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Agents of SHIELD Recap: “T.R.A.C.K.S.”

Welcome to “T.R.A.C.K.S.,” where nonlinear storytelling is put to good use and all the SHIELD babies have a sad. But I’m getting ahead of myself!

We’re on the bus, and Coulson has a mad on for Ian Quinn, the guy who talks to the guy (or entity) who tortured him. Quinn just bought a very expensive MacGuffin from a company called Cybertek Inc. (a more redundant fictional corporation name I have not heard in a while), and now the two parties in the transaction have to transport the MacGuffin and make a hand off. SHIELD knows how it is being transported: by train through the rural Italian countryside, because Cybertek knows how to plan a fucking op for maximum luxury. And Coulson has hardballed the civilian Italian authorities, represented by an agent/officer named Russo, to hand the case over to his team. Because of how serious Cybertek’s combat ready transport team is, everybody will be boarding the train undercover. The goal is to get in and tag Quinn’s MacGuffin before Cybertek even knows SHIELD is there, so they can use it to track him.

So, Fitz and Skye are an adorable American couple backpacking across Europe. Simmons, recognizing that she’s not good at improvisation, has become that one player in your D&D game that has a backstory one single-spaced page longer than everybody else so that she and Coulson can play dad and daughter transporting mom’s ashes. Ward and May, who says she hates undercover work, are playing the part of a aloof lady and her hot younger boy toy, so nothing like their actual relationship. As soon as they hit “their” private cabin, she pulls off the fur coat to reveal her Black Widow suit.

Ward engages her in talk about how Coulson and Skye have changed, how they seem more driven, and May, who cannot tell anybody anything without making it a conversation bomb, tells him that she told Coulson they’re banging just before she climbs out the window to get on top of the train.

Skye palms a key from a conductor, and she and Fitz sneak into the baggage car to set up their part of the operation. He admits that he could have built a machine to pick the lock, but likes to do things by hand occasionally. Skye needles him about this and he cries that she’s “the least supportive pretend girlfriend I’ve ever had!” The banter this episode really stands out. For those keeping track, it was brought to us by the same writing credits as “The Hub.”

For their part, Simmons starts to loudly and unusually specifically berate Coulson about being a bad husband to her pretend dead mother, but the scene she causes only attracts a Stan Lee cameo, so she keeps at it until a Cybertek guard comes by, and “accidentally” spills her pretend mom’s ashes all over their shoes. The ash left by their subsequent footfalls is a tracking guide for May, who follows on top of the train, and locates the package in the dining car.

Then Coulson and Simmon’s coms go down just as the train slows to take a turn, and a pleasant feminine voice tells all the passengers about the natural feature they’ll be passing soon. Coulson senses something is up and goes to investigate, but finds an empty dining car. Until Ward dashes in, dressed as a conductor, Cybertek nasties on his tail, and tells Coulson they’ve been made. The guys are chased off the back of the train, and the last Cybertek fellow chucks a grenade at them. It explodes in a puff of blue gas, and the train disappears.

And now the episode does the first of its jumps back in time to the moment that the train slowed and announced a sightseeing feature. This was a recurring motif in the episode, and it worked great. More inventive storytelling structures, please! It’s okay for the show itself to make jokes about everybody standing around the holotable talking over the mission after the show logo fades, but it should also subvert that expectation from time to time.

What Happened to Ward

So, as the train slows, Ward, newly dressed as a conductor, heads to the revealed location of the package to tag it with a tracker, even though coms are down. He gets waylaid by a couple Cybertek goons and they fight. Hooray for female henchmen who aren’t a villain’s girlfriend! He defeats them but knows they’ve been made, so he goes to find Coulson, only to find Simmons and an empty seat. He gives her the bad news that Cybertek is on to them, and tells her to go hide in the baggage car with Fitz and Skye, then he meets up with Coulson, they dive off the train, and we’re back to the present.

Mystified by the vanishing train (a cloak? portals?), they reassure themselves that at least May is with the kids, until Ward finds her tracking goggles on the ground near them. Cybertek has taken out their phones, too, so they must have known they were coming, but they can’t figure how. Cue some guys rolling up in black SUVs (A. impressive for somewhere in rural Europe, and B. how did they know they weren’t SHIELD black SUVs? C. because SHIELD puts their freakin logo on everything, how could I forget), and Ward and Coulson book it out of there, finding a suspicious/fortuitous truck that’s already hot-wired and running in the nearby vineyard and making it back to the Bus.

Yeah, it’s pretty obvious that the truck has something to do with May, but I was entertained by the eventual explanation.

Coulson calls his Italian contact Russo, who has had his own bad day. He says that Cybertek (man, it is so difficult for me to type Cybertek and not Cyberdyne) caught him and his men at that station. He’ll look for where the train could have ended up. Coulson hands Ward the remains of the grenade that made the train vanish, and tells him to figure out what it is.

Cut to a scene of Ward, and then Ward and Coulson, being completely, hilariously unable to make the holotable work. Eventually they give up and just upload the specs to headquarters. Ward decides that this is a good moment to tell Coulson that if it had been up to him, Coulson wouldn’t know about his extracurricular activities with Agent May.

Digression: I just want to say, despite the next few paragraphs, it is understandable, even right, for Ward to be annoyed that May told Coulson without talking to him about it first. When you’re in a relationship that’s on the DL so that you don’t make life awkward for folks around you (awkward, that is, not, you know, grounds for destroying your other relationships. Cheating is a whole ‘nother bag of nonsense), it is reasonable to expect your partner to communicate when they want to tell someone outside your relationship that it exists, especially if it’s somebody you would reasonably be nervous about telling. That said, the person Ward needs to talk to about his annoyance isn’t Coulson, it’s May, which brings me back to the scene:

Coulson says, Well, it’s happening on my Bus, Ward, so it’s kind of respectful that I know. Ward gets all “well, technically we didn’t actually do it on the Bus, so…” and Coulson gives him a big fat are-you-my-combat-agent-or-are-you-a-dumbass-teenager look. Then he lays down the law.

