Contrarian Retrospective ~ Agents of SHIELD: Season Three (2023)

Onward and upward to the third season of Agents of SHIELD. Let’s begin!

Episode 1 – Laws of Nature

SHIELD is now actively recruiting Inhumans now that the transformative Terrigen has been released into the world. Threats still abound.

A very solid episode that hits the ground running for this season. In rapid succession (seriously, this episode is packed with new information and plot threads, yet still has room to breathe and introduce everything naturally). We meet a confident Daisy (having now fully adopted that name) rescuing new Inhumans alongside Mack as her partner, a government group known as the ACTU also hunting Inhumans for some mysterious purpose, and a giant monster man named Lash who is also hunting Inhumans, but with the intent to kill them. On top of this, Simmons is still missing after being absorbed by the monolith, and Fitz’ actor (Iain De Caestecker) continues to give an unforgettable performance as he searches for her.

Rating: 9.5

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Episode 2 – Purpose in the Machine

Fitz leads his fellow agents into a mission to rescue Simmons, and Ward begins putting together the newest evolution of HYDRA.

Another extremely solid episode, though marginally less focused than the previous. I still love everything that happens in this episode, just maybe a little less enthusiastically. Fitz drive to rescue Simmons is engaging, and the dynamic and tense rescue mission is easily the highlight of the episode (and manages to be genuinely stressful and unpredictable as to the outcome). Ward’s role in this season starts slow, but it’s still entertaining to see him (and Brett Dalton) continue to be his villainous and charismatic self. I also like the very realistic portrayal of Simmons still having nightmares after being rescued, because of course her trauma wouldn’t end so cleanly.

Rating: 9

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Episode 3 – A Wanted (Inhu)man

An Inhuman former-friend of Daisy’s, Lincoln Campbell, is on the run and needs SHIELD’s help. Meanwhile, May and Hunter work to infiltrate Ward’s new HYDRA.

The plot diverges into two separate threads at this point, and if there is any weak portion of this otherwise excellent season, it would be here (also, maybe, a small portion later in the season). Still, Agents of SHIELD has moved firmly out of its initial slump, so even these weaker episodes are still a cut above the rest. May and Hunter planning their revenge against Ward is entertaining, Lincoln and Daisy take their relationship to the next level after she recues him, and then there’s the dramatic reveal of Simmons announcing that they need to go back through the monolith to the alien planet, shocking everyone.

Rating: 7.5

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Episode 4 – Devils You Know

May and Hunter continue their revenge plot against Ward, and Daisy tries to keep her fellow Inhumans safe from the terrifying Lash.

Essentially the second part of some of the threads started in the previous episode. Daisy is continuing to recruit and train what Inhumans she can, but she is met by Lash at almost every turn, and she barely survives her encounters with the beast (though she does discover that he can turn into a human form). May and Hunter’s attempt to get revenge on Ward reaches its (honestly somewhat anticlimactic) conclusion, though it does lead to some good ol’ shootout action and a bit more character depth for Hunter. Again, it’s not the season’s strongest offering by a longshot, but it isn’t unenjoyable by any means.

Rating: 7.5

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Episode 5 – 4,722 Hours

Simmons recounts the harrowing story of how she managed to survive on the alien planet Maveth, the horrors she faced, and the unexpected ally she found.

Perhaps as recompense for the enjoyable but relatively middle-of-the-road episodes we were just given, the show decides to grant its viewers with what might be the most singularly compelling episode in the show thus far. Focusing entirely (outside of the short closing scene) on Simmons and her journey on Maveth, the episode is a victorious acting showcase for Elizabeth Henstridge, as she carries the entire emotional burden on her back. Her only companions are the mysterious stranger Will (who Simmons ends up falling for), and the nightmarish entity stalking them across the planet. It’s an incredible episode that recontextualizes the season up until now, and sets the stage for the season to come.

Rating: 10

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Episode 6 – Among Us Hide…

Recognizing the threat that Lash poses to SHIELD and the Inhumans, the agent pool their efforts to uncover his identity and take him down.

An episode mostly focused around solving the mystery of Lash’s identity, but not without a hearty does of action and humor. Bobbi fully gets back into action (after suffering from some quite relatable PTSD thanks to her torture from the previous season), and the fight she and May have with the HYDRA goons is exciting. Hunter, trying to redeem his position on the team, provides quite a bit of laughs with his unorthodox spy methods. Also, the Lash reveal (while feeling just the tiniest bit contrived) is still shocking and leads to interesting developments down the road.

Rating: 8

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Episode 7 – Chaos Theory

Coulson and ATCU leader Rosalind mend their relationship (in more ways than one), and Lash’s threat and identity is revealed to all thanks to Lincoln.

