Please be warned, this post has spoilers for this season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has felt like a completely different show this season. On the surface, its Inhumans plot offers the prospect of new, fantastic superheroes being introduced (and sometimes killed) each episode. But bubbling below the razzle-dazzle of special effects is a more curious, emotional story about the fragility of human nature.
The two forces came together in the show's fourth episode, "Devils You Know," on Tuesday — the best episode of this third season. Like any superhero show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has to balance human drama with the visual excitement of energy blasts and chest-crushing monsters, all within 42 minutes. And "Devils You Know" was a taste of how good Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can be when it manages to do that.
The episode centers on two important manhunts, but splinters off into smaller, more intimate stories that test the characters' relationships. Here are three of the show's most pivotal moments from Tuesday's episode:
Just how many Inhumans are there?
The main thrust of this season has been the Inhumans, humans who possess latent alien DNA that, when triggered, gives them superpowers. This development has brought out new villains and new heroes, as well as more special effects. There's a new excitement with each episode, because you're constantly wondering who's going to walk onscreen, if they're Inhuman, and what can they do if they're Inhuman.
We got a little taste of that in the opening scene of "Devils You Know," when we see an Inhuman couple roasting a chicken. Cooking dinner is a relatively mundane act, and they use their powers nonchalantly. It's refreshing to see people use their powers in this way, considering we've only seen superpowers in the context of fight scenes.
What we find out, shortly before they perish, is that there's a community of Inhumans who existed before the Terrigen spill. We don't know how big that community is, just that there's a substantial number of them (enough to warrant a listserv). It adds a different dynamic to the newly transformed Inhumans, by showing that there are people who have already learned to deal with their new powers and adjust to "normal" life.
It makes me wonder how much the show will tie in its comic book source material. In Marvel's comics, the Inhumans carved out their own life — complete with an Inhuman royal family — without human interference for eons, in a kingdom called Attilan. Despite being technologically advanced, the Inhumans are in many ways backward and outdated, and still believe (until recently) in a caste system. How much or how little of that is incorporated, as well as which characters from that world, will be something to look out for.
In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s season premiere, we were introduced to a monster who's hunting Inhumans and leaving gaping holes in their chests after he's through with them. On Tuesday's episode, we finally found out his name: "Lash."
But we haven't yet found out why he's killing Inhumans.
In the comic books, Lash is an Inhuman from a lost city who kills other Inhumans whom he feels aren't worthy. That's been changed on the show. We find out that he's connected to a man named Dwight Frye, an Inhuman whose mutation is that he gets violently ill around other Inhumans. But Lash's partnership with Frye isn't really equal, nor is it anything more than a way for Lash to find more Inhumans to presumably kill.
Hunter and May will never be the same
The show's most powerful moment is one that didn't get as much time as the Inhuman hunt. May (Ming-Na Wen) and Hunter's (Nick Blood) hunt for Ward (Brett Dalton) isn't as flashy, but it might be the show's most powerful thread.
After supplying Hydra with weapons, Hunter has infiltrated the fledgling organization and finally found Ward. He and May have Ward cornered, until Ward, the sneaky bastard, reveals that his men will kill Dr. Garner (Blair Underwood) if he isn't set free.
May has to choose whether to let Ward free to smuggle out those weapons or have his men kill the love of her life. Last week, the show explored how much being an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. kills your humanity. Now May is forced to make a choice about which part of herself — her heart or her conscience — she'll have to kill in this moment.
But that choice disintegrates as Hunter takes the decision out of her hands and goes after Ward, guns blazing. His reasoning: More people will die if the weapons get into the wrong hands. The decision was easy for Hunter — in the last episode he had to endure the pain of killing someone he thought was his friend.
We see that May is upset, but it's hard to decipher whether it's because the love of her life is dead (the show makes it look like Garner clearly died, but never say never); or if it's because she doesn't agree with Hunter's decision; or if it's because she would have chosen differently; or that Hunter didn't give her a choice.
All we know is that May and Hunter's relationship will never be the same.