See, Ward hasn’t just expressed that he would totally do something against SHIELD protocol under his superior officer’s nose, he is also banging his superior’s best friend. Coulson, who told May that she and Ward are adults who can make their own decisions, tells Ward that if he cocks this up, he will send him to Alaska to scrub toilets, basically. And then he makes my favorite point in the whole episode: “And if it’s really just sex, Ward, you should get more comfortable using the word.” SING IT, COULSON.

Then Russo shows up, a battle damaged May shows up behind him, STABS HIM IN THE BACK, and tells the boys that they are leaving in five minutes.

What Happened to May

While the train begins to slow, the Cybertek guys in the dining car start to move with the package. One of them pops out of the car behind May and starts shooting at her. With no cover, she pulls a parachute cord and peaces off the train like a passenger with no ticket, and I don’t even care that her combat outfit includes heels, that’s how much of a badass she is in this episode. Following the tracks, she locates Coulson and Ward, who are unconscious, unresponsive, and frozen in place where they fell after jumping from the train.

Dropping her goggles, she searches the vineyard for a way to get all three of them out of the area, finding and hot-wiring the little flatbed truck from earlier, only to be found by Russo and a bunch of bad guys in black SUVs. He knocks her out and she wakes up strung up in the winery. Turns out Russo is Cybertek’s inside guy in the Italian authorities: he makes sure that their deliveries make it through, and he wants to know where Coulson and Ward are.

And just when I think that I’m getting a really nice Xena vibe off of May this episode, Russo stabs her in the shoulder and twists, by way of torturing her. Her response: “That’s just what I needed.” He turns away and she does a flipping pull-up to get the knife in her to her hands, takes out EVERYBODY, follows Russo to the Bus, and murders the everliving fuck out of him in front of her coworkers.

Then she explains that he was a betraying fuckhead and goes to take a shower.

She shuts down Ward when he offers to stitch her up, but when Coulson finds her doing it herself with out anesthesia, he makes her sit down and let him take care of what looks like a really fake wound to me that does not correspond with how she was stabbed, but I’m the furthest thing from an expert here, so I’ll let it slide. Coulson doesn’t even wind up stitching it, he just puts some topical anesthetic on it and then covers it with a bandage. Is this magical SHIELD wound technology?

Anyway, this scene does two other things: Coulson establishes that the train, which just switched tracks while he and Ward were under the effects of the weird grenade, has been found by SHIELD satellites. Also, Ward walks in on Coulson “stitching” May up and it’s framed like he walked in on them being intimate. Is Ward seriously jealous that May is okay with one of her oldest friends stitching her up when he insists, but not okay with, say, being vulnerable with her non-romantic fling and subordinate?

Patched up and reunited, the grown ups head out to the train, which is empty, no sign of the kids, until they enter the baggage car and are nearly Nite Nite-ed by Simmons.

What Happened to the Kids

In the baggage car, as the train slows, Skye asks Fitz several specific questions about 084s, like, “can they be a person.” He hasn’t heard of any, but says that the thing 084s all have in common is that they’re dangerous. Then their coms go down and their laptops scramble, and a Cybertek guard busts in. They fight, until Simmons reaches the baggage car (sent their by Ward earlier), and the guard pulls out another blue gas grenade. Simmons grabs the mercenary so that they both functionally fall on the grenade, knocking them both unconscious.

Fitz confirms that the grenade technology is based on their own Nite Nite tech. He and Skye know that they two of them have to get out of there, but take the time to lock the mercenary in a box, and leave Simmons with a spare NN gun. Then the train stops completely, and they spy the MacGuffin being transferred to a car. They know they’re not full combat agents with no way to contact HQ, but since they have a spare tracker, they decide to follow.

No explanation of how they followed a car on foot, but eh.

They are lead to a lovely Italian mansion, just as Quinn and his entourage show up. They activate the tracker, to clue SHIELD in, and then decide that they have to go in, the two of them, to a building full of mercenaries that just successfully stymied their entire team, because “we can’t let Quinn get away again.” Guys, he’s in the building. He’s definitely got to leave in that car. It’s unclear why this is so so urgent, but again, eh. Fitz goes to disable the cars and Skye heads into the building.

Seems like if she actually succeeds in taking Quinn hostage, a working car would be a nice thing to have; or conversely they could just both disable all the cars to give SHIELD more time to show up, but it’s just really important to the plot that Skye go in there alone, I guess. This would make more sense if they didn’t have a tracker and so knew there was no backup coming, but then the writers would have had to come up with another way for the rest of the team to know where they are a few scenes from now. But I digress.

Skye manages to sneak into the wine cellar, to find the MacGuffin unattended on a table, next to what I referred to in my notes as “some kinda iron lung looking thing.” I’m just saying, I wasn’t far off and I’m proud of that. Inside the barometric chamber lies Mike Peterson. Then Quinn, tipped off by the Clairvoyant somehow, shows up to ruin everything.

He disarms Skye, and lets Peterson out of his box, telling him “You have your orders. I brought you something that’s going to help you complete them.” Turns out this episode’s MacGuffin was a bionic leg to replace Peterson’s lost one, and it’s horribly painful to apply, because it’s evil science. Because Ian Quinn is the kind of villain who asks pretty ladies to freshen his drink while he sits on his private plane, he now starts to test the limits of Peterson’s obedience.

