Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: ‘Wake Up’ Review
Obvious Warning: Spoilers are all over this review.
This week’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was filled with twist and turns. Some, I kind of saw coming, but many others caught me by surprise. Which is the brilliance of “Wake Up”, an episode that scales back the action a little bit, but offers some great series developments, terrific storytelling, and a lot of suspense. AOS continues to properly bounce back and forth with their main L.M.D. story, and the conflict with Senator Nadeer.
Well, I guess that settles it, Holden Radcliffe is a mad scientist and a genuine villain. You have to be if you’re working with the likes of Senator Nadeer. What I really appreciate is the approach the show has been taking to reveal Radcliffe’s true intentions. When John Hannah first appeared during the third season as the scientist, he appeared to be somewhat similar to his character he played in The Mummy franchise. Bumbling, jittery but harmless. He’s always been less bumbling and more competent as Radcliffe, but he still had that geeky, harmless feel to him. Even as it became clear that he wanted to get his hands on the Darkhold to gain ultimate power, he didn’t seem evil or too maniacal. But as each episode passes, his villainy becomes more apparent. The show and Hannah have done a great job slowly revealing him as a genuine evil genius. He’s also become a truly serious threat given he’s working with Nadeer, and he always seems two steps ahead of everyone in S.H.I.E.L.D. Hence the reason why he made a decoy of himself and we’ve been watching his decoy operate ever since Aida tried to take the Darkhold in the first place. Cheeky bastard.
You have got to give credit to how well this show handles exposition. All it takes is a few lines sometimes. You actually have to be careful not to miss those lines too. In other words, the show is asking you to pay attention. You’ll find yourself asking questions, and if you get distracted, you might miss the answers.
Such is the case with May’s decoy. I found myself asking why she hasn’t told anyone at S.H.I.E.L.D. that she’s a machine and could be a threat to the team. Given that the decoy was programmed to operate through May’s subconscious level, she’d put the team first before herself. Leave it to Radcliffe to somehow program her in a way where she’d never reveal herself as a machine nor hurt her creator. In fact, May’s decoy even carries the sense of affection the real May has towards Coulson, but like the real May, won’t take action on those feelings.
Now I know it might be impossible for someone to be able to use this kind of advanced programming for a machine. Or maybe it isn’t. Either way, this is a fantasy, it is science fiction, and I appreciate the idea that the show is pretty much covering as many bases as it can, knowing the audience will be asking questions. Which is why I appreciate the show for respecting its audience as thinkers and not simple-minder thrill seekers. This show just offers more on an intellectual level than one has come to expect.
This season has really given Ming-Na Wen so much to work with as an action hero and a dramatic actress. It abundantly clear how much confidence the producers and writers have in their lead actress. Of course I can’t be certain If they’ve always planned on giving May such a rich amount of storytelling, but whatever the case may be, her presence and worth on the show continues to elevate in the most welcomed way. Ming-Na Wen continues to impress as she plays dual roles of the same person… which sounds really confusing. Her confrontation with Radcliffe – something I was hoping to see sooner rather than later – showed just how well the actress is handling the material.
I am so intrigued by May’s storyline in this second half of the season. It was really impressive how they pretty much put us in her head this episode. Seeing the simulations Radcliffe put into place was quite a thrill. I honestly had no idea we were in a simulation while May was escaping Radcliffe’s lab. They did a great job fooling me by playing off the fact that Aida has killed before and was willing to kill again. Her seeing May as a threat she had to eliminate did not seem out of place. So the urgency of May’s escape seemed real. Perhaps the only thing that may have tipped people off was the endless flight of stairs May was running up until she got to an exit. It’s true, Radcliffe came to the conclusion he needed to create a simulation that required May to be in battle in order to keep her sedated, and that should have made me question what I was seeing. However, the structure of the episode helped create the illusion that her escape was really happening. Now that Radcliffe has cruelly altered May’s memory of Bahrain, making so it seems May actually saved the girl she was forced to kill, it’ll be interesting to see if that affects May once she gets out of the simulation and carries over in her daily life. Either way, May’s arc is incredibly strong at this point of the season.
I also want to quickly say, while I did mention the action was scaled back in favor for more suspense, the wonderfully choreographed fight between May and Aida was so damn cool. It gave us just enough May bad assery to satisfy what we crave each week. Also, I love Mallory Jansen’s Terminator face. It’s chilling.
After last week’s developments, where it turned out that Mace was only posing as an inhuman for political reasons, I was glad to see the show still made good use of him. How clever they’d have Mace and Daisy go in front of the senate to have Daisy testify at her Sokovia Accords hearing, where Nadeer would be, and take advantage of Nadeer’s absence from her office to plant a bug. Too bad Nadeer was already tipped off because of Radcliffe’s May decoy. Still, the courtroom scenes were really engaging. First, I really enjoyed the conversation between Mace and Daisy about putting on acts for other people. Then I was feeling the political smackdown between Daisy and Nadeer. All this while Yo-Yo and Coulson were spitting off some great banter on their way to Nadeer’s office. In no way did any of this feel useless or unwelcome. In fact, it all moved at a great pace and eventually tied into the main story.
General Talbot (played by Adrian Pasdar), the character with a unique way with words, was in this episode for a good amount of time. Long enough for his “steaming pile of fart pebbles” line to become the most ridiculously hilarious phrase to be said in the episode.
I was going to say Mack and Yo-Yo “crossed the horizon”, but that’s a Fitz-Simmons thing. So, I’ll simply say, yay, they boned! Seriously though, this moment was well earned. They’ve taken their time establishing this relationship, and it’s great to see it paying off. Their chemistry just comes off as passionate and sexy. I liked that a conflict was presented in the relationship but solved in a non-melodramatic way. I love that Yo-Yo digging into Mack’s life wasn’t out of jealousy, but rather caution. She didn’t want to get hurt, I get it. But to find out Mack once had a child with an ex, and that he visited his ex to help her grieve during the child’s birthday, made me look at Mack in a more compassionate and respectful way. He’s such a good character, and he deserves to find happiness with Yo-Yo. They make a great couple and a team of bad asses. And thank goodness for more Yo-Yo screen time. I love this character. Just another fantastically strong willed female character who’s funny, confident, sexy, and adds a lot to the team. By the way, if you haven’t already, look up the six-part webseries based around Yo-Yo called Slingshot. It gives you more reason to love the character.
“Wake Up” presents more evidence that Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a matured superhero television series that continues to thrill while giving satisfyingly smart stories. It also challenges its actors by giving them complex life changing storylines to work with. As always, the cast surpassed expectations.
Now we’re left with another thrilling mystery. Who is “The Superior” Nadeer and Radcliffe answer to? It’s been said this season will have three story arcs to work with. While this L.M.D. plot continues to unfold, will this Superior be the basis of the next storyline? Can’t wait to find out.