Maybe, like a good stock portfolio, the key to a good Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is diversification. The best thing about this week’s episode, “Uprising,” isn’t any individual story. It’s how deftly the show juggles so many stories without losing track of any.
The episode begins with a villain knocking out all of the electricity in Miami, where Yo-Yo Rodriguez happens to be attending a bachelorette party. And when a representative for the “Inhuman Resistance” claims responsibility for the attack — and threatens to take out another city every hour — S.H.I.E.L.D. scrambles to uncover what’s actually happening before the entire world goes dark.
True to form, Coulson, Mack, and Fitz are quick to recognize that the “Inhuman Resistance” story doesn’t remotely add up. The only known Inhuman with the ability to knock out an entire city’s worth of electronics is Lincoln, who died in last year’s season finale. Even if it were a single Inhuman with electrical powers, how would they hop from Miami to London to Moscow in just a single hour? Fitz quickly deduces that the blackouts are actually being caused by EMPs, which were planted by the Watchdogs, an anti-Inhuman hate group seeking to turn the tide of public opinion.
While S.H.I.E.L.D. zeroes in on the source of the EMP, Yo-Yo is trying to stay alive, as a separate group of Watchdogs rush the hotel in an effort to ferret out the Inhuman in the crowd. There’s a little “Monsters are Due on Maple Street” in Yo-Yo’s storyline, as the group of terrified hostages — the ringleader of whom is clearly modeled on that asshole with the beard from Die Hard — baselessly accuse each other of secretly being Inhumans. Rather hilariously, the most suspected target is a fedora-clad dude who calls himself the Amazing Mertz, whose attempt to impress women with close-up magic is retroactively misjudged as a superpower.
Yo-Yo stays undercover, calmly attempting to keep everyone else from descending into bigotry without success. Through it all, Yo-Yo’s friend Maria is cartoonishly one note: She openly dismisses all Inhumans as expendable “freaks of nature,” responds to a citywide blackout by saying, “No more blended drinks,” and somehow never takes off her bride-to-be sash in the middle of a terrorist attack. But even if the episode lays it on a little thick, it’s heartbreaking to watch Yo-Yo stand quietly as her friends unknowingly denounce her.
It’s the same kind of shared pain that keeps Yo-Yo bonded to Daisy, who winds up indirectly affected by the Watchdogs’ attack when they take down the power grid in Los Angeles. Perhaps unintentionally, the blackout is a reminder that Daisy’s original hook when Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. first began was hacking — she’s not even remotely phased by the impossibility of using a computer when the blackout begins. (When you gain the ability to cause earthquakes, I guess all of your other talents seem a little less valuable.) But even with her superpowers, there’s no reason to do much but hole up and wait for the blackout to subside, so she takes shelter at the Reyes household with Robbie’s brother Gabe.
Up until this point, we’ve only seen Gabe Reyes from his brother’s perspective, and it’s clear that Robbie views his wheelchair-bound younger brother as someone to protect. But Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is wise enough to make the dynamic more complicated than it might have seemed, as Gabe explains his own perspective: If he wasn’t around, Robbie would go off the deep end. And Gabe also turns out to be a quick learner, intuiting that Daisy is the mysterious “Quake” vigilante. “Robbie needs good people around him,” he tells Daisy while his brother is out of earshot. “And that’s not you.”
Gabe’s brush-off is a reminder that Daisy — once the linchpin of a S.H.I.E.L.D. team that’s long since been scattered to the winds — is truly operating alone. Although her powers can get her through a lot, it’s not clear how she’d deal with a situation she couldn’t handle on her own. Take the episode’s third nail-biter of a subplot, which sees Simmons and Dr. Radcliffe barely manage to save Melinda May from death in the midst of the Washington, D.C., blackout. Or take the resolution of Yo-Yo’s subplot, which resolves itself when the S.H.I.E.L.D. team arrives and gives her the window to use her powers to take out the Watchdogs. It’s basically just a small-screen version of that great Quicksilver scene from X-Men: Days of Future Past, but it’s still pretty cool to see how easily Yo-Yo can disarm an entire army of Watchdogs.
As “Uprising” ends, there’s plenty of work left for S.H.I.E.L.D. to do, and internal wounds left to be healed. Mack is still angry with Yo-Yo for lying about being in contact with Daisy. Dr. Radcliffe and Fitz are still covering up the existence of Ada, the off-the-record Life Model Decoy project that’s sure to go haywire at some point this season. And the true source of several major threats has yet to be uncovered — including the ghost-like beings that infected Melinda May in the first place, and the person or organization who bankrolled the Watchdogs’ globe-spanning EMP attack.
But for all the dangling secrets dividing our heroes, the biggest one of all has finally come into the light. In the hours after the S.H.I.E.L.D. team successfully stopped the Watchdogs, Coulson talks the organization’s new director Jeffrey Mace into making a bold public overture. As he reveals that the Watchdogs were behind the attack, Mace also drops another bombshell: Successfully purged of its Hydra infiltrators, S.H.I.E.L.D. is back, operating in the public eye for the good of humankind again. It’s a revelation that will make the organization both more effective and a bigger target.
- The stinger reveals that Senator Nadeer — a politician with a vehemently anti-Inhuman stance — is harboring a secret of her own. Her brother seems to be caught in the statuesque form that characterizes mid-Terrigenesis, which means he’s on his way to becoming an Inhuman himself.
- After a few pointed hints, “Uprising” makes it official: The new Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. is Jeffrey Mace, a.k.a. the Patriot. Aside from being a fun little easter egg for Marvel fans, it’s unclear whether this Jeffrey Mace has any connection whatsoever to his comic-book counterpart a non-superpowered character who fought crime and briefly took on the mantle of Captain America.
- Exasperated geeky Fitz is the best Fitz, so it was a blast to see him track down the terrorists via a compass made from a cork and pin in a bowl of water. Ditto for his consternation that his fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. agents didn’t spend any time in the Boy Scouts.
- I hate to nitpick Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for its questionable connections to the rest of the Marvel universe, since they’d surely welcome the opportunity to have a crossover with the rest of the MCU, but terrorists causing blackouts in London, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., et al, would surely attract the attention of at least one Avenger, right?
- “When you eliminate the improbable … you’ve got to consider the impossible,” suggests Dr. Radcliffe, in a Marvel-fied inversion of a famous Sherlock Holmes quote.
- Next week: In a development that’s sure to delight Agent Coulson, Robbie Reyes finally comes face-to-face with the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D.