Late, but still kicking - Secrets of SHIELD is back from the Hub. Not everyone liked the episode, but this deeper look into SHIELD's hierarchy comes with greater character development and plenty of Marvel Comics references - and at least one possible clue towards the LMD Conspiracy!
Belated spoiler-light recap: After a fun opening with an operation shown in medias res, the team heads to one of SHIELD's big bases, forcing the team to deal with the fact that not all secret agents are created equal. One mission leads to another as the stakes are raised, lives are put at risk and faith in the system is shaken.
Personal matters later, so let's get on with the show:
The fairly cool opening introduces us to Agent Shaw. We don't know much about this guy except that he was a deep cover operative willing to torture random people to keep his cover. Such is the life of a double agent, but this is as good a time as any to mention that there is a particularly influential Shaw family active in the Marvel Universe. They won't be referenced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) because they are directly related to X-Men: First Class villain Sebastian Shaw. The Shaws have been key behind-the-scenes figures over the centuries - influencing the Stark family, being a previous Sorcerer Supreme (shown here), that kind of stuff.
Shaw get's the old using-a-metal-claw-to-pull-a-high-tech-device-out-of-the-nose technique, and the group heads to the Hub, but not before we learn that Coulson has Level 8 access, while Agent Ward has Level 7 and Simmons has Level 5 - meaning each member of the team is allowed to have different levels of information at any given time.
Skye asks why they don't all crowd around the Holocom for debriefing, meaning that is the name of the cool (presumably Stark-tech) computer table the team always meets at.
Coulson's Kids head home to the Hub, no, not the children's programming network, but a top secret massive base with operations, training facilities, medical facilities, and everything else a spy agency would need. Interestingly they also mention the Triskelion, an even larger facility that is rumored to appear in the upcoming Captain America sequel. Confession Time: the Triskelion is a major part of Marvel's Ultimate Universe (Earth-1610), not the main Marvel Universe (Earth-616), and that is not a reality that I specialize in.
At the Hub, everyone wears the same suit - except Skye of course - and this isn't particularly important, but kind of a segue into mentioning an often overlooked fact: The Men in Black are owned by Marvel. This is due to a deal here and a deal there that in some way or another, brought the property under Marvel's umbrella (around the time of the first movie), but the actual MiB agents have never been brought into the Marvel Universe. The closest equivalent would be SHIELD's spacebound counterpart, SWORD (mentioned in the Marvel movies). More on them when they become relevant.
More interesting are the little Easter eggs hidden in the Hub signage. For example, SHIELD has a Sci Ops Division, which is fun because it means they have an entire wing of the agency devoted to science (and presumably mad science). In the comics, SHIELD also has magic-using agents, by the by.
Let's see, there's also Communications, Training Division, Facilities (Just "facilities"? Maybe it's the bathroom.), Operations, Tech Division, Security Division, Executive Director (that's Nick Fury's office), Combat Unit Division, Transportation, HAMMER, and... wait. HAMMER? As in H.A.M.M.E.R.!? Hah!
For those who are curious, SHIELD has been completely shut down a few times over its history, most recently following SHIELD's failure to detect and prevent the Skrull Secret Invasion. Afterwards, Norman Osborn (yes, the former Green Goblin) was put in charge of all US intelligence agencies (he was kind of an international hero at the time, go figure). He created SHIELD's replacement agency, HAMMER. You're probably wondering what HAMMER - the acronym - stands for. You and everybody else. The running gag was that Osborn never got around to deciding what HAMMER stood for, but he was determined that the letters spell out "H-A-M-M-E-R." And Ward thought the SHIELD name was stretching it.
Oh, and there's another sign that changes between shots in the background. It's strange because it doesn't seem intentional, and yet, there it is. When Fitz is trying to get his cart of SHIELD gadgets through the automatic door, there's a sign behind May, Coulson and Ward. It says the basic stuff the other sign did, but in some shots it has an additional direction on top. I can't read it perfectly, but it seems to say "LMD Division." Start your conspiracy engines.
