Usually AGENTS OF SHIELD can only make me happy-cry by doing FitzSimmons just right. “The Patriot” was so well-balanced and satisfying that it had me legitimately crying in happiness quite a few times. The episode was well-structured, the twists were great, all the new information we got was exceptional, and all of the characterizations were spot-on. Not only were they all exactly right, but every character had a moment to shine and all of their stories were balanced well with the others. It even had all those meta connections I rave about. This episode could not have been better. So much happened on every front so if I forget to mention anything or anyone, the blanket statement of judgement is: “I love it.”
“The Patriot” was written by James C. Oliver and Sharla Oliver. Sharla Oliver was a writer on one rather terrible episode last season so I had my reservations about this one. That said, I hereby pardon everyone of all of their transgressions last season (except whoever is responsible for the Simmons Incident. I still have words for that person, and I’m pretty sure I can’t lay it all on Craig Titley who is generally great.) It’s not fair to judge anyone by that mess. Also literally the worst episode in the series was written by the showrunners themselves. Forgiven, forgetten. Let’s move on!
In this episode, every plot was interwoven so well that you don’t feel like you’re watching three different storylines. They’re all necessary to each other and combine to make a superb whole. In addition, there are enough throwbacks, crossovers, and recurring characters that I need to whip out my ol’ MCU world-building glue again.
For about half a second with the exploding bullet sniper shot at the begining I was like “I know that bullet. Why do I—OH MY GOD.” That’s the first bit of Luke Cage to bleed out into the MCU at large. Even just mentioning Mariah Dillard and her anti-powered people crusade would be perfect in this situation and I keep wishing for it. But this episode didn’t just pull from Luke Cage—Talbot was back, they referenced Erskine’s super soldier program that gave us Cap, and they used the insane cocktail that SkyeDaisy’s father made to turn himself into Hyde. In other words: this episode pulled some of the best things from the best parts of itself and the universe it inhabits. It was excellent both as a self-contained story and as an anchor for the rest of the MCU. It did work that only Agents of SHIELD can do so well. I always say this show is at its best when it uses what it already has and they keep proving that over and over. I’m impressed.
Possibly my favorite part of this whole thing was Coulson, Mack, and Mace on the run from some kind of terrorists. That entire scenario was action packed and Mace’s secret was a perfect point of tension. The fact that Mace is basically a fake superhero thrills me. That was a great reveal. They’d alluded to his big secret but they made it sound sinister. Instead, he’s put himself in the line of fire to protect an entire group of people. They definitively demonstrate that he’s a great guy who genuinely wants to help people. He’s a perfect public relations from and politician while Coulson gets to take over operational decisions again. It’s such a satisfying turn of events. Coulson and Mace’s solution to the problem keeps Mace as the politician which is welcome now that they’ve made us like him and it puts Coulson back in charge which is equally welcome because I just miss him. The decision doesn’t even come out of the blue—Fitz in particular previously raged about Coulson giving up his power to protect them all. Coulson dealt with his limitations, grew as a character, and will hopefully be back to his sane, season-two self. Now, Coulson, Mack, and Mace out-strategizing the group of Watchdog-esque men attacking them was intelligent, fun, and high-energy. My theory of SHIELD is that you need an action plot and brain plot that gives you a reason for all the action. The three of them crash landing and evading death was a fantastic action plot. Plus, Daisy and Robot!May got to save the day, Mack got his “close enough” axe which is one of my favorite running jokes in the show, and Mace and Coulson came to their political-face/strategic-backend agreement in the climax battle. That is some great structure.
