Thinking back to the first ever episode of Agents of SHIELD, I can still remember exactly what it was that initially grabbed me about the show, and why I was so disappointed when the first season failed to live up to it. As a premise, Agents of SHIELD has the potential to follow in the footsteps of some of the best movies Marvel has to offer, specifically the better of the Captain America movies, The Winter Soldier and Civil War. Part of the reason as to why these movies are so engaging is their ability to incorporate the world we know and recognise, the politics that we’re living out daily, into the world of the superhero. It’s this kind of intelligent writing that AoS sometimes stumbles in trying to give us, but when it delivers, boy does it deliver.
“Uprising” was an example in just that, wherein we were treated to an unflinching comment on something we live with daily, while also getting to enjoy some of the most well-paced AoS writing we’ve had in a long while. The opener this week (seemingly directed by a wannabe Anonymous group) was impressive as a party Yo-Yo is attending is disrupted by an explosive black-out and it is declared that a group of Inhumans are staging similar attacks across the country. It’s a firecracker of an opener and straight away the show is plunging into the depths of the Human/Inhuman problem. It’s something we were faced with in Civil War, it’s a familiar note in X-Men (which in itself is an allegory for the LGBT+ community) and it’s been cropping up in non-Marvel media long before now, but the topic is still as relevant today as it has always been. With a newly “out” group of individuals like the Inhumans, conflict is, as always, unfortunately unavoidable as ignorance and fear begins to spread. It’s no accident that Agent May, still infected and in dire trouble this week, is literally being scared to death. Fear is the enemy, anxiety about differences. As Radcliffe states, how does one kill fear?
The ticking clock on May’s condition aligned her with the fast-paced storytelling this week, keeping her in tune with the rapidly unfurling black-outs and Coulson’s rush to stop them (before the President, no surprise here, acts rashly). There’s some improbable sounding techno-babble in trying to save her but, despite misquoting Sherlock Holmes, it gives us a few intense (if unnecessary) moments away from the main action. It also gives us another look at AIDA, who is being kept discreetly at the side-lines to quietly develop into a big enough problem. Call me cynical about AIs, but these things rarely turn out well.
As for the rest of the action, Coulson and his team are on the move once more, this time to stop the supposed Inhuman attacks across the country. There’s some interesting plot twists in the second half of the episode and although the mission itself is relatively run of the mill, it’s an opportunity to show off AoS’s new-found maturity. The editing is more mature this season and the characters are beginning to show world-weariness behind tired eyes and five o’ clock shadows. The team has lost some of their naivety from the earlier seasons and even the younger members of the team, like Fitz and Simmons, are settling into their “grown-up” roles in SHIELD. It’s a welcome change and seems to be following the line of the movies, reflecting the broken expressions of an exhausted Steve Rogers or the tired eyes of a Tony Stark who has been through too much. The effects of heroism is under subtle scrutiny and one wonders at times if the cost is worth it for these characters.
The slowest part of the episode comes from the progression of Daisy’s storyline, or rather, the fact that it really doesn’t progress all too much. It’s forgivable and the interactions between her and Robbie are still very watchable but the storyline is beginning to feel like it’s at a standstill until something exciting happens. But if one has to make a comment, it’d probably be that the car is just as cool as the bike. Okay? I said it.
This week ended on another nod towards that early allegorical tendency that gives this show potential for something better as it announces that SHIELD is back, and in more ways than one. Mace’s speech had all the stirrings of what America could really use right now: Hope. Hope for equality and the idea of sticking together no matter how different people are. It’s the dream of the America that could be and, unfortunately, the show knows just how much the dream can really be a nightmare, as its final moments peel back the naive exterior of SHIELD’s return and reminds us swiftly that all is not well. Not only have we seen SHIELD corrupted before (by the forces of HYDRA no less), but there are always people out there waiting to destroy their work, as the final moments of the episodes revealed.
It’s a triumphant episode for Agents of SHIELD, showcasing the darker tone that the new season has put to excellent use with a pace that keeps the episode reeling from start to finish.
I give “Uprising” 4 out of 5 homemade compasses