Seeds are being sown for Avengers: Age of Ultron, superhumans are coming out of the woodwork and threads are coming together as this week’s Agents of SHIELD forces archenemies to work together against close friends!
This is an episode steeped in Agents of SHIELD lore, with references dropped to various individuals and situations the team has encountered over the past two years, but the pace moves along briskly enough that it doesn’t seem bogged down by that continuity.
There are also plenty of comic references here, though some more overt than others, so that’s good.
Most important, this episode has multiple superpowered people in it, most of whom use their powers in combat – for a show about humans existing in a superhero universe, it seems like these kinds of episodes just can’t happen often enough.
It’s also kind of fun to have spy show where it’s hard to tell who is on whose side and to see how far enemies are willing to go with each other to take out larger threats (which in this case are other friends).
Spoiler-Light Recap: Coulson is in dire straits, and if he can’t get one of his worst enemies to help him out, who will help him?
The episode opens in San Francisco with Coulson, Hunter and Deathlok saving Fitz and Fury’s Toolbox from “real SHIELD.” Fitz is quick to notice Deathlok’s upgrades, a topic Coulson deflects. Last episode, May was questioning her loyalty when things like Deathlok’s mysterious upgrades came up, when she theorized Simmons was unknowingly creating Deathlok tech, and it seems Fitz was in the dark too. By the way, the City by the Bay has been a major location for Marvel over the years – sure, not as big as New York, but still. Daredevil, Black Widow (fighting such San Frightening threats as Stilt-Man) and The X-Men all spent extended stays in the Golden Gate City, heck, Daredevil is currently based in Frisco.
With the Toolbox back in his control, Coulson scans through the “Unsolved Cases” file, including images of series bad guy Dr. List and Baron Von Strucker. Yes, Strucker’s been mentioned on this show before, but this is the first time his face has been in a Marvel property since the mid-credits scene of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Now, just to be really pedantic, his name is not actually “Baron Von Strucker.” His real name is Wolfgang von Strucker and his hereditary title is Baron Strucker, so if you really want to throw the “von” in there, make it unofficial, like: Baron (von) Strucker. See more of this guy in a few weeks with Avengers: Age of Ultron!
It seems Dr. List has been busy experimenting on “enhanced” individuals (Are we not using “gifted” anymore? Seems like Simmons just coined that term a few episodes back.), including 26-year-old Ethan Johnston, who was seen leaving the Afterlife with Gordon last episode. Poor Ethan died without unlocking his Inhuman potential, but it seems List was looking for a particular “quantum signature” connected to teleportation energy. Perhaps Ethan died because List thought he was Gordon?
Speaking of Gordon, Jiaying was planning to have him teleport Cal far away from the Afterlife, but has been killing time until then. Apparently she has a work desk in Cal’s cell, next to his cot. That’s… that’s just odd. Skye and Lincoln are aware of all this, and debate it during a powers-optional game of backgammon (all the years that’s been on the bottom of my chessboard, I’ve never played it). Traditionally, when superpowered people play games, it’s bad form to use your powers.
Switching to Tijuana, Mexico, Kara (formerly Agent 33) and Ward having been playing happy homemakers until Coulson discovers them. Coulson bluffs his best bluffs to make Ward some strange promises, including – as a best case scenario – erasing Ward’s mind through the TAHITI protocol. Apparently “TAHITI” refers to the mind-manipulation program, not the back-from-the-dead program that it was previously connected with. Deathlok also makes a quick scan of Kara, realizing she is using a mask to mimic her idealized face (greatly aided by a photo sent by Kara’s mother), and he asks if she has one he can use. In the comics, a driving goal behind many of the different Deathloks has been a desire to look human again. The most proficient (and to many the best) Deathlok, Michael Collins, finally achieved this goal in the Beyond! mini-series, but not long after Deathlok was back to looking ugly again. It’s also worth pointing out that Hunter continues to deliver pithy one-liners like “expedient alliances with despicable characters.” Man, when this guy gets a spinoff, he’s going to take his banter with him!
Meanwhile, “real SHIELD” still rules Coulson’s former home Playground, run by May who seems to be confused in her loyalties for the first time in forever, and she’s not alone. Bobbi “Mockingbird” Morse seems to be questioning whether helping “real SHIELD” was the right thing to do, and Simmons, who trusts May with the secret of Fitz and the Toolbox only to see May tell “real SHIELD” the (partial) truth, is questioning her friends. About the only one who seems sure of himself is Mack, and even then, only barely. May orders Simmons to hack into Deathlok’s eyes, something she’s known how to do since way back in “Eye Spy.”