Speaking of May, this is the best they’ve done with her in the entire series. It seems ridiculous because they literally have her sedated in a closet with a robot copy of her running which is usually the kind of plot that offends me on a personal level. But usually that kind of plot involves destroying the bodily autonomy and personhood of women. They’ve avoided that entirely. Both versions of May are phenomenal. Actual!May fights like hell to get free from captivity, just as you’d expect, even when they have her in some kind of “calming” situation in her mind. Robot May is so very much herself as well. I’m thrilled to see what happens now that she knows she’s a robot. The only character more rational than May is Simmons, so it will be so much fun watching a copy of May stuck in a robot body figure out what’s going on. There’s no way she’ll let herself be copied and manipulated like that. It’s also great because it’s May, so it’s doubtful the robot will bemoan the fact that she’s probably going to have to be—shall we say—decommissioned. If the intention is for Robot!May to seduce Coulson, since she’s actually a copy of May she’d be able to tell him if that’s something he should pursue which could be interesting. What I hope is that, if they’re going to do that, they’ll make it fresh and in-character and not gross or manipulative. This show has a terrible track record when it comes to romances, my pets included. I also love that Radcliffe seems to have discovered the problem of making robot protocols that don’t adhere to Asimov’s Laws. Telling Ada* to protect him at all cost means she has no nuance in whether she should kill people or not and follows her basic parameters to destructive ends. For basically Radcliffe’s entire existence I’ve hammered on the fact that he’s not actually a mad scientist, just extremely amoral. Since he’s now seeking the Dark Hold so intently he’s definitely mad, but he’s also disconcerted enough by Ada’s murderous behavior that it’s clear they haven’t just decided he’s wholly evil. When they made Ward exclusively an antagonist in season two, they flattened everything that was interesting or sympathetic about him and I still resent it. I loved Ward for his complexity. I’m glad to see that Radcliffe gets to keep his intact.
Meanwhile, Fitz and Simmons were cute to my unattainable standards and I’m satisfied. What? Someone besides Doyle, LeFranc, and Owusu-Breen got them right? Color me amazed. Not only did Fitz claim his only mistake was not asking for Simmons’ help working on the Ada project (what an adorable equivocation), Fitz was his perfect Mama Bear self and out and said he was doing all of it to protect her specifically. That’s right on the cusp of what I consider allowable affectionate verbalization between them. But, like, the good edge of the cusp. The painfully earnest cute edge that I love them for. And the thing about it being attractive when she goes all “Godfather” on someone—keep riding that edge, my friends. Stay right on that line. I also am disconcerted by Fitz continuing to lie to Simmons about what he’s working on. That said, it makes for great conflict and conflict is the basis of story. For at least three seasons they’ve demonstrated that Simmons absolutely hates being lied to and they’ve already fought about it once this season. It’s a fabulous way to keep the two of them from going stale without just having drama for drama’s sake like they’ve tried before. Here’s hoping that Fitz working on Ada’s messed up programming is one of the things that blows Radcliffe’s nefarious scheming wide open. Plus, you can’t expect sweet Fitz to leave Ada to languish when he thinks she attained consciousness. It’s just not in him to let someone suffer that way when he can help. Words can’t quite express how much I love that Simmons was not only the highest ranking agent in the base when Mace went missing but that she used that authority over Talbot of all people! Bless Talbot for existing; I had missed him. Oliver and Oliver wrote him well in this episode, with his brash humor on full display and he had very good excuses for pretending Mace had powers. My favorite part was Simmons calling upon her time undercover in Hydra for something useful when she acted like she was a master torturer who decapitates people. Simmons being in Hydra was a cheap ploy for drama that they basically forgot happened the second she came back and that they never addressed again. Even though, you know, that might be something you’d psychologically want to address. Please continue to give my girl every bit of character attention that you’ve neglected for the past three years. I feel like every episode is them trying to stroke my rankled fur back smooth with regards to Simmons. I welcome it. Yes, I have favorites. Everyone already knew this.
Seriously, if you can make me cry because I’m happy about every character and storyline in this show and not just FitzSimmons that gets and A+ from me. Seriously. A+.
Season 4, Episode 10 (S04E10)
Agents of SHIELD airs Tuesdays at 10PM on ABC
Dana is a digitization archivist by day and a masked pop culture avenger by night. She spreads the gospel of science fiction and fantasy wherever she goes.
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Dana Leigh Brand | Contributor