Wow. There was a lot of stuff packed into this one episode - wonder what that means for the rest of the season! This episode furthers the Inhuman speculation, teases fans with more Agent Carter, and introduces the Son of Hulk to the Marvel Cinematic Universe! (Kinda, sorta, not really.)
Okay, between Ward's story, Bakshi's interrogation, Whitehall's flashbacks and Coulson's mission, this episode has a lot of tangentially connected plots. Strangely, it seems to work. The suspense was just right and the plot development was appropriately brisk. That said, the show really needs to work on a stand-alone episode to draw in new viewers. I tried to get my dad to watch the show this week and this was his reaction:
"I don't even know what this show is about. Superheroes or something?"
And with that, he went on to watch Forever. Sigh.
The Spoiler-light Recap: Coulson is racing against time to find the secret city before anyone else does. Grant Ward is out in the world and causing Chaos. This season's Big Bad has 70 years worth of plans finally coming to fruition and the Doctor just wants to see his little girl again. Man, this is going to be a dangerous day.
Chronologically, this episode begins in Austria in 1945, not long before the beginning of the season opener. Daniel Whitehall - then Werner Reinhardt - was a Mengele-like Nazi scientist experimenting on people to discover the secret of the Obelisk/Diviner and of the fairy story he heard (presumably the same one Raina's grandmother told her in "A Hen in the Wolf House"). "A myth from the east of a star that fell from the heavens of blue angels who came bearing a gift for all mankind meant to save the world." Spooky. Reinhardt speculates that the visitors came to conquer the world, and wants to be ready when they return from the skies. Following the whole Inhumans-will-show-up-in-SHIELD theory, that sure sounds like a description of the blue-skinned Kree visiting Earth and accelerating the evolution of the Inhumans. Of course, the Kree weren't doing it out of altruism; because their species has long been at an evolutionary dead-end (unable to generate mutants or significant development for millions of years), the Kree sought inspiration elsewhere, creating the Inhumans on Earth as one of many such experiments.
Reinhardt conducts his own experiments. After seeing several subjects turned to stone, he brings in a Mandarin-speaking young woman (just called "Young Woman" in the credits) who is surprised as anyone else that the Obelisk responds favorably to her. Before Reinhardt can discover more, he learns the Red Skull was defeated (in Captain America: The First Avenger), and shortly after that Reinhardt himself is captured by the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) and the Howling Commandos.
Reinhardt is taken to The Rat, a secret SSR (and later SHIELD) prison where he's interrogated by Agent Carter (whose series premieres in January!). That's the "Rat" by the way, not the "Raft," which is an entirely different Marvel Universe prison (that one specializing in supervillains, until it was destroyed by Electro).
Reinhardt is left to rot for 44 years, when then-Undersecretary Pierce (later Secretary Pierce in Captain America: The Winter Soldier) released the old Nazi. SHIELD agents Hauer and Rivera retrieve the codger in 1989, and Hauer reveals himself as a Hydra agent, helping Reinhardt re-establish his old laboratories (still in good shape because they'd been under SHIELD/Hydra protection all these years). Agents loyal to Hydra brought Reinhardt survivors from an incident in the Hunan province (presumably the same one where baby Skye was found), including that same Young Woman, not aged a day. After thorough (and deadly) experimentation, Reinhardt develops a "Fountain of Youth" from the woman's body, making him decades younger. This is an awkward segue sure, but the Fountain of Youth does exist in the Marvel Universe. It's located not too far from Citrusville, Florida, (home of the Man-Thing) and has been protected by immortal (and largely pacifistic) Conquistadores over the centuries, though they occasionally send one of their number out to be a hero in the outside world.
The Young Woman does not survive the procedure however, and her body is dumped. The Doctor - 25 years younger than viewers are used to seeing him - apparently finds her and swears vengeance on those who did this to her. The implication is that this Young Woman is Skye's mother, but here's the really big deal: if she really was able to live that long without aging, this is further proof that Skye has Inhuman blood in her. Even without transforming via Terrigen Mist, Inhumans are super durable and can live several times longer than average humans.
Jump ahead to the present, and we find the Doctor has been Hydra's prisoner since offering to work with them (in "A Hen in the Wolf House"). Still, he's able to remain cool as a cucumber as he shares tantalizing information about the Diviner, explaining that it isn't so much a weapon as a "key" that can only be opened by special people once they enter a temple in the lost city Coulson is looking for. If this is Attilan we're talking about (and even if they are Inhumans, it isn't necessarily Attilan) then this is presumably the Temple of Randac, named for the first Inhuman to discover the secret of the Terrigen Mist, a messianic figure among the Inhumans. The Temple of Randac is where many young Inhumans go through the rite of Terrigenesis.
