Now that's how you end a season. [UPDATES at the bottom]
This week's art brought to us by Justin Erickson and Paige Reynolds of Phantom City. This group does great work - especially with the detail on the left there (hey Ward, you... uh...) - but I wonder what kinds of artists Marvel might seek out for next year. This is assuming, of course, that they will continue to do this kind of thing. Here's hoping they seek out up-and-coming comic book and webcomic artists.
Anyone have suggestions on artists you'd want to see?
Marvel's Agents of SHIELD may no longer Agents of SHIELD at the end of their first season - officially anyway - but the general tone and overall quality of the series has steadily rose as the problems faced by the main cast of characters have worsened. People are watching!
This episode also represents the culmination of a full 22-episode storyline that began with hints of a mysterious organization using a program called Centipede to create super-soldiers, a clandestine group of spies with layer after layer of controllers manipulating unwilling agents, and corruption at the highest levels of the SHIELD agency.
It all comes to a head here.
Spoiler-light recap: While most of Coulson's team are surrounded by Centipede soldiers and one over-enthusiastic Hydra agent, two of their number are trapped at the bottom of the Caribbean . On the other side of right-and-wrong, the newly empowered Garrett has become one with the universe and is thinking of using Centipede to do a lot more than merely arm Hydra. If only someone significant was keeping an eye on these kinds of things to help out....
Hydra's whole plan - or rather Garrett's part in it, is to create armies of super-soldiers. Of course, Marvel has a long history with super-soldiers dating back to WWII with the likes of Captain America, up unto the present day with the likes of the UK team called - quite directly - the Super Soldiers (shown above). Of course, there have been a ton of false-starts, as attempts to recreate Cap's original success have lead to numerous unintended consequences including Man-Thing (mentioned last episode), the Sentry, Victorius, the Bannermen and numerous others. The problem is, no one could ever stabilize the formula enough to make mass production practical - until now.
Raina - or Flowers as Garrett calls her - combined information on Cap's formula, Extremis technology that affected Iron Man recently, gamma radiation that empowered the Hulk and "alien metal" (which could mean tying it to Thor or, more probably, the Chitauri who invaded New York City during The Avengers). This Avenger-cocktail proved potent but still unstable (although Fitz-Simmons were able to achieve at least one-time success with Mike Peterson) until the infusion of GH.325, apparently growth hormone extract from an alien (not directly stated in the show, but probably a Kree). Unfortunately, Raina was only able to synthesize one batch - all of which was squandered by Garrett, hindering further serum production.
On the tech side, Garrett has Kyle Zeller's Cybertek working on the eyeball-control and Deathlok programs. As the episode opens, Zeller (who was name-dropped last episode, but first appears here) apparently founded the company with one computer out of his garage, but at some point he was co-opted by Hydra's "incentive program" as his wife had been held hostage while he worked to further Hydra's agendas. Kind of sad, if you think about it. As the episode opens, he's welcoming a new employee/victim (identified in promotional material as Jesse Fletcher) to the company, introducing him to another handler named Sally.
Zeller's group are zealously watching Coulson's team through the eyes of Centipede soldiers, led by Hydra Agent Kaminsky (from the "Providence" episode), current possessor of the Berserker Staff (from "The Well" episode). Fortunately for the team, Kaminsky doesn't know how to use the staff properly, enabling May to take it and use its superstrength-granting power to take out most of the bad guys before bringing down the house (er, barbershop). May - also known as The Cavalry (we learned why in "Repairs") - really needs to use this thing on a regular basis, now that she has it.
Garrett, meanwhile, is going nuts. The artificial GH.325 granted him not only improved health, but superstrength and apparent insanity. Ward is quickly coming to the realization that he's been following a narcissist for years, and that any feigned loyalty to Hydra was all a means to a self-serving end for Garrett who is planning a coup against Hydra - with Garrett finally using the term "uprising" as we'd been promised a month ago.
Garrett's seeming insanity appears more and more like Cosmic Awareness - that distinctly Marvel superpower that allows spacefaring heroes to just know when and where something needs to happen. He uses this to draw strange symbols on a glass window, and to finally answer that question Raina's been wanting to ask him: "What will I become?" This, along with her interest in evolution, her claim that she and Skye share a special similarity in their blood that made them more compatible with (the apparently Kree-based) GH.325, and Raina's comments that Skye will someday become a "monster" just like her parents lends more and more credence to one theory of what Skye might be. Skye could be an Inhuman. For those curious, the Inhumans are a secret offshoot of humanity that diverged from the main branch at the dawn of mankind when the alien Kree experimented on early humans, creating a race of genetically diverse superhumans. Although most Kree considered the experiment a failure, the Inhumans of Earth (and similar subspecies of other races) prospered, using a scientific and religious ritual called Terrigenesis to unlock the genetic potential of each Inhuman. Recent events have revealed that a small but significant portion of humanity possesses Inhuman genes, and can also undergo Terrigenesis. Bear in mind that at this point, this is still a theory.
