SHIELD is back, again! Again. Again. In a cliffhanger first part of a double episode that promises to tie in to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a movie that looks like it’ll be changing a lot of what we know about SHIELD. Although that could just be the trailers. Which I’d seen at least three of by the time the show hit the 24 minute mark!
Let us begin. Deathlok!Mike Peterson tries to kill Agents Garrett and Trip and fails but also escapes, because apparently the Clairvoyant knew they were getting to close to the truth, but didn’t know they had lots of guns.
Now that Garrett knows that they’re close, he and Coulson call a big meeting with Victoria Hand and Agents Sitwell and Blake. They’ve narrowed their list of suspects to thirteen rejected candidates for the SHIELD Index: all of them were suspected of being telepaths, but their abilities ultimately could not be replicated. With the thousands of times SHIELD has screened a person for supernatural abilities, the only explanation for the Clairvoyant appears to be that they missed somebody. Coulson’s plan is to have Skye, his expert in pattern recognition, prioritize down to three suspects, and send in strike teams of two to each one, optimised on a need to know basis in order to flummox the Clairvoyant’s apparent powers. Support teams will also stay off site in order to stay off the Clairvoyant’s radar, leaving the strike teams relatively isolated.
Also, presumably Skye will assign the agents randomly and blindly, so that the Clairvoyant can’t read her mind to find it out, not that the episode spells that out. Hand points out that Skye would have to be a SHIELD agent in order to get access to the suspect files, and so Coulson awards her her badge (all the better to help him take down Director Fury, Phil, you clever boy) and the whole team has a happy. Except for Ward, who is still feeling overprotective of her.
More plot thread setup: The Science Siblings complain to Skye about how Coulson won’t let them release their data on GH-325. She tells them that they should do what Coulson says, and they immediately get suspicious that Skye wants to obey the rules and keep a secret. They accidentally let slip to May that they have been running extensive tests on Skye’s blood samples, and she nicely (so, super suspiciously) tells them to let her know if they notice any strange behavior from Skye or Coulson that they think is due to the drug, because she can “help.”
Also: Mike Peterson gets a fancy gift from the Clairvoyant: a guided-missile launching armband with a fancy HUD that makes his eye glows red. Hand and Sitwell drop out of the strike teams for some SHIELD bureaucracy reasons, Coulson asks Skye to dig into the psyche evaluations of their suspects, and Garrett implies all over the place about how he can tell Ward has a crush on her.
And now everybody goes on their
field trips I mean serious commando missions. Trip and Ward have a conversation about whether they should kill the Clairvoyant or just bring him in, so that it can resonate thematically later. As it turns out, the Clairvoyant knows what they’re doing, and pretty much everybody walks into some kind of trap. But only Agents May and Blake walk into an assisted living facility with Mike Peterson in it. Of course, by the time they realize that they’ve already split the party (never split the party) and Peterson corners Blake.
Blake tries to talk him down from killing him by reminding him who he is, and he growls “Mike Peterson’s dead,” which I will take as an excuse to refer to him as Deathlok from here on out because it is shorter to type. Before May or Hand’s back up force can get to him, Deathlok severely injures Blake and escapes.
Blake and May’s target was Thomas Nash, who, it turns out, does not actually live at the assisted living facility they visited. In fact, it’s not clear that he ever lived there or that he lives anywhere. Nash was recruited by the Canadian government (nice reference to the Weapon Plus Program) but his ability to predict the behavior of others was never proved to be replicable. Even SHIELD declined to put him on the Index. He was involved in an accident years ago and was thought to have been placed in the assisted living facility afterwards. That certainly does make it seem likely that he’s the Clairvoyant.
Hand is livid that an agent was severely injured and that despite a plan that justified stripping away backup in order to protect agents from surveillance, the Clairvoyant saw them coming anyway. She takes over the mission planning and orders Simmons to the Hub in order to brief agents on Deathlok’s unique biology. Fitz and Simmons see this as an excellent way to get access to better testing equipment for Skye’s blood, and so Fitz promises to rig up an encrypted line so they can talk to each other but really because he’s a woobie who’s going to miss his Jemma as she goes to the Hub with that hot field agent Trip who is totes crushing on her.
