Far from the slow burn of season one, Marvel's Agents of SHIELD season two is solving mysteries as fast as it brings them up! All of this is laying the ground work for something - but could it be the 2018 Inhumans movie?!
This was a strong episode, although again we have the interesting dichotomy of an episode in which a lot is accomplished and yet little progress is made. The show is good about asking and answering its own questions that help build the season-long arc, but it would be nice to have an episode that could just stand on its own once and a while.
We'll address the Inhumans connection toward the bottom, but first...
Spoiler-Light Recap: Coulson starts going down the deep end searching for clues to his glyph-carving problem, while May and the gang try to catch the errant Ward. Secrets will be revealed and deadly threats issued as the team has to tackle both problems without all their players available.
On With the Comic Connections
Worried about Coulson's increasingly troubling behavior, what with his relentless wall-carving and all, Skye asked her hacker contacts for help deciphering the alien glyphs. Her contact Micro, a "crime-scene junkie," found her police photos that showed eerily similar symbols. This, by the way, is Microchip, former sidekick to the Punisher. David Linus Lieberman (he prefers Linus), Microchip's life was a series of bad luck and bad choices that led him to become both a legend in the hacker world and wanted by numerous crimelords. He eventually fell-in with the Punisher, and helped the vigilante's war on crime by providing tech savvy and designing the Punisher's Battle Van. Yes, the Punisher once had his own Batmobile. Hey, does this mean Punisher could be showing up in Agents of SHIELD (or maybe Daredevil) soon?
Skye also notes that the glyphs are connected to the "alien buzzkill device" (the Obelisk/Diviner), which is connected to her father, who is connected to Ward because - as she notes - these things were connected all along. She sums up the whole conundrum as the "everlasting gobstopper of firewalls." If you don't know what that is, you need to watch more children's movies. Speaking of things being connected, Coulson has a "Trust Cap to lead the Way" poster on his desk. This was actually designed by artist Adam Levermore, who notably created a self-promotion video in hopes of joining the Marvel's Agents of SHIELD production crew. Wonder if he ever got the job?
The tip referred to the episode's opener, in which the mysterious "Stranger" from last episode (called the "Carver" this time) murdered an art teacher called Janice Robbins in Rhinebeck, New York. Although "Robbins" believed she was from Iowa and had been a regular at Burning Man, we later learn she was actually Level 6 Agent Rebecca Stevens, formerly stationed at the Triskelion (the building destroyed in Captain America: The Winter Soldier). She first died of cancer five years ago, but Project TAHITI revived her. In the comics, Rebecca Stevens is a superhero historian who researched the dark past of the Avenger called Black Knight. She's only had one appearance, and that was a few months ago.
Project TAHITI (first named in the episode "TAHITI") was an above-top-secret project run by Coulson himself (as revealed in last season's finale) that was intended as a last resort to bring back a "fallen Avenger" - although Coulson remembered none of it (for reasons that will become clear in a bit). Six volunteers (presumably all dying for one reason or another) - including Stevens and Agent Lewis Seaver - recovered well, but started drawing strange glyphs and going generally crazy. We learn from a female doctor - Dr. Goodman according to the credits (she also appeared in "Magical Place") that the Big Blue Guy - henceforth known as The Host - that served as the source of GH.325 has been on earth for thousands of years, "predating the pyramids." This would explain why he was still around when Agent Carter found him in the season two opener (wonder how the body lasted that long though...).
The mission to suss all this out leads Coulson and Skye into the field together, has Mack and Fitz stealing bodies and Simmons begrudgingly using the Memory Machine confiscated from Raina (in "Magical Place") on Coulson to dig through his false memories and discover the cause of his hypergraphia (which is a real thing). Coulson sees the flashes of alien glyphs he recalled before, then digs up real memories of the project. It seems patients who underwent the treatment deteriorated mentally over time, developing and overwhelming compulsion to draw or carve the glyphs. To alleviate this, they were each given memory implants and cover identities so they could live out their lives in peace. The memory-altering process was so horrific, however, Coulson recommended never using the treatment on anyone ever again (Fury used it on Coulson anyway).
