Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Review – Episode 18: Providence

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Here’s a mystery for you, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Is this still part of the Uprising arc, or have we jettisoned that now that who was doing the uprising is no longer a secret? (Unless of course you didn’t see last week’s episode or Captain America: The Winter Soldier, in which case SPOILERS, HO!)

So, where were we again?

  • Agent Phil Coulson’s resurrection was actually carried out against his will for reasons still known only to Nick Fury, now missing and presumed dead.
  • Super-hacker Skye is actually an undocumented superhuman being whose powers and origin are unknown.
  • Medicine used to cure both Skye and Coulson (at different intervals) was actually extracted from the corpse of a blue-skinned, possibly-alien creature housed in a bunker so secret it wasn’t even technically part of S.H.I.E.L.D.
  • S.H.I.E.L.D. itself has been destroyed (largely offscreen – or, rather, on a different, bigger screen) by Captain America, after it was discovered that a large number of its Agents and leadership were actually loyal to HYDRA. As a result, the Agency’s entire database of secret intelligence has been dumped onto the internet.
  • Melinda May has revealed herself to be the real leader of Coulson and his special team, which she assembled on behalf of Nick Fury (to whom she secretly reported) for the express purpose of keeping track of Coulson’s post-resurrection behavior.
  • Agent John Garrett is actually both a HYDRA loyalist and the so-called Clairvoyant, leader of the HYDRA super-soldier project CENTIPEDE – his “psychic powers” being little more than clever-manipulation of his high-level S.H.I.E.L.D. security clearance.
  • Coulson has taken his team on the run in the wake of S.H.I.E.L.D.-proper’s dismantling, ostensibly to hunt scattering HYDRA stragglers and protect vulnerable Agency locations.
  • While assisting in the prisoner-transport of Garrett (his former trainer,) Team Coulson’s combat/weapons-specialist Agent Ward murdered two fellow Agents and senior officer Victoria Hand; revealing himself to have been part of HYDRA all along.
  • Unwitting CENTIPEDE guinea pig Mike Petersen has been transformed into the cyborg assassin Deathlok (that’s not really relevant to Providence, but it’s out there.)

Everybody got that?

We open in the prison cell of Raina, aka “The Girl in The Flower Dress”. Ward enters, gives her a gift of another floral-print dress (“From The Clairvoyant”) before spiriting her off to Cuba for a meet up with Garrett. She’s visibly upset to learn that she was not actually serving some sort of mystic this whole time, and looks even more shocked when Garrett welcomes her to HYDRA. I wonder what “normal people” in the Marvel Cinematic Universe think of HYDRA, actually – those with firsthand experience appear to get that this is an organization that affiliated itself with The Nazis mostly out of convenience, but does the average person just think of them as Nazis? Is Raina’s surprise partially about being a woman of color wondering how she wound up working for guys she might regard as Skinheads?

Speaking of pursuit, Team Coulson is busy repairing The Bus when they’re contacted by Col. Glenn Talbot (Adrian Pasdar) to inform them that he and a “peacekeeping force” will be coming to question them. Coulson suspects that it won’t be quite so peaceful, (partially because in the wake of Winter Soldier the entirety of S.H.I.E.L.D has been classified as a terrorist organization, partially because Talbot has only ever had one character trait in 50 years of Marvel continuity: He’s a dick;) so Coulson decides they’re just gonna take off and figure out Step 2 on the move.

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He also resists letting Garrett’s (apparently) non-HYDRA ex-partner Agent Triplett (short version: Agent Ward, but Black and likable) join them, but relents when Agent Simmons reminds him how much story potential their mutual attraction and its effect on Agent Fitz has for Season 2. Speaking of setups, he orders Skye to… “hack the entire internet,” I guess (honestly, after screening a certain Johnny Depp sci-fi movie last night, Agents’ vastly less idiotic grasp of how computers work doesn’t bother me anymore) in order to erase every trace of the team’s existence from the web. Not sure how that’s going to work now that Black Widow made sure that information has probably been downloaded by billions of people at this point, but whatever. It’s a TV show. More pressing matter: The Bus is leaking fuel, but can’t risk landing and being detected by Talbot.

Back in Garrett’s HYDRA safehouse, he reveals to Raina that he smuggled a bunch of (what he doesn’t know is) alien(?) blue-blood from the mystery bunker and wants her to start incorporating it into CENTIPEDE’s ever-amusing “improv” method of super-soldier making – along with that all-the-important-stuff hard drive Skye left with Ward last time. The two men take off for The Fridge (the S.H.I.E.L.D. site where dangerous objects/persons are held) to grab more cool stuff, but not before some exposition to confirm what’s up with Ward: He’s loyal to HYDRA because Garrett rescued him from the abusive childhood alluded to in The Well; his original mission on The Bus was to gather intel on Coulson’s resurrection; and everything he did while there (including saving Simmons’ life in F.Z.Z.T. and his No-Strings relationship with May) was calculated to gain trust. Oh, but he’s clearly still carrying a real torch for Skye, because… y’know what, we’ll talk about that at the end.

Coulson has asked Skye to gather up everyone’s S.H.I.E.L.D. badges, since those now mark them as targets. But suddenly, his badge lights up with numeric coordinates, which he immediately believes must be instructions from Nick Fury. This is Coulson back in his Avengers role as the MCU’s in-universe Top Fanboy. Of course he refuses to give up on S.H.I.E.L.D., and of course he assumes Fury can’t be dead. The others are less convinced, and May drops another bombshell: Fury ordered Coulson’s revival, but didn’t conduct the mind-wiping himself – making it possible that Coulson could be under HYDRA-influence.