More of the pieces of this season’s bigger puzzle begin to fall into place, and it all culminates in May’s ex-husband Andrew being revealed as Lash. There’s a big fight scene, of course, but also a much more somber conversation between May and Andrew that buys time to allow him to be safely captured. On top of this, we get to see Coulson actually be free to be more than just an agent or a director to someone, Fitz and Simmons piece together more of the Maveth mystery, and Ward meets with Gideon Malick (rest in peace, Powers Boothe) to learn more about the history of HYDRA. The stakes are building!

Rating: 8

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Episode 8 – Many Heads, One Tale

Allies and enemies alike uncover the true history behind HYDRA and the planet of Maveth.

Uncommon for this show, this is an episode dedicated almost entirely to background history and lore. Thankfully (at least in my opinion), it is some very fascinating lore. I love the idea of re-working the complex and convoluted history of HYDRA from the comics into a singularly focused nefarious goal. It really ties up all loose ends and makes it so that every little thing HYDRA has done in this show has mattered. This episode might be light on action (though there’s a great spy sequence with Hunter and Bobbi), but the revelations about HYDRA and Maveth are still intriguing and push the plot forward.

Rating: 8

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Episode 9 – Closure

Intent on making sure that audience doesn’t forget how huge of a villain he is, Ward proceeds to do everything imaginable to get revenge on his former teammates, building up to an unforgettable conclusion.

It’s impossible to discuss this episode without mentioning a case of what could realistically be considered “fridging” that happens to Rosalind in the opening scene. Still, because it’s Ward of all people doing the assassinating, I have to give it a pass. Ward’s proven time and again to be one of the most manipulative psychopaths in Marvel history, and killing Coulson’s new girlfriend right when he’s finding some happiness is exactly what Ward would do (and at least Rosalind got to reach the conclusion of her own character arc in the episode before this, unlike more infamous and poorly handled cases of this trope).

Anyway, preamble aside, this is a great episode. Ward’s an absolute menace from start-to-finish, but he’s not without his twisted humanity (curtesy of a tense phone call with his estranged brother). There’s the aforementioned shocking death (and even another minor character death on top of that), Daisy and her Secret Warriors suit up for a rescue mission, and Coulson pulls off an insane swan dive from a Quinjet into the portal to Maveth.

Rating: 9.5

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Episode 10 – Maveth

While Daisy and her team work to attack the HYDRA castle from the outside, Coulson and Fitz must traverse the planet of Maveth while fighting Ward…and possibly something even worse.

This is definitely my favorite mid-season finale of the entire show, and its a rollercoaster from the minute the episode begins.

After one of the best one-liners in history (Coulson wakes up on the alien desert planet, takes one look around, and says “I’ll be damned. Tatooine.”), there’s more action and plot than you’d possibly expect in a 45-minute runtime. Daisy and her team lead a successful mission, each member showing off their powers, Lash is released into the world again out of desperation, there’s a last-second escape against the clock, and a more somber ending than you’d think. The showdown on Maveth is great too, and the episode closes with a shockingly unexpected cliffhanger.

Related to that, and addressing the elephant in the room, is Ward’s death at the hands of Coulson. A phenomenal scene in every regard, and surprisingly emotional given every horrible thing the man has done.

Rating: 10

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Episode 11 – Bouncing Back

Before they can rest on their laurels, SHIELD is after more HYDRA goons when they run into a superspeedy Inhuman.

Avoiding the pitfalls of earlier seasons, this episode manages to be “technically” a filler episode, while still pushing some plot threads forward and introducing one of the most fun main cast members in the series. Yo-Yo is awesome, and though her character is explored in much more depth in later seasons, her introduction here is no less exciting and entertaining. The other action scenes aren’t bad either, and a tantalizing teaser of the newly resurrected Hive leaves you wanting more by episode’s end.

Rating: 8

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Episode 12 – The Inside Man

After tenuous early encounters, Coulson and Talbot are forced to work together to save top government officials from HYDRA.

This episode is similar to the previous one, but I feel that it accomplishes the same goals to a lesser degree of effectiveness and memorability. It’s arguably filler, even though a few plot details and character progression moments are carried through. It’s still entertaining enough, with some good action from Bobbi and Hunter. Talbot is also always a treat to watch with his bombastic performance and endlessly creative insults. Not amazing, but not some sort of slog to get through either.

Rating: 7

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Episode 13 – Parting Shot

Bobbi and Hunter become embroiled in a complex web of espionage and government subterfuge, resulting in an irrevocable change to the Agents of SHIELD and their team.

