The Agents of SHIELD dive head first into the secrets of their rivals, the ATCU, but will they like what they find? Also, what is Hydra’s big secret and how does it tie to a distant star!?

Not a bad episode, if a bit of a bridge. SHIELD has been doing a great job this season of setting up mysteries and answering them within a few episodes. As Mack says, they answer some questions, then raise new ones.

Also, Ward gets to continue being an evil bad ass. It’s amazing how much more interesting he is as a bad guy.

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Spoiler-Light Recap: SHIELD has handed Garner over to the ATCU, but what does SHIELD want from them in return? Are they even going to ask? And Ward is getting deep into Hydra’s secrets looking for anyway to take down SHIELD.

On with the Comic Connections

Let’s start with the episode’s focus. Ward has a pleasant octopus dinner with Gideon Mallik (who is named on screen in this episode) which goes south when Mallik has Hydra goons try to assassinate Ward. His character shield solidly intact, Ward takes out his would-be killers, tortures them for info on the Von Strucker Family Vault (only to kill the one agent that talks), then goes on a worldwide hunt for the one vault (out of many) that has “Hydra’s greatest power.” And there he finds… Mallik, who was waiting for him to get there. Mallik keeps skirting the edge between actively trying to kill Ward and building him up to be the next great Hydra leader (or as Mallik puts it, the “second head” next to his own). We don’t see any great power, but Mallik does reveal Hydra not only has a tiny monolith, but that it had existed for thousands of years. This actually jibes with revelations about SHIELD and Hydra over the past decade or so of Marvel Comics. In the comics, Hydra was founded by Wolfgang von Strucker in 1944, and SHIELD (as an acronym agency) began only around the time the Fantastic Four first appeared. It’s since been revealed that SHIELD has existed in some shape or form for decades, and more significantly, that the Brotherhood of the Shield, a secret society that created the modern SHIELD, had existed for over 4000 years. Founded by the Egyptian scientist Imhotep, the Bros of Shield have secretly guided world events. It’s been heavily suggested that Imhotep also founded the Brotherhood of the Spear, which may have become the foundation of Hydra.

Fitz-Simmons figure this out as well, as they trace the tuning fork-like symbol through history, equating it with a Ram’s Head symbol before eventually tying it to Hydra. Interestingly, Mallik claims the group was founded because “ultimate power” in the form of an Inhuman, born thousands of years ago then banished from Earth. Now, if this is a tuning fork, that might suggest Black Bolt, the mute king of the Inhumans, but that seems like an odd way to go when he’ll more likely be in the Inhumans movie in some capacity. But who else could it be? It could be one of the ancient Inhumans, like the first powered Inhuman Randac (who the temple is named after). Or, it could be another threat, the he-who-cannot-be-named of the Inhumans. The Unspoken is probably the most inherently powerful Inhuman ever, as his deus ex machina powers can basically do whatever he needs at the time. He tried to rule the Inhumans fairly, but when he perceived humans as a threat, he considered turning all non-Inhuman humans into mindless slaves. Black Bolt defeated him and claimed the crown, then banished the Unspoken from Inhuman society, even declaring his true name unspeakable (to this day, no one can actually say it out loud).

Oh hey, speaking of Fitz-Simmons: they kissed! Neat! Of course, they have too much emotional baggage to process that at the moment. As Fitz explained, “the bloody cosmos” wants them apart. While this may or may not be true, the universe is an actual character in the Marvel Universe, and when interacting with him, his personality is affected by how you perceive the universe. If you believe the universe doesn’t want you to find love, he’ll tell you not to find love. Similarly, he beat the snot out of Hank “Ant-Man” Pym once because Pym honestly believed he was the universe’s punching bag.

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Back to the main story. Andrew “Lash” Garner is still in his mobile cell under sedation and being transferred to the ATCU for storage when Coulson invites ATCU head Rosalind Price to visit his top secret base. Mack, ever the suspicious one, wonders if Coulson is thinking with his, um, brain, but Coulson quickly explains that this is half an earnest attempt to reach out to the rival agency and half a ruse to find out what the ATCU is up to. Having his whole team spy on the woman he’s sleeping with is creepy even for Coulson, even more so when (as far as we can tell anyway) she seemed to go along with the invite in good faith, but as Coulson explains, “ The only spies without trust issues are either young or dead.”

