The Agents of SHIELD get ready to battle the Agents of SHIELD as series turncoat Grant Ward and the evil May make a return - plus this episode confirms the existence of a super obscure Marvel character! WARNING: Neither Hydra nor love appear in this episode!
The Art of Evolution this week is provided by Annie Wu, who has done some amazing work on the Hawkeye series. Her style brings an appropriately dreamlike quality to the internal struggle of Agent 33, who is a woman caught between identities, lives and faces.
The episode's title is a reference to the novel Love in the Time of Cholera that inspired the critically acclaimed film that I don't think I would watch a second time.
The episode itself - well, the agents say it themselves when they describe events as having "too many things in play." This episode seems like a collection of subplots jammed together to make the overall story move forward, which it does very rapidly to be sure, but it seems to be missing the oomf that a Reverse Flash or giant talking gorilla could bring to a superhero TV show.
Spoiler-Light Recap: Hunter is missing! Skye is out of control! Ward is back! So how, if at all, do all these plots tie together?
On with the Comic Connections
First, let's focus on Grant Ward and (former) Agent 33. Ward was nominally a top SHIELD agent until he was outed as Hydra in the failed uprising. Agent 33 was captured by Hydra and brainwashed, eventually donning a Nanomask to become evil May, but after the mask was burned onto her face, she's been stuck as Scarface-May and the two have been on the run (from SHIELD and Hydra) since the incident in Puerto Rico. Ward and 33 find themselves in an all-American diner only to flip out on their waitress Rhoda and pull out guns Pulp Fiction style. They kidnap Dr. Selwyn, inventor of the Nanomask, who subsequently fixes 33's voice (which had some robotic reverb since the scar) and face - he couldn't remove the mask (because reasons), but he did upgrade it so she can become anyone she looks at, and can cycle between up to three different faces at any time. She's essentially the female version of Spider-Man's first villain (in publishing order), the Chameleon. Interestingly enough, Selwyn (who is named in the credits) tries sheepishly to find out if Ward is SHIELD or Hydra, only to be laughed off, and possibly killed, as Ward made sure he wouldn't "talk." Ward and 33 also have a heart-to-heart (while she's wearing Skye's face), and he tells her he and his family had problems, but they were able to "really dig in" recently, and now he never looks back.
The deadly duo decide to kidnap Sunlil Bakshi - the Hydra member who helped brainwash 33 - from US Air Force custody, which means tricking Brig. Gen. Glenn Talbot with the Nanomask, again. First 33 impersonates his wife Carla Talbot, despite having no ID and a strange-sounding voice (he lets her in anyway), then she impersonates a few others on base. The whole while, Talbot is left accusing various servicewomen of being the spy in increasingly silly ways before finally pulling a gun on his own wife. Look, Talbot was always something of an idiot in the comics - he kept badgering the Hulk until it was fatal - but this is pretty ridiculous.
Once they have Bakshi, 33 and Ward attempt to brainwash him themselves, using the Faustus Method, and 33 finally becomes comfortable in her own face and using her own name - Kara. With that the mentally broken Kara and the psychologically disturbed Ward begin some kind of relationship (but is it love or dependence/manipulation?). As mentioned previously (and confirmed this episode), 33/Kara is based on a rather obscure SHIELD agent from the little-read Hercules: Heart of Chaos mini-series. In that comic, as here, she introduced herself first as Agent 33, then had to gain the trust of the one she was working with before introducing herself as Kara Lynn Palamas. That said, the comic book version of her was able to fight off the double-agents inside SHIELD without getting captured and brainwashed by them.
Once Bakshi is confirmed missing, Talbot contacts Coulson to let him know.
