"Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." Recap: A Backdoor Pilot From Russia With Lovers

While its ratings have been up-and-down and the critical response has been hit-and-miss, the corporate synergy feeding Marvel's mostly fun "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." is a hard force to ignore. Despite the fact that the show has never set the world on fire like Netflix's "Daredevil," the network has hovered around an "Agents" spinoff for the better part of a year. And while that may seem like a questionable call to the casual observer, the subject for the proposed "Marvel's Most Wanted" is downright bewildering: Bobbi "Mockingbird" Morse and her snarky ex-husband Hunter.

These two characters have often been a bright spot on the show, but outside that slim distinction, the case for solo stardom seems weak. They've never been major parts of the "Agents" story. Mockingbird (while she does have her passionate fans) has rarely been more than a C-list Avengers supporting character. And Hunter isn't even a comic character - just a charming fill-in when Marvel Studios decided not to play up Bobbi's traditional ex Hawkeye. None of these facts exactly scream "massive hit network show," and after tonight's new "Parting Shot" installment of "Agents," the case for the spinoff is getting weaker and weaker.

The episode opens with a classic story setup. In the "now," our pair are under the hot lights in a Russian gulag getting the business from an Interpol agent determined to prove that S.H.I.E.L.D. is still active and that the two agents he's got hands on have killed some high-ranking members of the military. But 31 hours earlier, the entirety of S.H.I.E.L.D. is on an undercover mission to capture Hydra's Gideon Malick as he negotiates to build a remote pen in the country to house the Inhuman army he's trying to build. As our agents are interrogated, the audience is presented a a picture of what doesn't entirely work about the Bobbi/Hunter pairing. For an "opposites attract/hot and cold" spy couple, both characters sit firmly in the "snark Marvel hero" camp and flatly kid their way through the tense situation. It all feels the same, and the tension in both the story and the couple gives out early on.

However, there are some notes that the writers (and more importantly the actors) have found that hold intrigue, and those notes get a bit of breathing room in the flashbacks. There we're treated to the most frequent sticking point between the couple: Hunter's desire for a normal life versus Bobbi's dedication to the cause. It's a serviceable conflict for the spy genre...so much so that it was essentially the starting point for FX's justifiably acclaimed "The Americans." But as we're run through the paces of the undercover op (the audience made to wonder how it went wrong and what whether Hunter and Bobbi have seriously screwed themselves in the process), nothing quite jumps out and says, "THIS is why you really want to watch more and more of just this couple of characters."

Perhaps less important for the hour at hand but more intriguing is the Inhuman subplot involving Malick. The mystery Inhuman he's come to meet turns out to be not some kidnapped schlub but a high-ranking Russian general with strong political ties. Malick is asked to help the general ascend to power alongside the country's prime minister, but instead he opts to let the Inhuman powerbroker loose on the government in hopes of staging a coup. To stop the plot in its tracks, Bobbi goes undercover with Daisy and Mack while Hunter plays background support with May. The entire affair is mostly an excuse to talk circles around our lead duo's relationship, but the long term promise of the war with Hydra captures more attention.

The second half of the hour skids by as the S.H.I.E.L.D. team puts together the fact that Malick and company are luring the prime minister to the remote base in order to let the general (and the shadow monster that grows from his Inhuman powers) assassinate him. In the course of fighting the practical but impressive shadow special effect, Hunter is forced kill a few Russians in the name of saving their own PM while Bobbi shoots the general in order to destroy the monster. And with that last-minute bit of shenanigans, we return right back where we stared with the pair in their respective hot seats.

When we fast-forward to our lovers facing a longer prison sentence than Pussy Riot got, everyone in the audience is expecting Coulson to jump in at the last minute and save the day. Even the MCU POTUS shows up to both underline the stakes they're facing and remind the audience that S.H.I.E.L.D. is still a massive state secret thought of by most of the world as a terrorist organization. Faced with blowing the whole team's cover or taking years of hard labor, our guys do the selfless thing. Only a last minute bit of political gamesmanship from Coulson convinces the Prime Minister to set them free, but by then the President has disavowed them, meaning Bobbi and Hunter can never return to S.H.I.E.L.D.

At a moment like this, many a fan will be asking, "If S.H.I.E.L.D. is such a secret anyway, who gives a shit if Bobbi and Hunter go back with the team or not?" And yes, the contrivance is particularly odd in a world like this, but getting shut out of the system after being caught on the job is as old as spy tropes come. And in a sense, taking two agents with their own history and making them work outside the bounds of conventional law is a decent enough story platform to build a spinoff upon. But even after the emotional "We'll secretly buy you shots" scene where the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents say goodbye to Bobbi and Hunter, the show hasn't quite accomplished the task of making us want to spend weeks on end in the company of these two. Combine that with the fact that there is almost no corner of the Marvel Universe that would be better explored by this pair than it would be on "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." itself, and it's a wonder ABC has even pulled the trigger on the "Marvel's Most Wanted" pilot. But hey. Maybe there's something they know that we don't.

In any event, the Inhuman war that's been the promise of this whole season is far from over, and a last minute teaser introducing Malick's daughter is enough to wet our whistle for another run with the Agents - even if they are down a few allies.

Supernatural: Dean Faces His Worst Monster - a Twisted Version of Himself

More in TV