[Requisite spoiler warning: This recap discusses "Failed Experiments" at length.]
As Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. nears the end of its third season, a pattern has emerged: Nobody who works for S.H.I.E.L.D. is willing to put their personal feelings aside to complete a mission. Take this week's "Failed Experiments," which features two distinct S.H.I.E.L.D. agents disobeying Coulson's direct orders. Lincoln injects himself with an experimental antivenom that might free Daisy from Hive's influence — or it might just kill him outright. Meanwhile, Mack veers away from a mission in a quixotic attempt to confront Daisy, convince her to abandon Hive, and come back home. As May complains in the episode's best and most accurate line, "Why is everyone making this about themselves?"
This isn't the first time Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has raised questions about personal relationships undermining the greater good. (In season two, a rival S.H.I.E.L.D. led by Edward James Olmos's Robert Gonzales challenged Coulson's ramshackle organization for exactly that reason.) But the critique is more pointed and potent when it's coming from Daisy, who was utterly reshaped by Coulson's leadership, and now rejects it. Daisy may be under the influence of Hive's parasite, but when she criticizes Coulson's "team of misfit toys" for attempting to fill their inner emptiness with S.H.I.E.L.D., she's not wrong.
Of course, Hive isn't the answer to everyone's problems, either. As the episode begins, Hive finally lays out both the story of its past and its plans for the future. Like so many of its own victims, Hive began as an innocent human — a prehistoric hunter using a spear to take down wild boar. In an O. Henry–esque twist, the hunter quickly becomes the hunted, as a pair of blue-skinned Kree reavers land from outer space and abduct him. After a round of unpleasant-looking experiments, the hunter has been transformed into Hive.
As for the future, Hive's big plan hinges on recreating that Kree experiment. It wants to turn the rest of humankind into Inhumans, which it can subsequently absorb and control. Hive's first attempt uses the blood of a dead Kree, and when his test subjects immediately melt into horrifying piles of goo, it learns that the blood of a living Kree is the missing part of the formula.
For the past few episodes, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has boiled down to S.H.I.E.L.D. against Hive and its minions, but "Failed Experiments" throws in a wild card in the form of the Kree — the regretful progenitors of all this Inhuman chaos. There's nothing particularly interesting about the Kree themselves; though the blue-skinned, blade-wielding aliens make a pretty distinctive impression visually, the episode never bothers to give them any actual dimension.
Ultimately, the Kree serve as a welcome complication to the season's overarching conflict. As the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents descend on the compound to kill Hive before it can do any more damage, it's unclear what the Kree will do when they come face-to-face with Hive, the monster they created so many millennia before. Given the circumstances, May makes the smartest choice available: Hang back and hope the Kree will kill Hive, doing S.H.I.E.L.D.'s dirty work without anybody firing a single bullet. Unfortunately, Hive has had literally thousands of years to plot against the Kree, and it doesn't waste this opportunity, turning yet another living creature into a smoking pile of viscera.
That leaves the episode to focus on Mack's dogged insistence that he can make Daisy see the error of her ways. You can imagine exactly how this might play out on a lesser series: a heartfelt speech designed to win Daisy back to the light, a tearful resistance that ends in a breakdown, the power of friendship winning out over the power of Hive's brain parasite, while Mack and Daisy limp off to safety together.
But "Failed Experiments" doesn't cheat. When Mack tells Daisy he knows some part of her is resisting Hive, she flatly rejects the idea. And when Mack takes out the Kree sample Hive requires for its experiments, Daisy turns on him in a fury, nearly killing him with her earthquake powers before May shows up, shoots her, and drags Mack to safety.
In the wake of S.H.I.E.L.D's escape, Hive confronts Daisy on her failure, questioning whether her disavowal of her former allies is as total as she claims. And in a gesture of solidarity that doubles as a callback for longtime Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. viewers, Daisy tells Hive that Coulson once saved her life by injecting her with Kree blood, then offers herself up for the purposes of Hive's experiment.
If it works — and there's no reason to believe it won't — S.H.I.E.L.D. will no longer have any justification for letting Daisy live. The fate of the world hinges on stopping Hive, and Hive's plan hinges on Daisy. Credit to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for refusing to make this conflict easy on our heroes. As the episode ends, Mack is in the sick bay recovering from Daisy's brutal beating, and Lincoln is suffering in quarantine from the effects of an antivenom that, as it turns out, cannot cure her anyway. None of the easy solutions have worked. Which S.H.I.E.L.D. agent will step up to try one of the hard ones?
- Compared to previous MCU tie-in episodes, which have essentially doubled as commercials, the shout-out to this week's release of Captain America: Civil War is relatively restrained (if not a little cheesy). "Only billionaires can build iron suits," Hive says. "Only the military can make super soldiers. Which can only lead to a war of its own." Dare I say … a civil war?
- For reasons I never quite understood, "Failed Experiments" also introduces a couple of S.H.I.E.L.D. redshirts: Agent O'Brien (Derek Phillips) and Agent Piper (Briana Venskus). IMDB informs me that O'Brien was technically introduced in flashbacks during season two's "Melinda," which aired in April 2015. If you instantly recognized him, you're much better with faces than I am.
- After introducing the tea party–esque Watchdogs a few weeks ago, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. gets political once again by having Hive take up residence in a Flint-esque town in Wyoming, where residents have fled due to poisoned water.
- Fitz and Simmons continue to provide much-needed stability and comic relief. This week, the subject is her pushover ex-boyfriend, Milton, whom Fitz recalls as a "stupid fat cabbage head."
- Next week: The events of Captain America: Civil War trickle down to the small screen, with consequences for S.H.I.E.L.D. and Inhumans alike.