Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
[Requisite spoiler warning: This recap discusses “The Singularity” at length.]
S.H.I.E.L.D. has never faced a betrayal as painful as the one we saw in last week’s episode, when Daisy Johnson fell to the dark side. Under the neurochemical control of Hive’s parasites, she turned on the team and committed herself to a terribly grave threat: Hive plans to remake the world into a paradise for Inhumans, all of whom will act under its influence.
But while that moment made for a pretty good twist, it also raised plenty of questions about the remainder of the season — and maybe the series, too. Having gone so far off the deep end, can Daisy ever come back? And if she does, how will she be changed?
“The Singularity” dives right into those questions. The episode’s eeriest scenes are built on exploring the newly forged bond between Daisy and Hive, and the effect is only magnified if you’ve been watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. from the very beginning, when Daisy was Skye, an impressionable prospective agent whose allies included Grant Ward. In “The Singularity,” Daisy is still herself, but she’s recognizably different. Though Hive is distant and alien, it’s infused with the intimate knowledge and memories of its many victims — including Ward, Daisy’s onetime mentor and love interest, whose skin Hive is currently wearing. (“You’re so different from him,” she says in wonder.)
The horror of the Daisy/Hive scenario is that it isn’t quite as simple as mind control. Daisy may be acting wildly out of character, but Hive isn’t directly pulling her strings. Every action, from taking out the S.H.I.E.L.D. base to threatening to snap her former allies’ necks, is an active choice she makes. Hive’s effect may be rooted in parasitic brain spores, but it taps deeply into Daisy’s genuine feelings of isolation. As she tells Hive, she has spent her whole life trying to fill the gap that came with never knowing her parents. Over the years, we’ve seen her try to find surrogate solutions: S.H.I.E.L.D., her various mentors, and eventually her actual parents. Nothing worked until Hive took control, and now she’s wholly committed to serving it. Later in the episode, she confronts Fitz as Hive confronts Simmons, and her loyalty to Hive is both terrifying and absolute. “This is your last warning. Next time, I snap your neck,” she warns after nearly choking Fitz to death.
Given the circumstances, can Daisy be blamed for betraying S.H.I.E.L.D.? Of course not. But that’s little consolation to her onetime friends and allies, who are now forced to contemplate whether they have a moral duty to take her down — particularly May and Coulson, who have spent years acting as Daisy’s surrogate mother and father.
It’s here that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. cashes in some chips on another relationship with loads of history. I may be a bit of a Daisy/Mack shipper, but there’s a lot to be said for the show’s strong history of platonic relationships between men and women, and Coulson and May’s deep, occasionally combative bond remains the best of the bunch. Early in the episode, Lincoln calls out Coulson for his weird fixation on treating Daisy like a daughter and not an agent, and he isn’t wrong. But the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. won’t take constructive criticism from just anyone, and after Coulson defends Daisy as a “hostage” instead of a villain, May is the only one who can challenge him in a way that he’ll actually hear. Daisy is a massive threat — exactly the kind of threat that S.H.I.E.L.D. was founded to protect the planet against. If they can’t win her back, they’ll need to take her down. “Phil, you’re not her father,” May gently reminds him. “No, but she’s the closest thing I have to a daughter,” he replies.
With such a tragic, ominous possibility like the death of Daisy on the horizon, even a victory can feel like a defeat. In the episode’s most unexpected and poignant moment, Coulson and May watch quietly as a coordinated strike led by Glenn Talbot takes out every remaining Hydra base on the planet. The moment should be a triumph, giddily toasted over many glasses of champagne by every S.H.I.E.L.D. agent on hand. Instead, it’s almost an afterthought — a relic of a time when S.H.I.E.L.D.’s enemies were both more comprehensible and easier to identify.
Compared to an enemy that so easily converted one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s staunchest loyalists into an adversary, Hydra seems almost quaint. But you should take both your victories and your allies where you can get them, which is why it’s a relief to see “The Singularity” fully commit to the long-simmering relationship between Fitz and Simmons — the show’s sole romance that can, after nearly three seasons, be described as both interesting and healthy.
Fitzsimmons fans have waited a long time for this moment, and “The Singularity” is wise enough to give it plenty of room and the appropriate sense of weight. In the midst of an undercover mission in Bucharest to track down Holden Radcliffe — a body-modifying expert who seeks to become “more than human” — Fitz goes off the grid to talk about sex with Simmons.
Of course, this is Fitz, which means the “should we or shouldn’t we?” conversation begins with a charmingly elaborate metaphor conflating their decision to hook up with crossing an event horizon. They’re at a singularity, he explains: “The point at which a measurable variable becomes infinite.” They could have stayed friends forever, but sex is a threshold from which they won’t be able to step back. Once they’ve done it, there’s no returning to the cozy friendship they’ve enjoyed for years.
Fortunately, it takes Fitz and Simmons all of five seconds to agree that losing the friendship is a risk worth taking. As the episode ends, they finally consummate their affair, pushing their relationship (and the show itself) forward. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is in a dark place right now, and there’s plenty more pain on the horizon. It’s a relief to see the characters who most deserve happiness throw caution to the wind and take joy where they can find it.
- Simmons finally gets closure about Will and makes good on her vow to shoot Ward, putting a bullet in Hive’s stomach as he parrots back some things Will once said to her. (It’s an asterisk, but given that Coulson killed the actual Ward months ago, let’s just say she pulled it off.)
- Hive’s new recruits include Alisha, who can clone herself, and James, who gains the ability to shoot fire from his hands after being exposed to Terrigen Mist.
- This week in goofy spy tech: Coulson’s hologram shield, a totally clutch device that exists only because he thought it would be cool if the S.H.I.E.L.D. director could draw a shield at will. (I have to imagine his Captain America fandom also played a role.)
- Fitz says icers don’t work on Hive’s victims because their brains are too flooded with dopamine. That doesn’t really make any sense, but it does prevent the series from cheating a life-or-death confrontation with Daisy by knocking her out and locking her up.
- Hydra can’t really be gone, right? The whole “cut off one head” metaphor only works if there’s some evil jerk lurking in the shadows, waiting to make sure two more will grow back.
- “What are your muscles made of?” “Me?” Mack, throwing delicious shade at wannabe Inhumans with a single word.
- Next week: The war between S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hive intensifies as Hive tracks down more Inhumans for its growing army.