23 May 2016

Agents of SHIELD S3E20 "Emancipation" review

Now that's more like it. After last weeks "Failed Experiments" disappointed in a big way thanks to it's status as filler, this weeks "Emancipation" chooses to make up for that in a tight, important episode that smartly acknowledges the events of Captain America: Civil War before quickly getting on with what the show has been building up to for some time instead.

This week sees Coulson trying to convince General Talbot that the Secret Warriors need to remain a secret in the wake of the Sokovia Accords (which apparently included a clause on the registration of enhanced people - new to anyone who saw Captain America: Civil War), while Hive continues his experiments to turn regular people into Inhumans. But the main plot has Daisy hacking into SHIELD and talking to Lincoln, who is still cooped up inside his own little quarantine and getting more frustrated with his situation by the minute.

An early criticism of Agents of SHIELD was that it wasn't connected enough to the films, and although some may still feel that way "Emancipation" provides a solid argument that the show is at its best when only using the films as background information anyway. Ignoring season one's "Turn, Turn, Turn" (obviously the most important episode of the show to date), "Emancipation" is probably the best tie-in episode that Agents of SHIELD has produced simply thanks to the restraint it shows, explicitly taking place after the events of Captain America: Civil War rather than trying to act like it has any effect on the film. I mean, we all know that this show isn't going to be influencing the films anytime soon, but "Emancipation" proves that really doesn't matter - they can co-exist all the same, benefiting the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe regardless.

But it's also just a good episode in it's own right. Agents of SHIELD has always been a big fan of deceiving it's audience, but I can't remember an episode that does it as well as "Emancipation" does. Not only do you have no idea of how you are being deceived, it also doesn't feel cheap when the reveal comes, which is both harder than it sounds and something that Agents of SHIELD hasn't always successfully pulled off.

In the same vein, I have to say I'm impressed with how "Emancipation" handles the return of the always entertaining General Talbot. It's a busy episode as it is, but the shows ability to reintroduce him while also making sure the rest of the cast have something to do is impressive. He's a welcome bit of comic relief in an otherwise serious episode, but he's not the only one - John Hannah's Holden Radcliffe is also very funny, and I'd like to see him stick around in some capacity for as long as possible.

And while technically the penultimate episode of the season (the final two episodes are being broadcast as a two-hour special in the US), "Emancipation" really doesn't feel like it. In previous seasons, the penultimate episode has been used to reposition various characters into the places where the show needs them to be for the finale while also setting up exactly what the finale will be dealing with, and although there is certainly an aspect of that to "Emancipation" it isn't all the episode is there to do. In fact, barring the last 10 minutes or so "Emancipation" feels like just another episode of Agents of SHIELD for the most part - and, as I'm hoping is clear, a damn good one at that.

Which means that as long as the two-parter finale can continue the quality on display in "Emancipation", the third season of Agents of SHIELD may well end up being the best the show has produced so far - at a minimum, it's already about equal with the second season, even if the episodes following the mid-season finale were a little directionless. Will "Absolution" and "Ascension" provide a satisfying ending to the season? Only time will tell - but if "Emancipation" is anything to go by, then I'm feeling incredibly hopeful.

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