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So… What the Heck is Gonna be Winter Soldier‘s Effect on Tonight’s SHIELD?

Consider the Following

This post will contain spoilers for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. So will tomorrow’s Agents of SHIELD recap. So will every Agents of SHIELD recap from now on, probably, so I’ll just get into the post before somebody starts yelling at me.

Okay. So, everybody here has seen Winter Soldier, right? If not, get out of here. I’m looking at you, Steve Carlsberg.

Alright, lets get down to business. What are we going to be walking into tonight, and what might it mean about Agents of SHIELD as a television show, now that Captain America: Winter Soldier snapped the show’s concept in half like so many crashing helicarriers. The characters of the show have no idea what they’re being flown into, but we do: their entire organization has been revealed to have been infiltrated by Hydra agents from its inception, culminating in the defection of large portions of its operating force, as well as the death (so far as they are aware) of Coulson’s mentor and administrative patron Nick Fury. Folks behind the scenes have been predictably vague, though we do know that Samuel L. Jackson will be appearing again in the season finale.

So, first, lets talk about what probably hasn’t changed: Coulson’s quest for truth about his resurrection. This is likely to still be a valid realm of inquiry, since it was Nick Fury who put him through hell to resurrect him. We know this because the files were locked and hidden under his orders. We know it’s possible for SHydraIELD agents to lock things higher than the director’s clearance and make it look like those files were locked on his orders, but I think it’s unlikely that Coulson was kept alive on Hydra orders for two reasons. 1) Maria Hill knows the truth about T.A.H.I.T.I., and 2) Victoria Hand/The Clairvoyant doesn’t.

Hand’s gotta be working for Hydra; the idea that she might represent some kind of third faction here is far too complicated for Agents of SHIELD to be playing around with. Besides, despite how the mythical Hydra has many heads, Marvel’s Hydra motto has always been “Cut off a limb, and two more shall take its place!” And what has more limbs than a Centipede?

Now, what we don’t know: what a crippled SHIELD organization does to pick up the pieces after its Hydra infestation is expunged. What Agent Coulson and his secret strike force do now that all of their superiors are dead, evil and/or fired. Who becomes their superiors now? Are Captain America and Black Widow, as fellow SHIELD agents, aware the Coulson is alive? What do these revelations about the origins of SHIELD mean for the putative Peggy Carter series?

And why can’t I shake this nagging suspicion that somebody really wanted a Marvel Universe-set television show that would tie in with all the Phase 2 sequels and thus premiere in the fall of 2012, and that somebody else wanted a Captain America 2 that threw down everything we knew about SHIELD and that those two conflicting desires have given us a television show that was prohibited from actually doing anything interesting until the seventeenth episode of its first season. At the very least, I’d be willing to bet that the reason why the show’s schedule has been so terribly unpredictable (One episode in December, two in January, one in February, and two in March) was so its season, which will eventually last as long as a conventional school year, would stretch long enough to make it to Winter Soldier with a chunk of episodes left for the fallout. Last week marked the beginning of a seven week stretch of consistently aired episodes, the longest consistently aired stretch of new episodes since the first five.

Some of these questions and suspicions may be answered tonight. Maybe we’ll see Victoria Hand defeated (or at least out of the picture) by the end of tonight’s episode. Maybe fighting Hydra agents will consume the full rest of the season. But for now, there’s still a whole five or so hours to wait. I invite you to spend those five ours as is traditional: arguing amongst yourselves in the comments below.

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