For anyone who possibly tuned in to tonight's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." just to see how the fallout from Marvel's hit movie "Captain America: Civil War" would affect the ABC drama, they got their answer right away. But while the "Emancipation" episode opens up with direct ties to the comic-inspired event film, the actual impact of that story on this season are mostly a minor speed bump -Â the kind of late game complication that just kills time before the real final fight can begin.
All the core characters of the cast spend this hour crawling their way to a more interesting moment in the distance, starting with Director Coulson. When he sits down at a dive bar booth/secret base entrance with the show's go-to military bureaucrat Glenn Talbot, Coulson is just trying to delay the inevitable sandbag swung by "Civl War's" so-called "Sokovia Accords." That international treaty's dictates should include S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Inhuman agents, but Phil can't abide by Talbot coming in and tying his hands right when Hive is about to destroy all of humanity.
The whole thread is a bit of a chore on multiple fronts. For one, little dialogue Easter Eggs like a nod to Coulson's former super powered index -Â once thought to be a precursor to "Civil War" but now just another abandoned storyline -Â add nothing to the tension or drama of the story. But more importantly just as in "Civil War" (both the movie and its comic precursor), all the debates over "a bunch of damn red tape" are incredibly stupid. In the real world, of course, the idea of putting some kind of oversight on people who can blow up mountains is a no-brainer. Only the illogic of super duper hero stories make the "We must act unilaterally RIGHT NOW if we're going to SAVE THE WORLD" excuses sound sane. But more so than that, everyone watching knows that our heroes will eventually do whatever bad boy plan they had in mind all along to save the day. Without the raw character hook of "Steve Rogers Vs. Tony Stark" to carry our interest, the constant sparring between Coulson and Talbot just slows the action of the show waaaaaaaaaaaay down.
Things pick up a bit on the villain front as Hive has no one standing in his way. In the latest phase of the cosmic Inhuman's scheme to alter the world in his image, the former Grant Ward is using Daisy's Kree-infused blood to alter human DNA. The unwilling test subjects are a group of Watchdogs -Â an unsubtle metaphor for hard right race warrior groups dedicated to stopping the supposed Inhuman threat. The choice is poetic, and the resulting transformation leaves the Watchdogs a particularly ghoulish brand of...well, we're not technically allowed to call them mutants, but they're differently adjusted Inhumans. These mute hoards terrify Hive's other followers, but he finds perfectly servile creations to his liking and quickly makes plans to expand the operation.
The majority of the episode falls somewhere in between Coulson's negotiating and Hive's mutating as things at S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ fracture. Primarily here we follow the path of Lincoln -Â still locked down in the basement and receiving secret communiques from a Daisy who's always one step ahead of Fitz's firewalls. But around this cat-and-mouse game swirls May, ever ready to take the fight back to Hive, and Mack, shaken in his faith that the world can be saved by for a few gentle words from the recently returned Secret Warrior Yo-Yo.
Things lurch back to action when Lincoln makes a break for it with Daisy's remote hacking help, but even these scenes lack punch. The question over whether the brainwashed S.H.I.E.L.D. agent retains enough of her true self was answered last week without doubt, and so the tension over whether Lincoln is actually walking into a trap is nonexistent. The late game twist that Lincoln, May and Coulson staged the lightning-powered agent's escape in order to send the poison pill of the Inhuman-hunting Lash towards Hive is a fun one, though. And when the dreaded bruiser arrives at his destination, we get a fun if decidedly TV version of "Civil War's" airport battle. It appears that only Lash has the much-needed power to remove Hive's influence from a poisoned Inhuman, but once he's wounded the villain and rescued Daisy (instantly returned to her old self), the former Dr. Andrew Gardner takes a critical hit, leaving the team every bit as screwed as they were to begin.
In the end, "Emancipation" lives up to its name by freeing Daisy, but otherwise it's an argument both against this show having a 22-episode network order AND against Marvel TV trying to tie strongly to its films. Aside from a final scene meant to point a big arrow at Mack as the agent fated to die (more on which next week), this episode did little but to reinforce what we already know is at stake in the series, and the late game "I had a plan all along" victory from Coulson is just enough to dodge the issue of the Sokovia Accords until their effect can be hand-waved away much as the Superhero Registration Act was eventually passed over in the comics. Here's hoping the last two episodes of this season can leave more of an impact.