So yes, Ian, the Clairvoyant’s orders mean that Peterson can’t hurt you, even if you try to hurt him. And no, he won’t kill Skye because he hasn’t been ordered to, so he leaves. Then Skye tries to give Quinn a taste of some famous last moral words from a good guy to a bad guy, and he shoots her. Twice. On the orders of the Clairvoyant. He leaves her to die slowly.

And the show really wants us to take the idea of Skye dying seriously. This isn’t May’s badass but frankly ludicrous feats of strength and dexterity after being stabbed in the shoulder. This is pretty visceral and sad.

Meanwhile, Mike Peterson deals with mutiny among the Cybertek mercenaries: he’s wearing their leg but they still haven’t seen their money and they want to talk to Quinn. But the Clairvoyant isn’t happy that they led SHIELD to this operation, so he beats all of them up. The sound of a man being tossed through a window alerts Fitz, but before he can dash in alone, the rest of the team arrives.

Quinn seems resigned to this, perhaps, and even Peterson is ordered to get out of there rather than engaging the team. In apprehending him, Coulson sees the blood on Quinn’s hands, and, in good villain form, Quinn taunts him about Skye. Coulson pistol whips him like a good stressed out military dad, and goes to find his dying SHIELD daughter so that Clark Gregg can make me feel real sad. Ow, my dad feels.

Skye is very, very close to death, and they’re nominally in the middle of nowhere, so they load her into Peterson’s barometric chamber, temporarily stabilize her, and drag it and Quinn back to the Bus. Simmons says Skye will need to be out of stasis inside an advanced medical facility in four hours or she will certainly die. And then everybody has an end of episode cliffhanger sad: Simmons and Fitz cling to each other, Coulson won’t leave Skye’s side, and Ward stomps away from the science bay just like in FZZT because he can’t deal with not being able to protect people.

May goes out to give him the “it’s not your fault” talk, even touching his hand, and he looks her in the eye and goes “ha ha, no, this is totally Coulson’s fault.” So that’s some good growth, yes, Ward, but maybe not expressed in the right way.

Stinger: Peterson watches a playground, writes on a notepad for his bionic eye “Can I please see my son?.” “Not yet” is the answer, as the camera zooms in on his leg to where it is branded “Project Deathlok” and the music gets dramatic for reasons only comics readers will get genuinely excited about.

SHIELD has certainly taken a while to get to a point where I could say it had two really decent episodes in a row, but now that it’s happened, I’m not complaining. This episode was full of tight dialogue, and while moving all of the show’s overall plot elements forward, it also seems like it’s laid the groundwork for new ones.

Let’s move on to a couple nitpicks: it’d have been nice if the episode had lampshaded why Peterson needed a barometric chamber. We saw him wake up in a regular room just a few episodes ago. Presumably this is how the Clairvoyant ships him from place to place, as his extensive facial scarring (the Clairvoyants own fault, really) makes him pretty memorable even if he does hide the bionic leg.

At no point in this episode did I really feel like the train was traveling through the middle of nowhere. Maybe I’m wrong and thriving Italian vineyards (as opposed to the California one where this episode was undoubtedly filmed) are always a million miles from anywhere, but I never really believed it and it sort of undercut some of the drama.

As my final point of criticism, lets talk about Deathlok. Seriously? Your only recurring POC guest star, and they wind up with their life ruined, full of cybernetic parts, being used as a tool of the ultimate bad guy? It’s a fine plot twist, or would be, if your show was generally more diverse.

(Also, just so everybody’s on the same page, with Skye unconscious, it is left unclear whether the rest of the team is aware that Peterson was even there or that the MacGuffin was a leg. Unless Quinn tells them, which is not a likely enough event to just assume it’s happened.)

I’ve said previously that I was fine with May/Ward if it didn’t get full of drama, but now that it seems like they’re beginning to head down that path, I’m not so sure there aren’t some exceptions to that rule. For starters: Ward spends this episode being upset about things that are reasonable to be upset about. May, characteristically for her non-communicative history, betrayed his trust by telling someone outside their relationship, a man he respects, and his superior officer about his sex life, something that he clearly considers very private. He’s got a right to be unhappy about that. What the writers seem to have him doing, however, is projecting his unhappiness further then he actually needs to, which is also in character.

May has betrayed his trust. He’s also recently noticed that Coulson and Skye appear to have fundamentally changed in ways that he doesn’t understand. Then when he tries to explain himself and his relationship and how careful he’s been about it to Coulson, Coulson tries to get Ward to understand that his reluctance to reveal his relationship with May does not actually come from a place of practicality or professional behavior, but one of insecurity. Ward doesn’t get what Coulson is really trying to say, and just sees it as being shut down and disapproved of. Then, May shuts down his attempt to be kind (and protective, remember Ward’s feelings about protecting everybody) to her. Then he finds her accepting the same kindness from Coulson. It’s no wonder that he’s so cranky by the end of “T.R.A.C.K.S.” He’s misinterpreting the actions of his colleagues, of course, but he’s still cranky.

Though he’s come out of his shell a bit, remember that Ward is ultimately described as someone who doesn’t “play well with others.” Put that together with May, who doesn’t communicate, and you might have a non-romantic sexual relationship that can descend into drama because of a clearly presented incompatibility between partners, thus demonstrating the wrong way to have a non-romantic sexual relationship, rather than demonizing them as a whole. If the show can actually manage to do that, my hat is off to it.

