This week’s episode is called “Eye Spy,” and let’s dive right in because I don’t have any pre-episode thoughts.
In Sweden, a bunch of identically dressed men, right up to their creepy red masks (were the rights to the Guy Fawkes masks tak – Oh, right. Comic book publishing competitors. I’m so sorry for what we’ve done to your holiday, England), get on the subway handcuffed to their identical briefcases. They’re followed by our episode’s antagonist, a black lady who kicks all of their butts in the dark, in a crowded subway car, with her eyes closed. She also makes off with one of the briefcases, hacking off a guy’s hand to get it.
That briefcase is now diamonds.
We reunite with the SHIELD team as they do characteristically expected stuff on the Bus as it takes them to Sweden. Coulson finds Skye hiding out in the SUV, taking some me time. He asks her if she’s ever robbed a bank or armored car, by way of assigning her the task of figuring out how all these jewel heists have been happening.
See, all the identically dressed men were a cover for transporting diamonds. Even if you knew what they were, you couldn’t know which one had the briefcase that actually contained diamonds. Coulson doesn’t think it was an inside job, since witness accounts say there was one thief and that she was black, female, and did it with her eyes closed. Skye suggests that the thief has a superpower. May counters that there are no credible studies that confirm ESP, or telekinesis. WHAT ABOUT MUTANTS, MAY. DON’T TELL ME SHIELD ISN’T KEEPING AN EYE ON PROFESSOR XAVIER’S LITTLE BOARDING SCHOOL. I know you’re not allowed to say “Xavier” or “mutants” but you could have made some oblique reference.
Anyway, the team hasn’t actually been assigned here by SHIELD: Coulson’s after this one for himself, not them. We shortly find out why, as Skye wrangles all the commuter social media recordings of the strangely dressed men to reveal the thief, and Coulson knows who she is immediately: Akela Amador, his former protege.
Amador was a SHIELD agent who ran a raid that went bad and was presumed dead. Coulson sent in a second team to recover firm evidence of what had happened, but they were unable to uncover proof of her death. He thought these heists must be her because there are very few women who could pull them off, and, he says to May “Since you’re on the Bus, it had to be her.” Coulson doesn’t want SHIELD to know she’s alive yet: he still hopes he can bring her in in a way that looks best for her before her in the eyes of the agency. He feels that her near death/op failure/defection are his fault, for pushing her too hard to be more of a team player.
We return to Amador in a hotel room, where she nearly bludgeons a visitor with a golf club before he insists the two men she can somehow sense in the adjacent rooms are just there to protect him. He’s there to deliver a pass card (“All access levels, as promised.”) worth $30 million, paid in the stolen diamonds. Akela hands him a golf ball from the bag, pours water on it and THE GOLFBALL IS NOW DIAMONDS.
Sorry, I had to get in another one.
Coulson and Ward take the kids (the Science Siblings and Skye) for an outing in a nondescript white van known as the Short Bus. The SSibs are there to try and track down Amador electronically, and they’re nervous about being out in the field again after “0-8-4.” They get more nervous after Coulson and Ward go for walkies, but they find a strange scrambled broadcast. Also there’s some goofy stuff about “haw haw, none of the Kids understand the gravity of being out in the field” that falls flat for me. Sure, Fitz and Simmons aren’t field agents, but they know field agents, and don’t tell me that designing gear and weapons for field agents doesn’t require them to have a keen understanding of what goes on out there.
Coulson and Ward find a hotel where the proprietress claims Amador’s prescient powers diagnosed her cancer, but in the meantime the Kids have decoded the signal together only to see Akela ramming their van over and into a ditch.
The team, apparently defeated by having their van flipped over, troop back to the Bus. Skye thinks she can keep contact with the data broadcast to gather information about where Amador is, and when the Team sees Akela looking into a mirror they finally put together what the audience has known from the minute the feed was turned on: it’s Amador’s POV. She’s got a bionic eye equipped with backscatter technology that allows her to see through solid objects when her eyes are closed. The merging of the technological with the biological is beyond anything the SSibs have seen.
