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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Watchdogs - Review

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “Watchdogs,” was written by Drew Z Greenberg and was directed by Jesse Bochco. The episode provides some pretty interesting insights into Mack’s (Henry Simmons) background and introduces us to his brother Ruben (Gaius Charles). The episode also introduces us to the radical group the Watchdogs and re-introduces us to Felix Blake – played by the always terrific Titus Welliver! There are also plenty of Avenger references in this episode, so it looks like the tie in to Captain America: Civil War is starting now, leading up to the May 6 release.

The team is still reeling from the loss of Hunter and Bobbi, but Mack and Coulson (Clark Gregg) seem to be feeling it the hardest. In fact, Mack is taking a “vacation” and visiting his brother to help him work on his motorcycle – a passion the two brothers share. It seems like the two were once close, but it also seems like S.H.I.E.L.D. forces its agents to isolate themselves and Mack is no exception – he and Reuben have grown apart. As the episode unfolds, we learn that Reuben has recently lost his job, and Mack encourages him to pursue his talent and passion for cooking. For his own part Mack tells his brother that "management's out of control, new people keep coming in every day and two friends I was closest to got a transfer... for good." He's still having issues with Coulson and all the inhumans and Bobbi and Hunter have clearly left a hole for him.

The online protest group – the Watchdogs of the title – implode an ACTU facility – that just happens to be where Mack is vacationing – so Coulson calls him in to help Daisy (Chloe Bennet) and Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) investigate. Reuben isn’t happy to be pushed aside so easily.

Meanwhile, Lincoln (Luke Mitchell) returns from his evaluation. Daisy is ready to have him join the away team, but Coulson benches him – only to have Lincoln go on an away mission with him.

I’d forgotten just how much fun it was to have Mack and Fitz work together – even finishing each other’s sentences or talking in unison! I loved Daisy referring to them as the nerd herd! Fitz determines that the bombs used to implode the building contained nitramine – an unstable explosive developed by Stark Industries – and most recently used in Agent Carter! Love this universe…. Both Fitz and Mack point out that nitramine can be neutralized with sodium hydrogen acetate.

Mack turns to Fitz and suggests they bring the debris back with them to study. Fitz just gives him the 100-yard stare and asks him if he’s been working out. Mack is confused. Fitz – disgusted – points out that the ball of rubble weigh 100,000 tons – because it’s an entire building! Mack takes the dig in stride – that’s a no, then… Fitz is still slightly socially awkward – something mirrored later in the episode by Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge). The entire imploding effect was awesome, however.

When Daisy tells Coulson about the nitramine, he immediately has an inkling that Felix Blake is behind the attack as he was fixated on making nitramine into a weapon for S.H.I.E.L.D. Coulson takes Lincoln with him to investigate one of Blake’s safehouses. Coulson tells Lincoln he wasn’t happy with his evaluation and explains on the plane.

Coulson says the evaluation didn’t say anything Lincoln doesn’t already know. Lincoln’s there for Daisy – not the cause. Commitment is Coulson’s first concern. His second is control because those issues didn’t stop with AA. Lincoln went nuclear on both Lash and Creel. Lincoln tries to justify it, but Coulson’s big concern is that Lincoln didn’t follow orders. “You can’t just be at S.H.I.E.L.D. You have to be a part of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Lincoln says he’s trying, but everything’s a test – and he sounds like a whiney child.

When Lincoln interrupts Coulson, Coulson really does get angry. He tells Lincoln, “Don’t interrupt me. You haven’t earned that yet. I don’t know you. I’ve vetted every member of this team except you. Measured their commitment to this ideal, including two good agents who just gave it all up to protect that ideal. I think that you could be a good agent, but I need to know if you think that and that you want it badly enough. So you stay in control and you follow my orders and I’ll decide if you get to be an agent or not. Understood?” Lincoln says “Yes, sir.” But he looks a bit petulant about is still to me… It’s a terrific scene, however and gives some nice insight into Coulson and how much losing Bobbi and Hunter has affected him.