Also are we moving towards a May/Coulson pairing here? That smile when she realized Coulson wasn’t dead by the train tracks did not go unnoticed by me. Don’t do it SHIELD I was joking when I called them SHIELD Mom and SHIELD Dad they are much better as friends okay?

Previously in Agents of SHIELD

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  • Mark Gardner

    I was very happy with this episode! They’ve been saying for months that the back 9 were going to bring it all together and I hope this means they’re right. Dialog was sharp and quick and the character subtleties were spot on. And for the record, Simmons is my absolute favorite character on the show. Hands down.

  • spartantown

    I thought this was a “train wreck” (sorry) of an episode. the nonlinear storytelling did a disservice to the story. It weighed down the story and made it tedious and ultimately boring. The momentum the show had lost it last night. Elements were there to make it an exciting episode but instead of leading to a shocking event at the end it went out with a whimper and i had nary a care. Ward’s character has softened a lot. Perhaps too much to take him serious. And why on earth would Russo stab May on the shoulder as she’s hanging there? Made no sense. The show has an identity crisis and consistency is not their strong point.

  • Christy

    “At no point in this episode did I really feel like the train was traveling through the middle of nowhere. ”

    Actually, there was at least one shot where you could see through the window that the train wasn’t traveling anywhere at all. Obviously parked. (Once a script supervisor, always a script supervisor.)

  • TheChief

    I actually liked the nonlinear story telling. I think it enhanced the story by showing us how the different characters had different perceptions of the events (ie the flash grenade)

  • delia

    I’m pretty sure I saw Peterson drop that note deliberately on the ground, as opposed to putting it in his pocket or throwing it away. I read this as his attempt to leave SHIELD a clue, since they presumably know where his son is.

  • spartantown

    I just felt it didn’t work for this story. Perhaps if it involved a mystery but it seemed to require more urgency and quicker pacing.

  • Gerald Kirby

    I really enjoyed the episode, but I’m left disappointed. This doesn’t come from anything on screen, but from the scheduling. The show was on hiatus for a month (over Christmas, that’s fine), returns for two weeks, goes on another two week hiatus, returns for one episode before going on hiatus again!? What the Hell, ABC?

  • Anonymous

    I’m not sure I understand the persistent criticism of the show lacking diversity. First of all, there’s two Asians in the main cast, meaning 33% of it. That’s a hell of a lot better than most shows and we’re not counting the 50% of women. Secondly, how is the girl with a flower dress not considered a recurring POC? Thirdly, why is Peterson having his life wrecked a bad thing? Everybody in the show had his life wrecked one way or another and he’s been turned into a superhero. Peter Parker’s story doesn’t stop after Uncle Ben’s murder, it starts there!

  • Mark Gardner

    Yes! I’m pretty sure it’s a definite clue. Of course they won’t even know to look around the school unless Skye wakes up soon and tells them about Peterson.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with you. Most of the parts where the stories diverged were so brief that the non-linear nature was totally un-needed. The vanishing train mystery lasted so little time, it wasn’t worth having. While I was amused by the attempts to mess with the holotable, it didn’t actually do anything but waste time.

    That sort of split plot story telling works best when characters are separated for a long time, and a lot of complicated things are going on. For this story, it wasn’t complicated enough to need that. Instead it just became repetitive. If everything on the train had happened in a linear way, cutting between characters, it would have been far more gripping. There would have been a lot more drama to it, as all the characters wind up under attack at once. As it is, instead we had to see the same basic thing three or four times, while already having a fair idea of how it would play out.

  • J. Koby

    One thing that’s going to for sure need to be talked about in the next few episodes that is constantly being overlooked: does Simmons have a death wish for some reason? She’s a scientist, and although unlike Fitz, she gets excited with Field duty, this is the second time she’s tried to sacrifice herself for her team. First she dove out of the plane, now she’s hugging a grenade of unknown origin (you’d have to assume it’s fatal in this world of espionage). Both situations stemmed from saving her teammates, but it should be looked at that her first response seems to be diving on the grenade.

  • Revolution of Eva

    On the one hand, you have a good point about the only POC wound up with his life ruined, filled with cybernetic parts, and forced to work for the bad guy. On the other hand…he wasn’t just turned into a mindless robot. Despite not being a regular, I’ve connected as much or more with Mike emotionally as the regular cast members – he was a guy down on his luck, trying to take care of his son, etc. In short, he’s like the round-headed kid from Peanuts. Bad things are happening to him, but we *connect* to him and feel his pain — making him one of the most sympathetic characters.

    Some might say that this removes his free agency, and I guess – i.e. that the only way to make a POC character “work” is to somehow heap tragedy upon them. I don’t know.

    But it would have been annoying if they played it as “mindless cyborg”, and they’re actually playing it as “trapped and forced into stuff against his will”.

  • Anonymous

    To be fair, you’re right, I think I may have conflated “first recurring POC guest star” with “only” here. As for Peterson’s shitty situation, well, for one thing, there’s a long, long history of villains of color who are strong brawlers and/or henchmen or lack agency in their choice to be a villain and are much less frequently cerebral leaders presented as the equals in intellect and power to the main characters. It’s a trope that runs alongside our stereotypes about the specific kind of “threat” inherent in men of color.

    To continue on the subject of diversity in SHIELD, maintaining gender parity in its core cast of characters is great, but it’s not a license to drop the ball on diversity of race. I don’t think there’s anything wrong in lauding the show when it does well and continuing to occasionally point out that it’s core cast of characters are about 80% white. The actress who plays Skye is biracial, yes, but as I talked about at length in my recap for “Seeds,” her character’s racial background has never actually been touched upon (at best, you can say that it has been laid out as a possibility). As an 084, she may not even be from this planet, and until we know Skye’s origins for certain, or the show gives her character a racial/cultural background in any of the hundreds of simple easy ways it could have by now, I’ve got no reason to think that the show hasn’t just cast an actor of color in the role of a white character.

