‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Recap 3×14: Watchdogs and Mini-Macks

“Watchdogs" is clearly setting the stage for a civil war within the group of agents—just in time for this May’s Captain America: Civil War!

Henry Simmons as Mack.
Henry Simmons as Mack.

Remember how everyone associated with the Marvel Cinematic Universe made a huge, unambiguous deal about how the movies were absolutely not tying in with Agents of S.H.I.E.LD.? (“Fish oil pills? Say whaaaaaat?”) Yeah, seems like AoS maybe hasn’t gotten that memo. Given the most recent batch of episodes, including this week’s “Watchdogs,” they’re clearly setting the stage for a small-scale civil war within the group of agents—just in time for this May’s Captain America: Civil War! Oh, hey. How convenient.

Despite how derivative it seems, this could potentially be an interesting arc depending on how far they take it. I’m particularly interested in seeing how far off the rails they’ll take Daisy.

The name of the game is ideological differences. Daisy and Lincoln dealt with their diverging viewpoints during “The Inside Man” (sorta… does cutting the conversation short and having sex instead count as “dealing with it”?) “Watchdogs” sees Daisy’s staunchly pro-Inhuman sentiments begin to collide with a new counterpoint, in the form of the ever-more-wary-of-S.H.I.E.L.D. Mack.

“Watchdogs” uses an interesting format, keeping our group split into three mini-teams for almost the entirety of the episode. Lincoln/Coulson work (remotely) with Mack/Daisy/Fitz, but Jemma and May remain off on their own, interacting with only one another. It’s also a Mack-heavy episode, which I love. He’s one of the most consistently underutilized characters.

Of the three groupings, the best is easily May/Jemma, likely because they’re two of the strongest characters on the show and because their story remains completely distinct from the “Case of the Week.” This gives them more of a focus (though far less actual screentime) on character building instead of plot-driving. These two also haven’t spent much one-on-one time together in recent memory, so it’s interesting to see them juxtaposed against one another now, changed as they are from their season one selves.

May spots Simmons at target practice in the S.H.I.E.L.D. facility, and Jemma explains that she feels intensely guilty about allowing so many people to risk their lives rescuing her. She feels responsible for Will’s death, for Fitz’s shell-shocked state post-Maveth, and especially for allowing Lash/Dr. Garner out of his containment module when she was kidnapped so that he could slaughter the Inhumans and save her life. It’s great that they’re having Jemma deal with this—she actually did have a very direct hand in the deaths of these people. Despite May’s assurances that Simmons had no reason to feel guilty and that it wasn’t her fault, it’s completely reasonable (and expected) that she’d feel badly about the situation.

May later reveals to Simmons that she’s getting together a task force to track down Lash, and she’s planning on killing him when she finds him. May gives Simmons a pep talk about channeling her guilt and her grief and using it to give her focus instead of wallowing. Taking May up on that, Simmons offers to help out with the Andrew mission. She offers up an alternative to killing him: instead, they can use the vaccine that FitzSimmons has been developing from Creel’s terrigen-resistant blood.

Theoretically, this could work because Lash is trapped mid-transformation, half-Andrew/half-Lash, having not fully completed the transition. May doesn’t want to consider this option because she doesn’t want to get her hopes up (oh, May), but I’m sure that when it comes down to it and they locate Lash, May will be sticking a syringe in her ex and not a knife.

Meanwhile, the rest of the team splits in two and works on opposite ends of their villain du jour problem. It’s another blast from the past a la Creel in “The Inside Man”—this time, Felix Blake, a lapsed former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who was almost killed by Deathlok back in season one. Blake now leads the titular “Watchdogs,” an Inhuman hate group, orchestrating what appear to be terrorist attacks.

Mack is on vacation visiting his heretofore unseen little brother, Ruben, in their Naperville, Illinois hometown. “Alfie” (YES) and Ruben enjoy some sibling bonding time, featuring steaks, beer, and rebuilding motorcycles (y’know, man stuff), but are interrupted by the Watchdogs’ first attack. The group implodes an ATCU storage facility on national TV. Coulson wonders how they could’ve known it was an ATCU building and sends Daisy and Fitz in to rendezvous with Mack and investigate the situation. Mack tries to beg off, mentioning his vacation leave, but Coulson harshly smacks him down, telling him that sacrifices are expected of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.

Coulson being a little bitchy to Mack, paired with the recent departure of Bobbi and Hunter (something which Mack is clearly still all Sad Panda about), is making me think that Mack’s time with the team is almost certainly drawing to a close. Here’s hoping that he exits by joining Bobbi and Hunter in Bora Bora or wherever they are, rather than by exploding on that mystery space shuttle of the midseason premiere’s flash-forward.

Mack’s brother Ruben, disillusioned because of financial problems and a recently lost job, is brought in to represent “the everyman’s prejudice.” Basically, Ruben isn’t a bad guy, but his crappy attitude and his growing distrust of the government sow a seed of anger that starts to take root. He disturbingly cheers on the Watchdogs’ attack when he and Mack catch it on TV and spouts Inhuman-hating nonsense periodically throughout the episode.

It really seemed like they were going the predictable route with Ruben, at first: angry dude, kept out of the loop by his brother (“Alfie’s” riveting cover is as an insurance assessor), swayed toward the dark side. Mack is quick to realize that his hurting brother is susceptible to the Watchdogs’ hate-filled rhetoric and tries to cut that off at the knees quick. Luckily, his intervention ends up working in record time, somewhat inexplicably.

Daisy is all for the hard and fast approach to getting intel on the Watchdogs. Almost immediately after Fitz and Mack figure out that the bomb used to implode the ATCU building is made of modified nitramene, a substance developed by Iron Man’s dad way back when, Daisy insists that the best way to deal with the hate group is to pick up a couple of their local members and shake them down. Mack is like, “Whoa, girl. Slow your roll.”

