Damn. When did this show get so good? Betrayals, torture, death-defying leaps - this is the spy show we signed up for! Oh, and Man-Thing totally gets a shout-out!
The art this time is by Stephanie Hans. I really like the idea of giving each episode "cover art," so to speak, and I wonder how this will be utilized in the eventual DVD set. I hope they keep this up for season 2 (will there be a season 2?).
It's pretty amazing how all this is coming together - even as a die-hard Marvel fan (and occasional freelance Marvel researcher), I was forcing myself to watch some of these episodes. They weren't bad by any means, just painfully mediocre. Now, however? With cult-favorite characters like Agent Hand being killed off and long-time main characters like Ward turning evil (or being revealed as such), it's suddenly really, really interesting.
Even the acting seems to have improved markedly, although this is likely in part due to the increased intensity of the scripts as well. Brett Dalton shines as a psychotic killer where he only seemed passable as a straight-laced agent. August Richards seems downright menacing as a shell-shocked and sarcastic forced-soldier, where as he seemed daytime-TVish as a wannabe superhero. Even Chloe Bennett's Skye, rightly maligned as a Mary Sue, seems more interesting when she knows she's dealing with a murderous stalker.
More like this, please!
Spoiler-Light Recap: Skye knows something's up with Ward, but can she string him along long enough to escape his psychotically tight grip? Meanwhile, Coulson and the ever dwindling band of non-agents face off against the proper authorities and their own former(?) friends.
Also, how many flying machines do the renegade agents still have, and how are they going to refuel them later?
On with the Marvel Connections:
Who or what is a Man-Thing? Inspired somewhat by the Golden Age (and currently public domain) hero the Heap, the Man-Thing was Ted Sallis, a scientist trying to recreate the Super-Soldier Serum that enhanced Captain America. Sallis worked with Bobbi Morse (future Mockingbird and future ex-wife of Hawkeye) and others on this top secret project, but he was betrayed by his wife Ellen Brandt, who attempted to kill him in the name of Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM). In the chaos, Sallis was transformed into a near-mindless swamp creature who for unrelated reasons became the guardian of the Nexus of All Realities. If the betrayal, science-experiment-gone-wrong, and accidental-swamp-creature stuff sounds somewhat familiar, it should: Man-Thing appeared only about a month-or-so before the more famous Swamp-Thing appeared from the Distinguished Competition. Despite their similarities, and despite the fact that the creators knew each other beforehand and might have shared similar conversations, the two characters are not related.
Interestingly Ellen Brandt already appeared in Iron Man 3! In that film, she was shown as a recipient of Extremis, but unlike every other Extremis-infused individual, her facial scars never healed. Presumably this is because, as in the comic book version, her face was scarred when her ex-husband touched it. You see, although Man-Thing has little in the way of human thoughts (barring periodic mystical alignments), he does respond to emotions. He is particularly drawn to those filled with fear, which is unfortunate because whosoever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing's touch! If she was burned by magic, that might explain why Extremis didn't cure her. Coincidentally, she was last seen electrocuted and dangling from telephone wires, which, if other Extremis characters from IM3 were any indication, would not be enough to kill her. Man-Thing and Ellen Brandt would make for a great SHIELD episode - too bad the property might still belong to Lions Gate, who made a rather forgettable movie with the property in 2005.
Maria Hill, last seen in Captain America: Winter Soldier leaving the defunct SHIELD to join Tony Stark, appears here talking on the phone with Tony's former girl Friday and current Stark Industries CEO Pepper Potts. Despite SHIELD no longer technically existing, former SHIELD agents are so entrenched in the compartmentalized mindset that they are still keeping secrets from each other. As such, Hill does not tell May that Fury is alive. Hill says former agents are safer with Stark thanks to Tony's "army of lawyers." These guys actually appeared a few months ago in She-Hulk #1, lead by an attorney enigmatically called "Legal."
