Aw, man, guys, Agents of SHIELD was totally good this week! It was tight where it should be tight and loose where it should be loose, exactly not like the folds on a turkey’s neck.
Join us in scenic… somewhere within walking distance of the Fridge, I guess? Why is anywhere within walking distance of the Fridge, SHIELD? Maybe Hydra gave this guy a ride, but then why didn’t they recruit him as well? I mean, their plan got spectacularly blown up, you’d think they’d be collecting their resources. Anyway, Marcus Daniels, ex-Fridge prisoner, cellist-stalker, and Coulson-nemisis, has, through unexplained means, gotten from SHIELD’s most impregnable prison to civilization in like, a day. Two days tops. He kills a fisherman with his freaky energy powers and steals his car.
Back in Providence (the secret base, not Rhode Island), Simmons fixes Ward up from his fake/real beating as he feeds the team a bunch of lies about the Fridge and how he killed Garrett, laying the groundwork of getting Skye to open up her Hard Drive of Important Secrets. (+10 to any Munchkin monster if it’s willing to add silent ‘e’ to the end of its name.)
Coulson isn’t about to sit on his butt in a safe bunker while there’s SHIELDing to do, so he forms a splinter team who are going to head off and corral the most dangerous confirmed escapee of the Fridge: Marcus Daniels. This does not make Agent Koenig happy. Coulson wasn’t supposed to bring anyone with him when he followed Fury’s secret coordinates, and now six random agents know where Providence is. For the away team to leave, everybody but Coulson has to take a turn in Director Fury’s suped up lie detector that he keeps where it is most useful: inside a secret base that nobody ever goes to.
Time for an interrogation montage! One that I really wish we’d seen earlier in the season because here are some of the awesome things we find out: May was married once. Simmons is a Whovian. Skye’s original name was Mary Sue, which is an AWESOME RIP at Skye haters. Trip’s grandfather was a Howling Commando! That far back in his family tree, it could really be any of them, but likely the show will go the safe route and it’ll turn out to be Gabriel Jones. Although, with Trip’s first name being Antoine, it’d be great if it turned out to be Jacques Dernier. Koenig asks them all why they’re still here, if SHIELD has been destroyed. Simmons says she’s not sure, Fitz is here for loyalty to team, Trip to fight Hydra like his grandfather, May for Coulson, Skye because SHIELD is her home.
This is great character stuff, of the sort that should have been happening all the time earlier in the season. And let’s be clear: this super-lie-detector gimmick has no other purpose than to expose and contrast character details (even the mundane ones, like that May’s choice of desert island item is a machete), because everybody passes.
Ward, being the resident wolf in sheep’s clothing, gets his own interrogation scene all to himself, which he passes, due to the application of some very generous lies of omission and a nail he stabbed into his own thumb to throw off his readings. Everybody gets cleared for badges, and Coulson briefs Trip, Fitz, and Simmons on Marcus Daniels.
Daniels generic super villain origin is that he, like so many folks in the Marvel universe, was involved in a scientific accident a lab that was messing around with a little known kind of energy. He was driven mad and given the ability to absorb all energy, including the energy of a human body (killing with a touch, as we saw in the opening scene). (In comics, his villain name is Blackout.) Coulson brought him in originally by overloading his system with lots of pure light.
May wants in on the mission, which she knows is personal for him, but Coulson still doesn’t trust her. They argue and he tells her that since Fury is dead (as far as she knows, anyway, though he knows the truth), she should be taking orders from him now, or she should get out.
On that depressing note, the splinter team leaves to find Audrey Nathan, a woman who Daniels was obsessed with. Coulson thinks he will return to stalk her. Cut to Audrey taking a run alone in a park in the dark (I can’t decide whether this is a failure on the show for a faulty depiction of a former victim of stalking, or the show’s way of emphasizing Audrey’s belief in SHIELD and it’s ability to put away her stalker) followed by Daniels. Before he can catch up with her, Simmons and Trip pull up and rescue her into a silver SUV the team has obtained somehow, saying that they’re with the CIA. Also unexplained: how they flew there without being identified as a terrorist jet, where they landed without being noticed by a government agency. Cloaking is for helicarriers, remember?
