Even at the best of times, protecting the world from superpowered maniacs could hardly be described as a "relaxing" life — but four episodes into its third season, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is so jammed with subplots that it can't even squeeze them all into a single episode. Last week, the series ended on a massive cliff-hanger when Simmons insisted she needed to return to the strange planet from which she'd just been rescued. But this week's "Devils You Know" tables that explanation to address two other dangling narratives: the never-ending quest to stop Grant Ward, and the hunt for the Inhuman-killing Inhuman called Lash.
Unfortunately, neither mission goes particularly smoothly. In the former case, that's not particularly surprising; Hunter's obsession with finding and killing Ward has had the stench of doom about it from the very beginning. Hunter has been open about his thirst for revenge, which rarely leads to the kind of calm, rational decision-making that ends in a successful mission. (And if you want to get more pragmatic about it, there's way, way too much potential in "Grant Ward, Hydra Director" for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to kill him off just four episodes into the season.)
Last week, Hunter's undercover machinations landed him a face-to-face meeting with the Hydra Director — but as soon as he walks into the makeshift headquarters, Ward turns around, and it becomes clear that Hunter really didn't have a plan beyond "find Ward and kill him ASAP." Ward and his men open fire, and Hunter is hopelessly outgunned until Melinda "the Cavalry" May arrives and dispatches a bunch of gun-toting henchmen.
If S.H.I.E.L.D. had coordinated a little better, the mission to subdue Grant Ward and crush the remnants of Hydra would probably have gone more smoothly — but the rest of the team is busy with Lash. As the episode begins, a pair of Inhumans who have successfully hidden their powers from the outside world are discovered by Lash anyway. Neither of them lasts long.
Some savvy computer work by Daisy "Oh yeah, she's a hacker too" Johnson enables S.H.I.E.L.D. to track down Dwight Frye, a "divining rod" whose powers enable him to sense the presence of other Inhumans. It makes him the perfect partner in Lash's scheme: Frye tracks down wayward Inhumans, and Lash kills them. "You should be helping him, not hunting him," insists Frye. Later, after killing Frye, Lash makes the same argument to Daisy: "I'm not merciful. I'm necessary."
But while Lash spares Daisy from his Inhuman genocide campaign — for reasons that will surely be explained down the road — she learns something valuable about him. As he walks away, his shadow seems to shift from the bodybuilding monster to a more natural human shape — the kind that could easily blend into a crowd after committing a murder. It's an intriguing explanation for how Lash has managed to slip away so easily, and a clever way for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to cultivate the paranoia that comes from not being sure if you can truly trust anyone.
Back at Hydra headquarters, Ward's anti-S.H.I.E.L.D. contingency comes into play when he reveals that his henchmen have May's ex-husband, Dr. Andrew Garner, under surveillance. Let him go and Andrew walks, Ward promises; come after him, and Andrew dies. May hesitates, but Hunter can't let the opportunity slip away. He manages to shoot Ward, but Ward gets away anyway — and true to his word, Andrew is killed.
It's a wrenching moral decision, and "Devils You Know" makes both sides as understandable as they are horrifying. Hunter may be blinded by his own selfish motives, but he's not wrong: Ward is a truly dangerous enemy, and everyone will be much safer if S.H.I.E.L.D. can eliminate him and shut down his Hydra reboot before it gets any bigger. But Andrew is a trusted ally, a valuable S.H.I.E.L.D. asset, and a man who's personally connected with pretty much every hero the show has. Should he really be sacrificed for the mere possibility of catching Ward, with no backup to fall back on if Hunter and May fail?
Whatever side of the coin you land on, the end result is disastrous for S.H.I.E.L.D. Andrew Garner appeared in just half a dozen episodes over the show's run — but he was one of the show's most innately moral characters all the same. Last year, at a time when Coulson was running S.H.I.E.L.D. ragged, it was Andrew who suggested that there may be something fundamentally rotten at the organization's core. "S.H.I.E.L.D. hasn't changed. None of it's changed," he said. He continued to work as an occasional consultant, but you always got the sense he was essentially performing a clean-up service — a moral arbiter ensuring that S.H.I.E.L.D. never stopped helping people after it wedged its way into their lives.
And now Andrew is dead. It couldn't come at a worse time for May, who can now add another traumatic loss to her already extensive list, or for Coulson, who could really benefit from the unfiltered advice of a trusted expert and friend right now. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is an increasingly dark place, and the death of one of its true unwavering lights will have far-reaching effects for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
- Coulson doesn't spend much time in the field this week, but his rapid-fire conversations with both Rosalind Price and Melinda May are among the episode's highlights.
- It took me a minute to realize that Alisha — the redheaded Inhuman working with S.H.I.E.L.D. at the beginning of the episode — was the same Alisha who posed such a threat to S.H.I.E.L.D. in season two's finale. Did I miss the explanation for when/why she switched sides?
- It was just last week that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. tried to sell some kind of star-crossed romance between Daisy and Lincoln — but is it too late for the show to set up a romance between Daisy and Mack instead? The easy, teasing banter brings out the best in both characters, and the chemistry between Chloe Bennet and Henry Simmons is as natural as anyone either character has been paired with.
- More fun with real-world events: Per Andrew Garner, the 2010 Chilean mining accident also happened in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What, Iron Man was too busy to help?
- Next week: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. breaks format with an entire episode focused on Simmons's struggle to survive on an alien planet.
Scott Meslow is the entertainment editor for TheWeek.com.