Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD S03E18 “The Singularity” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on: E4, Sundays, 9pm
Writer: Lauren LeFranc
Director: Garry A Brown
Essential Plot Points:
- In the immediate aftermath of last episode, SHIELD is rebuilding. Mack and May head to the hangar where Phil is launching Zephyr One. He briefs the team on the plan to rescue Daisy as May executes some incredible flying to get the plane through the warped hangar doors.
- At a spot where Daisy used to park her van, she and Hive talk about the future. Hive reveals that Ward is glad he’s dead, and that his memories of the traitor are still present. They talk about Daisy’s desperate need for a family and how, with Hive, everyone will be together.
- Back on Zephyr One, Phil briefs Fitz and Simmons. A scientist named Holden Radcliffe had been carrying out research into parasitism that could hold the key to stopping Hive. The twist is that Radcliffe is a transhumanist, a scientist who believes in the transformative potential of technology on the human body. He is hiding out in the Bucharest Transhuman Underground. With Mack as back-up, Fitz and Simmons are sent undercover. Before they go, May gives Simmons a gun and, despite the younger agent’s reluctance, emphasises that she shouldn’t hesitate to open up if she feels threatened.
- Adorably, Fitz and Simmons talk about their relationship. Equally adorably, Fitz uses magnificently formal scientific language to express how scared he is of messing things up. Simmons, because she’s amazing, both reassures him and doesn’t let the fear get the better of him.
- Daisy and Hive return to James’s home and retrieve the other half of the Kree artefact. They also trigger James’s Inhuman powers and Hive takes him over. James gains pyrokinesis and is very, very okay with it.
- Together they retrieve the other Kree artefact James had – one Hive describes as being the only thing that can destroy him…
- Back on the Z1, May interrupts Phil talking to Talbot. He refuses to tell her what they were discussing. Instead he explains that they’re en route to extract Alisha, the Inhuman duplicator who they’ve worked with in the past. Her abilities make her an attractive prospect for Hive. Lincoln, an old friend of Alisha’s, volunteers to come along. Phil agrees on the condition he wears a vest lined with explosives that May will trigger if he’s taken over by Hive. Both are disgusted by this but both agree.
- In Bucharest, Fitz and Simmons infiltrate the club with a modified pair of Deathlok cyber-optics as “capital”.
- They ask for a meeting with Radcliffe and, while they’re waiting they talk about their relationship and how it’s the singularity; a point after which nothing will be the same. Fitz is terrified of screwing things up, Simmons not even a little. It’s really very sweet.
- Back on the other op, Lincoln goes in to extract Alisha but it’s too late; Hive’s taken her. In the ensuing fight, May is injured and Lincoln enters into a Mexican stand-off during which he threatens to seriously injure or kill Alisha, one of his closest friends. Alisha kills one of her own duplicates, Phil kills the other and Alisha Prime is revealed to be with Hive and Daisy.
- Lincoln is benched by Phil after the op. The young Inhuman is terrified that he went too far but still wants to do some good. Phil tells him that protecting him is what Daisy would want. He also apologises to May and they get word of odd seismic activity in South Dakota: Daisy. They tool up and head out.
- Back in Bucharest, Team Science Puppy get in to see Radcliffe. Their “entrance exam” is implanting the cyber eyes they’ve brought along into a live subject. After a brief conference and very aware of what they’re doing, they agree. Until – after a wonderfully nasty gag involving an eyeball and a syringe – Simmons realises the subject’s eyes aren’t fully organic. Their patient, it turns out, is Radcliffe.
- The meeting initially goes well until Radcliffe recognises the eye tech as being similar to Hydra’s. They try and explain they’re working for SHIELD but he doesn’t see any difference. The op goes south, Mack heads in to extract them and Simmons makes a run for it as Fitz tries to reason with Radcliffe.
- Then Hive, James and Daisy appear.
- In the ensuing fight, Mack holds James off and Hive torments Simmons using Will’s memories. She shoots him and gets out. Fitz is confronted by Daisy who, weeping, begs him to stop looking for her. She explains she’s seen the future and knows someone in SHIELD is going to die if they don’t stop, then knocks him out and takes Radcliffe.
- SHIELD arrives at James’s cabin but it is empty. Aside from a lot of C4. Phil orders his team out and he and May dive into the hole Daisy left when they retrieved the Kree artefact. The cabin explodes but May and Phil survive thanks to the AWESOME ENERGY SHIELD HE HAS BUILT INTO HIS NEW HAND.
- Later, May visits Phil in his office. He’s watching Talbot’s military operation: a massive, world-wide decapitation strike on Hydra. It’s over. They won. But as Phil points out, “This should have been a good day.”