An episode that is 1000% buoyed by the strength of it’s amazing ending scene, and the writing quality of Bobbi and Hunter as characters (and the quality of their actors). The actual plot of the episode is nothing special, but the banter and action of Bobbi and Hunter is on-point. They’ve never been better than here in this episode, which makes it a bit of a shame that this is their grand farewell to the series. To be sure, it’s an unforgettable farewell, and “The Spy’s Goodbye” still stands the test of time as one of the most emotionally resonant scenes in the series.

It might be a sudden departure, but it’s an excellently well done one.

Rating: 9

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Episode 14 – Watchdogs

A new anti-Inhuman group appears, but this time armed with a surprising amount of tactical knowledge and weaponry, forcing SHIELD to take action against them.

This is a weird one. On the one hand, I’m almost tempted to rate it lower than usual because it genuinely has next-to-nothing to do with the central plot or characters of this season (in fact, the Watchdogs only become relevant later on in season four). On the other hand, this is a Mack-focused episode that gives him a lot of great character development, alongside an amazingly entertaining home invasion fight scene where he protects his younger brother from the Watchdogs. Lincoln also gets a pretty great bonding scene on a mission with Coulson. So, the upsides outweigh the downsides!

Rating: 8

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Episode 15 – Spacetime

Thanks to a prophetic Inhuman, Daisy receives a vision of the future she tries her hardest to keep from coming true.

This is one of those episodes that gets a lot better during a re-watch and with the benefit of hindsight. On a first watch, it feels like an episode weirdly tangential to the main plot, wherein nothing of substance is achieved (Malick escapes again, there’s no massive character growth, etc.). However, this episode sets up the prophetic vision that will shape the season finale, introduces the young girl Robin (who becomes a major player in season five), and is very tightly written and packed with some great action scenes with Daisy. An odd one, but a good one.

Rating: 8

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Episode 16 – Paradise Lost

Hive is once again in full control of his body and powers, and the Agents of SHIELD attempt to one-up Malick, only to fall into a trap.

Well, I hate to just keep leaning into the trend I’ve seemingly established here, but this is yet another solid but not mind-blowing episode. There’s some much needed backstory with Malick, another great chance to revisit Whitehall’s character, a lot of good action with Malick’s surprisingly intimidating bodyguard, Giyera, and also a surprising minor character death. Best of all, this episode sets up for a bombastic part two in the next episode, and that episode in turn pushes the season rapidly towards its finale. This is a solid, classic, Agents of SHIELD episode.

Rating: 8

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Episode 17 – The Team

Daisy and her Secret Warriors help to rescue their fellow agents from HYDRA, only for one of their own to become infected by Hive in the process. Suspicious and distrust ensues.

This is an awesome episode, though I’ll admit that I am a sucker for “who do we trust” storylines. The rescue mission is fun and exciting as the Inhumans flex their powers for the good of the team, but it’s the tense, edge-of-your-seat arguments and suspicion-flinging that really sells this episode. They even manage to pack in some good character beats for Coulson, Fitz, and Simmons into all of this, alongside killing off Malick. Then, of course, the icing on the cake is the reveal that it was Daisy, of all people, who was infected and now betrays the team. Shocking and awesome in equal measure.

Rating: 9.5

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Episode 18 – The Singularity

Hive utilizes Daisy and the other infected Inhumans as he continues to plot, and Fitz and Simmons head out to recruit a new lead that could potentially turn the tide.

A solid episode, but one buoyed by introducing Holden Radcliffe (in an incredible performance by John Hannah, and a character who is hugely important in the next season), and also every single scene with Daisy. I’ll go more in detail about in coming up, but the intricacies of Hive’s infectious mind-control are so interesting to watch play out through Daisy’s character (and Chloe Bennet’s acting). More of Fitz and Simmons is great, especially as they also have a few quiet moments alongside the action beats in this episode, and there’s even a bit of Talbot as the icing on the cake.

Rating: 8.5

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Episode 19 – Failed Experiments

Doctor Radcliffe, abducted by Hive, is forced into creating a serum that will turn innocent humans into Inhumans, so that Hive can infect the entire world.

An episode that answers a bunch of lingering questions, such as Hive’s backstory, the extent of his plans for the world, and what would happen if two highly trained Kree soldiers were summoned to earth and there were a bunch of cool fight scenes and explosions? Sorry, trailed off a little there from my point. To summarize, this episode is awesome. Getting a genuine goal for Hive is great, seeing him fight is a welcome treat, and the Kree are properly threatening (after a relatively lackluster showing last season). The highlight of the episode is also, obviously, the tense standoff between Mack and Daisy. They’ve been partners the whole season, and Mack is desperate to get Daisy back, whereas Daisy is fully under Hive’s sway. Awesome.