Meanwhile, Grant Ward broke onto one of his brother's properties, killed his hired security guards and captured his brother. Senator Christian Ward, for his part, was juggling phone calls with his wife Anna and an unnamed mistress, and maintains his story throughout Grant's torture. Christian claims, as he has all along, that Grant imagined his involvement in Grant's past misdeeds. It isn't until the threat of death is imminent that Christian says exactly what Grant wanted to hear - then Grant kills him (off screen) alongside their parents (who were also off screen), framing it as a murder suicide. For any who thought Grant Ward was redeemable, he sure does seem to be making himself look monstrous. By the way, Sen. Christian Ward, the big bad scary brother we've been wondering about since season one? Already dead. Huh.
Back at the SHIELD's Playground home base, Agent Bobbi "Mockingbird" Morse interrogates Whitehall's righthand man Bakshi. Playing the psychological torture game, she emasculates the boss that Bakshi worships by calling him "milquetoasty." Hey, fun fact, did you know that the insulting adjective "milquetoast" (meaning weak and ineffective) is actually named for a comic book character? Caspar Milquetoast was a feeble man who could not say "no" to anyone and didn't have enough backbone to do anything significant in life - and the cartoons were popular enough for his name to become a word in the English dictionary!
Ah-chem, anyway, Morse tries to convince Bakshi he's been brainwashed as anyone who was once part of Hydra could have been and they'd never know it (a sad revelation to former Hydra agent Simmons). In the process Morse references a program called MKUltra. While it's true "MK" is significant to Marvel as the Marvel Knights line eventually became the focus of the modern Marvel Universe, and "Ultra" is the name for superheroes in the Ultraverse (owned by Marvel), "MKUltra" actually refers to a real-world government program intended to brainwash subjects. Truth is scarier than fiction.
Bakshi refuses to back down, but accidentally reveals enough about Whitehall to get the team digging, enabling them to uncover the old Nazi's true identity. Bakshi is so abashed at his error that he kills himself.
Huh. Two seemingly major season two villains dead in the same episode. EDIT: Although, they didn't show either Christian Ward or Bakshi's dead bodies - so as other's have noted, the jury is still out on whether either is dead dead.
At any rate, all this does confirm what we've long suspected: the Playground used to be Agent Carter's SSR base which means the same sets will be used for her eponymous mini-series (coming in January!). Also, when trying to figure out Whitehall's secret, Lance suggests he might be an Asgardian. As odd as a claim as that might seem, it's come up before. Professor Elliot Randolph was revealed to be a closeted Asgardian in "The Well" last season.
Now, back to the other-other story this episode: Coulson's team. Taking the Bus (their secret jumbo jet) to Oahu, Hawaii, Coulson sends Skye to Cam at the Kahananui Repair Shop to inscribe a message for Darren on a watch, then sends Trip to meet a 300 pound dude at the Ka Pua Dry-Cleaners to drop off a button and pick up a blue tie originally given to him by Audrey (the cellist mentioned in The Avengers and seen in "The Only Light in the Darkness"). All of this is an attempt to get Darren, the new relay commander at the Kaena Point military station to wear the watch (nicknamed "Timelord") while shaking hands with General Cole who will be wearing the button (nicknamed "Paddington"). This close proximity can only happen near the relay station computers and will cause an EMP wave to temporarily knock out the satellite tracking equipment which will reroute all vital information to a secondary station near Laura Creek, Australia. By that point, Coulson's team will be in the Land Down Under and Fitz will have 6 minutes to use his good hand (and half-good brain) to install a transceiver that will enable Skye to piggyback off the government's 26 satellites an locate a presumably underground ruined city using the schematics hobbled together by Coulson's vision-addled brain after he looked at a model train set last episode. Whew. Good thing everything went off without a hitch.
Well, almost without a hitch. It seems the exact same six-minute window Coulson's team planned to use, was the same exact hour the Doctor and his Hydra team decided to sneak into the Australian base for the exact same purpose (though presumably they had another amazingly circuitous plan that would have enabled them to use the back-up facility). The Doctor and Coulson have a menacing heart-to-heart (using Trip's exposed arteries) but the Doctor apparently allows Coulson's team to do their work - presumably he wants Skye to reach the Temple at the same time he does. Realizing the Doctor knows more than he lets on, Coulson asks if the Diviner has "Tesseract-level powers," to which the Doctor replies, "I don't know what that is." It's good to have villains that aren't all-knowing all the time.
All these plans pay off though, as the computers find a match for Coulson's city. Next week, the hunt is on! But first, Ward offers to join Whitehall's Hydra and is teamed up with the Doctor (do Ward and the Doctor know each other? They aren't telling...). It was one Hell of a day.
Kinda' neat, huh?