Agents of SHIELD: Review: Season 3 Episode 14: Watchdogs

SHield 3.14A mysterious anti-Inhumans organisation calling itself the Watchdogs has graduated from online posturing and message-board threats to a full-on terrorist attack on an ECTU facility, using exotic but strangely familiar technology. But who is behind this new threat, and where are they getting their information from?

An unusual opening gives us a rare glimpse into the outside life of Mack, as he relaxes with his little brother, fixing motorbikes and discussing a long-mooted road trip. As a news item catches Mack’s attention with explosive footage of an attack by the Watchdogs on an ETCU facility, he is disturbed to note that his brother – blissfully unaware of his older sibling’s real job – is cheering for these ‘freedom fighters’.

And so the team must assemble to try to uncover the real identity of these masked terrorists and work out just exactly how they knew the facility they were attacking belonged to ETCU and what exactly it is that they are after. All except Lincoln, freshly returned from his SHIELD assessments, who is specifically pulled by Coulson to accompany him on a separate mission examining the safe houses of Phil’s prime suspect for mastermind of the operation.

Several dynamics are at play throughout the episode, which does a good job of bringing some of the lesser-explored characters to the fore (albeit briefly in many cases) to show us a bit more about them and how their lives have been affected by recent events. There’s Mack’s sense of disjointedness at the loss of Hunter and Bobbi and the distance between him and his blood family. Simmons’ continuing sense of guilt for her part in several recent events and her helplessness in them. Lincoln’s discomfort as to whether or not Coulson likes/trusts him and whether he is actually a fit for the SHIELD team. The problem is that the show concentrates on these little bits so well, it forgets to keep abreast of the main plot that’s supposed to be the uniting thread.

I’m clear on who the big bad is, and what his motives are. What escapes me is exactly who the main target was, because the show seems to trip over itself on this point several times. Various people suddenly exclaim “oh no, they’re after ‘X’” with none of them really being correct. In the end, the person who does get attacked makes no sense in the wider context of the story. It ends up seeming to have been more a framework solely existing to provide opportunities for the various bits of development outlined above rather than them feeling like an organic part of a genuine narrative. It’s a shame, because all those parts are good, and pay off nicely, but when the underlying plot driving them is so obviously artificial and forced, it detracts from the overall effect.

The final reveal unfortunately compounds this, adding an additional layer to the Watchdog angle which is neither surprising nor especially creative.

Verdict: A rare misstep from a show that is generally good at weaving organic and believable narratives in which to explore its characters. This episode brings us closer to several oft-neglected players, but fumbles the ball with the artificial way it achieves this. Not the worst by a long stretch, but far from the series best. 6/10

Greg D. Smith

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