    Our media assumes white until proven definitively otherwise (even when characters in books are described as having brown skin and hair, many people will still willfully delude themselves to thinking that means the character could never be black) in the same way that it assumes straight until proven otherwise. If SHIELD wants credit for presenting diversity to a mainstream audience with Skye, they’re going to have to work harder at establishing her racial background in a way that cannot be handwaved away by folks who would rather stay in their safemode of only relating to white characters.

  • Anonymous

    I can definitely see both sides of the interpretation. But I still feel that the negative side wouldn’t be as strong if there were more regular characters of color on the show.

  • Lup Lun

    Well, the coming hiatus is because the Olympics are on, and nothing will be able to compete. Between ABC, CBS, and FOX, all but a few of their shows are in reruns next week, and the ones airing new episodes are either reality shows with huge followings, or stuff they don’t expect to renew anyway. (Which means new Killer Women next week! ~_^)

    The January hiatus is a very, very good thing, though. While I’m not an expert, I understand it’s very rare for a scripted series to be 100% in the can by the time it premieres. That means at some point you have to give the series a break so the production staff can catch up. Breaking in January meant they were saving epsiodes for the February sweeps, which in turn means that they can rely on the show to bring in viewers.

  • Julianna Condor

    The joy of an Olympics year. If they aired it straight through to March, it’d get slaughtered.

  • Anonymous

    So I’ve been seeing the theory for a while that Skye might turn out to be Jessica Drew or an Inhuman so I definitely think however they save her, she’s walking away from this with powers. They touted this episode so much as a game-changer and when several of the biggest complaints against the show have been “There’s no comic characters” and “It needs more heroes and actual superpowers”, that answers both in a very big way.

  • Lup Lun

    You have a point. But in my mind, the bigger issue is whether Peterson’s character and story is interesting, and it definitely is. Probably one of the most interesting character stories on the show, in fact. The fact that the Clairvoyant is forcing him to embody awful stereotypes that he’s ashamed of doesn’t negate that at all. In fact, it improves the story by deepening the tragedy, and making his inevitable rebellion against his controller all the more satisfying.

  • Anonymous

    Just deeply, deeply inept agents that would make Sydney Bristow vomit.

  • Anonymous

    I understand what you’re saying but at the same time, it seems to me you chose to criticize a show that very much deserves the benefit of the doubt.

    Skye’s race has been addressed at least once when the SHIELD agent who was first assumed to be her mother was given an Asian name and I’m pretty sure I remember another instance where her race was specifically implied/defined as Asian although my memory fails me about the specifics. The actress they cast is bi-racial and all signs points to her character being at least partly Asian. It’s hard to criticize the show for not doing more at this part of its short existence.

    As for Peterson, I may agree with you eventually but, again, I think it’s far too early to call. Peterson’s character has been portrayed with enough complexity that he shouldn’t be dismissed as a henchman right away. The character in the comics is a hero and if he starts working for the bad guys, his ark might be all the more interesting.

    Like I said, you might be proven right eventually but if I compare SHIELD with a show like Arrow, who has only one POC in its cast (and who is given nothing to do on most episodes), it’s doing a pretty good job so far.

  • Anonymous

    Why can’t they all be as BAMFy as May?
    What was the point of Simmons making a scene on the train if it wasn’t to spill tracers disguised as ashes on that guy?
    The expanding cybernetic leg was a goofy use of CGI. If they had Mike already, couldn’t they have ordered a robot leg exactly the right size &
    had it shipped to a safehouse that didn’t also require shipping Mike internationally inside a stasis tube? Will Mike be taken out when someone hits the button on his prosthesis that makes it retract into itself?
    Coulson actually threatened to make Ward watch Emil “The Abomination” Blonsky’s cryo-cell in Barrow, Alaska (where 30 Days of Night happened).
    I didn’t feel anything when Skye was shot twice.
    Why was this episode title an acronym?

  • Anonymous

    This is a genuinely terrible show. Skye infiltrates Quinn’s place by shooting one guy (which nobody notices) and then wandering around the place with a gun, not even disguised? Every member of the team is completely hopeless at infiltration on the train, to the point of laughability? These people are supposed to be professionals, and they don’t come across as such at all. That’s what really breaks anything resembling suspension of disbelief for me. It’s painful to watch.

  • Cain S. Latrani

    A very good episode, indeed.

    While I agree with the POC opinion in a way, at the same time, I’m extremely delighted to see J. August Richards getting to be the first person to take a crack at playing a live action version of Deathlok. That’s the kind of thing that matters, too, as any future actors are going to be compared to him now.

    Plus, Richards does conflicted really super well.

    May being badass, yeah, that was all the best parts.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been thinking about this whole “slow burn” thing and how deep and unabating my loathing is for shows that coast for half a season and then try to cram everything into the back half and I hit on an obvious solution: make SHIELD’s seasons shorter. That way instead of being jerked around for six or seven eps or whatever it was they’d be able to structure it so that all of the excitement and plot/character development was distributed more evenly and they could concentrate on their focus rather than throwing things around all willy-nilly.