Coulson and Fitz attempt to apprehend Daniels with special flashlights, but he gives some villain lines about how the folks at the Fridge made him stronger, blasts them with dark energy and gets away. Back at the splinter team safe house, Trip and Simmons are unable to keep the CIA ruse up for very long with Audrey. She doesn’t believe what the news is saying about SHIELD. Her hero Phil could never work for an evil organization, and now everybody else knows what we know from all the previews: Audrey is Phil Coulson’s cellist ex-girlfriend, alluded to in The Avengers, who believes him to be dead because SHIELD told her so.
While Skye is checking police reports against the listed paranormal abilities of the Fridge escapees, she realizes that Agent Koenig is tracking everybody in Providence by their badges on a tablet. Tricky, but it gives her the idea to try finding the missing criminals by a more direct way: hacking an NSA satellite. Ward shows up just in time to say that he thinks that’s a great idea and what if they opened up that hard drive, guys? So that they can get schematics on some of the weapons that Hydra stole from the Fridge as well, guys? Unfortunately for everyone, Skye tells him that the hard drive’s encryption is location based. It can’t be opened except at a location that only she knows. Koenig lets her start hacking the NSA.
The splinter team implements their only plan to capture Daniels, which is using Audrey as bait (which Coulson is understandably worried about this, as it’s really not a nice thing to do to someone who’s been the victim of stalking). She’ll play her cello alone in an empty concert hall and he’ll… show up? I guess because he’s been following her and this is the only way to get him out in the open? /shrug Then they blast him with gamma rays, the Marvel Universe’s answer to pretty much everything.
Unfortunately, Ward is also implementing his plan. He is delayed slightly by May leaving because Coulson won’t forgive her, but this just means he doesn’t have to shoot her and hide the body, so that’s good. Ward approaches Koenig, who is alone with the results of Skye’s NSA hack, closes the door of the room ominously, and then we cut to commercial, so, yeah. We’re not going to be seeing much of Agent Koenig anymore.
When Skye returns to the room, Ward lies about where Koenig is and further distracts her by telling her that May is gone. Skye, always up for seizing on a reason to dislike May, gets into how terrible it was that she betrayed them all by lying about how she was working for the guy they’re all, ultimately, working for. Ward proceeds to put the moves on her in the worst of many (but, granted, not all) possible ways.
He says that he never confessed his feelings before because she gives him emotions and emotions are dangerous for someone of his specialty. He says he has to shut people out, and that there are things about him that she wouldn’t like if she knew, that he’s not a good man, not always, that he has serious unresolved damage related to a childhood of emotional and physical abuse. Skye’s response to this is to tell him no, he is a good man and kiss him, because someone telling you that they are a bad person and have lied to you is just so sexy and endearing.
Okay, that was a little harsh. Skye doesn’t know that Ward is alluding to his status as a Hydra agent. She just thinks he’s voicing self doubt due to his profound emotional damage. In that context, switching couches for a hug, words of reassurance, and a kiss is pretty much standard supportive behavior. Not so much a small make out session, though, in which you accidentally trail your hand in the blood that got left behind Ward’s ear when he brutally killed a fellow agent in cold blood a couple minutes ago. This cuts the make out sesh short as Ward gets up to clean the blood off before Skye can realize that it’s not coming from one of his cuts.
Audrey starts playing, and in an effective move, the show allows the sound of her cello to play over a montage of both of the action climaxes of the episode, successfully signaling that stuff is about to go real bad in Providence. With Ward off cleaning his garrote, Skye, ever nosy, decides to use Koenig’s iPad to track down where he is. She follows his signal to a storage closet, and as she opens the door, a penny falls to the ground. Inside the conveniently grated ceiling of the closet, Koenig’s body has been hidden. Looking down at the iPad, Skye sees Ward coming for her.
Meanwhile, Daniels enters the concert hall, and Audrey pauses, terrified, but he encourages her to continue, and she does. As he approaches the stage, the splinter team hits him with the super gamma lights that Fitz has rigged up. Daniels hits them all back with dark beams and goes after Audrey, but it’s Coulson to the rescue with another light and as his teammates recover and pick up theirs, Daniels explodes (convenient, since they don’t actually have a prison to put him in). Audrey is knocked back in the explosion.
