For all its ups and downs, missed opportunities, dropped balls, and overly fast storytelling, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s third season mishaps can almost be entirely forgiven for resulting in a tense, exhilarating and frankly brilliant penultimate episode. “Absolution” fired on all cylinders from the first scene and didn’t let up for 42 minutes. The episode’s final ten minutes are nail biting and build to a fantastic cliffhanger that perfectly sets up what is assured to be a game changing finale – that being said, “Absolution” and the finale “Ascension” really serve as an extra long two part finale, which is how it was aired in the US. Shame UK viewers will have to wait a week in between.
You can almost be forgiven for thinking an episode has already been missed as “Absolution” picks up in the middle of the action. After learning last week that Hive intends to use a missile to spread his Inhuman creating pathogen, we pick up some days later as S.H.I.E.L.D locate and infiltrate a silo on a Pacific island that is being used as the launch site.
As Hive and his cronies begin the countdown, Coulson races against the clock to get hold of the silo’s kill codes – which happen to be in the possession of the US Air Force. With the help of Fitz and General Talbot (in a very questionable scheme), Coulson obtains the codes and the launch is aborted. Hive is not only thwarted, but captured; alas, the warhead is disconnected and carried off by Giyera and James. We’re getting ahead of ourselves a little, so lets break down what worked and what didn’t.
The opening is brilliant, skipping all the discussions and planning of the showdown instantly trims all extraneous fat and this is the strongest example of when this seasons accelerated story telling actually works to the shows advantage.
Meanwhile, among all the chaos, Daisy is locked in isolation, suffering the withdrawal effects of being freed from Hive’s sway. Although her moping and guilt at her betrayal seems misplaced – ease up love, you were brainwashed! – it’s actually given a believable context when she reveals she misses Hive’s influence and like a true addict, her dependence and desire for it causes her to lash out at others and her own actions. It’s well-handled, although Daisy’s trademark self-assurance that she’s right this time seems a little off. Particularly when her team try to push for more information on Hives plans, it’s like she forgets how vital it all is.
Although initially jarring that everything seems to have been resolved so quickly and more or less cleanly within 15 minutes – missing warhead aside – the calm before the final storm is welcome and we get plenty of good character moments before the true climax rears its head.
John Hannah’s Holden Radcliffe has never worked as a character, despite his insistence that he is coerced and terrified into being Hive’s mad scientist, his irksome propensity to crack jokes and make light of his essentially horrifying situation like a pantomime buffoon just makes everything else lose weight and levity. No disrespect to John Hannah – he’s doing what he can with an ill-conceived role.
The weird green screen/motion capture comedy duo plot that Fitz executes with Talbot seems far too comic-book-y and silly even for a show like this, however, once again Ian DeCaesteckers performance sells it. Plus it leads to the brilliant and frantic entering of the kill code as Coulson dictates it to Fitz at light-speed.
Why didn’t Hive sway Lincoln when he had him cornered? Seems really off, and not true to the character, particularly given what happens in part two. Again, sacrificing character for forced story wheels.
The surprising capture of Hive in an Inhuman stasis pod was a welcome shock, a great left field turn and is a genuine punch-the-air moment for the teams first major victory all season. However, the immediate and looming feeling that he will somehow escape for the last episode quickly swallows this.
And so we reach the last 10 minutes, which are incredibly tense and brilliantly executed as the “Absolution” of the episode’s title comes to the fore. As the base goes on lockdown to transport Hive we see that among the assets acquired from the silo are a bunch of boxes baring the address of Absolution, Montana – presumably the name given to Hive’s conquered mining town.
With a flick of a switch on a remote detonator from outside the base, James and Giyera ignite the boxes, causing a cloud of Hive’s toxin to spread through S.H.I.E.L.D.s main hanger. As agents succumb to the gas and transform into Inhuman primitives, we are forced to watch Fitz scream and beg the others to reverse the lockdown as the creatures drag more agents into the mist. Eventually escaping with the help of Simmons, Fitz narrowly avoids the freeing of Hive.
As the primitives tear apart the stasis pod, Daisy free’s herself from isolation, only to make her way to the ancient entity. As he wanders onto the Zephyr Quinjet – the only thing capable of high enough altitude to release the toxin, Daisy meets him on-board, only to kneel down and beg him to take her back… perfectly setting the scene for next week’s season finale.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. currently airs on E4, Sundays at 9PM