    I did like the ep, more or less. There were some logically iffy things (like that following-cars-on-foot thing), but I did enjoy the storytelling format. I’m also a fan of that time-out grenade. Watching Ward and Coulson trying to figure out the holotable made me laugh more than was seemly, but at the same time… I’m not sure I like the “I’m a big macho agent I don’t have to do this fiddly egghead stuff” vibe that stuff like that generates. FitzSimmons might not be as competent in the tactical department, they are getting better with that stuff, but the “real” agents apparently aren’t expected to know geeky stuff. I dunno. Like I said, it was hilarious to watch, but at the same time… meh.

    Plot-wise it’s nice to see things finally happening, even if it’s still a little haphazard. And it’s funny, on the one hand it makes perfect sense not to put all the cards on the table at the same time, but on the other? I think maybe it’s a case of jerking us around so much and so often that even when we are given some crumbs it starts to feel tedious. Again, this might be helped by shortening the season. I mean hey, look how popular Sherlock is and that isn’t even a full handful of eps per series. Three eps would probably be TOO short for SHIELD, but cut the number they do have in half and it could help tighten everything up and keep it manageable.

    As for “Deathlok” I think I’ve reached a saturation point. I used to like him. I used to care about him. But they keep piling up more and more terrible crap upon him and now I’m kinda burned out. Not quite past the point of caring, yet, but getting close to that point. Give the poor bugger a break once in a while. Watching a miserable character being miserable while miserable things happen miserably gets old fast.

  • eric bouchard

    I dont hate the idea of a shorter season, but i am glad they took the time to built characters here. I tend to be weary of series that feel the need to go 200 miles an hour all the time. I know they fear being called slow, but it usually means the risk of hitting the wall is bigger. It happened to me with Sleepy Hollow. I lost interest in it. And even breaking bad was losing me in the end.

  • Anonymous

    Going off to the side somewhere:

    I’ve often felt networks ought to be more comfortable with shows with shorter seasons. Six seems to be pretty common for a series on a lot of British shows, and SiFi’s common 13 isn’t bad ether. There’s a definite upside to keeping shows pretty trim like that.

    The caveat with Sherlock comparisons is that, while three episodes, they’re all two television hours long. Pretty much movie length. Don’t get me wrong, I like it, but it’s the equivalent of six regular episodes.

  • Anonymous

    Also a good point. I think there’s potentially a difference between pace and density. A short season at regular pace but higher density can work well.

    As to character building in AoS, time is good, but I think they took a bit longer than they needed to, as well. I mean, they could have probably gotten to this point in development for most characters in four or so fewer episodes, which would have been good (particularly considering slow little the first half-dozen or so went). Folks lose interest when they don’t know the characters, too.

  • Cellism

    Intriguing idea you propose in regards to Skye’s ethnicity. How would you have clarified Skye’s ethnic identity given that she tossed through the adoption system with heavily redacted information? (Information that would have undoubtedly been contradicted by the revelation that she’s of explicitly ‘unknown’ origin, calling that identification into question.)

  • Cellism

    I liked that Coulson and Ward couldn’t work the holotable because Fitsimonns have given Skye into trouble in the past for trying to play with it when she hasn’t had the specific training to use the interface.

  • Anonymous

    I wouldn’t have such a problem with it being a full 22 episode season if this show didn’t feel like a collection of bottle episodes. Nearly every conflict is wrapped up neatly in 40 minutes with no real feeling of tension or danger. They can afford to give each story more than an episode to flesh it out & raise the stakes. Ideally there’d be momentum to overarching conspiracy mystery, which is different than just repeating “The Clairvoyant” & “Tahiti is a magical place” constantly. The fact that Coulson’s team acts like amateurs (besides May) all the time isn’t helping. At this point it feels like a syndicated 90s action show. Making it a tight 13 episode season of all spy thriller no filler couldn’t hurt.

  • kbroxmysox

    I hate the “treat the poc with kid gloves”. Origin stories are filled with tragedy and torment. So because Mike is a black man his story should be different? Deathlok fits with the series’ more technology based stories, so becoming a cyborg makes sense.

  • Anonymous

    That’s a really good point and if SHIELD understood the concept of pacing then I think they’d be able to handle any number of episodes just fine. But going slow slow slow slow fast fast fast-fast isn’t really the best way to handle a full-size series, IMO. You need to MIX the slow and the fast. Or better yet have slow, fast, and medium eps all shuffled together. “Slow burn” shows still need to ACCOMPLISH something while they’re building up steam, but other than a couple of eps I don’t think they’ve done that so far. Now it’s like they’re trying to cram in everything they didn’t do in the first half of the season and it’s REALLY FRUSTRATING. Why didn’t they start sooner? Why not spread out the wealth a little more?

    On the one hand, yes, covering all the character development stuff earlier on means they don’t have to worry about it now, but that still feels pretty sloppy. And if this is going to be a pattern: slow character-y stuff in the first half, lots of random action in the second half- I… really don’t know if I can tolerate that kind of narrative imbalance.

  • eric bouchard

    I think the series that does it the best is Game of Thrones. Every damn year, i hear whiners telling us how boring the begining of the season is…to just move along!! But what they do so well is built the tension up, until it blows up in episode 9. Most shows just dont have that confidence; it’s all…go go go!

  • delia

    it seem like you are also assuming a character is white until proven otherwise

  • delia

    this is the second not-really-an-acronym title i can think of off the top of my head, the first being F.Z.Z.T. what an odd little tendency.

  • Anonymous

    I kind of agree. If you think it’s an inherent problem with the show that none of the six main characters are black, then that’s a topic of its own.

    But there’s nothing inherently wrong with having black villains (provided they’re intelligent and/or characterized ones, and you don’t just use use them as a default for the “dumb muscle” characters). Flower-dress lady (Riina?) doesn’t fall into any common stereotypes, nor does Amador, nor does Peterson (who comes across as a basically decent guy who’s easily manipulated through his love for his son).

