Those watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. this last week (“Meet the New Boss”), may have noticed an obscure reference that was thrown into the episode. At one point someone mentioned that the “ghosts” of the episode were similar to “Tobias Ford.” This was a pretty deep cut, unlikely to ring an obvious bell. Who is that again? So I took a look back the first season of the show and watched episode 1X09, “Repairs.” What I found was a surprising amount of connections to the current state of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The first thing that stuck out was how shockingly good the episode was. I generally remember the first season of the show as a hot mess followed by a good final month after the shake-up of Captain America: Winter Soldier. All I remotely remember are the origins of Deathlok and a vaguely horror-ish episode. “Repairs” is the latter. It plays like a Halloween episode (even though it came out in November). Agent Coulson’s team is dealing with a creature that is magically appearing and disappearing, typically right behind unsuspecting agents. It also is a strong episode in that it takes place almost exclusively in “The Bus” and gives good insight into the relationships and everyday life of the team.
The plot revolves around Tobias Ford and Hannah Hutchins. At the outset of the episode, S.H.I.E.L.D. believes that Hutchins has telepathic powers from an accident in a science facility. They believe she is terrorizing the town she lives in as retribution for them blaming her for the accident and deaths of work mates. She denies any responsibility, saying she is haunted by demons. The demon turns out to be one of the “dead” coworkers, Ford, who is stuck between dimensions and caught up in an undying love for Hutchins.
The episode is interesting because it does resonate with the current state of the MCU, including elements of this season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the upcoming Doctor Strange. Here are a few connection points:
Ghosts – In both “Repairs” and “Meet the New Boss” we have some scenes that play much like a horror movie. A mysterious figure looms ominously in unusual places and terrifies unsuspecting people. As in much pop culture myth, the ghosts are roaming about because they have some unfinished business to do. The reality behind their existence, however, is quickly sized up as science. Fitz and Simmons deduce that Ford is moving back and forth between dimensions, not merely a poltergeist. “Maybe that’s what all ghosts are,” they suggest. In both episodes, the “ghosts” appear to be the result of some kind of experiment gone wrong in a now defunct research facility.
Particle Accelerators – During the filming of Doctor Strange MCUExchange learned that footage for the movie was being shot at CERN. While that rumor was correct, ultimately Marvel decided to pull that footage from the film, though they are considering using it in a future movie. CERN is the gigantic particle accelerator in Switzerland. It turns out that the accident involving Hutchins and Ford occurs at a fictional particle accelerator in Utah. A connection is made in “Repairs” that the staff there was trying to duplicate the dimension hopping portals seen in Thor: The Dark World. Marvel somehow sees inter-dimensional travel and quantum physics as being deeply connected. This connection is also apparent with the frequent mentions of Ant-Man‘s “Quantum Realm” in reference to Strange’s dimensions.
Hell and Spiritual Language – The ghosts of seasons four and Tobias Ford use one word to describe the other dimension they have been traveling back and forth between – Hell. The references seem to go a bit beyond simply “hell” as in some place terrible. Ghost Rider explicitly has talked about selling his soul to the “devil,” though that reference seems vague at this point. Certainly, the source material takes its roots from a popular sense of Western or Christian demonology. Hutchins is a devout theist of some kind and explicitly sees Tobias as a demon punishing her because God is no longer protecting her. Ford also comes from a religious background as he and Hutchins at the climax of “Repairs” discuss how he might find forgiveness in the eyes of God for his involvement in the deaths of his work mates. This connection of overtly spiritual language with dimension hopping and ghosts seems to be part of the MCU’s vocabulary for a certain kind of phenomenon. Also note, Simmons sees a glimpse of “Hell” as shown above. The scene is not long, but in some ways looks like Maveth from season 3.
Dark Matter and Power Control – Ford, the ghosts of “Meet the New Boss,” and Jason Wilkes from Agent Carter all have a very similar scene in their respective episodes. At some point, they look down at their hand and see it fading in and out of view, presumably as it fades between this dimension and another. It may be purely coincidence, or it may be that they all have experience of a similar mystical energy. We do know that the Darkforce of Wilkes will be connected with something mystical in Doctor Strange. Notice that the ghosts of the current S.H.I.E.L.D. season are created by the Darkhold. Darkhold, Darkforce, disappearing hands, it all seems connected.
It is highly unlikely that the writers of “Meet the New Boss” would take the effort to write in Tobias Ford if they didn’t have some intention of connecting a likely forgotten story from three years ago to the current one. There is some narrative thread holding that story and this season’s, and likely Doctor Strange and a little of Agent Carter, together. It is probably more of a vague big picture connection than a detailed mythology, but it is connected. Ragging on Marvel for not connecting various elements of their universe together can be easy, but this connection of magic, quantum physics, demonic imagery, and ghosts seems to be fairly consistent across years and mediums. It’ll be interesting to see how it all comes together once the Doctor Strange and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. tie-in is connected.