Meanwhile, Daisy, Mack, and Fitz discuss how to track down the Watchdogs locally. Mack wonders what made them “go from anonymous trash talking online to…” Daisy finishes “domestic terrorism.” She suggests that someone – likely Blake – radicalized them. Fitz points out that hate gives you direction and that’s dangerous. Daisy has been tracking them online and suggests picking one of them up. Mack is not happy. Does that make them the Gestapo? He asks Daisy, “Do your powers give you the right to side step civil liberties? Daisy points out that they gave up their right to civil liberties when they imploded a building. Mack insists, “It’s not about how they act – it’s how we respond!” Mack says he won’t go along with it and goes back to his “vacation.” Daisy says, “Fitz! You’re with me.” And Fitz questions, “Am I?” He might be physically with her but it’s clear he’s not on board with the plan.

Mack returns home to a drunk Ruben, who is ready to tell Mack the truth. Ruben’s health benefits are about to run out, there are no jobs out there, and his mortgage is upside down. Mack has no idea what his brother’s been going through. Furthermore, Ruben takes him to task for leaving their parents for Ruben to look after. When Ruben quotes the Watchdogs directly from their website, it’s clear he’s been reading them online. Mack warns Ruben to stay away from them.

Fitz’s reluctance is even more obvious when the two stop Dallas (Trenton Rostedt) and Daisy uses her powers on him to extract information. Fitz keeps him in the truck with Daisy by holding a gun on him, but it’s clear from Fitz’s face that he’s not happy about it. I’m almost 100% sure that the threat of violence was just that, and Daisy wouldn’t have actually hurt Dallas.

When she calls Mack to tell him the location is Easterling Farms, she doesn’t tell him how she got the information. She says she found someone “willing to talk” – and seems embarrassed. There’s no question that she values his good opinion.

Ruben comes in to apologize to Mack – and even offer to make him lunch, but Mack leaves to join the team in observing the farm. Coulson tells them to observe only. Daisy recognizes Blake’s voice but doesn’t have a visual. The plan falls apart when Ruben shows up, having overheard where Mack was going on his “insurance” claim. In the ensuing scuffle, the Watchdogs mistakenly think Mack has sent a shockwave. Mack tells Daisy and Fitz to shut the operation down and goes after his brother. Daisy disobeys to try to get a visual on Blake and Fitz is shot with the nitramine explosive. Unfortunately, the antidote doesn’t work because Blake has modified the nitramine, and he tells Daisy, “sooner or later this thing will go off and then I’ll implode which is going to be messy!”

They take Watchdog Oscar (Jonathan Camp) with them into a containment pod. Daisy roughs Oscar up a bit to get information on the explosive, but he’s not a scientist and doesn’t know what Blake did. However, when Oscar uses “suspension,” Fitz latches on to the scientific term. He can freeze the suspension material to neutralize the bomb. Not to be a nit-picker, but if you spray liquid nitrogen on yourself like that, your skin will simply turn to ice and break off!!! Oscar does tip them off that the Watchdogs are mistakenly going after Mack.

Mack returns to try and do damage control with Ruben, who is mostly angry about all the lies. Mack ends up defending the inhumans, explaining they are really just people. They are interrupted by the arrival of the Watchdogs. It turns out that their intended target all along was an Inhuman and any inhuman would do. I loved the sequence of Mack leading his brother through the house and toward safety – and of course, the best part was when Mack got to make his shotgun-ax! Mack is shot in the arm but still manages to save the day. Just before he passes out, Ruben tells him, “You beat them! You did that!” He’s clearly both impressed and proud of his brother.

I really liked the scene between Daisy and Ruben. She finds out that Ruben calls Mack “Alfie” and stores it in her back pocket to use at some point in the future to torture Mack! Ruben is curious what the team calls Mack, and Daisy tells him. Ruben remarks that that’s what his buddies call him – indicating that these are Mack’s “buddies.”

Daisy tells Ruben that since he knows about S.H.I.E.L.D. now, maybe they’ll give him a ring – that is a job. Mack’s told her that he’s a good wheel man! Ruben deduces that Daisy is Mack’s partner and asks her if Mack is good at saving people – which seems to be his job. Daisy says when she wants someone to watch her back, Mack’s the one she wants. I loved her calling Ruben “mini-Mack”!

Coulson and Lincoln happen upon Blake in the basement as they are going through his safehouse. Blake is firmly in the camp that doesn’t want anything to do with inhumans. Coulson and Blake exchange some interesting volleys: Coulson: “We’re solving problems, not making them.” Blake: “We’re spreading an idea.” Lincoln chimes in that they are spreading fear. Blake points out that people are already afraid, they just want the truth, but Coulson says it’s not about the truth, it’s about hate. Blake says, “and you’re above that? You’ve never killed someone because you hate him, Phil?”