Coulson and May argue over whether she should be brought in or taken out, with Coulson insisting that she’s redeemable, until Amador writes on a piece of paper “Can I sleep?” in full view of her camera/eye, and receives an answer in text at the bottom of her vision. This shores up Coulson’s theory that she’s not as evil as she appears: she’s being controlled by an outside force. He orders a watch kept on the feed from her eye until they figure out where she is and can bring her in. May volunteers for first watch, jeeze May, try to be a little subtle, you are a super spy.
There follows an interlude where Skye tells Coulson that she supports his gut feeling about Amador since he had the nerve to believe in her, blah blah blah basically the scene is killing a little time so that when we cut to Fitz asleep in the science bay, we can pretend that some time has passed. Anyway, Fitz is asleep in the science bay and May is gone, just as we expected. Coulson finds the clue she found: Amador’s brief glance at a room service receipt that allows them to know what hotel she’s staying in.
May is already visiting Amador in her hotel room. May has guessed that whoever is controlling her doesn’t have audio, and is there to… take her out, I guess? I suppose the reason May doesn’t get courtmartialed at the end of this for disobeying a direct order from a superior is that this isn’t an official SHIELD operation anyway. Amador refuses to look at May, knowing that her handle will use facial recognition to know that May is a SHIELD agent and will order Amador to kill her. She’ll have to do it or die herself, due to a killswitch device inside her bionic eye. But eventually, since May is there to rumble anyway, she looks up aaaand FIGHT. They fight for a bit and Amador blows out the lights but in the end Coulson busts in and downs her with the experimental dendrotoxin-shooting gun Fitz was showing to Ward at the beginning of the episode.
Akila wakes up in what I think of as the hexagonal interrogation room on the Bus. The SSibs have rigged her feed so that instead of transmitting from her eye, it’s transmitting from a pair of glasses that Ward is wearing. He’s carrying out the mission with the pass card to buy time so that the SHIELD team can figure out a way to neutralize the killswitch that will kill Amador if she disobeys, and capture her handler. Coulson is kind of adorably gentle with her, or maybe that’s just my sensitivity to Dadfeels.
“Why are you doing this? Where’s the ‘I told you so’.” “That’s not me anymore. I’m just glad you’re alive.” EVERYBODY BE QUIET I just need a moment for my emotions.
Amador explains that for the first four years after her last SHIELD operation failed and she was presumed dead, she was kept alone in a cage at the bottom of a copper mine, blind in one eye. Then she was “rescued” by some organization, she’s not sure who, who gave her her sight back and released her, that is until they started giving her orders through her new eye and hurting and threatening to kill her through the implant in her head if she refused them. She doesn’t know what the pass card is for or why it’s worth $30 million, since she only gets the info she needs to know to complete her missions. Between her and Coulson, however, they manage to figure out a few details about her handler: he’s English, middle aged, and possibly heavyset.
On this info, and May’s tracking of the location of the transmissions meant for Amador’s vision, Coulson has enough to go hunting for her handler, so he sends her in for eyeball surgery with the nervous SSibs. May is now being very cooperative about Amador, but the episode doesn’t spell out a change of heart the way the show has so far; we’re left to infer that the confirmation that Amador is definitely being forced to follow orders is the cause. In the med bay, when the SSibs are too nervous to inject a local anesthetic into her eye Amador does it herself in the most badass moment of the episode.
Meanwhile, remember Ward and Skye? Yeah, they’re teaming up to take on Amador’s mission at some slavic factory that’s really a front for advanced science of some sort. Ward’s wearing glasses that transmit his POV to Amador’s handler in place of hers, and let him see Aamdor’s orders. All is smooth sailing until he is ordered to seduce a final guard. And ladies and gentlemen, that’s four for four, 100% of Agents of SHIELD episodes make reference to the idea that seduction is a weapon in the toolbox of women. I’m not complaining, exactly. It’s clear from the way the show has so far framed these references that it understands how ridiculous this assumption is. However, you’d think that if the creators know the assumption is ridiculous, we’d get at least some episodes that lack a reference to it entirely. Also, gross, Amador’s mysterious handler who watches her all the time, super gross.
