Mr. Hyde is back to torment the Agents of SHIELD in the latest episode, and he's brought some obscure Marvel characters along with him. Plus, what agency does Mockingbird work for, and what are those Inhumans up to?
Kind of an odd episode - bringing back the cheesy monster-of-the-week feel that some of Season One's weakest episodes had, but putting in five kinda' weak monsters (or four and one loud one) instead of just one. Hmm.
This week's Art of Evolution is by Declan Shavley and Jordie Bellaire, the artist and colorist combo that has worked on several Marvel books, including Thunderbolts when that book featured Mr. Hyde as a regular cast member!
The poster does a great job of conveying Doctor Cal's creepiness and the direness of Coulson's situation.
Before moving on, the episode's title is an allusion to the amazing 1932 film, Freaks. Even if you've seen parodies of it, you owe it to yourself to check it out. It's an oddity of a film, but not for the reasons you might expect.
The Spoiler-Light Recap: Skye's powers bring her under scrutiny as her dad seeks out allies in his personal war against SHIELD. Situations are made more complicated as old lovers find their current relationships strained by extenuating circumstances. All this, and some guy screams a lot!
The show opens as Skye's dad is recruiting SHIELD-hating villains on Coney Island. He's using the Gifted Index, the list of powerful people first mentioned in "Repairs" and leaked to the public by Black Widow in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Skye encrypted several SHIELD files after the leak, presumably including the Index, but her dad found Wendell Levi, an amoral tech genius living in the Mojave Desert and fitted with an anti-technology device (much like Skye once was). Once the Doctor removed Levi's chip, Levi could decrypt the Index to find Francis Noche, a superstrong (and not too bright) thug. These guys seem inspired by some Marvel characters (notably the Ghost and generic strong men like Man Mountain Marko) and Coney Island has been the setting of a few Marvel things - it was Deathlok's home for a while.
Thanks to the Index, they find Karla Faye Gideon, a woman with scalpels for fingernails. She used her finger blades to get revenge on her abusive lover, and SHIELD put metal caps on her fingers to prevent her from hurting others (but they didn't remove the blades or send her to jail, so extenuating circumstances, I guess?). Karla is an extremely obscure Marvel character with no powers. She was an abused wife whose husband was prosecuted thanks to Daredevil. Karla of the Marvel Cinematic Universe seems to have a lot more in common with Razor-Fist, a rather strange villain (actually villains) in the Marvel Universe that are deadly and threatening despite their silly appearances.
The evil team then heads off to Muskingum County, Ohio, to visit the Brynmore Maximum Security Psychiatric Facility, where SHIELD Agent Broyles works as a security guard, monitoring two Index-registered patients in the facility's secret subbasement: expert assassin John Bruno and David A. Angar, who underwent experimental energy blasts to cure his cancer only to end up with a deadly voice - David Angar joins the mad Doctor's team. In the comics, David was Angar the Screamer, an old hippy (he was created in 1973) with sound-based powers. He's most notable to modern fans as the former partner of Screaming Mimi, a villain who would go on to become the hero Songbird after the death of Angar's body. Angar's spirit lived on as living sound just called Scream until Songbird put Scream out of its misery, dissipating the audio form.
EDIT: Forgot to mention something. Agent Broyles seems like he'd have an interesting backstory. Here's a low-level SHIELD agent who was stationed in the middle of nowhere to watch two supercriminals in a mental institution. Then SHIELD collapses in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. That means he was now left completely without any support or even his second paycheck (assuming he was paid as a security guard officially, and SHIELD agent unofficially). He'd have to keep the secret facility running by himself just to keep these two locked up. And he'd have to have the good moral character to want to do that.
Back at SHIELD's HQ, the Playground, Skye is being evaluated for the Index as well. This means, among other things, a psychological evaluation. Agent Melinda May recruits her ex-husband, Dr. Andrew Garner, from Culver University in West Virginia for the job. It seems Melinda and Andrew eloped years ago, but despite his popularity with May's mom, the two eventually split (both May's ex and her mom were first mentioned in "Only Light in the Darkness"). Setting aside the grave demeanor she presents to others, she can laugh with Andrew; he's aware of her problems in Bahrain and can forgive her horrendous cooking. Also, May loves Vegas. Andrew Garner seems like an interesting character and it would be great to bring him back, but it's too bad they didn't use one of Marvel's many super-powered psychiatrists, like Doc Samson (who was in the Incredible Hulk movie, which also featured Culver University), Moonstone or even Doctor Bong. Maybe another time. Interestingly for the series, gossip about Garner and Melinda seems to allow the estranged Fitz-Simmons combo to bond a bit.
