Tonight, on Agents of SHIELD, Coulson finds something so utterly weird that he kinda starts drinking the necessary secrets koolaid again, and SHIELD finally does something worth starting a tweet storm about. The good kind. Well, at least not the angry kind.
If you’ll remember from five million years ago when the show was last on, Skye was dying of injuries sustained when billionaire playboy industrialist Ian Quinn totally shot her twice in the stomach just before he was apprehended by SHIELD. If you don’t, the show will remind you by opening with the team rushing her into a SHIELD trauma center. Doctors do doctor things, everybody accepts personal blame for the situation (though this episode doesn’t make a show of picking up on the last ep’s indication that Ward is angry at Coulson for putting Skye in a dangerous situation), and Coulson tries, in vain, to get Director Fury on the phone.
Finally a surgeon comes to tell them that Skye is alive, but unconscious on life support and will die in the next few days. It’s time to call her family. “We’re her family,” says Coulson, clumsily hammering home a point that had already been made, cinematically, by a few camera closeups and the sad guitar music. May storms out…
In order to beat the shit out of Quinn, who has been handcuffed to a table in the hex room this whole time. Coulson and Ward show up shortly to call her off. What does it say about me that I’m not overly disturbed by the idea of May punching him repeatedly in a fit of rage, but am kind of alarmed by the idea that the Team just left him chained to a table in the hex room without food or water for what could have been a significant part of a day. Probably that I consume a lot of superhero media, which is pretty blasé on the use of torture as long as the bad guy is “evil enough” and the good guy is “mad enough.”
Anyway, Coulson needs May to not be brought up for violating a prisoner’s rights so that she can fly the Bus. They’re going to take Skye to the doctors who resurrected him using evil science in Bethesda, Maryland. Either SHIELD is totes okay with this or Coulson told them a whopper of a lie to get Skye placed in a mobile medical room that’s loaded into the Bus. He hands his file over to the SSibs, ordering them to read it and figure out the medical parts of it, even though it’s so high clearance it is against the law for them to look at it, and reach out to Dr. Streiten (Ron Glass‘ character) if they have to. Finally, he orders Ward not to turn Quinn over to SHIELD for transport to the Icebox or whatever. He wants Quinn on the Bus until he says he can leave. It’s that last bit that turns out to actually cause problems for him.
Most of the characters in this episode have a moment to object to Coulson’s plan, mostly on ethical grounds: would Skye want to be kept alive and in biological stress this long? This is why having your legal documents, including a valid Advance Directive (also known as a Living Will) is so important, people. It is vital to record your personal wishes about being resurrected or kept alive with evil science! Ward’s moment is early and over quickly. He tells May he probably wouldn’t try this hard for an agent under his command, and she says that this is just who Coulson is. “People like us need people like him.” She admits his plan makes more sense than killing Quinn.
I dunno. I like the moment as the show’s continued theme of showing how characters who are relatively emotionally cut off, like May, can coexist, depend on, and value characters like Coulson and Skye without being presented as broken.
Anyway, then some SHIELD jets show up and order them to land or prepare to be boarded because they didn’t turn Quinn over. Coulson thinks SHIELD being such hardheads about Quinn is suspicious. Enter Agent Garrett (Bill Paxton), an old friend of Coulson’s (and Ward’s SO) who has also been attempting to track down and apprehend Ian Quinn for a long time for his involvement in “Project Deathlok.” Garrett’s search has lead to the deaths of three of his agents, and he’s here to take Quinn back to SHIELD with other character-we-have-been-told-will-recur Agent Triplet, or “Trip.” Trip goes to find Quinn while Garrett has a one-on-one with Coulson.
Coulson explains about Skye, by way of convincing Garrett to let his team have the collar. It’s not specifically made clear why this is important, but it is implied that if Skye dies, Coulson wants to personally airlock Quinn. Garrett is surprised that Quinn actually got his hands dirty, personally shooting someone. But he understands Coulson’s request.
Ward and Trip, old friends from back in the SHIELD school days, run into each other in the lounge and begin some friendly banter that turns into business banter that turns into verbal sparring over whose SHIELD dad is has the biggest balls, and then naturally progresses, I guess, to beating each other up. Their SHIELD dads arrive immediately to tell them that they will turn this plane around goddamnit, if they don’t quiet down in the back seat.