Ward is incapable of seducing the guard, but name checks Mata Hari, which is a surprisingly dated sexy spy stereotype to be name checked here. Skye suggests he “bromance” the guy by being friendly. Bromance gets nowhere and so THEY FIGHT. Ward walks into the next room, lined with chalkboards covered in calculations, and after he zeroes in on what look like drawings of circuits to me, receives a “Mission complete. Good Luck” order.
With all the alarms blaring from the unconscious guard not making his check in, Ward dashes for an exit and, while ducking into a bathroom to avoid guards, accidentally looks at himself in a mirror, alerting the handler that his feed has been highjacked. Fortunately, the SSibs manage to remove Amador’s implant just in time and he and Skye make their getaway.
Meanwhile, May and Coulson have located Amador’s handler, but it turns out that HE WAS EYE CONTROLLED TOOOO and he dies on the spot. Turns out he was a former MI6 officer, also presumed dead, and “the real threat’s still out there.” The chalkboard might be alien equation, “we’ll figure it out.” Back in the states (presumably) SHIELD internal affairs or military police or JAG or whatever is there to take Akela Amador away for trial. Coulson promises he’ll testify on her behalf.
But Amador doesn’t leave before she asks May privately about what happened to Coulson. May says he nearly died at the Battle of New York. “But what did they do to him” INSISTS THE CHARACTER WHO CAN SEE THROUGH SOLID OBJECTS. And I guess I should cool my jets because they’re not going to actually delve into What The Freakin’ Deal Is With Coulson for two to seven more episodes at the earliest, if they don’t wait until the very end of the season to talk about it.
The episode ends with Coulson joining Skye for Me Time hiding out in the SUV, mirrored against Akila in jail, sleeping peacefully, and without anyone watching her actions, for the first time in years.
Fitz attempts to get Skye to help him cheat at poker with Ward using the glasses they made that can see through walls, but declines when she points out that in doing that she would see him naked. She uses the glasses anyway to see Ward naked which is a little grooooss also Skye aren’t you a hacker shouldn’t you have a keen appreciation for personal privacy?
I don’t have many overall thoughts for this week’s Agents of SHIELD episode recap specifically, but hot off a panel, and a number of interactions, with folks at New York Comic Con I think I’ll take some time to talk about racial diversity and SHIELD. It’s somewhat ironic that I’d decide to do this for “Eye Spy,” considering that the episode features both an antagonist/guest character of color and a director of color, Roxann Dawson (also a Star Trek: Voyager alumni). But the fact remains that the show could really use another main character of color, and it’s unlikely to happen this season.
I think it’s important to praise the show for managing to wrangle a main cast that includes complete gender parity; for giving its most visible character of color a backstory/archetype that stands outside the usual roles offered to Asian women and that the show is, I think, rolling out slowly but with care and attention; and for casting actors of color in, so far, 75% of its one-episode-guest-star roles. But I think it’s also important to point out the non-diversity of the main cast (Chloe Bennet (Skye), it has been pointed out in the comments, is half-Chinese, and while as a fellow passes-for-white biracial woman I don’t want to erase her heritage, I also think, as a passes-for-white Latina, that “apparent” diversity is important in a visual medium), and if the show had the pull to make a main cast 50% female and a supporting cast very diverse, that maybe it also had the leeway to create a more diverse central cast, but didn’t for any number of reasons. The truth is, there’s nothing in what we’ve seen of Simmons or Ward’s (for example) backgrounds so far that would preclude them from being cast with actors of color. It’s laudable to fill your supporting cast with interesting characters of color, but when they all disappear at the end of the episode it can leave audience members hungry for one that sticks around, makes relationships with the main cast, and gets the kind of expanded character arc that befits a main character of a television show.