Throughout Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s three year run, its tie-ins to Marvel's latest movies have become one of its annual hallmarks. No other production studio has a shared fictional universe as extensive as Marvel’s, intertwining narrative through both film and television, while adhering to a consistent level of continuity. In the weeks leading up to each film’s release, fans start to theorize how it will intersect with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s current climate. Captain America: The Winter Soldier set a high standard for these tie-ins with season one's big Hydra reveal, a twist that still carries repercussions to this day. Coming into this season, fans expected a similarly game changing crossover with Captain America: Civil War, which sees the Avengers split down the middle over a conflict of ideologies. With Civil War debuting last Friday, "Emancipation" was earmarked as a potentially massive turning point for the show.
Unfortunately, the effects of Civil War pass through this episode with little more than a whimper. There are plenty of direct references to the film itself, as well as its overarching dilemma, but it's mostly just noise as the show stays focused on its current "Fallen Agent" arc. We do get a Civil War-ish disagreement between the "pro-Iron Man" General Talbot and the "pro-Cap" Phil Coulson, but it does little to distinguish itself from their usual squabbling. Yes, Civil War is a part of this episode, but it doesn't necessarily play a part in it. Its effect on the episode's events are minimal, and it would have been much more impactful to see team S.H.I.E.L.D. divided against each other over the Sokovia Accords, rather than keeping the debate between Coulson and Talbot.
It's likely that we'll never get another film tie-in as consequential as The Winter Soldier. The revelation that S.H.I.E.L.D. had been compromised by Hydra altered the very core of AoS in a way that other films probably won’t have the capacity for. Additionally, it’s been speculated that the movie and television divisions of Marvel don’t play well together, particularly after Kevin Feige, head of Marvel Film, terminated his working relationship with Isaac Perlmutter, who oversees Marvel Television. Similarly to Civil War, last year's Avengers: Age of Ultron crossover made a lot of direct nods to the film, but provided few, if any, substantial ramifications for the TV universe. Thor: The Dark World made even less of an impact when it debuted in the middle of season one, although we have gotten a couple of enjoyable guest spots from Lady Sif, a key supporting character from the Thor franchise. Out of all the non-Winter Soldier films, Iron Man 3 might have quietly had the biggest impact, particularly during season one, when Extremis tied in heavily with the show’s early antagonists.
Besides the Civil War tie-in, this week's episode is fairly nondescript, aiming its remaining focus towards Daisy and Lincoln. Lincoln gets a lot of play this week, featuring heavily into the A-plot. He manages to hold his own as the focal point, though the nature of the storyline somewhat overshadows this. We get a decent amount of relationship building between him and Daisy, but it feels kind of jarring after we’ve gotten used to them being apart during the last couple of episodes. The show revisits a handful of characters from earlier points in the season, among them, General Talbot and the Watchdogs (no Carl Creel, unfortunately). Talbot continues to be one of the show's best minor supporting characters thanks to his strong chemistry with Coulson. I wouldn't mind if, going forward, Talbot was given a more substantial role. AoS could use a break from its typical style of humor born of snark and sarcasm, and I think Talbot could provide that quite capably with his “overconfident dunce” role. Regrettably, the Watchdogs are considerably less threatening after their surprisingly compelling introduction in episode fourteen. Rounding out the cast, we spend some time with Mack, who’s broken in both body and spirit after his near fatal encounter with Daisy. He’s comforted by a returning Elena “Yo-Yo” Rodriguez, who also manages to drop some subtle hints on who might be caught in the exploding Quinjet from Daisy’s vision.
The episode has a pretty engaging climax, although it suffers from some noticeable hand-waving, wrapping things up in a neat and tidy bow without a satisfying explanation. This seems to deemphasize plot points that have been building up over the past couple of weeks, making the “Fallen Agent” arc feel a bit stake-less, though I think the storyline is handled well for the most part. Overall, I was a little disappointed with what's functionally the penultimate episode of season three. I personally would have preferred a more cliffhanger-y lead-in to the season finale, but on its face this is an entertaining episode that feels a little flatter than it actually is, thanks to the Civil War-sized expectations it was saddled with. It's obvious that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is banking on the "Who-Will-Die?" angle to build interest for the finale, but the writers have shown that they are more than capable of keeping us tuned in without resorting to such a sensational tactic.
Garrett Yoshitomi is a contributor for A Play on Nerds. He covers Marvel films and television, and enjoys fantasy baseball, Big Brother live feeds, and Anna Kendrick. You can find his tweets @garrettweets