When Agents of SHIELD began, its first season revolved around building up towards the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Now there’s another Captain America movie coming out next spring, and we can already see how Agents of SHIELD is laying some track down for it. Spoilers ahead...

Last night’s season premiere of Agents of SHIELD, “Laws of Nature,” seemed to be mostly putting pieces in place for the show’s third season. But there were some hints as to how this new status quo is going to play out. In particular, the remnants of SHIELD are up against a brand new spy agency called the Advanced Threat Containment Unit (ATCU), which is filling more or less the role that SHIELD had back in season one: tracking and containing superpowered and alien-influenced people (frequently in an ugly fashion). And what’s left of SHIELD is now sort of doing what the Inhumans were doing last year: providing a welcome wagon and a safe place for newly emerged Inhumans, training them to use their powers safely and remain hidden. And meanwhile, one of the main people from that Inhuman welcome wagon, Lincoln, now just wants to stay in hiding.

All of this points towards a world where people with powers are treated with more fear and suspicion than ever before, in the wake of the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron. And it’s easy to see how this is leading towards the kind of situation we’re apparently going to see in Captain America: Civil War, in which Tony Stark apparently wants there to be some kind of “governing body” controlling the actions of the Avengers and other heroes. It’s even possible that this new agency we met last night, ATCU, is going to wind up being connected to whatever body Tony Stark supports having authority over supers. In any case, it seems pretty clear that Agents of SHIELD is continuing to put itself smack dab in the middle of these political questions within the Marvel movie/TV universe, and thus will wind up helping to set up some of the big developments in Civil War. And we saw the seeds of that being planted last night.

Here’s the first few minutes of the episode, which were posted as a promotional clip the other day:

So basically, at the end of season two, the Inhumans’ Terrigen crystals (which allows them to activate their mutant genetic powers) got into the ocean and wound up in a bunch of “Fish Oil” capsules. And now anyone with Inhuman DNA who eats one of those capsules gets activated and becomes superpowered. (They handwave away why the capsules don’t turn non-Inhuman people into brittle statues, like what happened to Tripp.)

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The guy in the clip above is Joey Gutierrez, and he’s gained the ability to melt certain metals at up to three feet. A lot of the episode revolves around rescuing him from the mysterious government agency known as ATCU, and giving him the infodump about the Inhumans—how their superpowered DNA was seeded in some humans by the Kree (who aren’t mentioned) and how they are being hunted.

They stash Joey in a fancy chamber where his powers can’t do any harm, but that doesn’t help keep him from freaking out.

As you can glimpse in the above clip, SHIELD has gotten a lot of fancy new hardware, including a nice new plane that can stay in the air for days—handy, since new Inhumans are going to be popping up at an accelerated rate, according to the simulation that Coulson runs:

They’re going to be EVERYWHERE.

While Daisy (the Inhuman formerly known as Skye) and her “partner” Mack try to help Joey adjust to his situation—she’s the muscle, he’s the teddy bear—Coulson tries to track down info on the agency that’s hunting the Inhumans. Their leader is a woman who goes by Rosalind, who’s got a different identity at every U.S. government agency there is:

Coulson and Lance Hunter try to trap Rosalind on her Metro commute in DC, only to find themselves trapped instead. And she turns out to know a lot about Coulson, including the fact that he died and went to Tahiti.

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Rosalind says that the laws of nature have changed, and until the laws of man change to reflect that, we must do what we feel is right. And she says that powerful people answer to her—which is underscored, when the President of the United States uses those exact same words in an address to the nation, about the creation of the ATCU. Also, more proof that the Marvel Universe is an alternate universe where Barack Obama didn’t manage to get elected:

So SHIELD is now once again on the outs, except that instead of going up against Glen Talbott, they’re up against a new legit government agency that’s tasked with cleaning up the alien threat by any means necessary. And the good news is that Rosalind seems serious about protecting innocent people, and seems somewhat appalled by the body count that someone is leaving around the place. The bad news is, she seems to have zero compunction about doing grisly experiments on the Inhumans she captures.

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[UPDATE: A number of people in comments point out that these people appear to have been killed by Lash, and Rosalind is apparently just doing autopsies on them. But she does clearly imply earlier in the episode that she’s been able to capture a number of the Inhumans alive, or at least that most of them have not gotten away from her.]

Daisy decides to try and enlist the aid of Lincoln, her former buddy from the Inhuman Day Spa, in helping Joey and others adjust to their reality. But just as Mack no longer seems quite so suspicious of alien-influenced people, Lincoln has also done a 180: he thinks the Inhuman thing is a curse, and he just wants a normal life working at a hospital as a doctor.

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Too bad they get attacked by a third party that’s also looking for Inhumans: a creature known as Lash that can make holes in walls and nearly ploughs through Mack:

The other threat out there, of course, is Grant Ward’s new version of Hydra. But there’s been no peep out of them for months, and Hydra’s financial assets haven’t even been touched. Still, Lance tells Bobbi that he wants to hunt Grant Ward down and make him pay for shooting Bobbi—and he can’t wait for Bobbi’s injury to be fully healed, so she could join him.

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Lance and Bobbi, incidentally, get another one of the episode’s subplots, in which Lance is not speaking to Bobbi. At first it seems like he’s mad at her yet again, but instead it turns out he wants to marry her. With the same ring she threw back at him before, after they were married the first time. And she seems to be seriously considering saying yes:

The team is missing two other members, of course. Melinda May, who felt betrayed by Coulson’s secrecy, has taken off on vacation and just never came back, leaving Coulson without his right hand in addition to having a crappy cyborg left hand.

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And Jemma Simmons vanished into a Kree monolith, and is presumed dead by everybody except for Fitz. He spends the whole episode searching for answers as to what happened to her.

Fitz goes to Morocco, where he nearly gets killed by some nasty pieces of work whose friends looted an Iraqi museum, just so he can get his hands on an ancient scroll that may or may not have the answers to the exact nature of the monolith. In the gif above, he’s just told them to go ahead and kill him, because then they’ll never get the lovely disintegration bombs that are inside his secure briefcase. (The bombs then disintegrate his main captor, letting him escape with the scroll.)

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But the scroll turns out to contain just the Hebrew word for “Death.” And Fitz seems finally to accept Coulson’s entreaties that he say goodbye to Simmons and let go of her, so he can rejoin the team.

But as soon as Coulson leaves Fitz to finish accepting the reality of Simmons’ probable death, he goes to the monolith and starts banging on it, demanding answers.

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Fitz doesn’t get any answers, but we do—Simmons is on another planet somewhere. She’s being hunted by a creature that can apparently smell blood, because she goes to a lot of trouble to cover up a wound on her face with mud. And she seems pretty scared of whatever is chasing her.

Agents of SHIELD has almost always been a show about debating the proper response to superpowers and alien threats—Hydra wanted to use them for evil ends, while Edward James Olmos’ splinter group wanted to neutralize them with extreme, massive prejudice. So now we’re being set up for another debate over the correct response to enhanced individuals, except that this time SHIELD’s main opposition is very public and sanctioned by the POTUS himself. And also, the “Fish Oil” shenanigans mean that there are going to be many, many more superhumans coming out of the woodwork. (It’s almost as if a large minority of the population are mutating, into humans with some kind of added “X” factor—or “X” men and women, if you will.) So based on this episode, we’re being set up for another variation on that debate, only with higher stakes and way more publicity.

This could be interesting.


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