Watchdogs – To help him deal with Bobbi and Hunter’s departure, Mack takes some vacation time back home with his brother Reuben. That is until the Internet Inhuman hate group, The Watchdogs, becomes militarized and attacks an ATCU facility with the promise of more violence to come.
Despite a great warm and tender openin,g the pledges us the brotherhood bond of the Mack brothers, this episode heavily damages itself early on by disappointing on its teased expectations. When Daisy first mentioned the online activist group a couple of episodes back, it teased the idea of a different, hacktivist style adversary for the Shield team to face. Something that would see Daisy reconnecting with her hacker roots and show the combat-focused team members having to deal with enemy they can’t so easily punch, which would be excellent. Instead, they turn out to be just another small militarized adversary which we’ve already seen countless times. It’s like being promised a limited edition collector’s item only to receive an off-the-rack version instead. It does show some improvement by giving them a close-to-home leader from the show’s past, but many viewers will still greet them with a Star Lord-style “Who?” and a quick Wikipedia search (only featured in two Season 1 episodes).
Even if currently underwhelming, the Watchdogs still look like something that could develop into an interesting element to the show. In fact, their best material comes from using Mack’s brother Reuben to show how their message can reverberate with and inspire those going through hard times. Everything we learn about Reuben paints him as a good person, caring for his parents as their health declined, not selling the family house to keep their memories alive etc. Yet we see the message of The Watchdogs direct his anger towards his personal circumstances (being laid of work and escalating money problems) towards a target he can blame. Sometimes, when things are that bad, you’ll want to hit anything put in front of you. That skilful emotion relating in Drew Greenberg’s script is more powerful and more effective than anything we see from the “dog soldiers” in their cartoony canine helmets.
Although the villain element is a problem, this is still a Mack -entric episode, so there’s still going to be plenty to enjoy. Over the last 18 months or so, Henry Simmons’ big heart of gold mechanic has quietly become one of the best characters on the entire show. He’s often a work horse figure, becoming whatever the show needs him to be but always excelling. One of his first contributions was the friendly and empathetic conduit to Fitz’s brain injury recover in early Season 2. This gets showcased through the deep relationship with his Reuben and the guilt he feels for the constraints his work places upon it, especially when he must fake an insurance job cover story (a great Incredibles, Bob Parr parody). This is even explored further when Mack reveals that his caring soul is his driving motivation for his work and baring such personal sacrifices, “That’s why I joined Shield, to protect people I care about”. A key theme of the episode sees him questioning and rediscovering that motivation after the events of recent months have instilled him with doubts. Then, the episode also gives us an encore of Mack’s greatest storyline to date in is capacity to be a leader: earlier this season when appointed by Coulson as the temporary director of Shield. He didn’t seem like the obvious choice at the time, but blew us away with his commanding presence and ability to rationalize under pressure. Here, he gets some great moments in being that hard voice of right and reason again in opposing Daisy’s desire for heavy-handed tactics, “It’s not about how they act, it’s about how we respond”. It really demonstrates not only how much he believes in Shield, but how much he understands what the oragnisation needs to stand for (other than a shoe horned acronym). Then to top it all off, he does the thing, the thing that he’s talked about so many times and will send anyone that loves him into a euphoric hysteria.
The Lincoln and Coulson subplot feels more of a required element than anything else, but the exchanges between the pair are enjoyable. The obvious purpose is to reinforce Lincoln’s change within the team and the show. That he is no longer just an Inhuman character, he is an Agent of Shield. As such, it does make aspects the outcome predictable but it makes sense for the show to be stepping up Lincoln’s character both to raise the presence of The Secret Warriors team and to fill Bobbi & Hunter’s role within the cast. There are surprising amount of Marvel/MCU Easter eggs in the story and the whole episode. The Watchdogs arrive with almost Civil War-like notions of accountability (New York and Sokovia getting name checked). Howard Stark gets a mention for creating the rather cool tech The Watchdogs utilize, but the most exciting mention of all is also the smallest and most allusive. Blink and you’ll miss it but in the early news report, a small print headline at the bottom of the screen reads, “Gang war rages on in Hell’s Kitchen”. To my knowledge, this is Agents of Shield’s first formal acknowledgment of the Marvel Netflix shows as this headline appears to imply that the Daredevil Season 2 events are happening around the same time. It’s a small step but a crucial one.
It’s a letdown on expectations but with a decent story and everything to love about making Mack the central character. Simmons anti-helpless drive feels a good point of character development ,and it’s also good to see the show remembering that the Lash/Andrew character exists again. In fact, many good small pieces are laid in place for future episodes to build on. These dogs maybe too much bite and not enough bark but this back half of season 3 is still a good boy.