Imagine playing chess for the first time against someone who knows the rules, but isn't the best teacher. You have last night's episode.

Checkmate?

Think back to the first time you played chess. You sat across the board from someone who knew what all the pieces were, how they functioned, and how to execute a plan. You, on the other hand, were trying to follow along with their instructions the best you could, but your lack of chess mechanics knowledge made it a bit difficult to keep up. That was how I felt during Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. last night.

The showrunners have a very clear end in sight for the season, presumably packed with action, adventure, and the death of a major character (Lincoln). This ending, however, needs to have certain elements in place to work, and the showrunners are assembling those elements so quickly that it’s not quite clear us what’s going on, since we don’t know the game they’re playing.

In chess, you know that the King is the important piece and that you need to ensnare your opponent in a checkmate. That is the clearest and most universally understood element of the game. Likewise, Fitz and Simmons have the clearest, most universally understood dynamic on the show. It stands to reason then that their story would be the strongest in the episode. Coulson gives them a mission and we can follow their thought process rather clearly, as they really are the most fleshed out characters in the series to this point. The quest to recruit (or rather, be recruited by) Dr. Radcliffe was the most enjoyable part of the episode. Fun costumes, solid story, and enough eyeball-stabbing to complete a metaphor. The awkward balance of work versus personal life was clunky…not in a poor storytelling way, but it a delightful “That’s SOOOO FitzSimmons” kind of way.

We also had moment with Skye and Ward this episode, and I used those names on purpose. Daisy and Hive have begun executing a major plan (play The Sims but for realz), but the moment of decompression in the first half of the episode did a great job grounding the characters. It was like a flashback of the subconscious, as well got a look at the duality behind each character. We were reminded of who these characters were and who they are now, and its always striking to think about just how much they’ve grown over time. Let’s consider that portion of the show the idea that pawns are disposable and can generally only move one space.

So now we have reconcile the above with the idea that horses can move in L-shapes and once a game the King and the Rook can do a thing called “castling” wherein the two swap places partially. And if I’ve learned anything from Hutch, it’s that you should do it early and often. It’s some heavy stuff for your first game, right? Well, that’s the notion that the team is crippled and rudderless and needs to go after a lady with some vague Warg-like powers. It’s an element of the story that was explained to us by the characters, yes, but seeing it in action feels out of place. To me, it looks like the team salvaged their quinjet rather quickly and is bouncing back alright. How was this a devastating blow? And since when was Daisy the daughter that Coulson never had?

This is, without a doubt, a byproduct of setting up an endgame without explaining it to the other player (in this case, the audience). The characters have pivoted and moved in ways that feel very unnatural. I’m sure it was done to set up a great final episode, but to us, it’s a lot of assumptions to be asked to make.

You of course have to factor in that we’re going to get a Civil War tie-in either next week or the week after, so this is about to get messy. I’m not too familiar with the expert mechanics of chess, so I can’t even begin to make an appropriate comparison here. Moral of the story is, though, that this episode prepared us for what could be an excellent game of chess. Unfortunately, it knew the game better than we did and therefore didn’t quite pull of the story in a way that was natural for an audience that’s unfamiliar with how everything will come together. We can only hope that things will converge in a cohesive way.

Otherwise, I’m going to just play checkers.

Odds and Ends

  • Seriously, they’re going to play The Sims IRL..
  • The opening tracking shot through S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters was a great bit of visual storytelling, but when did S.H.I.E.L.D. get that big? They must have done a lot of recruiting since going underground..
  • Lincoln was worthless this episode. Who was surprised?.
  • Very light on action this week and, I gotta say, the show was all the better for it. The showrunners often underestimate the strength of their mainstay characters.

    Alex Russo likes to talk about television. You can read more of his insane ramblings on Twitter.

Alex Russo

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