All threads are coming together in what might be Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s best episode. The Dirty Half Dozen reunites the main cast from the first season, sending them on a mission deep into Hydra territory. In the meantime, almost every major character of the season furthers their arc in this episode. The show is barreling at full speed toward its finale, all the while promising a major crossover with Avengers: Age of Ultron.
The original cast of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is reunited tonight, in what might be the best action setup in the show’s history. After capturing Deathlok and Lincoln, Coulson is forced to lead a strike team into a Hydra base in the frozen arctic north. Unfortunately, Robert Gonzales’ council is running S.H.I.E.L.D. now, and he is only able to muster the resources to bring in a small team of loyalists. The stakes are high and clearly defined, the tension is palpable, and the emotional investment in the characters are real. (There’s also a kickass single take where Skye takes down a whole room of Hydra goons, in a shot that feels like a direct response to Daredevil.)
It’s exciting to see how far this particular group of characters have come. When this group of six debuted, they were largely viewed as milquetoast, forgettable, and redundant. And those criticisms may have been valid at the beginning of the show, they’re not anymore. May was dedicated to S.H.I.E.L.D. and Coulson, but no longer knows who she can trust. Jemma has transformed from a timid lab scientist into a ruthless badass, willing to take lives to protect her friends. At one time Fitz was an outsider on the team, and he now finds himself as its moral compass. Ward betrayed his team, and is desperately trying to redeem himself in their eyes. Coulson and Skye are at the biggest crossroads in this episode.
The world has fallen apart around Coulson, and he’s fighting to keep S.H.I.E.L.D. from falling apart with it. But after fighting Gonzales for multiple episodes, Coulson is ready to give Gonzales the secrets of Fury’s kingdom. But Coulson’s objectives remain shrouded in mystery. May discovers that Coulson was going off-base to see her ex-husband for therapy, but is that all he was really doing? It doesn’t explain the dozens of bunk beds Coulson is stocking off-site. And after discovering the location of Loki’s Scepter, he turns that information over to Maria Hill, Nick Fury’s righthand woman and current employee of Tony Stark. And there’s still the mysterious Theta Protocol, looming on the horizon. And what of Gonzales, who is keeping a secret hidden on the deck of his carrier?
Among the rest of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team, perhaps the biggest surprise is Jemma’s transformation into a ruthless killer. I think the second season hasn’t always known what to do with her character; she’s veered from hallucination to undercover agent to lab technician to ~~mutant~~ Inhuman racist to straight murderer tonight. And with May’s petty reaction to Coulson’s therapy, the team didn’t exactly have their best moments tonight. Except for Ward, who is a fantastic dead-eyed smooth talker. It’s pretty clear that he comes from a family of politicians.
Skye is finally reunited with her biological family, but can’t help but miss the S.H.I.E.L.D. family she adopted. Skye needs her family, if nothing else, to understand her powers and heritage. Yet Jiaying is no Coulson; she was willing to leave Lincoln to a grisly fate at the hands of Hydra. Skye was unable to accept that. The promo for next week finally looks like S.H.I.E.L.D. will finally come to blows with the Inhumans.
In Afterlife, Jiaying is maneuvering her own political minefield. She’s stuck with Cal, her irate baby daddy, after she tried to ditch him. More importantly, she’s also stuck with Raina, whose precognition is becoming a very well-known secret, and who is thinking of challenging Jiaying’s claim to leadership. With both S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra sniffing around on the outside, and an internal coup on the inside, Jiaying suddenly seems quite vulnerable.
Between Gonzales, Jiaying, and Calvin, it’s tough to tell who this season’s Big Bad will be, which is exhilarating. Multiple factions are vying for control, and it’s hard to tell where all the pieces will land.
This episode ends with lots of questions, but it makes one thing very clear: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. won’t give us the answers on its own. The final minutes of the episode set up Avengers: Age of Ultron, debuting in US theaters this Friday. I’m a true-blue MCU diehard, so I’m excited to see how Agents of SHIELD is impacted by the events of The Avengers. But more importantly, I’m excited that Agents S.H.I.E.L.D. is now such a good show that I would be interested in the finale even without the crossover.
4.5 Hot Pockets Out of 5. Coulson, your problem wasn’t eating a Hot Pocket right before flying. It was eating a fucking Hot Pocket.
This episode is very reminiscent of Secret War, a 2005 comic series seeing Nick Fury assemble a team of superheroes to infiltrate Latveria and overthrow Doctor Doom. Not so coincidentally, that series is the debut of Daisy Johnson.
This could be Ward’s last episode of the season; he could genuinely want Kara’s brainwashing to break, and for her to return to S.H.I.E.L.D.. But I can’t help but think there’s something tragic coming down the line, and that Ward might still be the knife to cut S.H.I.E.L.D. the deepest.
And speaking of Ward, wasn’t it a big deal when he shaved earlier this season? What’s going on there, scruffy?
Good riddance to the Bus. It always felt more like a hotel suite than a top secret spy plane.
Skye using her powers as a defibrillator is the best kind of superpower usage on television: innovative, nonviolent, cheap to depict.
Speaking of cheap, how about reusing footage from The Avengers for Raina’s vision? C’mon, they could’ve at least used the Scepter shot from Winter Soldier.
In an episode with lots of burns, I think Skye has the hardest. On Raina’s superpowers: “I thought it was spinning really fast to collect gold rings.”
RIP Bakshi. May you find peace as Satan’s slimiest toady.