As IndieMaximus predicted, Skye left a message in Koenig's magic revolving "windows," allowing the rest of the team in on Ward's secret, followed quickly by Simmons conducting Koenig's autopsy and the team deducing what all has happened up to this point. It's rather refreshing to have the team deal with the obvious secrets right out of the gate, rather than drawing these reveals out slowly and painfully over several episodes.
Of course, as these secrets come pouring out, so does Fitz's world view fall apart. This doesn't bode well for his mental health - neither does the rapidly maturing Simmons (not that a grown woman needs much maturing, but she certainly isn't acting as childlike as she had at the start of this series).
We learn the cool jet used by Trip and the gang is called a JumpJet - according to the closed captions, both Js are capitalized. This is apparently the same type of vehicle used by Hulk and the Agents of SMASH in the current animated series of the same name.
Meanwhile, Skye has diverted Ward to Ruthie's Skillet, the same LA diner from the pilot episode. She lets him go on about the 16 months he spent undercover for SHIELD (while undercover for Hydra) as a Russian attaché out of Warsaw. It's all a ruse, however, as she's hoping to kill time waiting for a rescue that might not come thanks to the intervention of Col. Talbot.
As mentioned previously, Talbot was a major player in Hulk comics of the 60s and 70s, and he relentless dogged the Hulk's every move as part of the Hulkbusters. It seems his SHIELDbusters (for lack of a more specific title for the special forces under his command) might be just as effective against Coulson's team as the Hulkbusters were against Hulk, but he can still be intimidating. Considering the high-tech vehicles Coulson and Ward have access too, is it too much to hope Talbot gets his signature War Wagon to hunt them with?
Deathlok does some near-Hulk-jumps to stop Skye from escaping Ward's grasp, and - under orders from Garrett - tortures Ward to get Skye to talk (something that works, sadly). Deathlok has been around the series since "TRACKS" but it's important to note that the comics are being adapted to match the show. Some may cry foul here, but this actually makes some level of sense. For one, there have been many Deathlok's over the years, with the original being from an alternate reality, and another version currently working with Wolverine and The X-Men (who looks like the "classic" Deathlok), but the most popular version, Michael Collins, has changed a lot since he first appeared as Deathlok in the 90s, even gaining the ability to appear fully human in the 2006 mini-series Beyond!
Trapped between a Ward and a Deathlok, Skye decides she might as well mouth-off before dying, and rightly points out that any Hydra agent is essentially a Neo-Nazi, something Ward takes particular exception to. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Hydra was created by the Red Skull. In the Marvel (comics) Universe, Hydra was created by Baron Strucker (who appeared in the stinger to Captain America: The Winter Soldier).
Maria Hill commands the JumpJet while attempting a standoff with Ward piloting the team's usual ride, SHIELD-616. As mentioned previously, the Bus' callsign is a callback to Marvel's reality designation. The main comic book Marvel Universe is Earth-616, the Ultimate Universe (where we first met a Samuel L. Jackson-looking Nick Fury) is Earth-1610, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Earth-19999, as confirmed in The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Vol. 6.
Romanoff gets namedropped again this episode. Someone should really go back and mark how many times she has been mentioned in this series.
Meanwhile, Coulson hides in the Bus' wheel well (a popular pastime, it seems) and is able to break Skye out of the Cage (as we previously learned the Vibranium-sealed cabin is called), runs from Deathlok and escapes with Lola, which, it seems, has appropriate headlight-guns. Lola, by the way, recently appeared in issues of Deadpool.
Having escaped, but having no where really to escape to, Coulson and the gang chill at a cheap hotel. Coulson accidentally reminds himself that he's still officially dead to most of the world, including his erstwhile friend Tony Stark.
The episode ends with the return of May, who dug up Coulson's empty grave to uncover the secret of TAHITI. Who was the mysterious man in charge of the project? Coulson himself. Apparently Project TAHITI was created to save any potentially mortally wounded Avenger - using what is confirmed to be alien tissue - but all "successful" subjects displayed severe psychological damage. Hauntingly, Coulson said any subject would need to be mentally reprogrammed, and demanded no one ever undergo the procedure again. And yet, in direct violation of Coulson's wishes, Fury brought him back with TAHITI. Huh.