- In Bucharest a panicked Simmons is reassured by Mack when Fitz doesn’t come back. He, very sweetly, tells her he knows about the pair of them. Later, when Fitz returns safely, the pair finally embrace the Singularity and sleep together.
- Elsewhere, Hive, Daisy, James and Radcliffe walk down a deserted street. Hive has a grand experiment in mind, one that he needs Radcliffe for. Oh, and the town they are now standing in the middle of… he’s bought that.
Agents of SHIELD accelerates into the home stretch for this season with yet another really strong showing. We have SHIELD on the ropes, Hive pushing forward and a sense of how they’re both pulling towards the same thing for entirely different reasons: family and the need to belong.
For SHIELD, and Phil in particular, that family is embodied in Daisy. The incredible jeopardy she’s in, and the danger she presents to her former team mates, is never far from the screen here. Phil and May’s moment of clarity, when Phil openly admits he views her as a daughter, has real emotional weight as a result. It also cleverly marks him out as very different to SHIELD’s previous director and not necessarily stronger. Fury’s problem was, and remains we suspect, that he was a compulsive player of games. Phil’s problem is he cares too much. Go too far one way, you get Hydra. Go too far the other, you get the director of SHIELD telling a field agent to trigger another’s murder vest if he gets taken over by their adversary.
That moral ambiguity is front and centre throughout and there’s a real sense of this being an episode where everything is in flux. Mack is more than a little lost without his partner, May is openly disgusted by the lengths Phil goes to and Lincoln is clearly having doubts about the side he’s on. And, honestly, who can blame him? Lauren LeFranc’s script gives every major character a moment of doubt and places each one in a moment of tremendous uncertainty. That’s thematically brilliant and emphasises just what a massive impact Hive has had on the series and what’s to come.
But the idea of belonging, is truly embodied in the two couples at the heart of the episode. Let’s start with the lovely one. Fitz and Simmons are now, finally, sprinting towards being in a relationship and this week’s episode uses that as a fulcrum. Fitz, adorably, is terrified of what will happen after they have sex. Simmons, equally adorably, is not. The undercover mission they go on is one of the smartest pieces of writing the show has produced to date. It gives them a chance to process their feelings, does some world-building and strips them of all the things they both tend to hide behind. Even better, it sets them up as finally graduating from the junior leagues. Daisy’s been taken, Bobbi and Hunter have gone and SHIELD is in bad shape. Team Science Puppy step up in a big way this episode, both professionally and personally. Simmons’s confrontation with Hive/Will is hugely tense and Fitz’s desperate, impassioned plea to a man who’s basically his older self is yet another highlight for him. Season three has seen Chloe Bennet, Brett Dalton Elizabeth Henstridge and Ian de Caestecker turn in the best work of their careers to date and this episode is no exception.
Then there’s the creepy couple, Daisy and Hive/Ward. The measured, almost old-fashioned way Hive speaks and moves is a marked contrast to the brittle, plausible psychopath that was Grant Ward. However, it’s the insidious nature of how he works that’s truly chilling. The scene with Daisy at the point where she used to park her van is terrifying, not because of what he says but how he says it. Hive doesn’t want a war, Hive wants everyone to be together.
He wanted everyone to be him.
Hive is the logical extension of the Hydra ideal; instead of cutting off one head and two growing back, he’s an idea who will live on as long as there are people nearby for him to infect. The revelation that he’s in essence a sentient drug, “addicting” people to him is especially unpleasant and inventive. Fold in the past Daisy and Hive’s host share, and the chilling mention that Ward, in the end, welcomed death and you’ve got a character who almost seems alien rather than evil.
Until he talks to Simmons in Will’s voice.
That moment bridges the two couples and also shows Hive’s true colours. He’s an altruist in his own mind, but, in reality has no problem using emotional manipulation to get what he wants. The ultimate abusive partner, who just wants you to be happy and will punish you until you agree. That’s very dark, very subtle territory and LeFranc’s script pulls no punches.
It also offers a surprising amount of hope. Thematically that all comes from Fitz and Simmons. Not just their romance either but the ethical way they approach their work. The debate they have over whether or not to implant the cyber eye – even though they ultimately decide to do it – says everything about them. By contrast Radcliffe, played with glorious poise by John Hannah, has no compunctions about anything, even experimenting on himself. He embraces individuality. Fitz and Simmons embody the power of common goals to bring people together. Hive suppresses individuality to get to the same place. Fitz and Simmons’s tenacity and Daisy’s tearful plea for SHIELD to stop looking for her suggests that while Hive may have the upper hand, he’s not in as much control as he thinks he is…
Yet another great episode from a show no longer hitting its stride but sprinting.
- “What are your muscles made out of?”
“…Me?” Mack, amiable man mountain.
