Major arc development and major character development in the gruesomest SHIELD episode yet, but so many missed opportunities for comic book tie-ins! Let's crack this case wide open.
Quick spoiler-light recap: Investigating a registered gifted™, Coulson's Irregulars have to travel from Hong Kong to Austin and back only to learn the Mysterious Bad Guy Organization (™ pending?) is one step ahead and one of their own isn't on the up-and-up.
On a personal note, this was my favorite episode to date, and it does a lot to make the characters of Skye and Ward interesting. Layered characters that go beyond one-dimensional concepts are always a plus.
Okay, whatever, on with the show:
The episode opens with a nice little nod to superhero heritage with the phrase "every man is a mystery." It's not hard to believe this is a purposeful allusion to the "mystery men" from the heroic days of yore, from the Doc Savage to the Bat. Also, modern day hero comics have adopted that term to refer to heroes from the Golden Age of Comics (the 1930s and 40s). The term is used liberally in Watchmen, refers to the great team from Flaming Carrot comics (and the highly underrated and before-its-time movie of the same name), and more recently became official Marvel canon. Marvel's Mystery Men were active before World War II, and involved many pulp-and-serial-inspired heroes like the Revenant (a Shadow-esque illusionist) and Aviatrix (a Rocket Men-style heroine).
This episode's gifted is Chan Ho Yin, a pyrotechnic whose moderate-but-still-impressive abilities appeared after the decommissioned Wan Tai Nuclear Plant caught fire. Can't have a respectable superpower origin without the specter of radiation (if nothing else, click that link!). Marvel's most famous pyrokinetic - that is to say, someone who can manipulate fire - is probably X-Men foe Pyro (who is persona non grata as part of Fox's X-Men movie deal), but there are plenty more, notably the Fiery Mask, a Golden Age hero who recently passed his abilities on to fellow Golden Ager, the Phantom Reporter.
It's interesting that SHIELD agents know all about pyrokinetics, but think extra-sensory perception is purely science fiction.
As far as nationality goes, Marvel has plenty of Chinese heroes (although, statistically, there should probably be even more of them). The most famous are probably Collective Man, who initially could merge several brothers into one powerful being but later could draw on the lifeforce of people across China, and Radioactive Man, who was originally something of a mad scientist villain but later viewed as a national Chinese hero. Of course, there is even an Avengers-equivalent, the People's Defense Force.
Chan is a fan of Houdini, who for some reason he considers to have "no real magic." Houdini was a stage magician, true, but he was best known for doing stunts that had no magic involved. More importantly - as far as this recapper is concerned - this was a missed opportunity to fit a random bit of Marvel trivia in! The Golden Age of Marvel had no shortage of stage magician heroes. Why use Houdini when they could've slipped in a poster for Monako, Mantor, Magar or Merzah? Or a magician whose name doesn't start with M, Dakor? Heck, they could've used Blackstone, a real-world magician who had a licensed comic with Marvel in the 1940s!
Then there's Raina, this episodes titular "Girl in the Flower Dress." I have nothing on her, but she sure seems mysterious and sinister. I will say however, that given the Chinese location, the flowery dress, and the connection to an evil clandestine organization, it could have been Suwan, niece of master criminal the Yellow Claw! Yes, his name and appearance seem horribly racist in retrospect, although yellow has historically been used honorifically in China and, according to the Claw himself, his name should have been translated as "Golden Claw," and - well, what can I saw? It was a different time. I should point out, somewhat apologetically, that despite his "yellow peril" appearance, this Kirby creation was a top-of-the-line in Marvel villain. Heck, he was the first villain to have his own title, and was more competent than nearly any villain before or since. The only thing that stopped him from taking over the world was the top US agent who would challenged his vile plans every issue.
And that brings us to Chan's SHIELD handler, Agent Kwan. The fanboy in me wishes Raina was Suwan, and that Agent Kwan was instead her long-time love interest and Claw-stopper, Agent Jimmy Woo, who aside from being a former CIA and SHIELD agent, also heads his own secret organization (formerly of world-conquerors, now world-savers) the Agents of Atlas (sadly, not A.T.L.A.S., which would be par for the course). Although, given what happened to Kwan later, I guess it makes sense that this wasn't a character with such an interesting backstory.
