The SHIELD series tackles a threat left over from last season, but changes things up by forcing characters into unfamiliar territory. And hey, check out those Marvel references!
Huh. They finally had a title so long I had to cut the word "episode" out of the headline.
This seemed like a strong episode, not too mired in history that new viewers couldn't follow along, but with enough references to reward more regular viewers. That said, my wife says to tell you all she hates Phil Coulson's droning and monotonous voice. I like it personally, but I have to admit, when they strung together several pieces of his dialogue from different episodes for the "previously" section at the beginning, you couldn't even tell the lines weren't recorded at the same time.
Spoiler-Light Recap: We finally learn what Simmons has been up to this season, and it's no good, that's what. The team rushes to save an old foe while Hydra seeks him for more nefarious purposes - and Simmons gets caught in the middle. Whether or not people make it out of this alive, will their psyches be in one piece when all the frost thaws?
On With the Comic Connections:
The big threat this episode comes from Donnie Gill, last and first seen in the episode "Seeds." Although he was a hapless geek who got involved with the wrong crowd last time, we learn he's gone full-on "Hulk Smash" thanks to Hydra's brainwashing techniques. He has internalized his cold-manipulating technology and can now create Elsa-level freezes over large areas, killing people instantly. No wonder Hydra excitedly refers to him as Project Blizzard. As mentioned before, Don Gill is from the comics, a major(ish) Iron Man villain called the Blizzard who isn't so much evil as easily influenced by people offering to pay him to do bad things. Although his freezing seems obviously fatal here, in comic book physics a person can fully recover from being turned into an ice cube (just ask Robin).
The brainwashing by Dr. Whitehall and Sunil Bakshi (who has been the right-hand Hydra agent in every episode this season but not named on screen till now) is referred to as the Faustus Method. This should cause Marvel fans ears to perk up as it's obviously named for longtime Captain America villain Doctor Faustus. This Stan-and-Jack bad guy is into some Tom Cruise-level shenanigans as he's a mad psychiatrist who uses his knowledge of human behavior for evil. He may not seem like much, but aside from being a powerful bruiser of a hand-to-hand combatant, he regularly messes with the minds of heroes and villains alike, usually allying himself with the likes of the Red Skull.
The method has been used on Absorbing Man and the Blizzard, this episode's new victim is Agent 33, a SHIELD operative Coulson believed in and was hoping to recruit. From his reaction to her disappearance, he may (erroneously) believe she defected instead of being captured. SHIELD Agents in the comics are regularly referred to by numbers instead of names. Most notably, Agent 13 is Sharon Carter (the blonde agent from the last Captain America movie) and Agent X-13 was Cap's government handler during WWII. The most significant Agent 33 in the comics only appeared in a few issues, but Special Agent 33 is Kara Lynn Palamas, a research division expert who palled around with the Greek demigod Hercules when the latter was serving as SHIELD's civilian consultant. Interestingly, her biggest role was sneaking around a Hellicarrier after it took off from a position at sea (like in the Avengers movie) to find a traitor within SHIELD.
When trying to convert Agent 33, Whitehall makes a really extended metaphor about her suffering but rising from the ashes to reborn into a new life. He basically says everything about the phoenix legend without actually saying the word "Phoenix." Which seems about right, seeing as that word is most closely associated in Marvel with certain X-characters who will not be appearing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe anytime soon. By the way, that black-and-white art there is a commission by Art Adams - ain't his work grand?
Also at risk from Hydra, cast regular Jemma Simmons, who makes her first actual appearance this season (not counting Fitz's hallucinations). It seems Simmons has defected to Hydra, interacting with low-level Hydra pencil-pushers like the receptionist Theo and barely competent scientist Kenneth Turgeon. It seems Coulson assigned his worst liar to the most high-risk double-agent assignment yet, as she is (knowingly or not) right under the nose of one of Hydra's top leaders. Coulson further risks her safety by personally meeting with her regularly, though at least he cooks her dinner first. On the plus side, Hydra is aware Simmons is ex-SHIELD, but not aware that her old CO is the current director of SHIELD. Oh, and if wasn't already clear she was a wunderkind, she had two PhDs by the time she was 17.