At the bottom of the ocean, Fitz managed to create a split for his arm, assess and somewhat stabilize the situation in the sunken pod and create a radio signal to broadcast for help on a SHIELD bandwidth (realizing afterwards that there is no more SHIELD). All this before Simmons even wakes up. As the two discuss their options (or lack thereof), Simmons takes solace in the fact that the atoms in their body are the same ones that make up starstuff, so even if they die they could become something else. Fitz takes solace in the fact that his atoms could one day be part of a monkey. Someone let this guy have his own monkey!
They eventually come up with an escape plan, but Fitz is only able to rig safe passage for one - and he sends Simmons while professing his love. A nice gesture (if a bit late), and thankfully one that wasn't in vain as the not-as-dead-as-reports-would-indicate Fury heard Fitz's signal for help and came to the rescue. Fury's been mentioned a lot, but he previously appeared in episode "0-8-4" very briefly.
The rest of Coulson's team bring noise and funk with gadgets from Trip's grandfather's kit (we really need to confirm his grandad's name), taking the heavily fortified Cybertek Manufacturing Facility in New Mexico. Their most useful piece of equipment seems to be the Noisemaker, a small device that apparently broadcasts World War II era propaganda, not to dissimilar from children's radio programs of the time, like Hop Harrigan. Coulson, ever fond of using antiquated spy slang when on mission, throws in a British euphemism: "Bob's your uncle." Sadly, this is not a reference to Hydra Bob.
While all the chaos is going down, Raina and Ian Quinn (who first appeared in "The Asset") leave with Garrett's permission - and with no ties to Hydra (freeing them up to be unencumbered returning villains next season). Raina takes her research and a willingness to experiment on others, Quinn takes the Gravitonium that fans know has future-villain Graviton trapped inside it. Quinn also leaves with an uncertain reputation. His business prospects were ruined when SHIELD arrested him, but he was exonerated upon SHIELD's downfall. It's likely that Garrett's murder and mutilation of Maj. Jacobs, a high-ranking DoD official, would make Quinn a target, but a shrewd businessman could weasel out of that one. (The surviving DOD official, Admiral Jolnes, gave Deathlok a curious look - do they know each other?)
Zeller responds to all this by setting all the Centipede soldiers to their "default directive" which effectively ends all hostilities so the soldiers can protect Garrett. As Zeller was unaware of the extent of Garrett's narcissism, this move unintentionally aided our heroes, who work quickly to free everyone who needs freed (including Deathlok's son Ace from the pilot) and beat up anyone who needs beat up.
It should be noted that May really steals the show this episode. Between taking the Berserker Staff back and showing off the temporary superpowers associated with it (powers most can't control due to accompanying anger issues), stating confidently that she is "ready to kick some ass" when Coulson was trying to have a serious moment, making the coolest punch-from-off-screen this series has ever had, her fight with Ward and her comments after the fact - May is a certified bad ass.
Coulson doesn't fare as well against the upgraded Garrett but Fury pops in at just the right time to hand Coulson an upgraded version of the gun he used in The Avengers, now able to fire several shots consecutively before needing recharging.
Once Deathlok seemingly kills Garrett, the man-machine is allowed to go his own way, as he hopes to make amends for what he did while under Hydra's thrall. No doubt he'll be back, but in what capacity?
Garrett, of course, does as any good supervillain does: he comes back from death, rebuilds himself stronger and... and Coulson blasts him to smithereens with the plasma laser from episode "0-8-4." Ah, good times.
As the episode comes to a close, we finally learn answers to some of the seasons nagging questions, and the new questions that are opened are not necessarily cliffhanger material - this is a good thing if Marvel's Agents of SHIELD wants to start the next season with a new-audience friendly premiere.
Why was Coulson, of all people, brought back? Fury considers him as important as any one of the Avengers, and it takes a person who is good to the core to help rebuild SHIELD. Coulson is unofficially named director of the new, non-existent SHIELD and given a black box (presumably full of computer data) to help start him on his way.
Who are Skye's parents? Well, we don't know yet, but we now know Skye's father - a strange meditative man with gooey (bloody?) hands is still alive (The Mandarin? An Inhuman?), as Raina goes to visit him.
And, as a treat to fans everywhere, the team meets their newest member when relocating to their so-far-mysterious-new-base the Playground. As predicted, the reason the late Erik Koenig was able to play online games with his brother despite being in a secret base, is that his brother - his identical twin brother Billy Koenig - also works at a secret base. Let the fan theories fly as to whether Koenig is a clone or LMD, but on the surface, it is perfectly plausible that Fury had twins on the payroll. He question is, are they as similar as they at first appear?
This season ends on a cryptic note, as Coulson inspects the storage room of the Playground (the new Toy Box replacing the one from the Fridge?) and feels compelled to draw the same unfamiliar symbols that Garrett did. If Coulson does have some form of Cosmic Awareness - what is he seeing?
Back in the episode "Eye-Spy," Ward infiltrated a facility that not only had alien writing on the walls, it also had these strange circuit board-like designs. So, starmaps or a means of contacting other galaxies?
Then there's something else that's been bothering me since I saw the episode.
Nick Fury said he was going "nowhere," and that he'd be impossible to get ahold of for a while. What are the odds he meant "Knowhere," a location that will purportedly be a major part of the Guardians of the Galaxy? Hey, you never know, it could happen.