SHIELD is back, and after promises of increased Marvel connections, increased drama and overall increased fun, did they deliver? Not entirely, but there were still comic book secrets hidden in "TAHITI," including the truth about GH-325.
Promoted as the beginning of SHIELD's event-like season finale, this episode marked the beginning of "Uprising" - whatever that is. From promo images that show discord in SHIELD's ranks and the glimpse of Captain America's shield in the Oscar-night teaser, it seems heavily implied that Coulson's coterie will butt heads with their SHIELD masters. This episode does a lot to set that up, but doesn't quite follow through with some of its punches.
First, the spoiler-light recap: Coulson and company are rushing to save Skye after she was fatally shot last episode, a drive that leads to insubordination and destruction of top secret property - but who are the bad guys here? Also, the episode's stinger offers audiences their first glimpse of an actual super-powered foe for the SHIELD gang.
With Skye on life support, Coulson's team rushes her from a SHIELD Trauma Center (sorry, "Zentrum") Zurich, Switzerland, half-way around the world to Bethesda, then off to an undisclosed location in a mountain range. All this in the hopes that Skye can be saved using the same miraculous procedures that saved Coulson, ignoring for the moment that he's still recovering from the mental hell that he went through the first time.
It seems in the few months they've known her, the team has grown quite attached to Skye, and are willing to break numerous SHIELD rules, not to mention national and international laws, in her name. They brutally beat their prisoner (billionaire villain financier Ian Quinn), refuse direct orders (violating SHIELD directive 1297) to transfer him to the Fridge (which is apparently SHIELD's version of Guantanamo Bay), physically assault fellow SHIELD agents, and discover an above-top-secret facility, only to kill two agents and blow the entire thing sky-high.
Wonder if there will be any repercussions for all this...
Skye's medical pod, EMP AG-X, is covered in a medical version of the SHIELD logo, complete with the snake-and-staff medical symbol. Interestingly, the production designers took the care to use the single-snake Rod of Asclepius instead of the more commonly used (but not mythologically medicinal) winged-double-snake Caduceus. Pretty cool, considering Doctor Strange, a medical doctor and magic user, used the non-medical (but Odin-empowered) Caduceus when he was a member of "The Mighty" in the "Fear Itself" crossover.
This episode introduces viewers to Agent John Garrett, one of Coulson's many former partners and Ward's commanding officer immediately preceding this series. In the comics, Garrett was a high-ranking agent and part of many clandestine missions before a fateful encounter with the assassin Elektra left him, essentially, without a body. Upgraded into a cyborg, Garrett became more machine than man. Given his Elektra and cyborg connections, it seems Marvel could be lining the character up to appear in the upcoming Daredevil Netflix series or tie into the high-technology hijinks expected to accompany Avengers: Age of Ultron in 2015.
Garrett is accompanied by Agent Antoine "Trip" Triplett, a SHIELD specialist with med-tech training. Apparently he and Garrett have been chasing Quinn since an incident in Malta, and possibly including incidents in Berlin and Morocco in which Garrett lost other agents. Trip and Garrett were eager to take the villain off Coulson's hands. Trip was also a fan of the "thousand-yard shot" Ward took in Bandung (possibly two thousand) - whatever that was. Oh, and Trip seems to have a soft-spot for Simmons.
Audiences are likely expected to suspect Garrett's intentions, given his comments about Quinn having "no rights" and "no lawyer," and his threats of death without so much as a trial, but given the other laws Coulson breaks this episode, as mentioned earlier, it's hard to tell who the bad guys are.
It also doesn't help that Coulson and Garrett talked about top secret information in front of Quinn, especially considering Quinn flat-out said he was taking orders from the mysterious Clairvoyant, and Coulson had previously been made aware of the Clairvoyant's eyeball-camera spying techniques.
Since Skye is in no condition to hack, Fitz uses an Echo-Chamber, a giant holographic projector in the Bus storage bay, to dig through Triskelion SHIELD files 90s style, looking for the secrets of Coulson's resurrection. This seems like an inefficient means of going through computer files, but Fitz is the expert.