- “You know how many times Bobbi and Hunter pulled the broken comms trick?” THE FEELS! TOO SOON, YOU GUYS!
- “I suppose it’s very new.”
“No. It isn’t.” Just the sweetest moment, arguably, this season. I love that Mack figures it out, and he’s both okay with it and sad that it’s taken them this long. The big Shotgun/Axe toting marshmallow.
- “Okay, maybe the leg hurts a little.”
“Maybe you should get a cybernetic one.’
“…Too soon.” Please, please just an entire episode of May and Coulson bickering soon.
- “If they give a second glance I want it to be out of awe, not disgust.” The art and artistry of Transhumanism, perfectly summed up. We hope we get Radcliffe for a while yet.
- “Are you comparing us sleeping together to crossing the event horizon?”
“It’s quite lovely when you think about it like that. Also terrifying.” Only Fitz could explain the changes in their relationship that will occur after sex using the Singularity. Only Simmons would get it. Never change, kids.
- “Phil, you’re not her father.”
“No, but she’s the closest thing I have to a daughter.” Phil and May’s total, brutal honesty with each other is always so disarming. This is one of the most powerful scenes the pair have shared to date.
- “How’s he holding up?”
‘No one comes to me with their feelings.”
“Yeah, makes sense.” The original line makes it funny. The addition of Mack’s brutal honesty and May’s, “HEY…!? No… that’s fair,” moment make it priceless.
- The direction on this show continues to be great. Garry A Brown does excellent work here and the increasingly traditional, “let’s do a West Wing-style walk and talk” opening is especially good.
- The flash cutting between Hive/Ward/Will tormenting Simmons and Daisy pleading with Fitz, saying the exact same thing, was great.
- PHIL HAS A BUILT-IN SHIELD! And it even looks like Cap’s! And that whole beat is a nice callback to the moment in Winter Soldier where Cap does something similar.
- The POV shot from Fitz’s glasses showing the multiple cybernetic augmentations the bar patrons have had done is a beauty.
- May’s epically fancy flying to get out of the hangar impresses. Zephyr One’s not had much of a chance to show off its capabilities for a while and this was a lovely, Thunderbirds-esque moment.
- The scale. This feels like the sort of globetrotting episode the show tried to do in season one, only here it really works. Mack and Team Science Puppy in Bucharest; the rest on Hive’s trail; Hive and his ganf making moves of their own; and Hydra being taken down in the background – there’s a lot going on here.
- May’s tangible disgust at Linc’s murder vest is note perfect.
- As are the Possibly Evil High End Scientist Outfits worn by Team Science Puppy.
- The Will Moment. That’s just MEAN.
- James! Amiable Australian asskicker!
- Chloe Bennet. Always strong but this season and this plot has seen her absolutely come into her own. The slightest hint of rebellion in her first scene with Hive and the pleading way she speaks to Fitz at the end are both episode highlights.
- John Hannah, chilling and complex as Radcliffe. More of him please.
- The tone. This feels huge and apocalyptic and not even close to done. In terms of arc plot, ambition, character and scale this is the strongest season of the show to date by an absolute mile.
- Yay Deathlok continuity reference! BOOOO No Deathlok!
- “Are you drunk?”
“Well, I am Australian so… yes.” The definition of a cheap shot.
- Lincoln’s murder vest is not a good look on him. Which is the point, but still.
And The Random:
- Holden Radcliffe is, as is often the case with guest characters in SHIELD, drawn from a minor Marvel comic character. He was the bad guy in the Machine Teen miniseries published in 2005.
- Transhumanism is a real and very well-established movement. The Wikipedia definition is pretty solid and reads like this:
Transhumanism (abbreviated as H+ or h+) is an international and intellectual movement that aims to transform the human condition by developing and creating widely available sophisticated technologies to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.
- We’d recommend reading Transmetropolitan, written by Warren Ellis, or Transhuman, written by Jonathan Hickman, as good fictional primers. Alternately rent literally any version of Ghost In The Shell. Alternately Google the writing of FM-2030, one of the early proponents. And yes that’s their real name.
- The singularity is another big, chewy futurism concept. The first reference to it was made by Stanislaw Ulam in his 1958 obituary for John von Neumann. He described it as the “ever accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, which gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue.” It was a big part of the excellent, much-missed Sarah Conner Chronicles and is one of the engines that drives a lot of modern speculative fiction. And yes, Fitz using it as a (kind of) come on here is adorable.
- John Hannah is best known for his barnstorming turn in Four Weddings And A Funeral as well as his work as Jonathan in The Mummy movies as well as a host of other excellent performances.
- The glowing ice cubes at the Transhumanist bar looked magnificently futuristic and we want some.
Review by Alasdair Stuart