Lets just say it: last week’s episode was awesome. A clever antagonist idea required the plot to focus on some characters who hadn’t yet gotten much focus was wrapped half a dozen heart wrenching character moments that finally delivered on the promise of the show’s ensemble cast. We begin tonight with the unavoidable question: can this week’s episode match up to last weeks? Was last week a fluke, or, hopefully, a sign of a new show getting its footing?
The answer: so far so good.
The episode opens with the Commando characters extracting a SHIELD mole from a vaguely Russian arctic military base. (This episode primarily concerns what I am assuming is a fake separatist group spread through Georgia and Russia. I’d look it up to make sure, but they only mentioned its actual name once and I didn’t catch it.) Actually, I should say it begins with a man looking over instruments to torture Coulson with and I’m not sure what it says about me if when a character reaches for a bone saw I think “Oh, don’t start with the bone saw! That’ll be so messy.”
Simmons extracts a giant implant from the guy’s nose with a device that I genuinely found horrifying. It contains “intel,” which they need to bring to The Hub. The SSibs are excited about visiting the Hub because it means new science things, but Skye is warned that the Hub will be more businesslike then their life on the Bus, after she presses to know what was in the chip they recovered. It’s classified Level 8, so nobody on the Bus can look at it except Coulson and May.
“This is normally the part where we stand around the Holocom” and talk over the new stuff we found, she says, so HAHA YES I’m not the only one who’s caught wind of the show’s trend of early-episode holocom briefing scenes.
At the Hub, everybody goes to do their thing except for Skye, whose “I’m a lying liar face” bracelet keeps her from getting into various areas. Still, before they’re separated, she asks Coulson if he can look for information on her parents for her.
Agent Sitwell (a canonical SHIELD Agent you might remember from Thor and a couple Marvel shorts) gathers up the Commandos and takes them to see Agent Victoria Hand, who Coulson only knows by an apparently impressive reputation. Then they all stand in front of a vertical screen (variety!) and discuss the episode’s Op.
A separatist group has built a weapon, “The Overkill Device,” and plan to use it in the next 24 hours to win their independence from Russia and Georgia. The device creates “sonic vibrations” that can make weapons (specifically weapons and not other technology, apparently) go haywire, pulling jets out of the sky or launching nukes at long range. SHIELD needs a team to break into their compound, identify and dismantle the Overkill device, and then call for extraction, and Agent Hand has chosen Ward and Fitz.
Cut to Fitz being a spaz, and Coulson watching with a hilarious smile.
After a commercial break, Fitz packs while Simmons worries over him. He seems a bit nervous, too, but game. Simmons brought him some anti-venom to protect against Caucasian spiders, and also made him his favorite sandwich.
“Don’t do anything rash when I’m gone. Like jump out of an airplane.” She promises. She will break this promise. Fitz puts on brave commando face for Ward, and after they leave Skye asks Coulson if this feels okay to him. “The people who put these ops together are the best of the best,” he says. “They know what they’re doing.” Well, I know foreshadowing when I see it.
Fitz and Ward make it by jeep to where they’re set to meet up with one of Ward’s contacts in the area who will ferret them across the border between Russia and Georgia. (Because SHIELD only has jurisdictional agreements with Russia or Georgia but not both?) They walk into Russian bar, where Ward drops the name of his contact and is rewarded with guns. Lots of guns pointed at them. Turns out his contact is dead and nobody really liked him much.
Meanwhile Skye has decided that since there are a ton of extra agents on the Bus, something must have gone wrong and information about it is being withheld from her and Simmons. This seems just a tad premature, but on the other hand, it’s Skye. She knows better than to try to pry info out of Strict SHIELD mom May, so she goes for indulgent SHIELD dad Coulson.