This leads them to the Guest House, a collapsed World War II bunker off any SHIELD books that only a Level 10 operative (re: Nick Fury) can access. In the comics, Nick Fury accumulated a lot of secret facilities over the decades that no government or agency were aware of. A few were accessed by Captain America's Anti-Registration forces during Marvel's "Civil War," and one was a major part of Marvel's recent "Age of Ultron" mini-series.
The so-beyond-top-secret-that-there-isn't-even-a-name-for-how-secret-it-is facility is manned only by two rather incompetent agents and a dead man switch. Seems odd to have such poorly trained operatives that they wouldn't notice a giant jet (technically two) landing on their front porch even when they have nothing else to do all day, but ah well, maybe that's how they ended up with such a crummy job. Significantly, one of them was named Bob. In Marvel, Hydra Bob was a punching bag/sidekick for insane mercenary Deadpool, and he became a symbol of incompetent henchmen everywhere.
Inside the Guest House, Coulson finds the miracle medicine needed to save Skye's life: GH-325.
So what is GH-325?
Growth Hormone. One of the most popular drugs in the Marvel Universe is called MGH, or Mutant Growth Hormone. Although originally harvested and modified from the mutant cells (hence the name), MGH can and has been harvested from any number of superhumans, including a former Spider-Woman who had magic-based powers. The effects of MGH depend largely on who the hormone was obtained from, how it was cultivated, and the goals (and skills) of the one harvesting it. These effects range from granting a temporary healing factor (as is used in this episode), limited superstrength, augmentation of true mutant powers (in the drug "Kick"), or even full-blown (albeit fleeting) superpowers.
Unlike episodes "FZZT" and "TRACKS," this episode's eponymous acronym actually has a purpose! TAHITI apparently stands for some top secret SHIELD project harvesting GH from the corpse of - something. The big blue guy in the water-filled tube was left as a mystery this episode, but who or what is he? He's too human-looking to be Chitauri, the alien invaders from the Avengers movie, he's too small to be a Frost Giant from Jotunheim as seen in the Thor movie, he could be a member of the Kree, as seen in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Heck, it could even be (but probably isn't) an Atlantean. The Kree theory seems the most likely winner, especially considering the "Eye Spy" episode featured a similar top secret facility with alien writing on the walls. (Special thanks to Xeos for the screencap!)
After the requisite running-away-from-explosions as the Guest House (and poor Bob) is blown to smithereens, audiences meet next week's threat: Asgardian goddess Lorelie! Apparently on the run from Asgardian authorities (re: Sif), Lorelie seduces newlywed Jimmy MacKenzie away from his young bride Nicole in the ominously-named Death Valley, then makes a getaway in their honeymoon car. In the comics, Lorelei the Ice Queen is the sister of long-time Thor nemesis (and sometime Thor lover) the Enchantress. And while everyone would love to see Enchantress in a future Thor movie, her sister has long been an also-ran, using her powers of seduction, illusion and truth-sensing to cause minor annoyances for various Marvel heroes. She also appears in this week's Loki: Agent of Asgard #2, so that's serendipitous.
Tune in next week, same Asgardian time, same Asgardian channel!
Added to this week's credits are special thanks to three of the most impactful Marvel creators of the 1980s.
Frank Miller created Elektra and Agent Garrett, and is perhaps best known to movie audiences as the creator of Sin City and 300 (and perhaps less known as the director of The Spirit). In the 80s he was the Daredevil artist, and as writer he came up with many of ole' hornehead's most well-known elements, including the Hand ninjas, trainer Stick and Typhoid Mary. He's also the guy who came up with the phrase, "I'm the Goddamn Batman," so that's something.
Bill Sienkiewicz is Garrett's co-creator, along with Miller (note his image of Garrett and Elektra on a heart-shaped bed), and is known for having one of the most out-there styles of any mainstream comic artist. His run on Marvel's New Mutants was particularly memorable, as he co-created the alien Technarchy, precursor to Star Trek's Borgs.
Lorelei's creator Walt Simonson also gets a shout out this episode, although the next episode will really spotlight his creations. Simonson did for Thor what Miller did for Daredevil, creating the most memorable Thor stories since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first started spinning tales of Asgard.