Actually, they tell them that they’ve reached a compromise and that Garrett will just interrogate Quinn on the Bus while Coulson chases down a crazy science miracle for Skye.
And by interrogate, they mean intimidate and smack around. Quinn is still covered in dried blood from the beating May gave him, and Garrett straight out tells him that he has no rights and no access to a lawyer. SHIELD, just when I think I like you, you get really scary. Garrett says all this while pinching Quinn’s tongue between his bare fingers, and I just want to point out that tongues are, like, really slippery? Like, I challenge you to pinch your own tongue so hard that you can’t yank it out of the pinch. Right now.
No wait, let me get my phone out first. Okay, go. No, no I’m not recording, I just need to check my email.
Quinn guesses from how they’re smacking him around that Skye is still alive, and tells them what we already know, that he shot Skye on orders from the Clairvoyant, who he started working for because he was intimidated by their apparent supernatural, uh, clairvoyance. The show reminds us what we found out in “The Magical Place“: Coulson’s resurrection is something the Clairvoyant can’t see, and they’ve become obsessed with it. They had Skye shot specifically to force Coulson to figure out what was done to him. If Coulson figures it out, the Clairvoyant will be apparently be able to see it.
Meanwhile, Science Siblings Fitz and Simmons are pouring over Coulson’s file. Simmons points out the barbaric procedures Coulson was subjected to, and raises her first doubts as to whether this is what Skye would want. Fitz’s position is that unlike Coulson, Skye is still alive, so they have to do everything in their power to save her. A phone call tells Simmons that Dr. Dr. Streiten has disappeared. Not only that, but all the information locating Coulson’s treatment in Bethesda was fabricated. None of the doctors or rooms listed exist.
Cut to scene of May and Simmons raising logistical and ethical concerns about saving Skye with evil science at a medical facility they no longer know the location of. Coulson maintains that if there’s a way to do it, they have to try to find it. After Simmons leaves, May raises the spy counter-argument: finding the truth about his resurrection may mean giving the Clairvoyant access to that truth as well. Coulson believes that’s a risk they’ll have to take.
Simmons notes a miracle drug GH-325 that was used on Coulson, and Fitz thinks they might be able to track the secret medical facility if they inspect enough internal SHIELD memos, so they use a large holographic file system that looks exactly like the kind of thing that was designed to look cool on television instead of be a usable database. They find out that Fury sanctioned all the operations on Coulson, and an encrypted file pointed to by a memo that mentions “the Guest House,” a code name that shares the initials of the miracle drug.
Then they like… rotate the holographic raw code of the encrypted data and it turns out that it’s not code, it’s an ASCII topography map of the location of the Guest House. I have only one reaction to this scene:
Cut to: the Bus touching down at the Guest House, an underground bunker-type facility. All of the guys, minus Trip (and Quinn, I guess), suit up and head in (except for Coulson, who, as always, appears to be wearing only a literal suit). Unable to produce the passcode for the two guards in its depths, they break in. The guards don’t respond to (and possibly don’t recognize?) the name of SHIELD, and they appear to be quite used to defending the facility from visitors capable enough to get past the electronically locked front door.
Down in the bunker, the Guys realize their coms don’t reach the Bus, but they press on anyway, through a vestibule and some sliding doors into the guard chamber, where they trade fire with the two guards. I like these guard guys, and how they have an open box of cereal sitting around their workspace. SHIELD: every opportunity to insert snacks into the setting. They kill one, but the other survives long enough to tell Coulson that he looks familiar and that the whole facility is rigged to lock itself up and then explode if the guards don’t reset the timer.
So, time to start looking for that miracle drug, huh? Coulson tells Ward and Garrett to see if they can figure out how to disarm the detonator. He and Fitz discover the room in which a horrible robot operated on his brain, implanting his false memories of Tahiti, as well as a Biohazard containment room in which they find some capsules of GH-325 and only grab one of them for some reason like it wouldn’t be useful to have more samples. (Even if the other vials are cracked, there’s gotta be some residue there that could be studied, come on.)
Coulson orders Fitz to get the drug topside, but stays behind after he notices a door marked T.A.H.I.T.I. He steps into the room beyond it. Back in the vestibule, Ward, Garrett, and Fitz blow the doors back open and Garret orders the two other men to head up ASAP while he collects Coulson. He finds him wandering back towards the entrance in a state of shock, insisting for the first time that they can’t give Skye the drug.