I’m definitely with Mack on this one. Daisy’s behavior is becoming more extreme, incrementally, week by week. I’m starting to suspect that she’ll somehow get sucked into the Malick/Hive Inhuman army, thinking it a necessary evil to “save” her fellow Inhumans, if they go that far with the whole Civil War thing.

Mack can sort of understand Blake’s mentality with the Watchdogs, a deep-set fear of the concept of the “other,” of what the worst of the Inhumans are capable of doing. That sets Daisy off because Daisy, on the opposite end, draws a hard line in the face of prejudice, wanting to use extreme measures to shut it down. It’s disappointing that she’s so blind to the nuance of the situation, apparently totally ignorant of the fact that, by using her powers to intimidate foes of Inhumans, she’s effectively giving them fuel for their hatred and fear. It’s strange, too, because Daisy is smarter than this. It almost feels as though they’re purposely dumbing down her character in order to fuel this storyline of the growing rift in the team.

Mack refuses to go along with this blatant sidestepping of civil liberties, and Daisy completely blows him off, convincing a reluctant but doormat-y Fitz to come along with her. She also somehow convinces an uncomfortable Fitz to train a gun on the hick Watchdog that Daisy confronts while Daisy destroys his car and intimidates him into spilling details of the Watchdogs’ location. Naturally, when Daisy confronts him, the Watchdog is listening to a conservative radio show that makes text of subtext and draws the parallel between illegal aliens and the aliens (Inhumans) for us, underscoring that theme in the same way that Malick likening the Russian Inhuman camp to Native American reservations did.

Mack, Daisy, and Fitz reconvene at the farm where she’s found out the Watchdogs are holed up, plotting their next move. While they’re scoping out the place and listening in via Fitz’s adorable little camera drone, Ruben shows up, having overheard Mack’s phone call with Daisy, to show off his fixed bike. He gets louder and more oblivious until several Watchdog guards finally come out to investigate, and Mack and Daisy are forced to reveal themselves and counterattack. Ruben, having seen Mack’s real job and Daisy’s powers, rides off in a tizzy. Mack goes after him after instructing Daisy to fall back, and Daisy, yet again, ignores Mack’s orders completely and approaches the farm solo.

For all of Daisy’s hackneyed efforts, she doesn’t actually find out anything useful in her surveillance. She does almost get Fitz killed, though, when he’s left without backup and shot in the neck with the blob-shaped liquid imploding “bomb” as Daisy is off disregarding logic and poking around the farm. It’s a situation that Fitz is weirdly nonchalant about. “Oh… I’m going to implode. Ah, well. Serve prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella sandwiches with a hint of pesto aioli at the funeral, lads.”

When they aren’t able to remove or counteract the nitramene, Fitz consents to Daisy using her powers on the Watchdog she took captive to figure out how to “deactivate” it. The answer is liquid nitrogen because yada yada science, and Daisy, with impeccable aim, covers Fitz’s nitramene tat with it. Fitz peels off the nitramene like a blackened starfish tattoo—no skin comes off with it. Yay science!

Daisy’s captive lets slip that the Watchdogs mistook Mack for the Inhuman, assuming a tiny little lady couldn’t have exhibited those powers (on top of their standard prejudices, they’re also apparently kinda sexist?), and sent a team to take him out. Said team arrives mid-Mackenzie brother confrontation. The attack gives “Alfie” the chance to impress his little bro and make amends for the years of lies he told Ruben about his life and career. Taking a bullet and MacGuyvering a nifty “shotgun ax” is apparently a quick fix for family disputes. Mack goes down with a gunshot wound after near-singlehandedly taking out the group of Watchdogs and that’s all the convincing Ruben needs to forgive and forget and not join a terrorist organization. All’s well that ends well… I guess.

Alongside all this, Coulson is relegated to Lincoln duty, likely in a desperate attempt to make Lincoln less boring. Lincoln, fresh off of a very poor agent assessment evaluation, is being tested by Coulson who, again, is being a little too bitchy for comfort during this episode. He snaps at Lincoln while they’re en route to Blake’s Atlanta safe house, explaining that Lincoln’s evaluation showed that he’s there for Daisy, not the cause. On top of that, he has anger issues and can’t follow orders. And on top of all that, he’s boring as hell. (Just kidding, that last part’s just me and you and the rest of everyone watching this show.)

Lucky for Lincoln, he passes Coulson’s test and lives on to agent another day when, after initial resistance, he half-obeys Coulson’s order to “kill” Blake (he shoots off a non-fatal zap). But surprise! The Blake they’re confronting turns out to be a mere hologram anyway, so Lincoln’s test ends up amounting to a simulation. Coulson’s impressed by Lincoln’s ability to both follow and not follow orders simultaneously which is… confusing, yet somehow very S.H.I.E.L.D.

In the ending pair of scenes, Daisy and Coulson discover that a van seen heading into the ATCU building immediately before the Watchdogs hit it is linked to Malick. The two piece together that Malick orchestrated the attack, as Coulson expected, and that it was just a cover-up and a distraction, not a terrorist attack. They wonder what Malick stole and we cut to…

… what Malick stole. It’s a bomb. I think? Or something. It looks a bit nuclear warhead-ish, so that’s my guess for now. Giyera receives the van containing the bomb (?) and assures Inhuman-hating Blake through gritted teeth that he’ll get the weapons he’s been promised in exchange for his cooperation, revealing that Blake hadn’t been duped into working with HYDRA—he’d gone right along willingly. Of course, he has no idea that HYDRA’s plan is in direct opposition to his anti-Inhuman ideals, so that’ll be a fun discovery.

‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Recap 3×14: Watchdogs and Mini-Macks