One of Iron Man's oldest enemies tries to whip SHIELD at their own game and a background player finally reveals himself into the story. A lot happened in this episode, so let's take it apart and examine the comic book connections!
Damn, that was a pretty intense episode, between all of the emotional back and forth and ups and downs felt by the main characters. As far as the overall plot goes though, is it weird that it feels like nothing major was accomplished just as the status quo got flipped on its head?
Spoiler-Light Recap: Grant Ward's brother makes his presence known just as Hydra frames SHIELD for international crimes! Deals with devils will need to be struck for Coulson's compadres to continue keeping countries safe.
This episode introduces viewers to Marcus Scarlotti, a Hydra assassin with a penchant for bladed chain whips. Scarlotti is actually one of Iron Man's oldest enemies, as he was the original Whiplash back in the late 1960s (yeah, that character Mickey Rourke played in Iron Man 2 was invented for the movie and later adapted to the comics). He's had a variety of looks and names over the years - most notably the fairly sad nom de guerre of Blacklash - but his most infamous claim to fame didn't even involve anything he did. You see, Tony Stark's Iron Man armor "woke up" one day thanks to an infection by Ultron's AI. The newly sentient armor fell in "love" with Tony, and as an offering, killed Scarlotti while Tony Stark was inside his own independently operating armor. Tony Stark's Iron Man armor coming to life thanks to Ultron and attacking people - can you imagine that?
The show opens with Talbot's speech to the UN, directly referencing the Chitauri attack of 2012 (as seen in Marvel's The Avengers). According to Talbot, this is when SHIELD "revealed themselves" to the world, although it's unclear if SHIELD was a completely secret organization before that (Jane Foster hadn't heard of them in Thor), or if the world just didn't care or know too much about them before. He mentions that they collected superpowered individuals (established in the first Iron Man movie), collects alien weaponry (established in the Marvel One-Shot Item 47) and has bases on every continent (hinted at throughout this series).
Scarlotti's Hydra-as-SHIELD team attacks the meeting, they kill six people, including Italian representative Adamo Dioli. Neither here nor there, but did you know that Marvel once had Italy-exclusive comics? The main comic - appropriately titled Europa - included EuroForce and Gemini, which were essentially Eruopean versions of the Avengers formed after one of the many times SHIELD was disbanded due to corruption. (On a personal note, I actually owned this entire series, lent it to someone to translate for me, then they moved away... argh.) More recently, European government-sponsored heroics has been handled by SHE, the Super Heroes of Europe.
All of this is reported by WHiH World News. I dunno why, but the name reminds me of the radio stations WFSK, which was owned by Daredevil's enemy the Kingpin, aka Wilson Fisk.
The deed was done using Splinter Bombs - and no, they aren't named after the Ninja Turtle's mentor. These particular weapons quickly petrify someone, turning them into instant ash. They were designed by Toshiro Mori of Okinawa (an old squeeze of Bobbi Morse's from her time as Hydra spy), based on original designs from the 1940s by Vincent Beckers, a scientist working for the Red Skull. Beckers, we eventually learn, was the grandfather of Belgium Minister of Foreign Affairs (and Hydra loyalist) Julien Beckers. By the time the dust settles, Julien is arrested and Toshiro is dead. These guys are all original for the series, but their names reminded me of two fairly obscure Marvel characters. There was a WWII bruiser called Toshiro Monsoon (not his real name, no doubt) who fought alongside Joe Morita (who in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, was part of the Howling Commandos), and Beckers' name is just a few consonants away from another Nazi scientist named Dekker, better (or worse) known as the Ameridroid.
All of these events seem to fit nicely into the plans of Senator Christian Ward (R), Grant Ward's older (and supposedly more evil) brother. Christian is the guy bankrolling Talbot and pushing for SHIELD's public capture and full dissolution, and according to Grant, he's the one who ordered the torture of their younger brother Thomas. To further his ends, Christian suggests making a multinational police force to take down SHIELD, which is essentially what HAMMER was in the comics (although the episode "Hub" established that in the MCU, HAMMER was part of SHIELD). Fear of Christian sparks movement in Grant, who now willingly talks to anyone who will listen about the danger his brother poses, which makes it all the more significant that Coulson willingly hands Grant over to Christian in exchange for SHIELD's ongoing safety. Surprising absolutely no one, Grant escapes. In the comics, Senator Stewart Ward was the assumed identity of a man infected by an alien virus, who tried to take over the nation.
Catching up with the main cast for a minute:
Ex-spouses Bobbi Morse and Lance Hunter banter and flirt a bit. Lance's keyfob says "Franny's Saloon" (from the camera angle, it seemed significant). May again confirms that she used to be married. Fitz-Simmons are more Fitz and Simmons lately, but Simmons wants her old friend back (maybe more?), even if Mack has filled the friendship void for Fitz. Ward, we're reminded, killed Eric Koenig ("Only Light in the Darkness"), Victoria Hand ("Turn, Turn, Turn") and threw Fitz-Simmons out of a plane ("Ragtag"). Coulson is an only child. Someone has a Grumpy Cat mug at the secret Playground base.
We also learn a tiny sliver more about Skye's father, the Doctor. According to I-don't-lie-anymore Ward, the people the Doctor killed in Hunan Province were all Hydra agents, and that he tore them up single-handed when he lost his family. Yeesh. Seems to lend credence to the fan-theory that the Doctor is Dr. Calvin Zabo, aka Mr. Hyde, but we'll wait for confirmation on that one.
Ever-so-briefly, viewers are introduced to SHIELD Agent Noelle Walters, stationed in the Netherlands (apparently with a lot of bikes and weed). Sadly, she's killed by Scarlotti along with five other agents in a SHIELD safe house in Bruges. No doubt many fans' ears perked up when they heard "Agent Walters," but no, she's not the Hulk's cousin She-Hulk/Jennifer Walters, who was briefly a SHIELD agent.
Despite these losses, SHIELD got the public support of Sen. Ward, softening tensions for the beleaguered former espionage agency and enabling Talbot to peacefully shake May's hand, without threat of gunfire.
Seems like the calm before the storm.
Speaking of, a guy listed only as "Stranger" is shown getting tattoos of alien symbols. Obviously he's the guy behind the vandalism of the old painting ("Face my Enemy"), but who is he? Time will tell. He probably isn't the Stranger, a cosmic being of unknowable power and unfathomable motives.
This episode added Whiplash co-creator Gene Colan to the list of thankees. The late-great artist was one of Marvel's biggest names in the 70s, responsible for some of the best Howard the Duck and Tomb of Dracula issues out there, and co-creating the likes of Blade the Vampire Hunter. (Inks in the above picture by Dave Gutierrez)
Now then, time to think about other Marvel things as there seems to have been something about it on the internet this week...