As its been sleeping through the winter months, the talk around ABC's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." has been about almost anything else in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. People have been debating whether Loras Tyrell is the right choice for Iron Fist. They've used the soft talk around "Agent Carter's" third season chances to debate whether the proposed "Most Wanted" series could be a better show. And they've gone on and on about theory after theory on "Captain America: Civil War." But while the fan faithful's proclivity towards focusing on the media they might potentially have one day rather than discuss the media that's actually been created for them is no surprise, it can feel a little disappointing when it comes to "Agents" 2016 premier.
And that's because "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." is a really good show that no one is talking about!
As things faded in on the aptly titled "Bouncing Back" episode that continues Season 3, it was imminently clear that this confident, charming series has its eyes set forward with focus. As "Three Months From Now" flashes across the screen, we see the broken, bloody remains of a space ship hanging in earth's orbit with what looks to be a S.H.I.E.L.D. member either wounded or dead in the floating silence of space. Calling this sceneÂ Kubrick-esque may be going too far, but as the shot shifts back to the present where a shipment of guns is overtaken in Bogota, Colombia by a mystery woman, it's clear that this is the most cinematic this show has ever felt.
That teasing action opening is really just set dressing. The real movement in this episode -Â as it always is - comes with the current set of triumphs and tragedies affecting the core S.H.I.E.L.D. team, starting with their fearless leader. Phi Coulson is still experiencing raw emotions after the loss of his latest lady love Rosalind. It doesn't help that her abandoned apartment has been chosen for a meeting between the somewhat outlaw S.H.I.E.L.D. Director and the Marvel Cinematic Universe's perpetual president Matthew Ellis. That living piece of connective tissue between the movies and TV realms of Marvel steps into the show with a "good news, bad news" offer. S.H.I.E.L.D. can take steps back towards an official status with the U.S. government if it helps tackle the now very public Inhuman threat, but on the downside, they're forbidden from openly going after Hyrdra heavy/internationally connected man of misery Gideon Malick. Coulson wants nothing more than the latter, though he knows that the former is an offer he can't pass up.
Back at HQ, the team's investigation into the missing Colombian weapons cache starts out as fodder for a check in with various team members. Resident everyman Mac slides comfortably into the lead role. While he's never been the most burdened character in the series (even when they dropped the whole organization on his head last year), Mack's lack of angst has made him the most likable member of the cast. Coming in a close second is the combative couple of Mockingbrid and Hunter. When the pair flirt over who was more willing to take a fish oil pill and test their possible Inhuman-ness, you know why the pair have been earmarked for a potential spinoff. Meanwhile, Daisy leans back into a somewhat supporting role as the leader of the new Secret Warriors strikeforce of Inhumans, though since that hunt is the true going concern for the season, expect more to fall on her lap shortly. Rounding out the gang for now Simmons and...Lincoln? Okay, so the studly Inhuman isn't really moving in on our favorite star-crossed scientist (he's all in for Daisy anyway), but his presence in the S.H.I.E.L.D. lab briefly underlines the fact that Fitz remains on the outside from his O.T.P.
All these dynamics simmer more than boil as Mack is taken hostage by our Colombian thief -Â a new Inhuman "blessed" with the power to snap between a stationary point and wherever she can see in a literal heartbeat. The woman who is compared to and then quickly named "Yo-Yo" is an easy in to this half of the season's super story. Mysterious at first and then vulnerable and sympathetic, this Inhuman is truly a freedom fighter against a corrupt local police force that would use the stolen weapons to brutalize the locals in her family. As Mack teases her story out, things with Yo-Yo become less and less interesting, but at least her fun power set keeps things moving as S.H.I.E.L.D. recruits her into the fold to save Hunter and Bobbi from the cops' own mesmerizing Inhuman.
More enticing is the supposed B-plot of this hour, which is really the A-plot of the entire series: Coulson's fight against Hydra. In one corner stands our man in his damaged, tough-as-nails mode. Coulson goes after Malick against the President's warning by dipping into the mind of the young Werner Von Strucker. While the failed heir to Hydra was tortured into a coma at the end of 2015, S.H.I.E.L.D. is still able to extract info from the mind of the little weasel. Ever the hero, Coulson doesn't feel too great about torturing someone who's effectively braindead, but he's willing to push Lincoln to electroshock more info out of Von Strucker if it will give them the briefest line towards finding Malick. All it ultimately does is get Coulson a phone call -Â one that dings Gideon's organization but leaves the long term war up in the air.
Still, seeing Coulson haunted by both the losses he's suffered and the bizarre threat he knows exists in the universe thanks to his trip off world last year makes for some affecting character work (even if the underutilized May hits that point on the head a bit too hard at episode's end). That the viewer alone realizes that the existential alien threat has taken up the dead body of S.H.I.E.L.D. turncoat Grant Ward is as tantalizing a setup as the series has ever had. And that feeling is only egged on as the undead, raw meat-eating monster in Ward's skin seems ready to tear Malick's right hand man apart to feed his own legend in Hydra as the spy organization's one true savior. It's scary and strange in the way that the best network sci-fi can be.
The episode's end don't throw out a ton of twists, but what's there bodes well for the weeks ahead. Yo-Yo becomes a floating operative for S.H.I.E.L.D., meaning that not every Inhuman we'll meet in 2016 is fated to be pulled into the grand scheme of the Secret Warriors. While this will add a bit of drama to the "Freak of the Week" run we're doubtlessly facing down, Hydra's own capture of the wicked Inhumans S.H.I.E.L.D. can't save adds a layer of mystery to keep that whole story moving for a while at least.
As it's been in the past on this show, the main battle being waged by the team is never quite as compelling as what's happening in the shadows. But as the characters themselves become more and more relatable, and as the long term conflict pushes the whole show in weird new directions, it's hard to argue that "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." is anything but a winner that deserves a second look from the fans who are too busy trying to divine the future.