Spoilers ahead for “Watchdogs,” the latest episode of ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.!
The short version: An anti-Inhuman/superhuman group called the Watchdogs attack a secret ATCU facility, using repurposed Stark tech to implode the building. Mack is on vacation but gets yanked back into the action, since it conveniently occurs near his hometown. Oh, and Mack builds a shotgun-axe. For reasons.
The good: Mack’s time to shine, Watchdogs, SHOTGUN-AXE
With Bobbi and Hunter officially benched while they wait for their spinoff series Most Wanted, the rest of the cast gets a chance to shine in “Watchdogs.” It’s been a long time coming, but Mack is finally front and center with some much-needed backstory and focus. Filling the void left behind by Bobbi and Hunter won’t be easy, but turning the spotlight on Mack was a very good place to start.
This episode provided a nice peek into Mack’s personal life, as he takes a few days off in an effort to spend some time with his younger brother (played by Friday Night Lights alum Gaius Charles), who is struggling with a recent layoff. It’s a nice character moment, seeing Mack spend time with his brother, tinkering with their motorcycles. Of course, it doesn’t take long for all hell to break loose, as we’re finally introduced to the Watchdogs ( a group previously teased in a few throwaway comments in previous episodes). Turns out the Watchdogs have been brewing ever since the Battle of New York and the Sokovia situation with Ultron.
Comic connection: Looking back for a comic touchstone, the Watchdogs are a terrorist organization first introduced in Captain America #335 back in 1987. That incarnation of the group was very right-wing, and designed to symbolize censorship and repression. The TV version is a bit more nuanced, instead taking a knee-jerk response to the introduction of superhumans and Inhumans.
Turns out Mack’s brother has started to fall in with the Watchdogs, creating an interesting (if somewhat heavy-handed and clunky) counterpoint to show how the group is taking advantage of the fear and confusion surrounding the introduction of the Inhumans. It’d be great to see the show continue to pursue this type of story, showing the street-level effect these blockbuster developments are having on the world of the MCU. Of course, Mack’s brother eventually comes around (which, hey, Gaius Charles is a great actor and they do have some openings on the team...), so hopefully we’ll see some more of him in some capacity.
Agent Felix Blake is back! Fan favorite sci-fi actor Titus Welliver made a surprise return to the MCU, as it seems his former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Felix Blake is apparently pulling the strings behind the Watchdogs (which is having its own strings pulled by Hydra). It was a nice throwback to his introduction in the Marvel One-Shot Item 47, along with his several appearances through the series. We’re always up for more Titus Welliver.
Lincoln teams with Coulson: This episode also gave Lincoln a chance to breathe outside of his relationship with Daisy, and teaming him up with Coulson was a nice dynamic. Powers or not, he does still have a lot to prove. Nice to see Coulson circle back to that.
Oh, and arguably the best thing about this episode: Mack creates a makeshift shotgun-axe to take out a Watchdogs strike team. It was glorious.
The bad: Trampling civil liberties, missing Bobbi and Hunter
Dealing with the fear and confusion surrounding the Inhumans via a terrorist group like the Watchdogs is a great idea, and a lot of that story worked. But, not all of it. S.H.I.E.L.D. has often struggled with fully realizing the big ideas it tries to tackle, and this felt like one of those moments. It wasn’t bad, per se, just clunky and a bit heavy-handed. Here’s hoping they do revisit this story in the coming episodes to flesh it out.
With much of the focus on Mack this week, he also found himself somewhat estranged from his partner, Daisy. Turns out, Daisy has apparently come a very long way from her hacktivist days. She had no qualms intimidating a guy (admittedly a potential terrorist, but still) for information, while Mack calls her out for trying to trample on this guy’s civil liberties. It was an odd jump for Daisy, and a weird character direction. If anything, it seemed liked they needed her to be a counterpoint to Mack, even if it didn’t really fit. Daisy is a character who started out fighting for freedom on her own. It defines who she is, and she doesn’t need to lose it.
We mentioned the void left by Bobbi and Hunter, and though this episode did a good job of distracting us, their absence is certainly felt. Yes, they deal with it head on (again, through their closest pal Mack), but it doesn’t make us miss them any less. This is an ensemble show, and they’ve written off two key players. That ain't easy.
Easter eggs galore
My goodness, the easter eggs. Ultron gets a mention from Agent Blake, while the Watchdogs have apparently been growing ranks in the wake of Sokovia and the Battle of New York. The imploding tech used by the Watchdogs was developed by Howard Stark, and Creel also gets a nod this week (thanks to the Inhuman vaccine they’re creating from his blood). Lash also gets a mention, as May and Simmons team up to track him down (another nice, unique pairing). Oh! And Daisy also planted some seeds for the upcoming MCU sitcom Damage Control.
Line of the night: "Shotgun-axe." -Mac