Man that reminds me, didn’t Garrett also peg Trip’s crush on Jemma? This guy is shipping his subordinates so hard, I bet his Tumblr tags are a great read.
Anyway, this is when the team realizes that before he got stomped, Blake managed to tag Deathlok with a tracking bullet (from the batch that Fitz so helpfully announced that he’d invented at the beginning of the episode). They head to Florida with a full strike force. Except for Skye, who gets to stay in the surveillance van because everybody is still feeling overprotective of her. Fitz gets to go in, briefly. He’s ben attending a lot of field missions lately, and I don’t think Jemma’s ever been on one, and I wish the writers would give her more action scenarios to participate in, since I’m pretty sure she and Fitz have the same qualifications. For example, there’s no reason their roles couldn’t have been swapped in “T.R.A.C.K.S.”
There ensues some bits with Fitz’s orange tracker balls (apparently called Retrievers) from “Repairs,” and they find Deathlock at a racetrack. There’s some chasing and fighting an jumping and explosions, but basically Deathlok escapes and Garrett and Coulson find a paralyzed man in a dark room full of lit computer screens. He greets the agents with a voice emulator and text on the screens, announces himself as the Clairvoyant, and surrenders.
I am genuinely glad to see that Brad Dourif is still getting good jobs being “that creepy guy.” I love his “creepy guy.” And he even gets to participate in the time honored tradition of supervillain monologueing. This is the point at which I notice that the Clairvoyant is not actually using a voice emulator but rather that his lines are being voiced by a real person. I’ll come back to that. The Clairvoyant says that he understands now why he couldn’t see Coulson’s death, because he was simply a “broken man who did not know he was broken.” “You’re one to talk,” Coulson retorts, and PHILIP YANCEY COULSON YOU CUT OUT THAT ABLEIST LANGUAGE RIGHT NOW. The Clairvoyant doesn’t care if he goes to prison, he’ll be watching Coulson and Skye, they’ve been betrayed, a force beyond Coulson’s comprehension is coming for him and Skye, that Skye has something they want and she will die giving it to them.
That’s when Ward shoots the Clairvoyant.
And nobody seems really peeved about this? Garrett and Coulson just seem a little sad that their buddy up and shot a captive, paralyzed man in cold blood. Garrett shrugs and is like: well we do teach our operatives to be cold blooded, and I’m thinking “Do you teach them to lose control when vaguely threatened?” So the Clairvoyant’s a murdering, torturing, criminal mastermind, talking about how he’s gonna kill Ward’s crush:
I dunno, maybe I’m just so much of a Batman fan that I take the whole “heroes don’t kill” thing too seriously, but is nobody mad that they can’t interrogate the guy or even figure out if he actually had psychic powers because Ward had a mad on?
Anyway, at this point there’s still twenty minutes left in the episode, so you know some crazy sudden shit is about to go down. But first it has to all get set up. May tells Coulson that Director Fury is back and waiting at the Triskelion (SHIELD HQ), so they head off to bend the director’s ear for a bit. In the hex room, Ward gets a visit from Skye, who is not too pleased that he killed a guy, so they have the familiar morals vs. he’s a terrible guy who’ll never stop conversation. Or… maybe it’s just familiar to me because of how many Batman comics I read. Ward says he doesn’t regret what he did if it means that Skye is safe. “AND THE REST OF THE TEAM,” he adds, “Them too. Definitely not just you, ha ha, that’d be weird like if I had feelings or something.”
After that, Skye visits Coulson, who is worried about Ward. Specifically, he’s worried that Ward killed an innocent man. What if the “Clairvoyant” was just another prop, to make them think they’d wrapped up their search. After all the man in the chair never talked or moved, you know, like someone using a communication device would minimally have to, and also GUYS, his voice was obviously an actor and not a synthesizer. I mean, I know you’re in a universe where Tony Stark’s J.A.R.V.I.S. has indistinguishable from human vocal ability, but he also made a new miniaturized clean power source in a cave. With a box of scraps. You have to warn me if you’re going to posit that that technology isn’t unique by hang a lampshade on it.