Robbins, Seaver and two other agents died of unnatural causes since being released into the world, but two remain: highly-skilled Agent Cameron Klein (living with a wife and kid as welder Hank Thompson owner of Thompson Welding and Electric) and SHIELD assassin Sebastian Derik of Baltimore, who tried to act normal to prevent the memory implant treatment. In the comics, Klien was a T-7 Grade SHIELD technician who kidnapped Captain America so that his grandfather, whose life was saved by Cap in WWII, could see his hero again one last time before he died. Cap and Nick Fury overlooked the breach of protocol as they felt it was important to honor the nation's veterans.
Anyway, May is off-site when all this goes down, so she orders the increasingly agitated Coulson to be locked up until she returns. Coulson agrees, only to trick Skye into the cell instead. More on them in a bit, but let's catch up on May's team.
May's team, which consists of just about every viable SHIELD field agent, hunts down their former co-worker and admitted murderer Grant Ward. They find him near one of his "hotboxes" (emergency stashes) in Philadelpha, but as he's rigged with explosives and a deadman's switch (which would kill bystanders if he dies), they trail him at a distance - first to Atlanta, Georgia, where he introduces himself as "Zack" to civilian Eliza and her son Graham, then Boston, Massachusetts, where he stops at the Goldbrix Tavern, a Hydra bar. There he meets with high-ranking Hydra yesman Sunil Bakshi, and promises to introduce him to Coulson. Ward notes that Strucker is "overseas," and deduces that someone else is in charge of Hydra in the US (how does Ward know this if he was locked up since last season?). Baron Strucker appeared in the mid-credits scene of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but in the comics Baron Strucker was the founder of Hydra and the number one enemy of Nick Fury.
When May's team finally assembles and enters the bar, they find all Hydra agents dead except for Bakshi, who is trussed up and gift-wrapped for Coulson, presumably as a deranged gesture of goodwill from the delusional Ward. Bakshi ultimately takes Ward's place in Coulson's prison.
Meanwhile, back at the Thompson residence, Coulson and Derik have a heart to heart (during torture) and Thompson is surprised to learn he has mad spy skills. Both Coulson and Derik are trying to piece together the final part of the glyph puzzle (using their own strange methods), but it seems Thompson unconsciously figured it out: the symbols were meant to be viewed three-dimensionally as a city blueprint. Afterwards, Derik allows himself to be captured, Coulson turns him over to authorities and Thompson thanks Coulson for giving him false memories (as it is nicer to have a peaceful family life than being shot at every few minutes). Coulson then tells all his agents that he wasn't just "chasing windmills," he actually did have a goal (even if he didn't know what it was), and now they need to find that ancient city before Hydra does.
Now about that city...
As mentioned before, all signs seem to be pointing towards the Inhumans. The Inhumans descend from cavemen who were experimented on by the alien Kree, built a city called Attilan before the rest of humanity figured out farming, they are born seemingly human but often go through a rite-of-passage called Terrigenesis that grants them amazing powers (but can kill actual humans). The Host looks Kree, arrived on Earth before the pyramids were built and was looking for an ancient high tech city. Raina is obsessed with reaching her true potential (i.e., unlocking whatever powers she was meant to have). The Diviner obelisk that kills normal humans responded favorably to Raina. Skye is the same thing Raina is, and unlike everyone else injected with GH.325, she reacted to the treatment perfectly. Seems like Raina and Skye are Inhumans and Coulson is looking for Attilan.
However, Marvel has announced an Inhumans movie for 2018. It seems unlikely Marvel would introduce the concept of Inhumans so early and let the relevant mythos be established by a tangentially related television show, rather than, say, letting the filmmakers decide how Inhumans work.
Time will tell.
Bonus: Special Thanks
This episode adds special thanks to Cameron Klein creators Dan Jurgans and Jerry Ordway (although he was likely named after letterer Todd Klein, who also worked on Captain America #32 back in 2000).
Dan Jurgens was the Superman creator of the late-80s and early-90s after John Byrne left the book, and was the creative force behind the "Death of Superman" and Doomsday. He also took over Cap in the early 2000s, and although it wasn't a critical hit, it was an important run for the character.
Alright, see you guys next time!