Hearts Still Beating” episode score
(The heart is for the disemboweling)
So for the last episode of Superhero Showdown of 2016, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. reigns supreme! Unfortunately, this will also be the last episode of Superhero Showdown ever as we’re moving onto a different format.
While we would love to continue bringing you guys coverage of these shows, the Superhero Showdown format wound up taking more of our time than we liked and, in so doing, actually cut quite a bit into our time to write about movies. We’ll most likely be picking back up with coverage of The Walking Dead next year as that’s our longest running series review, but from now on we’re moving a bit away from TV recaps to renew our focus on movie reviews.
That said, if you’re curious, The Flash wound up winning the Superhero Showdown overall with an average episode score of 3.61 stars.