Back in the Afterlife, Jiaying and Gordon discuss Raina as the “first” Inhuman with precognitive abilities, to which Gordon adds he was the first of his kind as well (the first teleporter, maybe?). It seems odd that in tens of thousands of years, there have been no other precognitive or teleporting Inhumans, but maybe Inhumans have a very specific way of looking at these things. Tonaja, for example, was described as the first flyer in decades, but she went through Terrigenesis not long after other flyers, like Iridia or Aeric.
Regardless, Skye decides to visit her father Cal before “Gordo” (as he calls Gordon) takes them back to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, because she is hoping Cal can be let off gently, so as not to endanger others. We learn that Cal’s real name is C. L. Johnson, but that he changed it to “something more sinister” later (Zabo, we assume); this prompts Skye to realize her birth name would have been “Daisy Johnson.” Apparently Cal’s grandfather, Skye’s great-grandfather, was in WWII, so Cal’s grandpa had kids at a young age, it seems. Cal says he was originally from Milwaukee, and hoped to raise his daughter there as well. In the comics, Calvin Zabo was born in Trenton, New Jersey, and Daisy Johnson in New Orleans. Cal also reveals he met Jiaying while working with Doctors Without Borders, and that Jiaying aspired to be a doctor. Just as Skye is warming up to him, however, she is reminded with almost everything Cal says that he has lost touch with reality and is seconds away from attacking people at any moment. She pickpockets some scary dude’s cell phone and calls May (still unaware of the “real SHIELD” situation), but continues to humor Cal.
They visit Cal’s long-abandoned medical office, which Cal warns is full of roaches. By the way, there are more cockroach-themed villains in the Marvel Universe than you might expect. *shudder* It also seems Cal has vials of green liquid in his drawers – the Hyde formula, perhaps? Before we can find out, Lincoln shows up. Man, we were this close to seeing Cal “Hulk out” (one assumes) and Lincoln had to power-block us. Cal better finally bulk up for at least one episode.
Meanwhile, Coulson’s team and Ward’s team, including the supposedly brainwashed “Stepford” Bakshi (as Hunter calls him). Fitz is still scared of and furious at Ward for causing the brain damage that has afflicted Fitz this season, but the teams stick together for mutual benefit, setting up a meeting between Bakshi and List. It all goes down on List’s Echidna Captial Management plane, a Hydra front company. Bakshi notes that he didn’t kill the Baroness or Bloom or the others. Audiences know Bloom killed the others after Coulson created distrust in Hydra’s ranks. In the comics, ECM is a Hydra company as well, but mythologically speaking, Echidna is the real mother of dragons as she birthed the Hydra and other monsters of Greek legend.
There is talk of Strucker experimenting on powered individuals – I wonder if that will be shown sometime soon in some Marvel show or movie – and Bakshi offers List his own superpowered cannon fodder by delivering Deathlok to him. Deathlock plays along, at Coulson’s orders, but the whole thing was part of Ward’s manipulation of Coulson who was manipulating him. Wheels within wheels. Before things can get much worse, Hydra detects teleportation energy in Milwaukee.
So what’s going on there? Lincoln and Cal fight until Hydra shows up with Deathlok, which leads to a Lincoln/Deathlok matchup that establishes one of two things: Lincoln is very powerful, or Deathlok is as threatening as static electricity. While all this is happening, Fitz notices someone hacking Deathlok’s eyes, but either doesn’t care or is unable to stop Simmons from seeing just as Coulson and the traitorous Ward walk side-by-side. Not too incriminating. Before anything can come of it, Bakshi’s men take out Deathlok and Lincoln – he doesn’t seem as brainwashed as we were promised.
Coulson assesses the situation to find he’s lost Skye (teleported by Gordon alongside Cal), lost Deathlok, lost Bakshi, seems stuck with Ward, and Hunter’s been shot, though the latter claims it’s just “a flesh wound.” That guy. After Hydra evacuates, Bobbi and Mack (who it seems is a field agent now despite saying he didn’t want to be one) find Coulson waiting to be arrested.
So what ace does Coulson have up his sleeve? Is that even Coulson? Find out next week!
Kevin Garcia is a professional educator and freelance writer whose work has appeared in Marvel Comics, the Associated Press and on various blogs. As a fan, he doesn’t get paid to write Secrets of SHIELD posts about Marvel shows – or any other geeky posts for that matter – but hey, wouldn’t that be nice?