Coulson doesn’t deny this, and there’s a great close up of Lincoln’s face as he realizes that Coulson’s silence is an admission all of its own. Blake goes on to say that hate is a good motivator – after all, it’s how he’s manipulated the Watchdogs. Coulson unleashes his own guard dog. He tells Blake that Lincoln is an inhuman, and Lincoln has a lot of hate. Coulson says the only reason Lincoln doesn’t attack Blake is Coulson’s orders not to. Coulson lifts those orders – and Lincoln looks surprised and terrified as Coulson orders Lincoln: “Don’t hurt Agent Blake. Kill him.”

When Lincoln hesitates, Coulson says, “Sometimes we do the wrong thing for the right reason because it has to be done.” Lincoln zaps Blake and he disappears! He was a hologram all the time. Coulson knew it – it was another test and one that Lincoln passed this time. Coulson confesses he knew because Blake wasn’t moving a lot and he usually interrupts a lot more. Ah Coulson- there you are! Coulson also realizes that Lincoln didn’t use a kill shot. Coulson says, “You played it right. Offered a dissenting opinion but when the time came, you did what I asked. Though a slightly less lethal version. Well done.” Lincoln smiles at the praise. Looks like these two are going to get along after all.

Meanwhile, back at the base, Simmons has been practicing her shooting. May (Ming-Na Wen) drops in and gives her a couple of pointers – don’t hold your breath. May knows that Simmons doesn’t like feeling vulnerable. Simmons tells her that she is comfortable with the guilt she’s feeling because she feels she deserves it: “For all the miseries endured to rescue helpless little Agent Simmons.” She feels guilty for Will’s death and everything that’s happened to Fitz and for all the inhumans that Lash killed when she let him out to save her own skin. May tells her not to feel guilty.

May invites Simmons to look at what she’s doing – May is hunting Lash. I loved Simmons taking one look and telling her she was doing it all wrong! There’s that socially inappropriate moment again! Fitz and Simmons are still the smartest kids in class and aren’t always as patient with the slower kids as they should be! She tells May to stop thinking like a spy and think like a doctor. She needs to think about Lash acting from a biological imperative – he needs to satisfy those basic urges – food, climate – intended victim.

When Simmons asks May how to make the guilt stop, May tells her, “You don’t. You use it. Channel it.” May is channeling her own guilt into this hunt for Lash – and she intends to kill him when she finds him. Simmons asks her what if there’s another way? Simmons and Fitz have been working with Creel’s blood to come up with a vaccine. If you haven’t been infected – or finished your transition – you can still be saved – possibly in Lash’s case if he hasn’t finished the transition. Simmons looks hopeful, but May is afraid to hope: “Don’t give me hope. I don’t want hope.”

In the final scene, Blake delivers what he took in Malick’s own company van from the ACTU storage facility. It’s almost funny as he drops it off to Mr Giyera (Mark Dacasocos). Blake is actually still in a wheelchair – which doesn’t answer how his holograms were standing. Regardless, Blake clearly doesn’t know that Giyera is an inhuman and that he’s actually working to save the inhumans. When Giyera promises him an army, Giyera’s army is made up of inhumans! It’s still not entirely clear what Blake has stolen, but it appears to be a warhead of some kind.

What did you think of the episode? Did you like the new pairings of May/Simmons and Coulson/Lincoln? One of the great things about this show is that the cast is uniformly good, so they all work well together! Do you think Ruben is going to join the team? I think that Mack would fight against that at all costs – after all one of the reasons he joined S.H.I.E.L.D. was to keep his loved ones safe – Ruben would be far from safe on the front lines! Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

About the Author - Lisa Macklem
I do interviews and write articles for the site in addition to reviewing a number of shows, including Supernatural, Arrow, Agents of Shield, Agent Carter, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, The X-Files, Defiance, Bitten, Killjoys, and a few others! I'm active on the Con scene when I have the time. When I'm not writing about television shows, I'm often writing about entertainment and media law in my capacity as a legal scholar. I also work in theatre when the opportunity arises. I'm an avid runner and rider, currently training in dressage.
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