On the Bus, Skye is in medical crisis, with Simmons barely keeping her alive. Simmons still has doubts about whether this is what Skye would want (I’m telling you, this is why end of life planning that allows for super science is so important, guys). Fitz arrives with the GH-325, Ward orders May to lift off before the ground opens up beneath them, and Coulson and Garret run up the cargo bay door just as the Guest House goes up in a ball of fire and rocks. But they’re too late: Simmons has already injected GH-325 into Skye.
A few moments of panic and seizures and Skye is stabilized. “We did it,” says May. Well, I mean, she’s still unconscious, May. She could be brain damaged or any number of other things. Coulson leaves the rest of the cast at her bed, silent. May asks Garrett what happened in the Guest House. He has no idea.
Denouement: Garrett and Trip take Quinn into custody and Garret asks Coulson if he really would have air locked the guy. Coulson plays coy. Garrett makes his farewells, saying that they’ll probably see each other again soon. “Because Trip has a little crush on Simmons. Also because we’ve both been announced as recurring characters.”
Finally, May corners Coulson in his cabin and asks him why he’s notably not super psyched about pulling off a miracle for Skye. What did he find out about GH-325?
What Happened to Coulson
Inside the room marked T.A.H.I.T.I. (can’t wait to find out what that acronym stands for), Coulson finds, a series of slow, tension-filled pans, a device that appears to be distilling GH-325 from something that lies behind a hatch in the wall. He presses the release button, revealing a body in a liquid-filled stasis tube. It appears merely humanoid rather than human, its chest is crossed with an autopsy incision, its torso ends abruptly in spilled intestines, it might even be partially decomposed. It’s presumably the guest of the Guest House, and it’s still a great, creepy, spooky twist, even if it does look a little bit like Doctor Manhattan.
But, I mean, every naked blue man looks like Doctor Manhattan. People are gonna use blue as an alien skin color, we should probably get over it.
So how does Coulson answer May? It seems that he’s finally found a secret so weird and dangerous that he’s back on the side of there being somethings that you just shouldn’t talk about. He tells a great, big lie about being scared that his actions would cause Skye to suffer.
The Stinger: Lorelei, the Asgardian villain of next week’s Lady Sif-featuring episode, arrives in Death Valley, seduces a newlywed, and drives off into the sunset.
Ladies and gentlemen, were you wondering how on earth Agents of SHIELD was going to tie in to Guardians of the Galaxy? It is possible that that question has just been answered. It’s also entirely possible that this alien has something to do with the movie origin of Peter Quill. In comics, Quill is a NASA astronaut deemed unworthy to receive the cosmic powers of Star-Lord, but he sorta cheats his way into it anyway by replacing a worthier contender. In the movie, it appears that he’s retained the inflated sense of self-worth, but official descriptions have said that he was spirited away from Earth as a child during the 1980’s. Perhaps this alien had something to do with it?
Aside: Agents of SHIELD, you’ve been having a lot of hiatuses and I’ve been trying not to get petty about it, but if I am still recapping you in August when Guardians of the Galaxy comes out, we will have words.
With Trip available to stay behind as a combat agent to protect Skye and Simmons, it’s unclear why May was the one who sat out the wetwork this time. Except that the plot required her to be topside in order to get the Bus off the ground before the Guest House imploded. Fitz and Ward made it back without rushing, though. It’s no episode breaker, but since none of the characters knew that the Guest House could explode before going down there it stuck in my brain as needing a lampshade.
As a last observation, I expect that all this “Fury won’t answer Coulson’s questions” jostling will eventually come to a head. Obviously, the show has got to be sparing in its use of Samuel L. Jackson, but the question of why Fury thought Coulson was so valuable that he needed to be tortured back to life hangs over all of the revelations about his resurrection. At this point, especially now that some kind of secret alien research base was blown to pieces, Fury must be aware that Coulson’s team are figuring all this out. Fury’s unlikely to be avoiding Phil just because he doesn’t want to have an awkward conversation. So the question is: what questions remain that the director doesn’t want to face, or that Coulson really shouldn’t know the answers to?