Well, this is awkward.
It’s always a given that these recaps feature spoilers for the episodes themselves – I mean, the reason to read these is either because you also watched and are looking for some kind of context or analysis or you didn’t watch but want to know what happened anyway, yes? But now we find ourselves in the kind of conundrum that, let’s be honest, folks were sort of hoping this show would’ve forced us to deal with a few times already: What’s the protocol for when discussing Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. puts one in jeopardy of maybe spoiling a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie that has yet to open in certain markets?
As you’ve no doubt guessed, I’ve already seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier, (short version: it’s good!) and while I won’t get into specifics, it’s not a spoiler to say that the film’s storyline involves things not being entirely on the up-and-up within S.H.I.E.L.D. infrastructure, so there’s no real way of avoiding these two entities feeding into each other in some way. The End of The Beginning is time-stamped via a specific minor plot point to take place just before the events of Winter Soldier start unfolding and the film makes no reference to this series (it’s a conceit of the show that Agent Coulson’s team is operating with a security clearance higher than that of The Avengers), so there’s no direct cross-spoilage to be worried about…
…BUT! Suffice it to say that this episode ends with some stuff hitting the fan that one can safely assume must be in some way related to other, bigger stuff that hits the fan in the movie. What that means is this recap is going to have to be a little light on the “what comes next???” speculation. I’m pretty sure that certain major S.H.I.E.L.D.-shaking revelations of Winter Soldier will end up being the answer (or partial-answer) to some of Agents’ bigger mysteries and I just don’t feel comfortable dropping bombshells like those before the film has even actually had it’s U.S. wide-release. Though I will say that one shocker in particular led me to say, instantly, “Well, that probably answers that!”
Besides, End of The Beginning, which marks the official kickoff of a season-ending seven-episode storyline called Uprising, is a pretty cool bit of television in its own right. So let’s get to it…
For those needing a refresher, the broader meta-plot of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. so far goes like this: For reasons yet to be revealed, Nick Fury has secretly used The Agency’s access to arcane super-science to bring Agent Phil Coulson back from the dead to lead a small, independent team of agents. Their primary focus is bringing down CENTIPEDE, a criminal organization looking to build their own super-soldiers led by an unseen mastermind called The Clairvoyant who claims to be psychic – a super-power that S.H.I.E.L.D. officially has never confirmed to exist. Skye, an activist/hacker Coulson’s team has picked up as a teammate, has been revealed to be (unknown even to her) an unidentified superhuman of some kind whose existence has been hidden from birth. Most-recently, CENTIPEDE has transformed Skye’s friend Mike Petersen into the cyborg assassin Deathlok. And Coulson has declared his intentions to take his team rogue after learning that the mystery-medicine used to revive him (and also to heal Skye of a near-fatal gunshot wound) was derived from the corpse of a blue-skinned humanoid creature found hidden in a heavily-fortified bunker. Unfortunately, it would appear that Team Coulson’s pilot/human-weapon Agent Melinda May has been covertly reporting on the team to an unseen overseer.
As the episode opens, new characters Agent Garrett (Bill Paxton) and Agent Triplett are on the trail of Deathlok, whom they find but fail to kill. Up on The Bus, Team Coulson welcomes Team Other Recurring Agent Characters (Agent Sitwell, Agent Blake and Saffron Burrows’ Victoria Hand) for a summit on Clairvoyant Hunting: He thinks they’ve been too quick in dismissing psychic phenomena all this time, and thus the mystery mastermind’s identity might be sitting in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s reject-pile of folks investigated as potentially gifted but never confirmed as such.
What’s more, Skye (whose movie-hacker powers have somehow been promoted to “genius for pattern-recognition”) has a plan to run him down despite his apparent foresight: Three teams of two each following up on one potential Clairvoyant double-blind style, one having the address and the other having the I.D. Sounds overcomplicated (it impresses the brass enough that Skye finally gets her official S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Badge, though), but it’s mostly a fake-out. When the team consisting of Agents Blake and May go to look in on a supposedly-comatose reject named Thomas Nash, Deathlok is waiting for them. He beats Blake almost to death, but it turns out Blake managed to shoot him with a tracking-chipped bullet provided earlier by Fitz/Simmons (Team Coulson’s adorkable British science-duo.)
