New characters and focus, this spin-off becomes rudderless when it is disconnected from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that’s a good thing. Warning: minor spoilers ahead.
More than anything, AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s third season felt like an incredibly lengthy year, perhaps due to the extended break it took at the end of 2015 to slip a second outing for Agent Carter in. While this reality of US network programming is not unique to this show, stretching 22 episodes out over the eight months being par for the course with contemporaries, Season 3 promised a lot with the Inhumans storyline, and delivered on many of those promises, even without the support from the big-budget movies that spawned it.
Combining several Inhuman and Hydra storylines, the season principally concerns Director Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) creating the Secret Warriors, a group of Inhumans designed to help combat the darker forces that arise, including Hydra and their resurrected Inhuman leader Hive. More broadly, it’s about how the world deals with Inhumans now that they are out in the open a little more, and the proper introduction of superpowers into the world of Marvel television brings with it more opportunities for new characters. A big step forward for the series was in making Mack MacKenzie (Henry Simmons), Bobbi “Mockingbird” Morse (Adrianne Palicki) and Lance Hunter (Nick Blood) regular series cast members, adding some new dynamics to the team and finally making them feel like a group of agents rather than misfits.
A high point is reached early in the season with the superb “4,722 Hours”, a title that refers to the amount of time that Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) spent stranded on an alien planet. Never leaving her side for an instant, the almost entirely blue-tinged episode is supported by Craig Titley’s tight script, a mixture of claustrophobia and madness that even makes the audience doubt the truth of what they are seeing. At Sequart Magazine, we added that “we never miss the rest of the cast for a beat until one of them turns up in an epilogue moment,” which might just be indicative of how shaky the character building had been in the previous seasons.
Yet for all of the key action moments, it is those same character beats that actually elevate this season above previous ones when it’s all working. The tensions between S.H.I.E.L.D. and other government agency ATCU results in a some of the best comedic, dramatic and even romantic moments between Coulson and Rosalind Price (Constance Zimmer) and Glenn Talbot (Adrian Pasdar). Agent Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennett) is given the biggest character arc of the season, not only imbued with kick-ass powers and martial arts skills as Quake, but with her genuine search for meaning as well. Less successful is her romance with fellow Inhuman Lincoln Campbell (Luke Mitchell), but it ultimately serves a massive dramatic purpose by the time the season is done. New characters like Elena “Yo-Yo” Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) provide some welcome new blood, and gives the previously overlooked Mack his own trial of faith and backstory. Brett Dalton’s various versions of Grant Ward definitely work better as a villain than as a hero, his wooden disconnect from the first few seasons now working perfectly as a principal antagonist for the crew again. It’s just a shame that the standout additions to the cast in Palicki and Blood, whose merry war as a on-again-off-again couple gave us both levity and an exciting action duo, are written out far too early due to the anticipated Marvel’s Most Wanted spin-off (which was ultimately not picked up by ABC).
While Season 3 of AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. is undoubtedly more consistent and took a more liberal approach to its characters, the reality is that it is no longer the only Marvel television series about. Daredevil and Jessica Jones both dropped and completed seasons on Netflix throughout S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s lengthy run, and in many ways had more widespread impact with 13 episodes than this series did with almost twice that. We got a connection to the MCU through the presence of Gideon Malick (Powers Booth) and Werner Von Strucker (Spencer Treat Clark), but the series worked best in the back half of the season when it felt free to go deep into the comic book territory of Inhumans and Primitives (including a wonderful role for John Hannah) that the MCU appears to have postponed indefinitely. So the apparent abandonment of the TV show by the cinematic arm may end of working in the series’ favour, even if it limits the kinds of characters they can introduce. Where we are left by the end of this season promises more of that deep-dish diving into the comic book world, with the series finally finding the groove that it was always intended for.
2015-16 | US | Showrunners: Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen, and Jeffrey Bell | Cast: Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Brett Dalton, Chloe Bennet, Iain De Caestecker, Elizabeth Henstridge, Nick Blood, Adrianne Palicki, Henry Simmons, Luke Mitchell | Distributor: ABC (US) | Episodes: 22 | Rating:★★★★ (8/10)