Speaking of the twice born agent, he and Hand talk about his Fury mandated recovery. “Not everyone gets sent to Tahiti,” she says, and though he’s been pretty self-effacing the rest of the conversation, he immediately rattles off “It’s a magical… place,” but pauses mid-sentence as if he’s just realized that there’s something a little off about how he keeps saying it is there something off with how he keeps saying it omg this plot is so not thick enough for us to get closure on it yet but I can’t wait.
And just to hammer things home, when Skye needles Coulson about info and he tells her “trust the system,” she tells Simmons “He’s acting like a robot version of himself right now.” Skye convinces Simmons to help her hack SHIELD to find out the whole story on the mission by saying that Fitz could be being tortured right now, which, again, seems like a statement that lacks a reasonable amount of faith in her colleagues’ abilities.
Of course, Ward and Fitz are in a bit of trouble, though she can’t know it. They’ve been tied up in the bar as their captors wait for their boss, who turns out to be AWESOME LADY RUSSIAN MOB LEADER MARTA.
Before Ward can make good on a series of terrifyingly vague questions about Fitz’s ability to physically withstand various escape plans, she asks them about their allegiances, and decides she doesn’t trust them. But as everyone raises their guns the power goes off, silencing the important soccer game.
To win their trust, Fitz fixes their fuzes so the viewing party can go on (Marta starts calling him Mischa and it’s like SHIELD actually knows about my critical weakness for Russian mafia characters). Fitz handles his celebratory vodka shot like a champ and negotiates for their help in getting him and Ward across the border.
It turns out that he shorted the bar on purpose with a science device, but as their truck is stopped by border patrol, this clever trick only gets them so far. Ward commandos all the soldiers and they flee into the Caucasian wilderness to hide in a drainage pipe. In there, he throws Fitz’s sandwich away because it might attract the dogs that are searching for them and they get into an argument about how Ward always has to be the baddest commando in the room. Then, of course they are narrowly missed by dogs. Ward growls “I’m taking care of you grrr” and hands Fitz an odorless snack bar like a good big brother.
His taste in sandwiches notwithstanding, I’m not sure when the Fitz who calls up agents on a covert mission to ask them if there are any snacks in the surveillance van turned into the pushing back at Ward, charming Russian Mafia types, kicking dudes in the face Fitz. Was that the transformation hinted at in his silent look at the end of last week? Either way, I feel like a vital moment of character growth was not properly communicated to us. Or somebody wanted to make a cheap joke about snacks a few episodes ago without considering how that would reflect on the character.
On the Bus, May is doing Tai Chi, and Coulson comes to talk. He has an entirely one sided conversation with himself where he reassures himself that he’s doing the right thing by not telling Skye or Simmons what his Level 8 butt knows about the Op, and then thanks her for helping him out. It’s just a sorta cute scene until we get a load of a massive eye roll from Ming-Na Wen and then it’s hilarious.
Simmons and Skye have a plan to hack SHIELD that involves Simmons going into a restricted area to stick a flash drive into a panel. Naturally, she is interrupted by Sitwell, and totally borks coming up with a cover story on the fly (accompanied by some great silent reaction shots from Chloe Bennet). Sitwell’s about to call security when Simmons puts him out with the Nite Nite Gun, plugs in the drive, and escapes.
Naturally, Skye realizes that they are officially in over their heads, and sends Simmons off to get their SHIELD Mom to cover their butts. In the meantime, she makes her way into SHIELD’s databases. Initially, she goes straight for current missions, but is tempted to look, on her limited time, for the original version of the redacted SHIELD document that is her only hint at her past. She finds her parents’ file, then, as the clock ticks down, abandons it to investigate Fitz and Ward’s mission. The big dramatic reverb-worthy vindication of Skye’s suspicions? Turns out the extraction team that’s going to come get them after they dismantle the weapon was a lie.
Coulson finds her just as she uncovers this and they have the same starting-to-get-a-little-boring argument about secrets vs. truth that they have been having all episode, or even all season. She asks if he knew this was a suicide mission all along, and he snaps “That’s classified.”