As part of Operation: Spotlight, Coulson steals info from Roz’s phone, gives it to Daisy who uses it to hack into the ATCU, setting off alarms, and encouraging Roz’s underling Steve Wilson to call the “FBI cyber investigator task force” (actually Mack) to send in their experts: Bobbi as an FBI agent and Hunter as “Dane” the black-hat hacker who now works for the FBI (fed hacker jargon by Daisy, former pro hacker) using the screen name GodSaveTheQueen. Next, Bobbi will receive a call from her boss to walk off while “Dane” talks so much he will bore Steve into going to get coffee, and while that is happening, Daisy will use the info snagged from Roz’s phone to map out the building and unlock locked doors.

My first thoughts on “Wilson” are Deadpool and Falcon, neither of whom are appearing in this series, but Dane could (but probably isn’t) be a reference to the British-based (if not born) Avenger, the Black Knight. It probably isn’t, but it could be.

Coincidentally, Bobbi and Hunter are also called the “Blonde” and the “Brit.” The Brit is an image hero, but Marvel does have a Golden Age hero called the Blonde Phantom (whose daughter is the modern-day hero Phantom Blonde, because reasons, that’s why). This is quasi-relevant because Coulson repeats his earlier statements that he is a fan of the “Golden Age.” Of course, he means the golden age of spying, not the golden age of comic books, but it’s the same diff in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This episode mentions a 1963 tie-clip camera – maybe, just maybe we’ll get some crossover between this show and Agent Carter this year?

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It’s also revealed that Coulson’s love of history, and his inadvertently uncovering SHIELD’s involvement in history, that lead to his recruitment into the agency. This gibes with his comic counterpart, who is an expert in all things superhero. On the flipside, Roz reveals that she has always been in “normal intelligence” until now, and that all of this supernatural stuff is new to her. This heightens Coulson’s suspicions as she has mentioned things only SHIELD or Hydra should know. Putting her on the spot (and revealing his own underhandedness) puts Roz in an uneasy position, but she seems to be on the level with him when she reveals Gideon Mallik (whom Coulson confirms was on the World Council) is her source of information. She reveals she’d been working for Mallik since 2001, the same time Will was sent into space. Coulson also asks her, again, about her real identity, further reminding the audience that she could be someone from the comics (like Abigail Brand).

Bobbi, meanwhile, sneaks into the “Enhanced Specimen Control” room, an area Roz claims is too contaminated for most employees, and discovers the ATCU is stockpiling and enhancing the Terrigen-laced fish oil pills and spreading the Inhuman “infection” rather than controlling it. As she realizes that, Hunter sees Roz’s right-hand man, Banks, and wishes he had a handkerchief to hide his face. That was actually a pretty standard costume for Marvel’s Western heroes like the Outlaw Kid or the Masked Raider, the latter of whom first appeared in the first ever Marvel comic, called Marvel Comics #1!

Before they get caught Daisy uncovers the names of various Inhumans the ATCU has tracked, including one R. Giyera who apparently works as an ATCU agent. Giyera busts in on Bobbi and Hunter, causing guns to float in the air and fire (it’s unclear if he’s using magnetism or telekinesis at this point), but Bobbi is ready with her upgraded battle staves! Her batons can now be thrown and return to her hands remotely, just like Captain America’s SHIELD in the films. In the comics, Captain America only did the whole magnetic-shield thingy for a few issues.

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Roz, convincing Coulson to trust her somewhat, calls Banks to help extract Bobbi and Hunter, who are then picked up (from a secret underground base at ATCU headquarters) by May and Lincoln. May had been giving Lincoln the “hate-stare” for a while, but she reveals this was only to apologize for what Andrew had done; Lincoln seems more thankful that she did everything she could to stop Andrew.

Speaking of Andrew, the erstwhile Lash got a visit from Mallik, who after some smooth talking, seemed to convince the psychologist to join him in getting SHIELD straightened out. Apparently that was the “him” Mallik was hoping to see last episode. Of course, all that talk was pointless as he then sends Ward in to meet Garner for the first time while antagonizing him and (apparently) enhancing his Lash transformation. Mallik explains that every generation, they send servants to the Inhuman among the stars, and Lash will be next as part of Operation Distant Star, but Mallik is particularly interested in SHIELD as they successfully brought someone back. Coincidentally, “Behold! A Distant Star!” was the name of the issue in which the Fantastic Four first met (correction, that should have read: first visited the home world of...) the Skrulls. Just sayin’.

Next Week: SHIELD fights Ward, again!