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Agents of SHIELD Recap: “Providence”

Recap

Identity crises for everybody! This recaps, as all future recaps, contains spoilers for Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Ward busts Raina out of prison because she’s not at the Fridge for some reason (and it’s not that she doesn’t have super powers, because Ian Quinn is in the Fridge, so dunno what’s going on there), and offers her a new pretty flower dress from “the Clairvoyant.” Because instead of having a villain costume, Raina has an utterly feminine piece of clothing. The feminist in me is delighted by this juxtaposition, the comic book fan in me wants her to have some kind of kickass scifi outfit worth a suit-up scene.

At the Hub, everything is terrible. There are only 3 known SHIELD bases that aren’t Hydra controlled, the Bus has very little fuel and is still undergoing repairs, Simmons is questioning what authority Coulson has if the surviving remnants of SHIELD have been labeled a terrorist organization, Colonel Glenn Talbot calls up to let them know that he’s sending a military force to the Hub to “ask a few questions, get the lay of the land” which is code for “take the fuck over,” Fitz is getting territorial and crabby about Trip’s presence, and Congress is calling for an investigative panel into SHIELD’s troubles (placing this episode, like last week’s somewhere between the climax of Winter Soldier and the roll of its credits).

The good news is that the team still has each other (except Ward, but none of them know that). The bad news is that this is just the beginning of the war against Hydra. Coulson decides that he’d rather not start a fight with the US government at the moment, so he orders the team on to the Bus, to go… elsewhere, with all the fuel the Hub can give them. Trip asks to come along, Coulson mistrusts someone who spent so much time with the Clairvoyant, Simmons argues for him, points out that Coulson is on shaky ground authority-wise, anyway. Coulson assents, tells her that Trip is her responsibility. Fitz pouts.

In Havana, Ward and Raina enter the secret barbershop location of Hydra’s hideout (or HYDRA-OUT) so that he can introduce her to the Clairvoyant, who turns out to be just some dude with no superpowers. She is disappointed, and disillusioned. Garrett leads her to their secret base, which you get to, naturally, by sitting in a barber’s chair that recedes into the floor. Must be real annoying when a group of agents shows up at the same time.

On the Bus, everything is terrible. They have to avoid being detected by any radar because SHIELD’s cloaking tech only works on Helicarriers, there’s only enough food rations for a few days, their fuel line is leaking so they have even less range than they thought, they have internet but no connection to SHIELD support systems, and Coulson has no idea where they are going.

The good news is there’s no sign of Talbot’s forces. The bad news is Coulson wants Skye to erase all of their identities using her magical hacker powers I mean mad hacker skills. This will mean they’ll no longer be SHIELD agents, which is probably for the best, considering the terrorist label and all, and Coulson asks her to collect everyone’s badges. He gives her a phone that lets her call Ward so she can check on him.

She calls him to tell him that she’s erasing him and fortunately can’t give him any info on where they’re going yet. He lies about how his trip to the Fridge with Hand has been delayed, they flirt, and happy romance guitar music plays UGH GROWNUPS ARE GROSS.

Garrett is amused by this, and he and Ward argue over his use of force (having Skye shot) and Ward’s understanding of his assignment as given (infiltrate Coulson’s team, gain the trust of all members, find out how he survived). So, yes, Ward has been Hydra from the beginning. Garrett puts Raina back in charge of phase 3 of the Centipede Project, newly equipped with tons of Hydra money, samples from the Guest House that could be the drug Coulson was cured with, and a hard drive full of Simmons’ research on Coulson and Skye. This makes her pretty happy about working with him again.

Garrett and Ward prepare to “raid the Fridge” har har, and Raina and Ward talk about her disappointment in finding out that Garrett doesn’t have predictive powers. “There was a question I would have asked,” she says. Then the conversation turns to his assignment. Banging May, mentoring Skye, playing up his lack of team-spirit to Coulson were all things he did to gain their trust. “I’m everyone’s type,” he says, and Ward, Sonja said it better:

Raina is skeptical that he did all that without growing to care for any of them. Ward says his loyalty to Garret, who pulled him out a “hell” when he was a teenager, comes first. SHIELD, just make Ward evil through and through. I think my eyes might roll right out of my head if he had a last minute conversion to the Light Side because he cares for Skye.