  • Anonymous

    Ugh. And there’s another good reason not to watch that show. I guess it’s just a matter of preference. I was burned hard by two or three shows that gave us nothing as the season started and then tried to cram an entire season’s worth of action into a handful of eps in the back half, either because they didn’t know what they were doing or because they knew they could slack off and get away with it and ARGH! I’m barely capable of acknowledging it’s possible to do something like that in a good and useful way, never mind recognizing it when I see it. I’m still inclined to say it doesn’t apply to SHIELD, though.

    And yet I’m still watching. Sigh.

  • Travis

    “If SHIELD wants credit for presenting diversity to a mainstream audience with Skye, they’re going to have to work harder at establishing her racial background in a way that cannot be handwaved away by folks who would rather stay in their safemode of only relating to white characters.”

    When did the Whedon clan say they wanted credit for presenting diversity?

    Did I miss the interview that said they were going to make sure that you could tick off all the boxes in your diversity checklist?

  • Stealthfire

    Then don’t…? Seriously, I get complaining about a show when you like it but have some concerns. Feedback (positive or negative) is a major way that a creative work can improve. But if it’s actually painful for you to watch this, then maybe it’s time to find something else to fill an hour on Tuesday nights.

  • Jake Mertz

    In my mind, Peterson is one of the best parts of the show, and it has nothing to do with him being a “POC”, whatever that means. He’s a guy who wants to be a hero, that’s been his theme for the whole show, but now he’s been made into a weapon for the bad guy, presumably by being threatened with not only himself, but also his son being killed. But, the thing is, he’s a weapon with a mind, which reminds me of a certain other Marvel character with claws, and we all know how that turned out, right? Not very well for the people who made him a weapon at all. It would be a bit cliche if they did the same thing with Deathlok, but, then, I’d be disappointed if it didn’t work out like that. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what they do with him in the story.

  • kbroxmysox

    Riina(seriously, not clue how to spell her name) is proving to be an awesome villain and she’s a PoC. Despite the fact that I’ve never been a fan of the actor(I just find him sort of wooden), Mike is definitely the character to watch right now, right after Coulson. We’ve been told Skye is half Asian, May might fit the stereotype of strong, stoic Asian but the show is also deconstructing and peeling away the layers of that stereotype, something Joss Whedon loves to do(Hello Buffy Summers!) so I don’t see a problem with it.

    It just frustrates me, especially as a writer. Writers should be free to right the story and the character they want without people screaming “Wait, that isn’t PC enough.” It’s terrific that that the show has two PoC females(one is, for better or worse, the central character, the other who is probably my favorite character), two strong PoC recurring characters(and how long will Mike even be a villain for. His story screams, “going to be a good guy soon!”), and an EP who is also a female PoC. This show is miles ahead on all the shows on the CW, and a bunch of other shows on network tv.

    I just think we set a bad precedent when we have to pussyfoot around a character. I’m not saying it’s okay to have them have outrageous stereotypes and be one dimensional. But if they share some of what people view as stereotypes but are interesting, dynamic characters who are MORE than those qualities, who maybe have those stereotypes for a reason(past trauma, defense mechanism, controlled by evil bad guy) than let the story and the character play out, and see who they come, why they are the way they are.

    It was like that article complaining about a “magical negro” and characters who shared other stereotypical traits. Let the story play out. Let the writers show you what they’re doing without labeling something as “maybe racist”

    If writer need to write in some restrictive guideline than there writing won’t be as strong. Let them tell their story, no matter how unPC it might seem at first because it could lead to somewhere great.

    Sorry for this long rant Katherine(which wasn’t aimed at you haha), this article just bothered me…

  • kbroxmysox

    There are 6 main characters…two of which are PoCs. And yes, Skye is a PoC. I knew she was half Asian from the get-go and the show confirmed it. Plus we have one recurring villain PoC.

    I said this above, but do you really think writers should have to stay in some restrictive guidelines in concern to PoCs? Do you think that really helps the story? Every character fits some sort of stereotype, PoC or not(Simmons = awkward white geek girl, Ward = stoic, humorless white guy, Fitz = awkward white geek guy with an inferior complex in concern to Ward, so double male stereotype). It’s about what’s behind the stereotype. Look at Buffy. She was a stereotypical, privilege blond beauty but the show was about digging beyond that. Willow, insecure nerd…dug beyond that. Giles, buttoned up Brit…dug beyond that.

    Sometimes you have to let writers be writers. You’re only damaging good storytelling when you ask writers to stay within the PC line.

    Yes, Mike being forced to fight and being the “one recurring poc”(who’s appeared in only one more episode than Raina btw) might raise flags, but let the story be told. This has all the hallmarks of a “Good guy forced to bad guy overcoming his programming to become a good guy” origin story.

    And given this show is so heavily based on tech, and the bad guys are tech based, it makes sense that he’d become a cyborg, no?

    Like I said above, I don’t think we treat PoCs with kid gloves. No, I don’t want them to be horrible stereotypes either, but I don’t think we should be afraid of giving ANYONE a couple of stereotypical character traits(as long as they aren’t racist/homophobic or anti-Semitic, but like Cordelia…”rich mean popular girl” or Abbie Mills from Sleepy Hollow “Black girl who’s dad left her and mom wasn’t ‘there’”) if they can show us the character is more than that. And Cordelia was. Abbie is.

  • Cy

    I’m really hoping to see more Deathlok parts on him. Like the metal eye plate at least even if it is on the wrong side. I hope this spins off a lot of Deathlok love because the portrayal so far has been excellent.