When Coulson learns about the break in from Broyles, he and Bobbi "Mockingbird" Morse take a Quinjet to investigate. Just as a reminder, Mockingbird is a member of the Avengers in the comics, and Quinjets are the standard Avengers vehicle, both in comics and in the first film. Following Doctor Cal's hint "Fight On," Coulson and Bobbi eventually track the villains to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, home of the Fighting Outlaws. The high school mascot seems like a clear reference to 1950s Marvel hero (whose adventures were in the Old West) called the Outlaw Kid. Marvel had a slew of Western heroes back in the day.
Manitowoc is also birthplace of Phil Coulson. Phil's dad was a football coach and history teacher in Manitowoc, but he died when Phil was 9 (confirming what readers learned in "The Magical Place") and Phil apparently moved away before high school. In the comics, Phil was born in Chicago, spent his childhood in Ohio, and gained the nickname "Cheese" because his name sounded like Philadelphia.
Meanwhile Garner works with Skye. She's been in-and-out of the foster system her entire life, so she's had enough of these kinds of interviews, but he's aware this isn't her "first rodeo" (an allusion to Coulson's line in the first Iron Man movie), and eventually he coaxes her to open up. Interestingly, despite the vibration-absorbing Vibranium walls around the Cage, Skye accidentally shakes the whole place at one point. Maybe they left the door open?
In Wisconsin, Angar uses his powers to make a football field full of students catatonic, then he and Doctor Cal's team - jokingly named "the Slicing Talons" - wait a few hours for Coulson and Bobbi to show up. Strange how no one came to collect the unconscious kids. Maybe local law enforcement tried but was pushed back by Doctor Cal's group? Anyway, Cal announces on WASY, the local college radio station (so you know no one was listening) that he and his group will expose Phil Coulson as evil (if this makes the news, will the Avengers hear of it?). Realizing Coulson needs help, May rushes over there, coincidentally taking Garner and Skye along for the ride. The good guys take out the bad guys, but during the emotionally-charged fight, Skye accidentally unleashes her quake powers again, but she stops them by turning them in on herself (breaking many of her own bones in the process). Following this incident, Simmons suggests categorizing those on the Index, separating the man-made (enhanced) from the natural born (like Inhumans) Gifted individuals.
While most of his team was captured, Doctor Cal got away, or rather, he was captured by Gordon, the eye-less Inhuman that is probably Reader. Frustratingly they keep calling him "Cal" and not "Calvin Zabo" for some reason. Well, whatever, this episode gives the first real confirmation of his Gifted status (rather than hints). Apparently - like his comic book counterpart - Cal has been experimenting with chemicals for years, finding away to make himself more special (i.e. stronger). Gordon confirms his "enhanced" status by stating Cal is not one of them (Inhumans), although Cal does know all about the Inhumans (he hoped Skye would gain wings).
Ah, but what about poor Lance Hunter? After knocking him out last episode, Mack took Hunter to a safehouse and chained him up, feeding him Hawaiian pizza and beer at Bobbi's request. Bobbi seems to worry about Hunter, but she even notes that as spies, they're entire professional lives are about lies. Mack's known Hunter since Mack and Bobbi were on assignment in Dubai, but he still needs an extraction from his "backup." And who are they? SWOR... wait, no... SHIELD! Wait, what? Apparently Coulson wasn't the only former SHIELD agent to reform his own personal agency, but who are these guys? In the comics there have been many different SHIELDs (though not concurrently), and even different names: the Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division, the Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate, and most recently the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. There have also been many times when SHIELD operatives have had to fight against SHIELD because of various infiltrations into the agency. In the comics, Mockingbird secretly worked for the World Counter-terrorism Agency (or WCA, a reference to her old team the West Coast Avengers), but this doesn't seem to be them.
This episode adds special thanks to Angar co-creator Steve Gerber. Steve was a unique voice in comics, who had an absurdist sense of humor and a talent for biting satire - he's also best known for creating Howard the Duck. Although he had a feud with Marvel for many years, they appeared to bury the hatchet again shortly before his untimely death in 2008.
If you haven't read any of his work, do yourself a favor and find some!