The first is fairly straightforward — convince me that the characters who are making that sacrifice and leaving the team/show won’t be returning within a handful of episodes. Perhaps it’s a product of knowing how the sausage is made, but despite the fact that Bobbi and Hunter are slated for their own spinoff, I don’t buy for a second that two major characters, both of whom the show has spent ample time developing over the last couple of seasons, are going to legitimately disappear from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. until September when their solo adventures begin. Instead, the two of them are poised to come back at some opportune moment down the road and save the day. That turns “Parting Shot” into little more than a setup for a five-minute retirement, which makes all the hand-wringing about their departure ring false.
The second is a little more complicated, especially for a show that has offered so many supernatural and technological outs for its characters over the years — convince me that the sacrifice being made is actually necessary. The idea that a pair of field agents were involved in some sort of international incident and thus must be disavowed and drummed out of the organization is a legitimate direction to go with this kind of story. The catch is that the titular agents of Shield are involved in these types of incidents all over the world on a weekly basis, with no such concerns.
The episode tries to raise the stakes by invoking President Ellis and the Russian Prime Minister, but that ends up feeling like a flimsy excuse rather than a legitimate justification for Bobbi and Hunter to be forced out of the organization. Coulson is standing right there in front of the same people, claiming that Shield doesn’t exist, and yet he’ll no doubt go on future missions alongside other Shield operatives and be at just as much risk of exposure as Bobbi and Hunter would be. In just the last episode, he was in front of a number of world representatives, branded as the head of Hydra by Malick, and then chose to blast his way out of the compound when he was exposed as having spied on everyone attending the summit. Why in god’s name can he go on as director, even with the canard that he’s “advising the ATCU,” while Bobbi and Hunter must be gone forever? It makes absolutely no sense, even under the fuzzy logic on display in “Parting Shot”.
To the point, the episode ties itself in knots trying to come up with more and more (strained) reasons why the pair has to leave Shield. There’s some truth in the idea that two of them would not be able to sit still behind a desk or in the lab as a permanent assignment, but why couldn’t they lay low there for a while until things blow over? Why couldn’t they use some of that fancy mask technology when they need to go out into the field? Heck, why couldn’t they just use some of that old fashioned “put a cloth over your head” mask technology?
At the end of the day, I just didn’t buy that there was anything that happened in “Parting Shot” that actually necessitated Bobbi and Hunter leaving the organization. The show tried to play up the international incident character to the proceedings, but that’s weak broth when Shield has been involved in more international incidents in the last three years than Mel Gibson if he were ambassador to Israel. Never mind all the time that Shield writ large was on the run and comprised of fugitives from justice. Never mind all the technological and espionage-based solutions the group has at their disposal. Somehow, for poorly explained reasons, this time is different, and we’re just supposed to accept that.
A certain amount of willing suspension of disbelief is necessary for any show, especially the ones that take place in a world with superheroes and exotic spy tech. But this is a different beast than accepting, for example, the Russian General’s shadow monster, and ignoring how the episode made it seems like Daisy and Mockingbird were fighting a character from a Playstation 2 cut scene. Instead, this is an instance where basic internal logic and consistency with the show’s past were sorely lacking.
A series can, perhaps, get away with that for a single-episode plot point that’s not especially essential to the show going forward, but that’s not anywhere close to what “Parting Shot” did with Bobbi and Hunter. This “crisis” is not only supposed to be the impetus for two major characters leaving Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it’s also supposed to provide the emotional weight behind their departure, and it utterly fails on that front.
Accordingly, when the two of them are receiving all those unexpected drinks and sad looks from their friends around the bar as a “spy’s goodbye” (which is itself a fairly ridiculous concept given how blithely conspicuous the rest of the cast was when toasting the pair and offering them those mournful glares), the emotional heft of the moment is missing entirely. There’s no investment from the audience because (1.) It’s pretty obvious that Bobbi and Hunter are not gone for good and will show up to help Coulson fight HiveWard or Malick or Malick Jr. whenever the time comes; and (2.) there’s no good reason why they have to leave Shield in the first place.
Now maybe, just maybe, you can cut the show some slack based on the idea that when it comes time to genuinely bid farewell to Bobbi and Hunter ahead of their spinoff, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be embroiled in whatever turmoil will no doubt arise from the combination of Malick’s schemes and the events of Civil War, so there won’t be time on the show for a proper goodbye. I can accept the idea that “Parting Shot” is meant as a fill-in for Bobbi and Hunter’s actual departure, because by that time, the show won’t have the chance to send them off in style. But that still doesn’t account for the contrived reasons AoS offers for why this is suddenly an untenable mess that Shield is utterly helpless to clean up.
It’s unfortunate because there are a couple of very solid character-based moments in the episode. Amid a convoluted scheme from Malick that barely made any sense before the latest, contrived double cross, there’s a legitimate emotional undercurrent to Bobbi and Hunter’s concern for one another. The episode leans into the sense that for years now, the job has been their lives, and that Hunter in particular wants to take a step back to breathe and enjoy each other’s company for once. Sure, the structure of the episode makes it feel like AoS is trying to borrow tension from later in the story to prop up its threadbare beginning–and that feels like a cheap trick–but “Parting Shot” at least has the good sense to keep the focus on the two characters at the center of the episode who are capable of conveying the impact of the story it’s trying to tell.
Nick Blood does a good job of conveying both Hunter’s smart aleck-y qualities (which often make him seem “above it all” but also give his character the best humor and comic timing in the series), and also the side of him that’s a hopeless romantic, loyal to the woman he loves and his friends (May included). Adrianne Palicki holds up her end of the bargain as well with how she communicates Bobbi’s palpable concern for Hunter’s well-being after the Interpol interrogator threatens his life, and in the moment where she and Hunter are reunited and worry that it might be the end for them.
It’s just a shame that two of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s best characters, who once again offer a pair of strong performances, are wasted on a storyline that attempts to write them off the show in an illogical, unsatisfying fashion — one that will no doubt be undone by the end of the season anyway. It’s nice that the show is attempting to focus on the more emotional, character-heavy side of its narrative. But failing to establish a legitimate reason for a major event like Bobbi and Hunter being forced to leave Shield just makes the faux-severity and lugubrious tone of that final scene feel like a cheat, an unearned attempt at pathos which the series will eventually walk back regardless. And it renders the good work that Blood and Palicki did to try to get us there all for naught.