This review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS for the episode to be discussed, if you do not want certain plot points or story spoilt, please do not read further.
With the loss of both Bobbi and Hunter last week the focus of the latest episode of S.H.I.E.L.D. shifts over to Mack, the member of the team most personally affected by their departure, and someone who has often been the moral centre of the team. Despite telling a personal story the episode manages to introduce a new element to the Marvel Cinematic universe and lay the foundation for more conflict to come.
After a brief name drop in a previous episode about an online group stirring up anti-Inhuman sentiment that group finally acted on their hate, forming the militant group 'The Watchdogs' and attacking an ATCU facility.
All this happens whilst Mack is having the weekend off, spending time with his brother Ruben, who doesn't know Mack is a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. but thinks he works in insurance. The whole secret spy life storyline hasn't really been explored in great deal in the show yet, and whilst by the end of the episode Ruben knows that Mack is a spy it's still nice to see how he's trying to balance spending time with his brother and working the Watchdog case.
The interactions between Mack and Ruben are enjoyable enough, but because we've never met Ruben before this episode much of the conflict that arises between the two of them feels very rushed. We've had nothing to establish Rubens character, so when he goes from Macks kind younger brother to supporting the Watchdogs and hating Inhumans it feels a little out of nowhere. I understand that it's one of the problems with introducing a new character and wanting to give them development straight away, but it does feel a little forced here.
The episode doesn't just put Mack at odds with his brother though, but Daisy too, as she wants to use her powers to threaten and coerce information out of a Watchdog supporter. Having been the moral centre of the group so many times in the past it stand to character that Mack would take issue to snatching a civilian and scaring information out of them just because they've shown support for the Watchdogs online.
It might be a little surprising to some that someone who is essentially working with a secret government agency would have an issue with such behaviours, but Mack is the kind of person who feels strongly about personal freedoms and rights. Daisy wanting to detain and question someone with little to no grounds is uncomfortable for him, her wanting to use her powers to get answers is something he's dead against.
Is this conflict and the introduction of a potential Inhuman vaccine going to rear its head again around the same time as Civil War to give the S.H.I.E.L.D. team their own split? Maybe, it wouldn't be the first time that the series has tied in with the movies, but if it does I hope the conflict isn't forced simply to cash in on Civil War, but plays out true to the characters and the stories being told.
Elsewhere in the episode Coulson and Lincoln team up together to track down the leader of the Watchdogs, former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Felix Blake, who we last saw almost dying at the hands of Deathlok in season one. Whilst the reintroduction of Blake gave a nice connective thread to the Watchdogs and grounded them a little in the shows history the actual team up between Coulson and Lincoln was fairly dull and didn't interest me greatly.
Lincoln has a great powerset and could be a really cool character, but it kind of feels like the writers don't really know what to do with him. He's trying to join S.H.I.E.L.D. but doesn't really fit in with them, he's dating Daisy but their relationship has no spark or passion to it. His character feels forced into the series and wasted to me, and this episode doesn't improve him enough to make me interested in any way.
This week also saw some development for Simmons and May, with Simmons wanting to learn how to defend herself better in the field and not rely on others to save her, and the two of them then working together to try and find Andrew.
The change in Simmons is a good one, and shows some long overdue changes in her attitude. Despite being a scientist and spending much of her time at the S.H.I.E.L.D. base Simmons has been in so many situations over the last three seasons where she's had to be saved by the rest of the team that this kind of drive in her feels natural, especially after what happened to her on the alien world at the start of this season.
I'm not expecting her to end up being as capable as May or Bobbi, or even Mack, but it would be nice to see her becoming capable of taking care of herself in a physical way, rather than just using her intelligence to get out of situations.
The reminder that Andrew/Lash is still around will hopefully mean a return of the character at some point this season. For someone who was built up to be a major threat at the start of the season we've actually seen very, very little of Lash, especially over the last half a dozen episodes. Personally I'm hoping for a Lash vs Hive mega Inhuman fight in the last episode of the season.
After the loss of two of the shows best characters 'Watchdogs' goes a long way to showing the audience that the show is still capable of delivering great story and character moments, along with setting up new challenges and threats for the team to face in the future. Oh, and shotgun axe. Mack finally made his shotgun axe.