Oh, yeah – about that: Fitz and Simmons are both getting antsy about Coulson’s refusal to let them send Skye’s mysterious (to them) rapid-healing blood to S.H.I.E.L.D.-proper for testing until he speaks with the (currently absent) Nick Fury about the big blue (maybe?) alien that thus far only he and Skye are aware of. They mention their reservations to Agent May, which is of course probably not the best idea.
Meanwhile, the tracking bullet leads The Agents (backed up by a full heavily-armed team this time) to confront Deathlok in an abandoned race-track/video-arcade (…okay?), where Fitz’s squad of mini seeker-drones afford us a look at what Cyborg Mike looks like under X-Ray. Surprise! He actually does look just-like the Deathlok of the comics, most of the bionics are just concealed (for now) under his skin. Ew. Deathlok gets away once again, but it turns out there’s someone else on-site: A paralyzed man (Brad Dourif!) hooked up to life-support equipment and a few dozen video monitors.
Speaking via Stephen Hawking-style text-to-speech, Nash rants Bond-villain style about how arresting him won’t stop CENTIPEDE, about a force coming to destroy them all and almost-casually mentions that the organization has shifted its Agent-kidnapping focus from Coulson (they wanted to know how he beat death, for awhile)… to Skye.
As if on cue, Agent Ward (who has been heavily-implied to have a serious super-protective “thing” about Skye) shoots him point-blank in the chest.
Well. Guess that solves that. Clairvoyant dead, Deathlok left as a last remaining loose-thread, maybe say bye-bye to Ward (it’s widely suspected that, if/when the series goes to a second season, Garrett, Triplett or both will become regulars and maybe displace one or more of the original cast). But things just aren’t sitting right with Coulson. It’s awfully convenient (even for this series) that Deathlok would lead them right to The Clairvoyant in the first place, plus since he couldn’t move or speak on his own “Nash” could’ve easily been just a grotesque prop – the Big Bad could still be out there, still watching them.
Coulson confides his suspicions in Skye… who cracks the case: The Clairvoyant always seemed to know everything about everything except the circumstances of Coulson’s death/rebirth. Who else has that same level of knowledge save for that same specific missing piece? S.H.I.E.L.D. does. The Agency monitors the whole damn world and keeps tabs on everything, but Fury purposefully kept Coulson’s resurrection off the books. There’s no psychic here – just someone who has access to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s databases: The Clairvoyant is a traitor within The Agency itself.
As we head for our ending, things go straight to hell: Fitz discovers May’s secret secure tattletale phone and informs Skye, who tells him to cut it. Coulson rages at Ward, demanding to know if someone ordered him to kill Nash. Fitz kills May’s line, leading her to chase him around The Bus with a freeze-gun – only a pane of bullet-proof glass saves him. Coulson and Skye draw guns on May, who refuses even amid a Mexican standoff to reveal whom she was spying on them for. Suddenly, The Bus makes an abrupt mid-air change in course seemingly under it’s own power…
…but actually on the orders of Victoria Hand, who orders that once the plane lands everyone onboard is to be killed – except Coulson: “He’s mine.” As a final stinger, we’re shown a (possibly) simultaneously-occurring and (likely) related clip from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, in which Nick Fury is brazenly attacked in broad daylight by Winter Soldier himself.
Like I said, I can’t do a lot of speculating here without mentioning events of Winter Soldier that would appear to explain (or at least relate to) a lot of what’s set to unfold here.
Here’s one bit of business I think is safe to note, for now: Just before hitting the field, Agent Sitwell is called away to deal with a situation on a boat called The Lemurian Star. Said boat (and Sitwell’s presence on it) is a plot-point at the very beginning of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, so this is our timestamp as to when the events of this episode (and maybe the entire Uprising arc) take place in relation to the film, which is kind of logistically important. Maybe of more long-term note? “Lemurian Star” is a strange name for a ship, but it might be a veiled reference: Lemurians are the Pacific Ocean branch of Atlanteans, one of the multiple blue-skinned Marvel races that Coulson and Skye’s mystery blood-donor might hail from.
Looks like we’re heading into full-scale war mode, with (possibly) rival good/evil factions within S.H.I.E.L.D. clashing amid the search for a traitor among The Agents in Turn, Turn, Turn.