Coulson takes the opportunity of her unconsciousness to kiss her forehead and promise her that he’s still with her, protecting her. Waking up a moment later, she tells the other agents that for a moment she thought she saw her Phil with them, but it must have been a dream. They corroborate/gaslight her into believing that her senses were wrong, which is just a little creepy. Especially for somebody who the police refused to believe when she reported her stalker, and whose foundation of trust in SHIELD and Coulson is based on the idea that he would never lie to her or be part of an organization that lies.
Back in Providence, Ward knocks on the door of the bathroom Skye is freaking out in. She quickly gathers herself, frantically searching the cabinets in the room, finally looking at the rotating “window” in the room significantly. (I’m guessing that she’s left a message here for the splinter team or some such communication that will be revealed next episode.)
Still searching for her, Ward returns to the closet where he hid Keonig’s body, only to find nothing amiss because Skye has cleverly replaced the penny that fell from the doorjamb after Ward placed it there to let him know whether anyone else had entered the room. Skye then approaches him, and explains that she ran off to the bathroom because the extent to which he’d opened up to her and the speed at which their relationship is progressing, etc., scared her. You know, independent woman stuff. But she reassures him that it was just a momentary impulsive freakout, you know, impulsive, just like she always is, and that really, though, she wants to be with him. Great! he responds, Because we both gotta leave, no, now, don’t stop to get things, I already told Koenig, you don’t need to see him ever again. His cover story is that Fitz called in and says he needs the schematics on the laser device from Peru. They gotta go get that hard drive cracked, so where to, honeybunches?
Meanwhile, in the other denouement, Coulson confesses regrets for lying to Audrey, and says he’ll tell her the truth some day. He decides to make things right with May, because how could Audrey forgive him if he’s not the kind of person who can forgive others. Yeah, okay, but May was following orders when she kept things secret from you. You’re just following your own feelings and whims in keeping Audrey from the truth. But, good, yes, feel bad about making May leave because she’s my favorite.
Simmons confronts Fitz about how much of a dick he’s been to Trip, a thread that came to the fore in this episode, with Fitz either showing very little awareness or refusing to show awareness of his behavior. She asks him what Trip’s done to upset him, because the specialist is worried about it. Fitz almost opens up about exactly what’s bothering him, but chickens out and just admits that he’s afraid of change. I said this last week but SHIELD please stop teasing whether this is about friendship or romance between Fitz and Simmons. Friendship is more interesting. Do friendship.
Then the splinter team gets back to Providence only to find that the Bus is gone.
Stinger: MAY’S MOM WE MEET MAY’S MOM AND SHE’S A FORMER SECRET AGENT TOO and also May walked from Providence to civilization like it ain’t no thang, so maybe she and Daniels have that in common. May and Maymom have a beautiful conversation, the unstated foundation of which is: they are both boss bitches that should not be messed with. May is off to find Maria Hill, to ask her some questions.
Make no mistake: this was a solid episode of SHIELD (still not solid enough to make up for a fifteen episode leadup, but credit where credit is due). I was tense when it wanted me to be tense, and it actually took the time to properly pace itself to extend that tension. I loved the introduction of subtle spy tricks, like marking a door so you can tell if it’s been opened or putting yourself in pain to fool a polygraph, without the need to spoon-feed the audience an explanation of them. It also had some great character moments, and while it didn’t resolve any of the relationship plot lines (Fitz/Simmons/Trip, Coulson/May, Skye/Ward) it introduced new, engaging twists to most of them.
Speaking of which, what is Ward’s endgame with Skye here? He doesn’t want her to be killed because he cares about her and wants to have a relationship with her. So he engages her in a relationship… how does he think this is going to get to a place where he isn’t forced to reveal to her that he is a Hydra agent? He was going to kill May and Koenig to get her to unlock the hard drive, once that was done, did he think he’d be able to convince her to not go back to the team and never find out what happened and still be his girlfriend? Did he think there was a possibility, going in, that he’d be able to get the hard drive and then just stay on the team as a sleeper agent forever? That’s some kind of whacked out hoping, there, Ward, childhood abuse that probably allowed Garrett to get his hooks into you notwithstanding. “I care about you so much that I don’t want you to die but I do want to engage you in a deeply problematic relationship that will definitely hurt you when it reaches its spectacular end.”
My endgame for Ward: get replaced by Trip. He’s got a lot more personality, and Ward’s either gotta die or be imprisoned. It’ll be a real sleazy trick if they “redeem” him this late in the game.