After juggling multiple plots the last seven weeks, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. finally brings the story threads together, coalescing them into a single narrative. In some ways, this is a prototypical S.H.I.E.L.D. episode: sending the agents on a mission that’s reasonably entertaining, but ultimately futile. Yet the big infiltration set-piece mostly serves as background for the best character work of the season.
After wooing her and building a romance, Coulson betrays Rosalind tonight, revealing that he’s playing her to infiltrate the A.T.C.U. An incensed Rosalind calls him an unemotional robot or, worse, a paranoiac too scared to let anyone get close. But Rosalind’s criticisms ring hollow, because Coulson’s perfect. Coulson is intelligent but humble, ambitious but compassionate, optimistic yet cunning. Even his character flaws (a blindness to his preferred agents, especially anything involving Daisy) are presented as strengths on this show. Hell, tonight Coulson reveals his secret origin (S.H.I.E.L.D. recruited a college history major because he was just too damn good at history man), which might be the most Mary Sue he has ever been. After three seasons, Coulson still feels like a distant stranger to me, especially compared to the other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. His romance with Rosalind could’ve been a great way of humanizing Coulson, but since this is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., no romance can have even an ounce of happiness.
Bobbi and Lance infiltrate the A.T.C.U., which mostly gives Hunter the chance to dress up and act slightly loonier than usual. The subplot features perhaps the silliest fight scene in the show’s history, with Bobbi battling a telekinetic who can control guns with his mind, but chooses to fight Bobbi with a big metal pole. Why not float the guns around the corner and shoot while they’re behind cover? Still, the actor playing him has a great intimidating presence, and I hope we see him and more of Gideon Malick’s private Inhuman army in the future.
After weeks of meandering, FitzSimmons actually have a great subplot tonight, though it started a bit slow. My notes from the live-watch were something like, “It’s too bad this FitzSimmons plot is so boring WTF did Simmons just say ’ritualistic blood sacrifice’ I am super into this.” It helps that they’re investigating ancient death cults, but the romantic aspect of their relationship is actually really good tonight. A big part of it is that the two characters are finally communicating again, instead of quietly moping in separate rooms while watching video footage of each other. Simmons is no idiot, and knows about Fitz’ feelings for her. She’s wracked with guilt that Fitz is helping her find Will, and can’t take it anymore. And Fitz’ self-loathing refrain of, “We’re cursed,” feels fresh and in-character for him. Sometimes it’s easier to believe that the cosmos are trying to deny your happiness than to reach out and grab it, or turn around and seek it elsewhere.
It leads to a great kiss between the characters, the sort you feel in your bones. It’s wonderful in the moment, but I only wish the show had arrived there sooner, or better yet, not at all. FitzSimmons had a great platonic friendship in the first season, but it’s morphed into this epic cosmic romance. “We had years, side by side, and it never occurred to us,” Fitz says, perfectly articulating my problems with this story-line. At least the writers are aware of it, even if they can’t pull themselves away from it.
I’m still leery of Ward’s presence on this show, but this has gotta be his best episode, right? In contrast to the silly Bobbi/telekinetic fight, Ward gets an incredible shootout and brawl early in the episode. His torture of the still-breathing thugs is a little cliche “movie psychopath,” but he follows it up with a genuinely horrifying scene. After casually flirting with an airline stewardess, Ward whispers in her ear that he’s going to blow the door open and jump out, all with a grin and twinkle in his eye. I’m still shocked that ABC let this episode air just weeks after the Sinai plane downing. I can’t wait for the commentary on this episode, if only to learn whether Ward’s lines about the pilot flying to safety were added in response to the attack. It definitely seems like there’s a version of that scene where Ward crashed a plane to get what he wanted.
But the real mover-and-shaker this episode is the freshly-named Gideon Malick, Powers Boothe’s mysterious character. Malick reveals that Hydra was not founded by the Red Skull, but actually much older; they were founded hundreds, perhaps thousands of years ago, worshiping an ancient Inhuman. In some ways, this is the most exhilarating twist that the show has ever taken. In real-life, Adolph Hitler’s obsession with religious artifacts and arcana culminated in him taking possession of the Spear of Destiny. This later influenced Raiders of the Lost Ark and, more relevantly, Captain America: The First Avenger. I thought that Hydra was basically a sci-fi version of the Waffen-SS, but it’s actually another of Hitler’s artifacts, alongside the Tesseract and the Spear of Destiny. It’s not as big as the Inhumans, but it’s the type of small twist that I love, making The First Avenger a little more complex and interesting retroactively.
I’ve been pretty down on S.H.I.E.L.D. the last few weeks, but this episode was an exhilarating shot in the arm. I can’t tell you how excited I am that Malick has finally united the story-lines for the Inhumans, the A.T.C.U., Hydra, and the alien planet. It’s a little convenient; I don’t know how Rosalind can be the head of the ATCU, accountable to the President, yet totally unaware about what’s happening in her own facility. Plus, I’m not sure how FitzSimmons discovered that the ancient death cult was Hydra. But even if the connecting dots are a little messy, the show is finally focused around a single story, and doesn’t have to meander certain subplots to wait for others to catch up. With only two episodes until the mid-season break, it would be hard for the show to lose this precious momentum. Right now, it looks like S.H.I.E.L.D. is building toward a rescue mission, sending the agents after Will, narrowly escaping through the portal and back to Earth… and bringing something else along with them.
4 “DAMN THE YANKS” shirts out of 5. Let’s get this trending, fellow Agents! #DamnTheYanks
MCUE staff writer Jeremiah Peace thinks the mysterious Inhuman might be The Unspoken, a newer Inhuman who I know absolutely nothing about. My initial instinct makes me think he might be the “true” Mandarin, as alluded to in the Marvel Short Film All Hail the King, but that’s a little half-baked and not fully formed. Do you guys have any ideas?
Perhaps those Hydra goons in Ant-Man were working for Malick? I feel like we’re closer, though I still think they might be setting up Baron Zemo in Captain America: Civil War.
The show features a small role from Nelson Franklin, one of those great “That guy!” actors with a ton of presence, but seemingly mired in small roles. For me, he’s most familiar as Roger Furlong’s browbeaten assistant from Veep, and he doesn’t fare much better on S.H.I.E.L.D.
Giden Malick is a cool name, but not quite as cool as Powers Boothe. But then again, what name could possibly be as cool as Powers Boothe?
Man, I never thought in a million years that I’d describe Coulson as “kind of a whore.” This is why most workplaces don’t let you sleep with your boss.