Oy. At this point, Coulson could win the undying favor of every single person watching by responding to any further information being offered in relation to his comeback with: “Shut up. I just don’t care anymore.”

Garrett, Ward and company trick their way into The Fridge (which turns out to be another giant, super-conspicuous skyscraper because… secret?) where they free a bunch of captive CENTIPEDE goons and pillage the WWII-era HYDRA laser from 0-8-4 the Berserker Staff from The Well and presumably anything else from the handful of times something actually interesting happened in the first half of the season. Ward teases that Coulson let him know about something really special on a floor that’s not supposed to exist…

Team Coulson follow the coordinates to a seeming dead end in the snowy Canadian wilderness, wherein Coulson finally loses his cool with the situation – angrily ranting to… the world, really, what everyone already knew: That he has no idea what to do with himself in a world without S.H.I.E.L.D., and that he intends to go on being an Agent no matter what reality has to say on the subject. It’s a good moment, though I imagine it’d be better if the first half of the season had done a better job making us like S.H.I.E.L.D. as much as Coulson does.

But oh well: Coulson has a conversation with an automated gun turret (don’t ask) and the team is invited into a hidden cave that contains… a Nick Fury off-the-books safe house, maintained by Agent Eric Koenig (the mighty Patton Oswalt.) He’s got food, provisions and some comfy “Hey, wouldn’t this make a great hub-locale for Season 2??” digs for The Agents, and a special message for Coulson’s ears only: Nick Fury lives!!! …which is not a surprise to anyone who saw that recent movie you kind of had to see (or have spoiled) in order to understand anything that’s happened in the last three episodes of this show. But hey, Clark Gregg has a great “I’m happy now” face, right?

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Back with CENTIPEDE/mini-HYDRA, Ward takes a call from Skye letting him know exactly where they are (by Odin, it’s astonishing that only one evil terrorist organization infiltrated and took S.H.I.E.L.D. over, when you think about it…) Which is fortunate, because it turns out only Skye can unlock that hard drive for them. Solution? Ward is going back undercover, complete with a “make it look real” beating from Garrett during which we glimpse some kind of metal (cybernetic?) plate on the senior Agent’s side. Hm…

As a final stinger, Ian Quinn joins the other baddies to exchange villain banter, and Garrett has a present for him: His cache of Gravitonium.

Parting Thoughts

  • Broken record time: It really should not have taken blowing up S.H.I.E.L.D. for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to figure out how to be good, but it worked.
  • You didn’t misread: Col. Talbot really did just show up for the video-call cameo. I assume he’ll turn up for real soon enough. I wonder if this is the plan for Season 2: The Agents as self-reliant renegades, flying around HYDRA-busting while being hunted by Talbot because S.H.I.E.L.D. is officially considered bad guys now. I’d watch that.
  • Agent Koenig’s entire characterization appears to be simply “Patton Oswalt: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” It works, and I hope he’s a regular because I want to see him and Coulson nerd-out about living in The Marvel Universe together.
  • Koenig shares a name with an important comic character, but that seems to be where it ends as the Koenig of the comics was an ageless turncoat ex-Nazi. Short version: In the comics, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s top guys were mostly age-extended members of Sgt. Fury’s Howling Commandos.)
  • While Garrett and Ward are raiding The Fridge, Garrett mentions a guy named Johnny Horton who “gave himself lion hands.” Heh. He’s talking about The Griffin.
  • The Cube gets name-checked. Interesting, since in the comics that’s where S.H.I.E.L.D. keeps aliens.
  • Didn’t see Blizzard escaping along with the others at The Fridge. I hope he shows up, though I understand how Graviton will be a more immediately dangerous foe.
  • So who gets to kill Ward (assuming this isn’t a triple-cross, which would be stupid)? Triplett, cementing himself as the new tough guy of the team? May, paying him back for deceiving her on multiple, personal levels? Coulson, because he’s the star? Koenig, because he’s Nerd God Patton Oswalt? (Aw man, I hope he doesn’t kill Koenig instead…) Deathlok, proving he’s still a free man? Fitz/Simmons, because why not? My money would be on Skye, taking him out as the first real manifestation of whatever her powers are. Speaking of which…
  • So. Skye being a total Mary Sue (i.e. everyone immediately loves her and thinks she’s important with little explanation or logic) is a common fan complaint and a real issue even as the rest of the show has improved so dramatically. However, a theme of Agents’ back half has been turning early mistakes into “reveals” (see: “Our team dynamic makes no operative sense because May secretly picked us based on Coulson-handling skills, not compatibility!”) With that in mind, I’ll just leave this here: Semi-unconsciously secreting super-pheromones that make people like/desire/trust her? That’s one of Spider-Woman’s powers.

Next week

Full details of The Only Light In The Darkness are not being widely revealed, save that the episode will involve Coulson attempting to protect the one time love of his life, Audrey (“The Cellist” mentioned in The Avengers) from the chaos unleashed by HYDRA. Promotional clips strongly suggest that Skye will figure out Ward is HYDRA pretty soon.

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Bob Chipman
Bob Chipman is a critic and author.