  • Cy

    The comic version of the Michael Collins Deathlok is almost this same storyline. Mike was just a guy with bad luck (found out something at his employer that he shouldn’t have). His brain was put into a Deathlok to which he asserted his control over. He just wanted to find his body and go back to his old life.

  • Anonymous

    The general plotlines interest me, despite the fact that the acting and dialogue is bad. And I have plenty of spare time.

  • BatiHoney

    May was so goddamn badass in this episode and I want to be her when I grow, I liked Skye as usual and I was SAD SAD SAD ON THE EDGE OF TEARS WHEN SHE WAS SHOT AND THE WHOLE ENDING RUINED ME, but can we talk about how Simmons pulled a Steve fucking Rogers with the grenade? Because I DOUBT she knew that it wasn’t a fatal grenade and SHE PRETTY MUCH WAS WILLING TO DIE TO SAVE FITZ AND SKYE and godfuckingdamn it, that was, to me, the most badass thing in the entire episode and it gave me ALL THE FEELS, and I just love Simmons, ok? I love these three ladies and I’m almost crying writing this, so…

    I would say AoS has successfully gotten me to care about these characters. Coulson, Ward and Fitz were good, but the girls definitely stood out this episode because they were the ones giving me all the feels (Dad Coulson and Fitz hugging Simmons at the end also killed me).

    P.S.: Am I the only one who absolutely loved Coulson’s face during Simmons’ scecene as dramatic daughter? Because it was killing me with laughter.

  • Jake Mertz

    I have to wonder how far they’ll go with the whole cybernetics thing. “Oh, you lost a leg, here’s a new one. What, now you’ve lost your arm, okay here’s a new one. Oh, you lost your body, fine, we’ll put you into a cyber body like the comics.” Btw, I need to check those out.

  • Anonymous
  • Sophie

    In fairness so was Captain America’s. I think she’s maybe overprotective of her peers and it makes her willing to sacrifice herself -remember she was the one who dragged Fitz into the field, and has been shown to feel responsible to him. She’s the first one to cry over Sky. That doesn’t mean she has a deathwish necessarily. Both situations were pretty dire. To me her issue seems to be that her overprotectivness makes her less trusting of the rest of the team’s abilities.

  • Sophie

    It would be so awesome if, in the absence of rights to Spider-Man, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, brought in Spider-Woman instead.

  • J. Koby

    I agree with you mostly. But I think there’s something deeper there. She was told by Coulson when she jumped out of the plane, she doesn’t get to make those decisions, but she did anyway in this episode. Again, she got lucky it wasn’t a real grenade, but I think it stems from something deeper. Sacrificing yourself for your team is noble…to a point. I think she’s kind of pushing that line a little that might lead to some wonderful back story issues she has to eventually deal with. Not sure if you read Indestructible Hulk, but she reminds me of Patricia Wolman from that. She’s got an incurable disease, and keeps putting herself in situations to “die honorably” so the disease won’t beat her. It just reminds me of that too much. I’m not saying she’s sick, but she seems to dive into danger pretty quickly.

  • Aeryl

    +1000 on Simmons. I couldn’t tell if she said, “It’s a grenade” implying she knew what it was specifically, or if she said “We’ve been made”, which is what Ward said to her, but she was still totally boss that scene.

  • Aeryl

    AmericanFitz was great. I laughed SO HARD when he clarified that their restaurant needed to be affordable with large portions.

    I’m willing to wait and see how Deathlok plays out before I call it bad. I can watch this character be miserable if it has a good emotional payoff. If he sacrifices himself “for the team” or is murdered to make the team “pay” I will not be happy. I don’t know exactly what will be a good payoff, but I loved Spartacus on Starz, so I can watch characters be miserable if the stakes are right.

  • Aeryl

    GOT is only ten eps per season, it’s not THAT SLOW a burn.

    It’s not that there’s no action, it’s just you don’t SEE the action for what it is, until it all comes together.

  • Aeryl

    I get that argument, but a lot of that episode count is not just taking the time for character development, it’s moving the MacGuffins around. Aside from the chitauri helmet episode, The HUB and the Asgardian staff(and that set up Ward/May, so that goes to character development), I can’t think of one that’s not playing a direct role in the plot as it sits now. Rayna, the CyperEye, CENTIPEDE.

    My reading is now, the Clairvoyant had Skye shot to get Couslon to break into SHIELD to go after the means that brought him back*, so they can steal, which is why Quinn’s pulling a Loki.

    If there hadn’t been so many disparate pieces brought together to make Deathlok happen, and Quinn a bigger player, we could have done this with a lower episode count. This thing has a lot of moving parts.

    *Cue the next Fury cameo. “What the fuck do you think your doing? How am I supposed to be keep MY EYE on you, motherfucker, you’re my motherfucking EYE.” Edited for tv, of course.

  • Aeryl

    Well a there was another Whedon show that wanted to center a terminally ill woman’s story, and he’s known for reusing story ideas he’s had in other contexts, so that’s not a bad guess.

    But I also think she might have seen what it was, cuz it sounds like she says “grenade” when she comes into the compartment, so she may have deduced that if the guy was willing to set it off so close to it, it couldn’t be fatal. She does work with Fitz, so she may have guessed it was based off their Nite Nite tech.

  • BatiHoney

    My TV has closed captions on and she said “We’ve been made”, but I’m pretty sure she knew it was a grenade but the way Ward thought it was a grenade, I think. I like to believe everything happened too fast for her to know what the grenade actually did and she actually tried to sacrifice herself to save Fitz and Skye. We’ll never know for sure, maybe, but that’s what I think and it makes me happy :’) so so so boss.