But it turns out he actually didn’t know. Agent Hand reasonably asks him why one of his underlings tranquilized a superior officer, and he bites back by asking why the “system” wasn’t honest with him about sending his team members in without backup. Barton and Romanoff don’t have extraction plans, she counters, completing the Avengers Callback of the episode. The information was withheld from Fitz and Ward because Fitz, as an inexperienced field agent, might have chickened out. It was withheld from Coulson because she knows he’s the kind of indulgent boss that would keep a known whistleblower and activist on staff. “You need to trust the system, Agent Coulson,” she throws his own words back in his face.
We come back to Fitz and Ward sharing some kind of giant elven sleeping bag. It turns out that it’s some kind of… hide in the middle of the road and attach yourself to a passing truck device, and they make it into the separatist compound. Ward commandoes them into the room with the Overkill device (the inside of which basically looks like a $50 TARDIS), and then as Ward is finishing up dismantling it, springs the news on him: he’s figured out that there’s no extraction team.
Fitz and Ward get into another argument about who has a better commando name, I mean, about Ward trying to protect Fitz and Fitz being all “I’m a real SHIELD agent and you’re not my dad,” but the end result is that Fitz declines Ward’s offer of a head start before he signals SHIELD troops to come in and destroy the place.
Ward sets off the beacon (yeah, remember that rock? It’s not really a rock), Hand sends her troops in to waste the place, and the ladies all team up with Coulson to get Fitz and Ward out outta there.
But meanwhile, Fitz and Ward kill time by rigging the remaining parts of the Overkill weapon to destroy the handguns of the separatists attempting to kill them. They are eventually cornered, but are rescued by May in the Bus which can hover???
Back at the Hub, Hand is perfectly aware that Coulson and his team have gone to get their wayward members, and seems unnervingly smug about it. Why deny she had the resources for an extraction team if she knew Coulson could manage it? The answer is probably that she wanted to see what Coulson would do in that situation, but why? Is she sizing him up as an opponent, or testing out the limitations of whatever SHIELD has clearly done to him to bring him back from the dead? Is she developing a list of court-martialable offenses? Now here’s what appears to be a very canny long term villain, and that I’m interested in.
On the Bus, everybody trades significant end of episode glances with everybody else. Skye apologizes to Coulson for betraying the trust he’s placed in her for the second time in three episodes. He tells her that while she was off doing what he told her not to, he was off doing what she asked him to do. He found the unredacted file about her past. It turns out the document she has was just about the person who dropped her off at the orphanage, a female SHIELD agent. There’s no way of knowing if it was her mother or just someone who found her. He’s asked for more, but for now that’s all he has. This is more than enough for Skye, who gives him a giant hug that he’s adorably awkward about.
Of course, he’s not just awkward because he’s getting a hug, he’s awkward because he didn’t tell her the whole truth. He tells May “Some secrets are meant to stay secret.” Then he asks for her help figuring out what really happened. “Dangerous waters,” she comments, but agrees, handing back the file on Skye’s past, which we can now see includes a crime scene photo of a dead woman.
The Stinger: Coulson asks for access to restricted file on an Agent who spent post-injury recover in Tahiti. There is such a file, but he does not have clearance for it. Gah! I don’t know what I like more, the anticipation of finding out the answer to this, or the satisfaction of knowing.
“The Hub” continues (I would say learned from, but with the schedule of television productions that’s not really feasible) the good example of “FZZT:” make sure you focus on creating an episode where we are told at least one thing about all the characters. “The Hub” gave everybody some time to be present as their character, to accomplish something that pushed the plot forward, and have a moment that was about their relationship with at least one other character (with May as the clear loser among the rest of the cast, Ming-Na’s superb silent acting notwithstanding). I can’t quite call this a positive trend until it’s at least three episodes long, though, so keep going SHIELD! Next week you have a particular challenge: maintaining your ensemble cast while navigating your most direct Marvel movie tie in yet: an episode based on the facts of a movie that came out two weeks ago.
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