As for the rest, season three finally sees Daisy in full charge of her earth-shattering powers, running missions for Coulson in attempts to clean up the mess they left behind following the defeat of Jiaying. Unfortunately, things aren’t going that well thanks to a mysterious new underground organization (how many of those are there in the MCU, anyway?) scooping any new Inhuman off the streets before S.H.I.E.L.D. has a chance to. That new group is led with ferocious intent by Constance Zimmer (coming off this summer’s ridiculously fun UnREAL), who manages to out-spy Coulson and trap him on a subway train for a little secret organization tête-à-tête in the premiere.
As the group tries to save Inhumans from hurting themselves, and the world, Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) is on a solo mission to discover the truth behind “The Monolith,” which consumed Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) in last year’s most rewind-worthy cut-to-black cliffhanger. He’s in Morocco, hunting an artifact thought to be connected to The Monolith’s alien origins and hoping it holds a clue to opening its secrets, or at least provide closure as to whether Simmons is dead or just… somewhere else. As with the show’s snappy momentum in all other plots, you don’t have to wait long for that answer.
Fitz’s hunt to save his best friend from the clutches of an evil alien brick also represents Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s biggest improvement since its lackluster origins: the writers have found a way to craft exciting high-concept thrills (evil porcupine people? I’m down) while simultaneously sketching out a cast that feels robust and honest, and not just “the geeks” and “the rebel” and “the leader.” These characters have heart, feel real, and have become so comfortably ingrained in one another’s lives – and our own – that the thought of Simmons dying, or Fitz finally surpassing his season two insecurities at the expense of potentially losing his best friend, or even newbie Joey forced yet again into secrecy, results in a show that feels supremely grounded, despite the near-permanent aerial setting.
As superheroes on television grow more popular, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. finally feels like it’s fulfilling the promise which season one largely fumbled: a small-scale look at the massive MCU that provides meaningful tangents in between the summer tent-pole seasons. The show drops fun references to all the latest and greatest happenings in the world – Sokovia falling out of the sky, the Pym Tech disaster, the Convergence event in London – but it’s starting to feel less like a reactionary force and more like an, ahem, agent of its own destiny. Season two, I’d argue, was top-to-bottom great, and finally delivered to MCU completists what they wanted all along: a weekly visit to their favorite fictional world that didn’t feel like homework for the big summer tentpole test next year. One episode into season three and I’d say it’s even gone past that: now, it’s simply the best genre show on television.