Regarding the first 13 episodes of Agents of SHIELD, I enjoyed them and liked the series, it kept me interested enough to keep watching, but I never felt a need to really express that beyond casual conversation. Episode 14, though, really propelled the series beyond my reticence.
Spoilers if you aren’t caught up, be warned!
So episode 13 involved a train heist with high-tech gizmos, perspective changes, and heavy betrayals. The climax of the episode was two-fold: first, Mike Peterson receives a Cybertek device that turns out to be a sort of leg brace that transforms into a cybernetic leg later revealed to be under the Deathlok project; then, after the newly-minted Deathlok leaves the compound, Ian Quinn shoots Skye twice in the stomach before being caught by the rest of the SHIELD squad.
Episode 14 follows pretty much immediately after, Skye being rushed to an operating room only to find out that SHIELD cannot save her from dying. This is revealed to be a strategy by “the Clairvoyant” via Ian Quinn, forcing Agent Coulson to either attempt to figure out what Nick Fury did to bring him back from the dead, which would somehow allow the Clairvoyant to learn that information, or let Skye die. SHIELD orders Agent John Garrett, Ward’s former superior officer, to chase down the Bus as they start looking into Coulson’s procedures, with Coulson demanding that Quinn be kept on board until Skye’s fate is determined. However, Garrett ends up supporting their cause, aiding them in their efforts as they infiltrate a non-SHIELD affiliated compound looking for answers. They find a drug that is able to stabilize Skye’s condition, but Coulson stumbles on an enigma; in the compound, behind the Project T.A.H.I.T.I. door, there is the upper half of a decayed, humanoid body hooked up to a cocktail of unknown drugs, including the one they gave to Skye. Are the drugs keeping the body alive, or is the body somehow synthesizing those drugs to be used? It’s unclear.
Finally, after the credits, we see the introduction of Lorelei the Enchantress, a villain from Thor, teasing next week’s guest appearance of Sif.
So, I’m sure my short summary doesn’t really explain why I decided I wanted to blog about this episode.
First, it continued the approach of “espionage mixed with unknown technology” theme that some of the better of the first 13 episodes used. SHIELD is primarily known as a spy agency, not modern-day X-Files. The show is a lot more exciting when they’re doing things in teams that don’t seem contrived merely to allow all the characters to do something meaningful, like “well, we need to analyze both biological and mechanical data, so we need the scientists, there’s magically something for Skye to hack, Ward to punch, May to drive, etc.” It’s a lot better when the writing is more along the lines of “let’s present a problem, then see how the characters try to solve it.”
Second, at this point, I think it’s kind of irrelevant whether you like all the characters or not. Obviously you have to like some of them or you probably won’t want to watch the show at all, but, now, you should at least be invested in the characters’ relationships with each other. The scene in the waiting room when Coulson looks at his team and declares “We’re her [Skye’s] family” really drives it home – these disparate team members are finally coming together as a team, as a family. That driving force behind their actions provides much more compelling television. Yes, they are a small part of a larger organization, but they will look out for their own first.
Last, the big story is really coming together. The aversion to magic is still kind of iffy, especially as we get more into Asgardian-related stuff (yes, highly advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, I know), but, assuming that’s really the name of the game, I think there are only 2 candidates left for the Clairvoyant.
The Leader: Samuel Stern, played by Tim Blake Nelson in the Ed Norton version of The Incredible Hulk, helps Bruce Banner stabilize his transformation and later helps Emil Blonsky become The Abomination, the ultimate villain of the film. However, in that process, he has some of Banner’s infected blood spill on a head wound, and we see his head start to transform. So, we know the Leader exists in the MCU continuity already.
MODOK: A leader of Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM), the thinktank/terrorist organization introduced to the MCU in Iron Man 3, MODOK is an altered human with superior intelligence. He has ties to the Cosmic Cube, which is known as the Tesseract in the MCU.
Both of these villains have incredible brain power that result in abilities approaching extrasensory perception. They both have direct or indirect ties to people or objects in the MCU. Their superior intelligence are both explanations for why the Clairvoyant knows so much about various people but can’t pierce the mystery of Coulson’s revival, since he himself doesn’t know and most of the procedures were done in unpenetrable secrecy, meaning the two characters’ vast intelligences would be unable to piece together how it happened from information streams. The reason he needed Coulson to find and break into the GH lab was to create an information trail that would let him glean the necessary information. A true psychic would presumably be able to just “know” the answer, either by compromising Nick Fury or by working his way through connected people to find the right people.
Anyway, I look forward to next week’s Sif cameo; it will be very interesting to see how someone on the same tier as Thor interacts with this clandestine organization team :)