Rating: 9

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Episode 20 – Emancipation

In the wake of the Sokovia Accords, Inhumans come under government scrutiny, and a daring plan is hatched to rescue Daisy.

Though this is not meant to discredit the upcoming season finale, it isn’t a stretch to say that this entire season has led to this episode. Talbot learns of the skill and teamwork of the Inhumans working with SHIELD (Lincoln and Yo-Yo, specifically), and Lash is released to actively fight against a genuinely evil Inhuman, instead of the innocents he was killing in earlier episodes. Lash versus Hive is a great fight, and the scene where Lash rescues a nearly emaciated Daisy (at the cost of his life) actually manages to be quite touching. Daisy is safely returned to SHIELD, and the episode ends with the reveal that Hive is going to use a bomb to spread the infecting serum across the world.

Rating: 9

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Episode 21 – Absolution

While the rest of the agents launch a plan to stop Hive and his warhead, Daisy confronts the realization of everything wrong she did while under the vile Inhuman’s sway.

The action and spy subterfuge half of this episode is excellent, don’t get me wrong. Every member of the team contributes in halting Hive’s plan with the warhead, whether it be through a guns-blazing fight scene or a subtle AI deepfake manipulation (which is a very welcome humorous scene for Fitz and Talbot). Actually managing to catch Hive in a clever trap is a surprise, even if it doesn’t last all too long. This episode also does a good job in establishing the clear stakes and threat that will drive the plot for the impending finale to come.

But, I can’t deny, it’s Daisy that I’m here for. Her lingering, soul-crushing guilt that what Hive made her do is heart-breaking to watch, as is the scene where she breaks down crying when Mack tells her that he forgives her. Or rather, I shouldn’t say “made her do”, because it’s actually “made her want to do”. Unlike conventional brainwashing tropes, Hive’s infection functions like a drug. It doesn’t tell you what to do, it just makes you instinctually want to protect him so he can keep hitting you with another high. He doesn’t force you to obey him, he coerces your mind into genuinely believing that his presence is what is best for you.

And, like all stories of recovering drug addicts, it isn’t always an immediate happy family. The first chance she gets, Daisy runs right back to Hive, begging him to take her back. She’s desperate for that high…and succumbing to the drug is easier than facing the consequences of she believes to be her justly-deserved retribution. It’s a powerful cliffhanger.

Rating: 9.5

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Episode 22 – Ascension

Hive and SHIELD have one final bout to determine the fate of humanity, and the team loses a member in an unforgettable sacrifice.

The grand finale of season three is here, and what a finale it is. There’s hardly a single thing missing in an episode as packed as this one. Multiple fight scenes against Hive (the most bombastic of which being a beatdown at the hands, or quake powers, of Daisy, once it becomes clear that Lash’s energy gift has prevented Daisy from ever being infected by Hive again). Fitz gets a super clever takedown of the brutal bodyguard Giyera, and the full extent of Daisy’s future vision comes into focus. Hive’s true form is also shown (curtesy of genuinely fantastic CGI) in a great battle of wits with Coulson, that even manages to sneak in a Star Wars reference.

The highlight is, of course, Lincoln’s sacrifice and the death of Hive. It’s a startlingly somber, beautiful scene that is a fittingly perfect end to both of these characters (with a gorgeous piano rendition of the main theme in the background). On top of that, it wonderfully enhances Daisy’s character, as the horrific guilt she’s being plagued by led her to be the one who wanted to sacrifice herself as atonement. Now, the guy she loved is dead in her place, and in her remorseful, self-loathing mindset, she’s only able to see that as yet another death that is all her fault. It’s so bad that she even runs from SHIELD, becoming a covert vigilante instead.

Best of all, these dramatic events have genuine impact on the show moving forward, and aren’t simply forgotten in a time jump between seasons!

Rating: 10

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Well, I hope I’m not starting to sound like a broken record, but Agents of SHIELD is literally the textbook definition of a show that just keeps getting better with each season. And don’t expect this trend to start slowing down anytime soon, either!

Even when the focus fluctuates a bit, this season really benefits from never losing sight of the impact of Inhumans on society, the threats that come with the new world order, and the bonds of our main cast. More so than the previous seasons, Daisy really blossoms into a fully-realized character here, and other secondary characters get chance after chance to shine brightly. AOS is nothing if not a show with excellent character writing, and the witty humor, tense action, and exciting twists on just the icing on the cake!

Rating: 9

But hey, that’s just my opinion!

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