In this episode, Skye describes Coulson as a "robot version of himself," but that was probably more of a nod to the fans than anything else. Life Model Decoys or LMDs (the official SHIELD robot versions of people) have been mentioned in the Avengers movie and the Captain America movie established that humanoid robots have been around since the 1940s, but nothing about these robot duplicates has been officially confirmed yet.
The most popular fan theory about Coulson's mysterious survival is that he may be (or have always been) an LMD. Last episode helped establish Coulson's uncertainty about his supposed death, but this episode really drove home the whole "magical place" bit, as even he noticed he keeps saying that. Trigger words are a tradition in sci fi spy fi, and are just a big part of Marvel. Black Widow and X-23 (Wolverine's clone/daughter) have both had issues with mental programming (something alluded to in the Avengers movie). X-23 even has "trigger scents" that cause certain behaviors.
The official news, of course, is that this episode introduces Agent Jasper Sitwell and Agent Victoria Hand to the SHIELD show. Sitwell previously appeared in "Item 47," but he's been a long-established part of the Marvel Universe as well. Hand is newer, having first appeared as a member of Osborn's HAMMER (although she was before and since accepted into government clearance). Despite her history as a villain's lackey, she was made an official Avengers liaison after Osborn's eventual arrest and the reinstatement of SHIELD. Now she too, joins the MCU.
The main plot of the episode resolves around separatists from South Ossetia (a real place, not a Marvel-made country) who have a weapon in their possession called Ezbiitometer, "the Overkill Device." Essentially it's a big machine that creates powerful sonic vibrations, triggering any weapons within an undefined radius. Fun factoid: In Captain America's very first live action adventure in 1944, he fought against villains using a powerful vibrating machine called the Dynamic Vibrator. I wonder why that one hasn't shown up again?
Ward and Fitz are sent off together (a chance for independent character development!), but learn Ward's contact Uri Dubrovsky is dead. Thankfully, with a few sneaky tricks, Fitz is able to make new contacts named Vladimir and Marta. Nice to have fun little one-off side characters given some personality.
The Night-Night gun makes another appearance, and yet again, showing it early in the episode reestablishes its existence so it can become essential later on.
The on-going theme of this episode was definitely "trust the system," or rather "(don't put all of your) trust (in) the system."
The system, however, seems to betray them as Victoria Hand sent Ward and Fitz off without an extraction plan - and didn't tell them. Hand explains that Barton and Romanoff (Hawkeye and Black Widow, respectively) never have extraction plans and always make it out in one piece, and this makes sense in a super spy sort of way. You expect your bad ass main characters to be able to escape without anyone holding their hands, but that doesn't apply to Ward and Fitz.
Improvising, Fitz creates a weapon that blows up other weapons. A conveniently non-lethal weapon for a prime time show (not that SHIELD episodes shy away from body counts).
We also learn the Bus, callsign SHIELD 616, has VTOL capabilities just like its big brother the Hellicarrier (and like the X-Men's plane in this scene from Giant-Size X-Men #1). It doesn't seem physically plausible, but honestly, who cares? It looks freakin' cool.
This episode also revealed more about the team's mysterious past. Apparently Skye was dropped off at an orphanage by a now-deceased female SHIELD agent. More significantly, Coulson learns for the first time that there is definitely something they are not telling him about his "recovery," and that he's not allowed to know.
Next episode, fallout from Thor: The Dark World!
Now, personal matters:
There has been a loss in the family, and I'm not the type to mention such things publicly (yes, I realize the irony in posting that statement). I only bring it up now because when I posted previously about family matters keeping me busy (which they may do again next week), several people voiced their support, even though they neither know me personally nor what my issue was. There's something comforting about the unsolicited kindness of strangers, especially when they don't know what it is they are being kind about. Thanks guys!