As usual, this review contains spoilers for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but since this episode also ties in with Captain America: Civil War, it contains some very minor spoilers for that film as well.
On the surface, the events of Captain America: Civil War appear to stem from the Sokovia Accords. The Accords – a piece of legislation put forth by the United Nations that would require the Avengers to defer their autonomy to the UN Council – bring the issues of responsibility and accountability to the fore in a way that divides our heroes along ideological lines. But from the beginning of the film, it is clear that this conflict between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark isn’t just about the Accords, in fact, the Accords themselves are little more than a smoke screen concealing the true nature of this conflict. The conflict is about death – two deaths actually. The first is the death of an MIT student who traveled to Sokovia to do humanitarian work only to be killed during the Avengers’ battle with Ultron. Tony, whose entire journey in these films has revolved around battling demons of his own creation, is confronted by the dead boy’s mother and throws his support behind the Sokovia Accords as a way to not only hold himself accountable, but also to take the responsibility for these actions off of his own shoulders.
For Steve, it’s the death of Peggy Carter that motivates him. Before Steve crashed the Red Skull’s jet into the arctic, he knew his place in the world, but ever since he came out of the ice, everything has been much less clear. S.H.I.E.L.D., the organization created by his friends to do good, became a vehicle for HYDRA to survive, his best friend was brainwashed and turned into an unfeeling weapon for his enemies, and where once he may have imagined settling down to create a life after the fighting was done, he instead finds himself in a world where there is no place for him but to fight. The only thing left uncorrupted by the passage of time – his one connection to his former life – was Peggy Carter, and when she dies near the beginning of the film, Steve’s last remaining lifeline is cut. At her funeral, Sharon Carter, Peggy’s niece recalls some advice her aunt once gave to her, and in a repurposed version of Cap’s infamous “No. You move!” speech from the comics, Peggy sets Steve on a course that will define his actions for the rest of the movie.
What’s interesting about this speech is that by taking the words from Cap – a physically perfect übermensch – and giving them to a woman who spent her whole life trying to fight for her place in a world dominated by men, it changes the entire meaning. It also marks the first time any of Marvel’s Television work has had any kind of real bearing on the movies. You don’t need to have watched Agent Carter to understand the significance of the struggles Peggy faced, but if you watched the show, and you went on that journey with her, these words have the impact of a freight train. It’s the perfect ideal for how these shows should work. Fleshing out the world of these stories in ways that subtly enhance our connection to them without leaving crucial information out of the movies themselves.
This is what Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has always tried to do, and has always, always failed spectacularly at. This week is the show’s obligatory tie-in episode, but more so than ever before, the chasm between Marvel Studios and Marvel Television could not be more clear.