Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 3.14: “Watchdogs” Review

NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” are present in this review



Captain America: Civil War may be just over a month away from hitting theatres, but it seems like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is already starting to build towards the increasing unease and distrust of powered people in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That really came to a head in, “Watchdogs” this week, as a new group of vigilantes sets all manner of powered people, namely Inhumans, in their sights, forcing an intervention by Coulson’s team.

This served as the backdrop for another particularly excellent highlight episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. this week, one that is blatantly pushing the MCU onwards and upwards into very exciting new developments, while also telling a superb story in its own right, and one that is packed with strong political subtext for things like modern debates over minority rights, gun rights, and other such issues. It makes this episode as thrilling as it is smart, and continues to have Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. firing on all cylinders, and performing at its absolute best!

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The great Easter eggs throughout the episode should also be lots of fun for Marvel fans to spot too, especially since many of them are quite subtle. The initial news report that outs the Watchdogs after they implode a building makes mention of the ongoing gang war in Hell’s Kitchen for example, in a quick text crawl, confirming that the events of Daredevil’s new second season on Netflix are taking place at the same time as the current events on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Likewise, Daisy name-drops, “Damage Control” towards the end of the episode, referencing S.H.I.E.L.D.’s elite team of cleaners and information controllers, who are set to get their own sitcom on ABC in the near future, and who haven’t been mentioned since another quick reference in 2008 movie, Iron Man. Finally, the Watchdogs using Nitramine weapons also made for a great reference to Agent Carter, where Peggy’s adventures at Roxxon during its first season saw the compound’s dangerous potential being taken for a test drive.

The big reveal for longtime MCU enthusiasts however came with the revelation that the Watchdogs’ leader is none other than Felix Blake, the former S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent from the Marvel One-Shot short, Item 47, as well as the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Turns out, Blake survived having his spine shattered by Deathlok, and is now heading the Watchdogs as a means of quelling the super-powered menace that is starting to grip Earth in the MCU. Blake’s heavy-handed tactics have seen an unexplained burst in funding and weapons (three guesses where that came from), and after witnessing the Battle for New York from The Avengers, and the collapse of Sokovia from Avengers: Age of Ultron, he thinks it’s time for everyday humans to take back the planet. Given that he was also nearly killed by a cybernetic anti-hero, it’s hard to fault him for that radical belief.

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As cool as it was to have Blake brought back to the MCU in such a dramatic and effective way, post-S.H.I.E.L.D., a bigger strength of the episode came from a bit of insight into Mack’s personal life. While visiting his brother in an attempt to take some time off, before the Watchdogs start unloading Nitramine weapons on ATCU facilities anyway, Mack learns that his brother sympathizes with the Watchdogs, and has the same fear and hatred of powered people. This presented a great character conflict for Mack, particularly given his close friendship with Daisy, along with the fact that Mack’s brother has no idea that he works for S.H.I.E.L.D. As with Blake, Mack’s brother has surprisingly credible reasons for disliking powered people, given his money woes and the fact that the government is sinking numerous funds into the Inhuman situation, almost forgetting about the affairs of normal people. That’s yet another neat way to reinterpret the events of the upcoming Captain America: Civil War, as it almost doesn’t matter which side prevails, when the ordinary folks of the MCU continue to suffer.

Lincoln also got a pretty solid subplot this week, as Coulson takes him along to confront Blake, in an attempt to more directly assess whether Lincoln is truly ready for field work. Coulson brings up that Lincoln obviously has some rage issues, and nearly killed Carl Creel most recently, and that his loyalty to Daisy above all else could make him a flight risk. Referencing Bobbi and Hunter’s sacrifice for the cause during the previous episode was very smart here, and ultimately, the way Lincoln proves himself to Coulson, by following orders without completely abandoning his free will, and without becoming bloodthirsty or uncontrollable, was smart and effective. It still feels like we’re a long way from the proper formation of the Secret Warriors, but having Lincoln win Coulson’s approval was a satisfying step in that direction.

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Finally, Simmons also had a standout character arc this week, as she begins trying to improve her combat capabilities, which also gets the attention of May. This proved to be a strong way to bring Lash back into the Inhuman debate, even with Lash seemingly laying low for the time being, as Simmons brings up that she’s the only woman at S.H.I.E.L.D. that doesn’t have the ability to, “Kill with her bare hands”, and May tries to assure Simmons that what happened with Lash many episodes back was not her fault. Simmons however is wracked with guilt for letting several Inhumans die to save her own skin, and is trying to become a better fighter to rise above it, and prevent a similar tragedy. Fortunately, May’s pain nicely complemented that of Simmons too, as she confirms that the next time she sees her former husband, she will kill him, and end the menace of Lash forever. That’s no doubt easier said than done, but a potential budding kinship between Simmons and May could prove to be a great way to replace the fact that Daisy seems to have since moved on to spending more time with Mack and Lincoln this season.

All in all, “Watchdogs” was a sublime episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and didn’t really have any discernable weaknesses. The political allegories were smart, the Marvel Cinematic Universe Easter eggs were lots of fun, and the buildup to Captain America: Civil War was incredibly enjoyable. The inevitable reveal that Malick was behind the Watchdogs’ advancement as a threat is to be expected, but even just having Blake resurface as an independent antagonist for Coulson, one that is unaware that he’s being manipulated by HYDRA, is appealing enough on its own. Best of all though, even the vigilantes don’t immediately come off as being wrong. There’s no easy answer to the Inhuman epidemic, and this episode made that more apparent than ever.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. hit a superb high point this week, as a group of vigilantes target Inhumans, and an old associate of Coulson's resurfaces!
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Great political themes behind the Watchdogs
Agent Blake resurfacing as Watchdogs leader
Simmons struggling with guilt