They really pulled out all the stops for this episode, seemingly listening to fans complaints and even throwing in a Stan Lee cameo for good measure. Just what they added will be addressed after the patent-pending:
Spoiler-light recap: Following up on the recent kidnapping/torture of Coulson and the disappearance/seeming death of Mike Peterson, the team goes after the one bad guy they know the most about -
Justin Hammer Ian Quinn. This leads to an adventure on the crazy train, and not everyone will make it out in one piece.
Now, on with the Marvel Connections.
While the latest issue of Wealth & Capital Magazine thinks that alien tech will be the "next big thing," this episode introduces a much more Marvel-specific tech innovator: Cybertek Technologies Inc. In the comics, Cybertek Systems Inc. is one of the many subdivisions of the evil oil corporation Roxxon, which has previously been referenced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and it is most well-known for creating the mainstream Marvel Universe (Earth-616) version of Deathlok (here by Joe Jusko).
Although he doesn't show up until the second half of the episode, we might as well address the elephant in the room.
Deathlok of the MCU is (as of this point) Mike Peterson, a Centipede test subject and remote-ordered puppet empowered by (in no particular order) alien material, gamma radiation, super-soldier serum, Extremis tech and now, self-repairing bionic parts.
In the comics, Deathlok first appeared in 1974's Astonishing Tales #25, but his origin takes place in the far future year of 1990 when deceased Army vet Luther Manning was transformed into a killer cyborg. Of course, all that happened in an alternate reality, Earth-7484.
The most well-known Earth-616 (again, the regular Marvel world) version of Deathlok appeared in his own eponymous comic in the publishing year 1990 in the far future year of the present (drawn here by Jackson Guice). He was Michael Collins, a family man with a son (and later daughter) who was put into a Deathlok body and turned into a computer-controlled assassin, until he rewrote the computer code through sheer force of will, eventually becoming a respected hero (even recreating his human body later on), even creating a "no killing" parameter that the computer had to strictly adhere to. There have been dozens of Deathloks since then, but this is the spiritual ancestor of Peterson's Deathlok.
Backtracking a bit, Coulson's kids did the whole Murder on the Orient Express bit, where they meet Stan Lee (shown here wearing a Ka-Zar bandanna, totally preparing to dis, by Adam Kubert) who tells Coulson what many of the show's detractors have been thinking, "Now is your chance to do better. Why don't you see that you take it?"
Interestingly, he has two attractive young women hanging on his arms (or vice versa), so perhaps this is meant to be the same Hugh Hefner impersonator from the Iron Man film.
On the train, the team takes on Cybertek merc Carlo Mancini and form an alliance with Italian lawman Luca Russo only to have both of them tear the team apart, even using Fitz-Simmons-designed dendrotoxin-based knock out chemical (used in the Night-Night gun) against the them. Of course, by episode's end, both Mancini and Russo are dead, but that tends to happen to bad guys on this show.
After escaping (after a fashion) Coulson throws out Marvel references all willy-nilly, casually name-dropping Thor's home of Asgard and revealing that Emil Blonsky, the Abomination from the Incredible Hulk movie, is in a "cryo-cell" in Barrow, Alaska. The Abomination (here drawn by John Romita Jr.) is, of course, one of the Hulk's greatest enemies. Officially stronger than the Hulk (when he's not really angry), Abomination claimed credit for killing Hulk's wife Betty (she got better).
Alaska is a place short of superheroes in the Marvel Universe, though it was briefly defended by one of Marvel's longest-published heroes (even if she hasn't been much of a headliner in the past 50 years), Patsy Walker: Hellcat. Presumably, northern Alaska has a SHIELD base similar to the Fridge or Sandbox.
The episode concluded by doing something the show's critics have been halfheartedly asking for - they shot Skye.
Now, Chloe Bennet is an excellent actress, but some viewers have complained her Skye character - as written - seems a little too perfect, too bland, and too out of place. Producers did a lot to address this over the course of the season, with Skye becoming a more rounded, flawed individual, and writers did a lot to make Skye's mysterious backstory more interesting by tying her to the ultramysterious "0-8-4" label applied to things even SHIELD doesn't understand. Now that they've done all that, will putting her at death's door be enough to bring fans over to the Skye side?
Until next time, Snow White rests in her crystal coffin, waiting for true love's kiss.
Bonus Feature: Special thanks
This episode gives thanks to some of the creators who made Deathlok what he is.
Doug Moench (be warned, early 90s website) is one of the most respected Batman writers, and he created Marvel's biggest Batman-esque character, Moon Knight (who is a helluva lot more than that) and, of course, Deathlok (Moon Knight cover by Jack Kirby).
Rich Buckler (be warned, NSFW paintings) is Deathlok's original co-creator. He illustrated dozens of iconic Avengers, Spider-Man and Fantastic Four issues, among hundreds of others in his career. He created tons of important characters, including the nursemaid of Avengers members Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch!
Dwayne McDuffie co-created the modern iteration of Deathlok, and he was quite possibly one of the most important comic book writers of the past 20 years before his untimely death in 2011. McDuffie wrote tons of comics, and in particular, did a lot to improve the diversity of superheroes by creating heroes of numerous ethnicities, including creating Milestone Comics in the 1990s, which gave birth to teen hero Static (drawn here by Denys Cowan). McDuffie was also influential in television production, becoming a key player in shaping the DC Animated Universe of Justice League Unlimited.
Gregory Wright was McDuffie's co-writer when recreating Deathlok, and while the comic creator is still active today, he was most prolific in the 1990s when he wrote dozens of comics, including most of Deathlok's series and Marvel's Silver Sable series.
Jackson Guice illustrated Deathlok's 1990's reappearance (shown in the helmet-wearing image higher up on this article), and he is a highly underrated artist. As a kid, I remember loving the first two issues of Deathlok and feeling sad when other artists were chosen for the follow up series.
Next episode, the Agents of SHIELD meet a guy who had his clothes stolen by Terminator.