Could the Clairvoyant still be in our heads, he asks. Or in our files, says Skye, pointing out what she’s learned from having access to SHIELD’s personnel files: that all of the information the Clairvoyant has shown access to (like which of Ward’s buttons to press) is stuff that you can get with high SHIELD clearance, and all the stuff he couldn’t see was stuff like Coulson’s resurrection that was personally hidden by Director Fury. The Clairvoyant is very probably a SHIELD agent.
“Not May, or someone that May is working for,” I thought, “You’re actually too smart for that, Agents of SHIELD.” Coulson goes immediately to the hex room in a fit of paranoia, angrily demanding that Ward tell him if he killed the “Clairvoyant” under orders. Ward asserts that he wasn’t working with anyone.
While doing electronic magic to set up his secure line to Simmons, Fitz discovers May’s encrypted and secure channel off the Bus and when discovered by May has such a terrible poker face that she is suspicious immediately. (Simmons signs off saying that she’s been called to the situation room, which I suspect is set up for events in the next episode.) Still, at the urging of Skye, Fitz manages to cut May’s line before she can call out again. Skye explains May’s line to Coulson and Ward in the hex room, and everybody winds up in a Mexican standoff (May is wielding only an ICER that she’d grabbed to take Fitz out with) with Coulson demanding that May explain herself. She says only that she can explain everything, but not “here.” She can’t even say who was on the other end of the encrypted line, just that she doesn’t know anything about the Clairvoyant.
That’s when everyone gets thrown as the Bus suddenly changes course. It’s Agent Hand at the Triskelion, ordering a strike team to intercept the Bus at its landing point and take out everyone aboard it except for Coulson.
Stinger: A clip from Winter Soldier, which is totally cheating, Agents of SHIELD, you can’t let Winter Soldier do your homework for you. Also it puts the difference between “television” budget and “movie” budget in stark relief, no pun intended.
So, Victoria Hand turns out to be the Clairvoyant all along, creating supersoldiers, recruiting SHIELD agents into pawns with deadly eyeballs, mining the index for a pyrokinetic to perfect a super soldier serum, torturing Coulson for information on his resurrection, and nearly murdering Skye to motivate him to discover more about it. In the comics, SHIELD has certainly had it’s share of rogue agents and antagonist (if not outright evil) directors over the years. In a way, some of the most obvious choices are unavailable for the show to use. Norman Osborn, for example, who led the Dark Avengers, is a Spider-Man character, and the license to use him is still owned by Sony. Maria Hill has already been established in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as being played by Cobie Smulders, an actress unavailable to play a recurring role in the series due to other television commitments, or at least she was more than a year ago when the broad strokes of the first season were being laid out and the pilot was being filmed.
Victoria Hand is a character with a history of being both lawful neutral, believing that Norman Osborn’s team of “reformed” villain Avengers could bring order and peace to the world, and of being an off again on again antagonist (although she was in the end shown to be working for the good guys and has the respect of Captain America). It’s not particularly surprising to me that SHIELD would choose to simplify (or appear to simplify, anyway, barring further plot developments) that back story to strategic and canny final villain. Though I wouldn’t mind seeing more stories where the hard headed, rule-minded pragmatist superior officer turns out to be working for the good of the hot headed main characters, instead of being both restrictive and a bad guy (see: Pacific Rim). No way to tell at the moment whether the show has also declined to establish her character’s canonical homosexuality because they didn’t want to make their first confirmed LGBTQ character a villain, or because they simply haven’t prioritized the representation of LGBTQ characters.
The most prominent positive feeling I get from this episode is that I’m eager to see what they manage to pull of in the next one, particularly the extent to which this all ties in to The Winter Soldier. I found their Thor ultimately disappointing in that it barely derived a direct connection to the movie, but from what we know about TWS, its plot is going to heavily impact SHIELD as an organization. It would strain credulity for that not to affect the plot of Agents of SHIELD, and having a Winter Soldier tie in be the second part of a two part plot seems like a very good promise that it will. We’ll just have to wait and see how it all gets pulled off next week.