This episode also established SHIELD's "Index," a short list of people and objects with powers. In the comics, SHIELD, like any respectable espionage organization, has always kept track of such things, although the original Nick Fury did keep a secret list he referred to as Caterpillars (not Centipedes, as I mistakenly said before). All of this was unofficial until the Mutant Registration Act, and later the Superhuman Registration Act (abbreviated SHRA or SRA, depending on the source). These acts of congress made it illegal for anyone with powers (or even in costume) to operate in the United States without an official license from the government (many of these people were living lethal weapons, after all). This was the source of major strife, initially just for the X-Men, then for heroes all around the world when a superhero Civil War started. Those backing the federal government joined Iron Man's side (somewhat ironically), and those opposed to the government joined Captain America (even more ironically). During the SHRA's heyday, SHIELD even had "cape-killer" agents whose sole job was to track down any unregistered hero - even if they had just stepped out to buy a gallon of milk! Eventually Captain America surrendered (having seen public opinion was not on his side) and, following a corruption scandal, the federal government also backed down somewhat, no longer arresting masked heroes on sight.
The team heads to Austin, Texas, to track down the hackivist Miles Lydon. I have nothing on any "Lydon" other than a SHIELD agent by that name who appeared in a War Machine comic, but I will say, that did not look like 5th Street. He is, however, apparently responsible for pin-up Putin.
Chan eventually takes up the nom de guerre "Scorch," much to the chagrin of characters and audience. There have been a few Marvel characters named Scorch or some derivative thereof, but none really of note. Chan even makes the embarrassment worse by using the puntastic near-catchphrase, "You almost got scorched!"
Once he goes full-on Scorch he takes out poor Kwan and even evil Doctor Debbie (does she have a last name?) from the pilot episode, making this the deadliest SHIELD episode to date (at least as far as horrific deaths go). His upgraded powers bring him closer to Marvel's original superhero, the Human Torch (the original android version pre-dated Captain America and others, and at this time Namor the Sub-Mariner was more of a villain). Like the original Torch, Scorch can throw fireballs and protect himself with a wall of fire, causing bullets to melt before touching his skin. Thanks (or rather, no thanks) to Centipede manipulation, Scorch loses his resistance to flame, causing him to painfully burn up as he uses his powers. This charred (er, scorched?) appearance also has him looking a lot like a little-known Torch villain, the Inhuman Torch.
If this were a comic, I'd say we haven't seen the last of Scorch. Sure, his body is gone, but enhanced fire control could mean he could live on as an ethereal flame-person. Hey, stranger things have happened (just ask Graviton).
This episode also saw the return of the first-ever SHIELD tech seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe - the amazing door-unlocking bomb! One of Coulson's oldies-but-goodies.
Coulson himself, meanwhile, puts on his best disappointed dad routine, showing slight cracks in his perfection, helping Skye become a real, flawed human being, giving Ward some sympathy as viewers could tell he was finally starting to trust someone, allowing May a chance to show some motherly wisdom and disciplining - heck, even Fitz-Simmons had a chance to get a little development as Simmons defended her new friend and Fitz seemed really upset to learn Skye had a boyfriend.
For that alone, this was a good episode in my book.
We also learn a bit more about Skye's mysterious background. Like Wolverine (originally), her past is so mysterious, even she doesn't know it. Apparently that thing she hid in her bra in the pilot was an SD card of some sort containing heavily redacted files about her birth parents' deaths. Interestingly, this is the same thing that happened to Spider-Man (uh, not the bra part), who eventually learned his parents were secret agents whose deaths were covered up. This also ties somewhat to my Skye-could-be-Mavis-Trent-from-the-True-Believers theory, as SHIELD agent and secret hackivist Mavis Trent was an orphan whose father, scientist Max Trent, died mysteriously. The True Believers connection is unlikely, I'll admit, but it could happen.
Skye and Lydon are both given technology-dampening bracelets as punishment - an interesting way to stop someone from hacking. The nearest equivalents in the comic book universe are the various power-dampening devices, most often used on mutants. These come in the forms of handcuffs, vests, collars, and even - thanks to Tony Stark - bullets.
This episode didn't feature any new "special thanks" creators, but the stinger at the end was kind of interesting.
Raina speaks to someone called "Po" (according to IMDB, anyway) in prison. Interestingly, even though she is using the prison phone communication thingy, she openly discusses Centipede plans and SHIELD interference, so apparently wherever the prison is, they aren't worried about eavesdroppers.
She tells Po to get in touch with the Clairvoyant, but the Clairvoyant doesn't like to be touched. Don't know who or what this is, but it will help Centipede "get our toy soldiers off the shelf." Interestink, very interestink.
This is not who they are talking about, but Marvel actually has a character named Claire Voyant, and despite the silliness of that, it has been confirmed that it is, indeed, her real name. She is the original Black Widow, not a superspy, but a Spirit of Vengeance working for Satan to collect the wicked and add them to Hell's horde. And she happens to be in an open relationship with the aforementioned Phantom Reporter.
Apparently due to interest, we'll be back next week! See you then, Agents!