On the Bus, Skye turns over the pile of badges. She and Coulson discuss the impact of no longer having a big organization to belong to on each of them (Coulson reveals that he was recruited straight out of high school by Fury himself). As he places the badges in his safe, his starts to glow with a set of numbers. They are map coordinates that correspond with a spot in the middle of the Canadian wilderness, and he thinks it must be a message (posthumous or otherwise) from Director Fury. Trip and Simmons think it could be a trap (Fitz is his biggest believer), but Coulson is adamant, so they reroute.

In private, May expresses worries that his grief over SHIELD and Fury may be clouding his decision making, or worse: Hydra could be controlling him through his T.A.H.I.T.I. implants. She accidentally reveals that while Fury ordered T.A.H.I.T.I., he wasn’t ultimately in charge of it, and only he knows who was. There’s a real danger that whoever it was was a Hydra agent. Coulson refuses to hand over his weapon and orders her out of his office.

Ward leads Garrett up to the Fridge’s door in handcuffs, using the old “escorting a prisoner” ruse. This works especially well when you have your own helicopter buddies to shoot at you and convince the guards to let you in even though they have orders not open the doors for anybody but Agent Hand. Ward kills them in the elevator.

Aside: I appreciate the design decision to keep Ward and Garrett’s silhouettes unique from the basic Hydra/SHIELD combat agent’s. I am amused that this was done by giving Garrett a “I’m compensating for my age” leather jacket and keeping Ward in sleeves short enough that everybody gets a ticket to the gun show.

Okay, are you guys ready for some references to Marvel villains? Because I don’t understand any of them. These could be total non sequiturs for all I know! Garret mentions some guy with lion hands and frees some prisoners, telling one “don’t forget to follow your dreams.” This last guy appears in the teaser for next week’s episode, so don’t forget him, I guess. Garrett reveals that the Slingshot (seen in “0–8-4“) is fake, and that SHIELD actually hoards all that technology Indiana Jones style: in crates. Hydra agents collect various items from earlier in the season: the alien beam weapon from “0-8-4,” the berserker staff from “The Well,” and the gravitonium from “The Asset,” found beneath the bottom floor of the Fridge, right where Coulson told Ward it would be last episode.

Meanwhile, the Bus arrives in Canada, touching down in the closest clearing to the coordinates (still seven miles away). A NATO satellite will pass overhead within hours and discover their position, so they need go now even if it means walking into a trap. Coulson bows to the unusualness of the situation and offers everyone the choice of coming with him rather than ordering them. This has little effect on the plot as everyone goes with him on a hike where they all get real sad anyway.

Skye grills May about why she was spying on Coulson (the doctors thought that if he found out the truth about his treatment it might have dramatically vague “consequences”) and May admits that SHIELD falling down has destroyed her world as well as his. For all that this show is supposed to be about the “everyman” SHIELD agent, I wish that this episode had given us a window into how the real grunts of SHIELD (say, like the ones played by Danny Pudi in Winter Soldier) are reacting to their leadership being wiped out. Some reference to Coulson (or Hand) sending (or having sent) a message to all of them on a secure SHIELD channel or Coulson putting in any effort to maintain the morale of the folks in the Hub, who are about to be invaded by the US military, instead of simply looking out for his team would have been nice.

A few feet over, Fitz and Simmons have a conversation about change where he’s talking about their relationship and she’s talking about SHIELD. “The last thing I want is for things to change,” he says, and she responds “it’s too late for that.”

SHIELD could play this a number of ways, but I’d really like it if Fitz was genuinely worried about the effect that Simmons and Trip getting together might have on their friendship. Significant others can have a tangible effect on best friendships, particularly on two people who have a longstanding professional and emotional duo-ship. That’s a legitimate worry and I’d love to see a show explore that worry in a friendship between a man and a woman. We’re all pretty used to seeing the girlfriend who is baselessly skeptical of her girlfriend’s boyfriend, and the bro who’s baselessly skeptical of his friend’s new girlfriend, right? I’d prefer it if we didn’t get that here.

Mostly, though, I’d really like it if this doesn’t turn into Fitz being angry and pouty over how Simmons could POSSIBLY have chosen a man who actually flirted and showed interest in having a romantic relationship with her over the guy who acts like a sibling to her all the time.

