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Imagine this: You’re a kid. You get into your mom’s car after school on Friday. She turns around, beaming, pops a pair of Mickey Mouse ears onto her head and gleefully teases: “We’re going somewhere speeeeeeeeecial!”

…and then proceeds to drive you to Six Flags.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with Six Flags. Six Flags is great. In fact, in certain specific ways it’s actually superior to that… “other park.” The lines aren’t as interminable. There are more fast and intense rides. There’s not nearly as much walking to get where you want to go – you don’t need to trek all the way to a separate “land” for the waterslides. Available foodstuffs trend more toward classic American midway/fair cuisine, which goes well with the park atmosphere. All good things…

…but, damn it… she did put on those damn ears.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is, still, kind of like that. Objectively, this show is just fine; occasionally pretty awesome. It’s goofy high-concept TV-budgeted scifi/fantasy nonsense ala Knight Rider married to eclectic-team mystery shows like NCIS. It has aliens and magic and high-tech science-guns. It has sexy girls. It has kung-fu fights. This is good television – it’s just not the weekly dose of Marvel Universe worldbuilding awesome-sauce that it keeps acting like it’s just about to be.

Anyway…

T.R.A.C.K.S. hits the ground running and finds very little time to slow down, so let’s get get caught up since we’ve been without a new episode for two weeks now: Agent Coulson? Not a robot or a zombie, but resurrected against his will and brainwashed to forget that he’d ever resisted – now increasingly distrustful of S.H.I.E.L.D. as a result. Skye? Surprise! You weren’t a terminally-unloved orphan, after all! In fact the long succession of people you thought kept abandoning you were actually a network of allies to a pair of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who gave their lives sheltering you because you are apparently some kind of superhuman being! As a result, she’s now much more trusting of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Agents May & Ward? Still putting the N.S.A. in No Strings Attached relationships, but now Coulson knows about it and Ward is maybe starting to feel, well… feelings. Fitz/Simmons? Adorkable and science – some things don’t change. Mike Petersen? Alive, but badly-burned, missing a leg and under the control of the mysterious C.E.N.T.I.P.E.D.E. organization; which we now know includes douchey tech-billionaire Ian Quinn.

As the episode opens, Team Coulson has benignly bullied its way into taking over an Italian (because Southern California doubles nicely for rural Italy, I’m assuming) police outfit’s undercover sting on a train whose passengers are believed to include agents of Cybertek en-route to deliver a mystery package to the still-missing Quinn. So undercover action is the name of the game for Act I: Coulson and Simmons playing a father/daughter pair, Skye and Fitz as a vapid young couple, Ward as part of the train staff and May… walking on the roof with X-Ray goggles in case any asses need kicking.

This sort of thing tends to be filler, a way for casts (and writers) to have fun playing out of type while marking time for the plot to start, but it’s a good bit of fun: Skye and Fitz debate whether to pretend they’re an American or British couple, settling for American because Fitz can adopt a surprisingly flawless accent. Simmons is much too enthusiastic about a comically elaborate backstory she’s prepared for her character. May… looks great in her Black Widow-esque vinyl body-stocking.

Things head south right around the time the conductor’s voice comes over the loudspeakers alerting passengers to a passing landmark: Coulson and Ward notice their radios have gone out, move to investigate and find themselves overwhelmed by Cybertek goons and tossed right off the train – which appears to vanish before their eyes when said goons detonate a grenade that leaves a peculiar blue vapor-cloud. Hm. They’re briefly reassured that May is still on the train to protect the others… until they find her X-ray specs discarded nearby. Uh-oh. We then cut to…

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…several minutes ago, during that same conductor’s announcement. Ah. We’re doing a “multi-perspective/repeating-action” bit for Act II. Okay, then.

This time it’s Ward’s Story: Shortly after May nonchalantly hits him with the reveal that Coulson knows “about them,” he gets into a knife-fight with the Cybertek goon-squad – indicating that they’ve been made all along. Arriving back where we left off, he and Coulson speculate over how the blue grenade made the train disappear; grumbling about the possibility that it might’ve been teleported to Asgard. These moments, i.e. federal agents treating the possibility of a train being blinked off to the homeworld of the Viking Gods as a too-much-paperwork problem, are when this show works. It also almost makes Coulson’s decision to not look a gift horse in the mouth when they just “happen” to find a running, hotwired getaway car in the middle of a vineyard almost seem like something a human might do. Also fun: Coulson and Ward can’t figure out how to work The Bus’s fancy hologram-computers without Fitz/Simmons around. They do manage to make contact with their Italian counterparts, but before their chief can board the plane he’s stabbed from behind by a bruised, bloodied May.

…which means we now get May’s Story, aka our mandatory “Ming-Na Wen is awesome” sequence for the week: She makes a badass parachute-escape when the train is compromised, landing just in time to see what really happened with the train – it didn’t disappear, the grenade was of a type to paralyze Coulson and Ward temporarily without awareness of the passage of time, making it seem as though the train had poofed out of existence. It’s also her that hotwired that car, but still managed to get grabbed by… The Italians, who are bad guys. They torture her for information, but this is Agent May so stabbing her in the shoulder is exactly the same thing as handing her a knife to hunt you down and kill you with. More of this, show. More of this.