Coulson, meanwhile, is checking out Nick Fury's Toolbox (the cube-shaped computer with all of Fury's secret knowledge) to check out some fortified SHIELD bases including the Red Door and Thunderclap before opening a file entitled Homestead Weapons and Armaments. So was this just background fluff to show Coulson working, or is this plot relevant? The base of the other SHIELD perhaps? It is also unclear if the names are meant to be specific Marvel references. Presumably the Thunderclap base isn't named after an obscure and useless hero using that moniker.
The SHIELD crew are primarily concerned with Skye's new powers. Fitz thinks she could be the next Captain America, Simmons fears she could be the next Hulk. May agrees with her ex-husbands assessment, that she be removed from SHIELD altogether. Coulson tells her that Skye's situation is unlike what happened in Bahrain, where a superpowered individual caused the deaths of many agents. But agrees to put her out of commission anyway. Fitz, by the way, wants a dog and a monkey. Fitz mentioned his desire for semian companionship way back in the third episode, and it has become something of a running joke behind the scenes, with even Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada drawing cartoons of Fitz' hypothetical AI monkey. Fitz and HENRY comic strips by Quesada show up regularly in the current SHIELD comic book.
Coulson tells Skye a bit more about his dad - last episode he said he barely remembered what his dad looked like, but here he mentions working on his dad's old red 1962 Corvette as a bonding experience (the car either became or inspired Lola). Skye and Coulson head out to one of Fury's many safehouses, this one was used by Steve "Captain America" Rogers for a bit when he needed to relax (perhaps where he's chopping wood in the clips from Age of Ultron?). He also gives Skye some gauntlets that Simmons says may help control her vibrations with some "side effects." Interestingly, Skye's comic book counterpart, Daisy "Quake" Johnson, wears metal gauntlets that seem to augment her powers.
Which Skye taken care of, Coulson and May decide to find out what secret business Mack has been getting into.
Mack spent much of the episode at an undisclosed location with the other SHIELD, we could call them anti-SHIELD, holding Hunter prisoner. Hunter, ever the pop culture aficionado, asks if he's taking him to see the Wizard, drinking the conspiracy Kool-Aid, or following Hufflepuff. As a quick aside, he is not referring to the Fantastic Four villain called the Wizard, but man, wouldn't that be fun? The Wizard is nearly as smart as smartest-man-in-the-world Reed Richards, but severely off his rocker as he believes (correctly as it turns out) that the world might end any minute.
He learns that anti-SHIELD is apparently run by an agent named Robert Gonzales (who was once saved by the late Izzy Hartley), along with a cabal of former SHIELD agents including Tomás Calderon and Fitz-Simmons' friend from the SHIELD Sci-Tech academy, Agent Weaver. They believe Coulson is too unstable and too loyal to Fury (whom they erroneously believe is dead) to lead the "real" SHIELD, so they made their own No Homer's Club, er, that is to say, their own "real" SHIELD. They wanted a SHIELD that operates without all the secrets and lies of Nick Fury, so of course, their SHIELD is established in secret by lying to other former SHIELD members. Seems legit! In the comics, other agencies have formed as an alternative to SHIELD, most notably HAMMER (which existed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a branch of SHIELD) and HATE (which appeared in one of the most absurd must-read comics ever). Spoiler Alert! Both SHELD alternatives turned out to be eeEEEeevil.
Bobbi "Mockingbird" Morse, a triple agent who was working for anti-SHIELD while a mole in SHIELD while pretending to be in Hydra, seems to genuinely hope Hunter will forgive her for participating in the whole kidnapping, imprisonment and attempted indoctrination thing. He still remembers (though he tries not to) the horrible time they had together in Arizona (a story for another time, maybe?) and how they first met when she was undercover stealing information from him. He decides to escape, and she gives the most half-hearted resistance ever, allowing him to discover they are on an aircraft carrier (an old-model Hellicarrier, hopefully) and hotwire a submersible to hightail it back to the mainland. Weaver estimates Bobbi has only 12 hours to reach Coulson's team and take them down before Hunter reaches communication range. Bobbi says she only needs 6 hours.