Saying goodbye is never easy, and for a group of elite super spies, saying goodbye tends to be pretty permanent. With all the advertisements leading up to last night’s episode focusing on the team losing one of it’s own, you’d be forgiven for expecting a major character death. It even feels like we’ve been building towards one for a while now. Midseason finales tend to trade in major losses for Agents, and somehow swapping Ward for anti-Ward doesn’t really cover that base as well as a full-on character death. There’s some weight missing in this season of high stakes, and “Parting Shot” steps up to rectify this with the loss of not one beloved character, but two. Just a quick warning there are major spoilers ahead.
It helps that the plot features one of the most intricate and nuanced stories of the season. Picking up where “Inside Man” left off, we spend most of the episode jumping between Bobbi and Hunter’s infiltration of a mysterious facility in Siberia and their interrogation at an Interpol black site, which has to be the most disturbing example of European cooperation since the invention of Eurovision Song Contest. While the action plot is definitely above average, it’s these intimate two person scenes between an Interpol agent and either Bobbi or Hunter that push the episode into the top tear of Agents storylines. Watching Bobbi and Hunter resist their captors with sometimes hilarious, sometimes horrifying results serves for some very effective storytelling, and reinforces the reason why these two characters are so important to the team dynamic at S.H.I.E.L.D. Seriously, I could listen to Hunter evade questioning via mushroom soup recipes for a solid two hours at least, and watching what must be considered the last step in healing a very broken relationship between the two is all the more effective for how much of their emotional rollercoaster occurs without the other being in the same room. It’s a great revelation in a night full of really interesting plot choices and surprises.
Perhaps the least surprising surprise is that Anton Petrov—you remember, the guy who wants to set up a sanctuary city for Inhumans—is up to no good. As hinted at before, he’s got more interest in controlling Inhumans to use them as weapons than giving them a safe place to live. His quick-to-form friendship with Malick isn’t very reassuring either. Maybe it’s old Cold War sentiment talking or just the current situation in Russia that makes me wonder just what last week’s council members were thinking when they agreed to this plan in the first place. I’m sure Malick’s a pretty persuasive guy, but did none of them notice that Petrov could easily pass for a villain in a James Bond movie? (Also, I just looked it up, and he has played a villain in a James Bond movie.) Look I’m all for not judging a book by its cover, but at some point a little bit of general savvy could save us a lot of murder here folks.
What is surprising are some of the little details this episode has in store. Smarter than average security guards make for a nice touch. Finding out that learning Russian isn’t part of basic field operative training is better. It really humanizes our team of heroes—they all aren’t ready for every situation, and it helps to ground this episode in reality. Education gaps do in fact exist beyond your horrible junior year chemistry teacher.
Additionally surprising is the physical antagonist, General Androvich. Showing us how bad Inhumans can pop up unexpectedly at anytime really helps to feed into the understandable paranoia this universe is trying to create. What’s more impressive still is the gentle integration of dark matter into the explanation of Androvich’s evil sentient shadow, a concept that plays much cooler than it reads on paper. This monster is basically indestructible and operates almost completely independently of Androvich, basically giving him the power to be two places at once. As we meet more and more Inhumans, it can be difficult for their powers to keep feeling interesting and unique. There will always be the old stand bys; elemental control, telekinesis, and physic abilities abound, but it’s the really fascinating ones that often follow unique sets of rules which ultimately keep the entire idea of powers fresh and interesting. A murderous shadow certainly qualifies even if its connotations make for awkward future watching of Peter Pan.
In the end, we lose two beloved teammates in “Parting Shot.” In a final act of loyalty, Bobbi and Hunter allow themselves to be disavowed from S.H.I.E.L.D. While it seems to me that there may have been a way to prevent this, I can’t deny that disavowing them, granting these two amazing characters a metaphorical death, feels like just as big a loss as an actual one. While Bobbi and Hunter come out of their adventure alive, they can never speak to or see their former team again. And with the proposed Mockingbird show still trapped in development hell, who knows how long it will be until we can again enjoy Bobbi’s super-competent eye rolling or Hunter’s snarky recitation of completely useless knowledge. Those things are lost to us for now, just like they are lost to Coulson, Mack, May, and the rest of the team. It’s important in a spy show to be reminded that actions have consequences, that deaths can occur at any time due to any misstep, and that leaving your friend alive can often be just as tragic.
Katherine Siegel is a Chicago-based freelance writer and director and a regular contributor to Paste. You can find out more by checking out her website, or follow her on Twitter.