Back at the Playground, the gang has begrudgingly accepted Lance Hunter, despite the minor detail of him having shot several agents in the middle of a high-risk situation, but bygones, I guess. Lance wonders how Skye can be so good despite never having gone through official training. Skye notes that she was only a badge-carrying agent for a bit - about one episode, in fact - but May has been training her rigorously.
We also learn a little more from and about Ward, the "Asset" being held by Coulson. Ward's family is well-respected and loved by the public, despite the dark goings-on behind closed doors, and he was well-aware of Hydra's brainwashing. Despite the easy out he could have by claiming his actions were the result of such brainwashing, Ward maintains his apparent truthfulness with Skye. Interestingly, the Avenger Quicksilver (soon to be seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron!) committed a lot of evil acts in comics recently (killing or depowering most of the world's mutants, stealing most of the Inhumans' Terrigen, deforming or killing several desperate depowered mutants, etc.) - but when he was confronted about it publically, he quickly blamed credible (if silly) plot devices like brainwashing or Skrull impersonation. He has never faced recrimination for his actions.
Skye, by the way, is wearing a heart rate monitor throughout the episode for some reason. It works as a decent enough symbol to show Skye's ability to stay calm, except when she learns that her biological father is alive. We'll see if the watch has further uses. In the comics, Bruce Banner is the one who needs to monitor his heart rate most often. This was a thing in the last Hulk movie and in recent comics. Banner even created supercomputer contact lenses that would allow him to covertly monitor and prepare for his Hulkish tendencies.
The good and bad guys eventually track the missing Donnie to Marrakech Morocco, where he's been avoiding SHIELD and running from Hydra. Realizing Hydra won't stop hounding him, Donnie heads a few hours north the Casablanca to have a final showdown on the Hydra ship Maribel del Mar. Casablanca, for those who don't know, Casablanca has a fictional reputation as the place where ne'er-do-wells hide from warring forces. Seems appropriate here.
While all this is going on, Fitz is steadily improving - something helped greatly by the involvement and care of new guy Mack. Fitz knows the "Jemma" he sees is not real, and can turn her off, so to speak, when he needs to, but he needs her less and less anyway with Mack around. That is until he has a psychotic break upon learning Ward is being kept in Vault D, just under the base. Ward is the reason Fitz currently suffers from hypoxia-derived brain damage, and Fitz begins to return the favor by depriving Ward of oxygen. Despite this rather dangerous turn, this seems almost healthy for Fitz, all things considered. One wonders how this revelation will affect Ward in the future.
By the end of the episode Donnie is left an ice cube adrift in the water - left for dead, except that he's practically made of ice (similarly, Creel was "killed" last episode when he transmuted into something, so both villains could return). Coulson's cronies also score a whole bunch of Hydra tech. Let's hope it doesn't have any tracking devices.
Bonus: Special Thanks
Man, a ton of people received special thanks this episode, including Lance's creators, Whitehall's creators and others.
Writer Tom Defalco and Ron Frenz are thanked. Both were major, major influence on Marvel in the 80s and 90s, having created major characters like Thunderstrike and the entire MC2 alternate future timeline. Interestingly, they also created Agent 33 for Hercules: Heart of Chaos, so maybe she is the same one from the comic.
Jonathan Hickman and Stefano Caselli created Whitehall, possibly with involvement from Brian Michael Bendis, who is also thanked here. It's worth noting that Bendis guided the Avengers for over 10 years, and in doing so guided much of the Marvel Universe. Similarly, Hickman is the current show-runner (so to speak) in writing or guiding most of the Avengers books, and in turn, setting the tone for the Marvel Universe as a whole.
That's it for now, more SHIELD next week!