They reach the coordinates, which appear to be just a random spot with a rock outcropping, which really should make everyone relieved. If nothing is jumping out at them, it’s probably not a Hydra trap and is a secret base. Instead everybody gets really worried about how it’s not immediately obvious that a covert spy organization has put something here, compounded by Coulson admitting that even if they do get back to the Bus before that satellite shows up, they’re out of fuel. When everybody gets mad at him for stranding them in middle of Canada, he grows increasingly frantic, insisting that they all have to remain loyal to SHIELD’s principles even if the organization doesn’t exist, that his badge still “means something.” He all but bursts into tears, and I’m sorry, I’m just not feeling it. I get that this whole episode is about how much of Phil Coulson’s identity was bound up in a international organization that turned out to been rotten to the core for seventy years, but for all Coulson knows he’s the second or third highest-ranking SHIELD agent. SHIELD is down but not out, he’s got more control over its direction now than he ever has, and he currently believes the Nick Fury is alive (or at least has prepared a plan for him) and nobody has even looked around yet to see if there is a secret base here.

Coulson apologizes for having a boss freakout, casually chucks his badge into the air, and an automatic gun pops out and blasts it to bits, so it looks like hey there’s a secret base here. Coulson still thinks this is Fury reaching out to them, so against everybody else’s advice he walks out in front of the gun. Because there are still four episodes left in this season, the gun asks him to identify himself and then welcomes him to the secret base and opens the door.

Where they are greeted by Patton Oswalt or Agent Eric Koenig, playing the part of that one member of the organization who gets stuck on isolation duty and so is allowed to be amusingly informal and a little wacky. Any commenter who can find the TVTropes page for that will get a No-Prize and I’ll edit the link into the post. Koenig, who’s been here since The Avengers, welcomes them to Providence (which is super suspiciously full of fake windows offering tropical views) and then leads them to the break room.

I’m calling it that because it looks like one and I really want to believe in secret high tech spy agencies that have break rooms. There he tells them that Coulson’s badge will be hard to replace, and that the rest of them will be issued regular old plastic Providence badges soon, but that lanyards will be distributed on a “case by case basis.” May is amused by this little man. Also, Fury is definitely dead, sorry, and, oh, the Fridge has been taken over by Hydra.

Panicked, Skye goes off to call Ward, and naturally tells him exactly where they are in their secret base. In private, Koenig tells Coulson that Fury is actually alive, but that info is very much on a need to know basis, and he absolutely can’t tell anybody else, even folks on his team. Also they can pull the Bus into shelter so NATO doesn’t find it.

Back with our Hydra folks, Raina discovers that Skye has locked up the hard drive good, and only she can open it. Garrett orders Ward to re-infiltrate the SHIELD team: he’ll have 24 hours to get the password out of Skye, or he’s to kill everybody and bring her alive to Hydra. Then Garrett (who reveals that he’s got a metal plate on his belly) kicks the crap out of Ward to give him realistic “I survived the Fridge Raid” dino battle damage. At Providence, Skye greets Ward and they flirt ominously and I don’t know whether I’m happy that he’s capitol-E evil so this relationship is doomed or unhappy that the show put Skye in a horrible relationship.

Stinger: Ian Quinn yells at Garrett about his First World problems in prison and the fact that the Clairvoyant turned out to be a total fraud, but is mollified by Garrett giving him his gravitonium back.

So Ward has been evil through and through, for the whole series, and it’s unfortunate how little I care. Or maybe it isn’t? If almost anyone else had turned out to be the Hydra spy, I would have summoned some negative emotions. May is great and her relationship with Coulson is one of the two on the show that I’m still invested in. The other, naturally, is Fitz and Simmons, so I’d also be annoyed if one of them had turned out to be Hydra and we’d lost that. I would have been okay with it being Skye, but really, that wouldn’t make any sense in the broader picture of her character. So maybe I should be happy that the show has taken one of its most boring, cliche characters (the straight, white, male, stoic, super-compitent spy/action hero with a tortured past) and struck him from the main team altogether. And replaced him with a character of color, no less! That’s all well and good, but sixteen episodes should be enough to make me care about a character enough to feel emotions when he turns out to have been evil the whole time.

This episode was full of more plot and character development than most months of the series so far, and I really appreciate that. It moved along at a great clip, throwing new development after new development and ending in our third cliffhanger in a row. There’s a clear difference in the show in its post-Winter Soldier era, and not just in the substance of the story, but unfortunately it still feels like too little too late. Ah well, at least Cobie Smulders will be on next week.

Previously in Agents of SHIELD

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