But NO MORE of this, please: Back on The Bus, Coulson helps May stitch her knife-wound, but from the perspective of a surreptitiously-passing Ward it suddenly looks like he might have some competition. No! Bad! No tiresome love-triangles! That’s a bad Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Bad!

They find the train abandoned, but with Simmons shell-shocked and Skye and Fitz missing. Time for Their Story: Working tech in the back of the train, Skye tries to pump Fitz for information about human 084’s (S.H.I.E.L.D. code for unexplained-objects, i.e. herself) to mixed results. When things hit the fan, they’re saved only because Simmons arrives to jump on one of those blue time-freeze grenades. Long story short: “The Package” has been handed off to Quinn, who’s taken it back to his Villa. So off they go, and back into regular time the show goes.

Skye, it was earlier noted, has been especially zealous about, um… Agent-ing since learning (part of) her true origins, so she takes the initiative to stealth-shoot her way into the Villa. In the basement is The Package, but also a hyperbaric chamber containing Mike Petersen – whom she does not know is now being remotely-directed by C.E.N.T.I.P.E.D.E and The Clairvoyant. Oh, and also Quinn a moment later, so Skye is kind of screwed no matter what. The Package, incidentally, turns out to be a robotic leg for Mike. You’d have to figure there was a less complicated way to get this to him, but maybe that’s what the “C” in “C.E.N.T.I.P.E.D.E” stands for.

The other Agents are taking this opportunity to storm the Villa and rescue Skye (Fitz was somewhat uneffectively standing guard), which might be a problem save that Mike cryptically reveals that his orders/programming explicitly forbid him (at least, for now?) from harming S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents – instead, he’s been ordered to slaughter the Cybertek goons who brought the leg. Quinn, however, is under no such orders and shoots Skye in the stomach, twice, at point-blank range.

Um… wow. Did not see that coming. Well, on the bright side, she can cross bulletproof and quick-healing off the “What is my superpower?” list.

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So, the “we might kill a castmember” tease from last time turns out to be more Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. misdirection – Skye should be dead from that kind of blood loss, but Simmons is able to use Mike’s hyperbaric chamber to keep her alive long enough to get her to where S.H.I.E.L.D. super-science can get her stabilized (though still comatose). The ordeal leaves the team visibly shaken, most of all Ward: When May tries to console him about not blaming himself, he glowers that he doesn’t – he blames Coulson, presumably for pulling her in the first place.

Well, that’s going to make things awkward.

For the requisite final stinger, Mike is skulking around in public waiting for C.E.N.T.I.P.E.D.E to tell him when he can see his son – somewhat conspicuously for a guy who now looks like Cyborg Freddy-Krueger. A parting zoom-in on the trademark-stamping for the robot leg confirms what the handful of fans who recognized the name “Cybertek” already guessed: Mike Petersen is being transformed into DEATHLOK: THE DEMOLISHER; thus bringing our Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. supervillain roster to three (Blizzard and Graviton having been previously introduced.)

PARTING THOUGHTS:

  • I’m still not quite onboard with the idea that this series’ slow start (too much of the season’s first half was spent hammering out issues they should’ve fixed up in the writers room) is going to doom it… but the disjointed schedule easily could: There were multi-week breaks between these last three episodes, and now it’s going back to hiatus for a full month because of Olympics coverage. You can’t keep an audience when they can’t see you.
  • Coulson tells Ward that if he lets his relationship with May compromise his work, he’ll get shipped off to Alaska to “guard Blonsky’s cryo-prison.” He is, of course, talking about Emil Blonsky, aka The Abomination, last seen in The Incredible Hulk and last referenced in the Marvel One-Shot Short The Consultant.
  • A bit of gossip/out-of-school talk that’s followed Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. from before it even started airing was that the series had to be constructed to “break apart” easily so it would always be ready for retooling in the wake of any changes happening to the reality of the Marvel movies. That’s probably going to be the case after Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but whatever this series looks like when/if Season 2 rolls around this episode makes a nice case for not getting rid of either Elizabeth Henstridge’s Simmons – the series’ comedy dynamo – or Ming-Na Wen.

NEXT TIME:

As mentioned, we’re on break again until March 4th. It’s pretty clear that Skye isn’t going to die – she and Coulson are more-or-less the joint main characters (of this season, if not of the series.) Previews for the next new episodes are teasing a hunt for a cure for Skye storyline; and since “two bullets in the stomach” isn’t really something you “cure” one imagines that could take up an episode or two, probably built around temporary new guest star Bill Paxton. Will near-death kick-start whatever he supposed special-powers are? Who knows – that feels like something you’d save for a season finale.

Also: Episode 15 is already being promoted to feature a guest spot from Jamie Alexander as the Thor franchise’s Lady Sif, supposedly hitting Midgard to deal with perennial Asgardian villain Lorelei. Obviously, Asgardian-heritage is one of the plausible answers to Skye’s origins, but I hope it’s something more unexpected than that.

Bob Chipman
Bob Chipman is a critic and author.

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