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Marvel's Agents of SHIELD S3 E18, 'The Singularity' - thematic analysis

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There's no 'and' in 'FitzSimmons'...

Marvel's Agents of SHIELD S3 E18, 'The Singularity' - thematic analysis

(spoilers)

Marvel's Agents of SHIELD S3 E18, 'The Singularity', written by Lauren LeFranc and directed by Garry A. Brown, is a very thematically coherent episode. This in itself is a representation of disparate elements coming together to form one (connected) thing or system, which is the theme of the episode.

Several other previous Marvel's Agents of SHIELD episodes (e.g. S3 E2), as well as Iron Man 3, also have this kind of thematic coherency. The Marvel Cinematic Universe also arguably functions the same way: each story works on its own terms, but they also inter-relate, and taken together, the world-building is extraordinary, making the MCU more than the sum of its parts.

This episode's theme is in some ways similar to a key thematic conceit of Buffy the Vampire Slayer:  the tension between aloneness and togetherness. Hive controls Inhumans, forming a hive mind, and making them happy (kind of like the flipside of the power of the girl in Bahrain, who fed off people's pain?). But these Inhumans are prepared to do whatever it takes, if that's necessary to achieve their (Hive's) objectives. Togetherness and happiness are obviously good things (in fact, what a found family such as SHIELD should be like), but Hive subverts them in a twisted way.

Coulson reflects on the moral ambiguity of SHIELD (saying that in some ways he's no better than Hive), in that he sometimes orders Agents to do questionable things Coulson gets introspectivein order to achieve SHIELD's objectives (which are good, in contrast to Hive's, because SHIELD actually protects humanity, but it still doesn't make it okay if they lose a little of theirs in the process). May counters that nobody makes her do anything she doesn't want to do (though presumably she'd rather not be faced with the situations that present terrible choices if she could help it), thus implying that perhaps SHIELD isn't a true hive mind, and also that she's partly responsible.

The title, 'The Singularity' (obviously referring to the transhumanist idea of technological transcendence of humanity) could also refer to the idea of “one organism”, as Hive puts it. Many separate individuals become one. (In various ways, Hive, SHIELD, Multiple Girl, and FitzSimmons could all be considered representations of this.)

(As a quick aside, does singularity of mind also apply as a description of Coulson's stubbornness (and accordingly May's, since Coulson quips that that's why they get on so well)?)

The idea of the singularity perhaps carries with it a sense of inevitably, which could tie in with the 'Spacetime' idea, which Fitz posits, that since time is how we perceive the fourth dimension, the future is basically inevitable (though in that episode, the way in which they thought Daisy's vision was going to play out was in some cases upended, indicating that their perception of the future could be incomplete and thus limited).

(Interestingly, back in S2 E12, 'Who You Really Are', the Kree Vin-Tak (Eddie McClintock) warned that Skye/Daisy/Quake was too dangerous, and we were told that there was a bigger picture. Perhaps, although it was noble of Coulson, SHIELD, and Sif to stand up for her, now her significance might be starting to come into focus a bit more. Maybe she will turn out to be very significant in Hive's plan (although, hopefully, also significant in defeating him, rejecting the false happiness of Hive's hive mind, and choosing her friends / found family of SHIELD, despite their flaws.)

Some more thoughts:

There are a couple of nice Captain America references in this episode. For one, there's Coulson looking at his blood-stained Captain America trading cards from The Avengers; the picture of his hero, tainted by the 'push' from his mentor (and now predecessor as Director of SHIELD), though Cap himself wasn't morally compromised by this. Interestingly, could Coulson's death be considered to be the catalyst for the singularity that was the creation of the Avengers? For another, there's the fittingly transhumanist beat where Coulson's robot hand saves him and May with its holographic SHIELD shield. As he says, “I thought it would be cool if the Director of SHIELD had a shield, and Fitz agreed.”

Alicia (Multiple Girl) is herself / herselves a walking example(s) of this episode's theme. And then Hive controls her, and makes her literally kill herself (or two of her selves), in order to protect information.

Lincoln loves Daisy and wants to rescue her, but as he almost admits, he's overly dependent on her, and that can lead to desperation, which makes him dangerous.

Also, humanity and something attempting to transcend humanity is a tension linked to the episode's theme. Using Simmons' definitions, John Hannah's character and his cohorts are Enhanced (basically cyborgs), whereas Inhumans are Other.

In fact, when someone with latent alien DNA undergoes Terrigenesis (as James does in this episode, caused by Hive), they become an Inhuman (manifesting whatever power the community needs at the time, if what Lincoln was taught is correct), and the change can't be reversed (unless, of course, FitzSimmons somehow manage to develop a cure, maybe from Creel's blood). Not only that, but Terrigenesis often changes a person's life dramatically, and as such could perhaps be considered to be a form of micro-singularity itself.

FitzSimmons, essentially a hybrid entity already (but in an awesome way—their character dynamic always seemed like the living embodiment of a sci-fi concept, in the opposite way to Hive's twistedness), is / are also central to the theme of this episode. Fitz posits an analogy with their relationship as The Singularity, going from linear friendship (simple, easy, comfortable—interesting to note that this word is suggested by Simmons, almost finishing Fitz's sentence) to exponential.

(But Hive!Daisy (insisting that she knows what she's saying) warns Fitz about FitzSimmons, and seems to link it to Daisy having seen the future, and thus knowing that someone's going to die. Is she implying that this will be caused by The FitzSimmons Singularity? Is this why “the cosmos” was trying to keep them apart, as Fitz posits? Is there more FitzSimmons angst in store? Is their graph going to be not only exponential but also crazy and maybe quite unpredictable, going downwards (to angst) as well as up (to happiness)? Is the FitzSimmons ship about to make the jump to hyperspace?))

This could, meta-textually, be an analogy for the role of change in storytelling (especially serialised storytelling, like TV allows). More specifically, in the Whedonverse (which Marvel's Agents of SHIELD arguably still counts as, despite Joss' diminished involvement, since Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen, not to mention the rest of the writers, seem to be carrying on the Whedonesque tradition admirably, in many respects), a TV show often takes this form: relatively linear, relatively standalone episodes to start off with, establishing the characters, their relationships, and the story world (an approach which tries the patience of some, though arguably pays off long-term in terms of emotional investment), and then at a certain point, the plot twists in such a dramatic, unexpected way, changing everything, and then the show commits to the emotional and story and world-building ramifications of that, making it must-see TV pretty much from that point (or singularity) onwards.

One could even argue that Marvel's Agents of SHIELD has done this several times, from the obvious Captain America: The Winter Soldier cross-over, where the show became consistently (rather than sporadically) awesome, to other examples such as Skye's/Daisy's/Quake's Terrigenesis, to Simmons being eaten by the liquid alien rock, to '4,772', to 'Spacetime', to 'The Singularity' (this season alone featuring at least three experimental, sci-fi-heavy, potentially game-changing episodes, which are pulled off terrifically—and that's just the three most obvious examples). Of course, these moments are not random, abstract plot twists; there's a continuity to the flow of the overall storyline, building on game-changing moments by changing the game again, but still building on the rules established by the previous version. A multiplicity of singularities, like this episode itself.


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