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Well, this will be interesting.

Objectively speaking, T.A.H.I.T.I. is not a particularly strong hour of television even by the standards of episodic “mystery of the week” fluff like this series. It doesn’t feature much memorable action, doesn’t advance most of the characters in any meaningful way, devotes a bunch of time to introducing two new characters who might become interesting but aren’t now and leans on devices like ticking clocks (two of them!) and “Because we say so!” science-magic to keep up the pace. And yet! I get the sense that it’s going to be cited as a big improvement or “turning point” by many fans – not because any of those flaws are mitigated in some way, but because an extra detail that might suggest something big and cool comes in right at the end.

By now, the almost universal “rub” on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – whether you feel it took too long to get pretty good or whether you’ve given up – is that it was a disappointment to (prospective) fans because it just wasn’t tying into enough Marvel Universe continuity from the movies or dropping any of its own. I’m down with the series having not lived up to its own (debatable) potential, but I’m not onboard with the assigning pass/fails to these projects on the basis of how many fandom-fortifying shoutouts and references get packed in. Weak TV is still weak, even if it’s pushing franchise buttons. I watched something like this happen to Smallville, which over the course of a decade gradually morphed from a bad show that fans widely reviled for not using enough DC Comics references to a bad show that fans bent over backwards making excuses for because it was suddenly packed with them. (Arrow, so far, appears to be following the same basic trajectory but within a much quicker space of a time.)

That’s not to say that I don’t want Agents to keep A.) getting better and B.) pulling in more Marvel gewgaws to play with, just that treating these as one and the same is a handy illustration of why fans are often not the people you want to be listening to.

Anyway…!

When we last left the least well-managed subgroup of the already dubiously-functional top-secret (yet very well branded) spy agency, Skye went from being really happy to learn that her tragic backstory was mostly arranged to cover up her being some kind of extra-special superhuman being to being less happy to discover that she wasn’t the kind of superhuman being who can brush off being shot twice in the stomach. As “T.A.H.I.T.I.” opens, Team Coulson has gotten her to a S.H.I.E.L.D medical facility only to be told that there’s nothing they can do – her wounds are fatal, and she’s going to die.

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This spurs them to do the one thing “regular” people living in superhero universes are usually too deferential to the status quo to actually do: Point out that it’s ridiculous for “simple” problems like this to actually still be problems. If Tony Stark can build a battery-powered robot-heart out of old bomb parts in a cave or Captain America can survive being frozen for 70+ years, it stands to reason that things like “shot in the gut” should be pretty damn fixable by now. And since Coulson recently discovered that S.H.I.E.L.D. has access to medicine sufficient to literally raise him from the dead, he and his crew heads off to bully their colleagues into doing the same for Skye – taking her shooter, CENTIPEDE-affiliated tech billionaire Ian Quinn, with them so that they have someone to punish should she die anyway.

This brings down the ire (and the appearance) of Bill Paxton (yay!) as Agent Garrett, who claims to have been after Quinn long before Coulson’s guys were interested and also happens to be Agent Ward’s former S.O. He also has an underling in tow, Agent Antwon “Trip” Triplet, who immediately falls hard for The Bus (“is that a full bar??”) and then starts insta-crushing on Agent Simmons. Since Paxton has already been announced as joining the series for a 4 episode arc, they work things out for Garrett and Trip to join The Agents on their quest – which hits a new snag when a bunch of the revealed “truth” in Coulson’s “How Did I Come Back To Life?” turn out to have been (cue audience groan) even further falsified.

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One lead still seems to be solid, though: a mysterious drug/chemical called “GH325” that apparently healed Coulson’s original “spear through the heart” injury. Using the series’ preferred method of exposition, i.e. “turn on hologram machine, say fake sciencey-stuff, magically discover answer,” they discover that the lab where Coulson was put back together (big creepy brain-fixin’ machine and all) is in an old WWII-era bunker built into a remote mountainside called “The Guest House.” Weirdly, they make it a point to hammer home that this is not a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility, apparently to make it “okay” for Coulson, Garret, Ward and Fitz to break in and kill two guards in a shootout. They find the medicine, but not before a time-bomb is triggered and they all have to escape fast so that they can beat the other arbitrary ticking-clock of Skye’s deteriorating health. Everyone makes tracks… except Coulson, because he finds a big scary door marked “T.A.H.I.T.I.” – so the title wasn’t just the series doing it’s semi-regular fake-acronym gag. Huh.

We don’t immediately see what Coulson finds behind that door, but whatever it is both puts him into a state of shock and makes him suddenly determined that Skye not be injected with GH235 – but she already has been. She convulses, shakes… and then stabilizes. It worked, and everyone but Coulson is happy about it. Why?

Because THE NA’VI, that’s why.

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No, for real: In a flashback shared with the audience but not the crew, Coulson finds that the T.A.H.I.T.I. room is full of GH-numbered vials of liquid, all being pumped from big hoses connected to some kind of containment unit. Inside the unit he finds a glass, liquid-filled tube containing the corpse of a huge blue-skinned humanoid. It’s badly damaged (and has a Y-shaped autopsy scar) – lots of wounds, plus it’s been cut in half at the waist with it’s intestines exposed… and said spilled-guts are what the “GH” chemicals are being farmed from. Or were, since the timebomb has buried the facility under a mountain of rubble.

So S.H.I.E.L.D. (or some other entity that S.H.I.E.L.D. knows about and can get to do clandestine medical work for them) has had a dead nonhuman and/or superhuman being in a bunker for (presumably) longer than we’ve been led to believe the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been aware of beings like this (i.e. prior to Thor’s arrival in New Mexico) and they’ve been harvesting its blood(?) to be used as a super-regenerative chemical the application of which did a freakish number on Coulson (a human) …but seemed to work a lot better on Skye (supposedly some kind of superhuman.)

That’s… actually pretty unexpected. And interesting. The kind of cool “WTF?” comic-book development that the show probably should’ve started exploiting a lot sooner. It doesn’t make this a great episode – it really is just another find-the-magic-thingee installment broken up by the other characters talking about Skye, again, – but it portends interesting things to come. It also wraps up on a decent-enough tease for next week’s show, as Asgardian seductressLorelei arrives on Earth in time to do battle with Jamie Alexander’s Lady Sif.

Parting Thoughts

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  • Okay. Obvious question (the only one, really): Who/what the hell is that thing in the tube? Amusingly, whereas “big, has blue skin” would be a pretty specific description anywhere else; in the Marvel Universe it only narrows it down to a lot of possibilities, three of which I find fairly plausible.
  • 1. A Jotun, aka “Frost Giant.” We’ve seen them in Thor already, and while they don’t seem to have “super healing” abilities they do have hyperextended lifespans (like the Asgardians) so maybe it’s the same thing? On the other hand, Tube Guy doesn’t seem to have the rune-like designs on his face and body like other Jotuns we’ve seen (even Loki has them when he changes form) so I’m not leaning this way. Plus, the whole “medicine worked super-well on Skye” would indicate that she and this creature are connected in some way already, and it’d be kind of weak for her to be just another dang Thor tie-in.
  • 2. Kree. The Kree are kind of the the central advanced alien race in the Marvel Universe. They’ve been around forever, they’ve got their fingers (which come in both quasi-caucasian and blue varieties) in pies all over the continuity and their related mythology connects to everyone from Captain Marvel to The Inhumans. This is probably the most likely answer (outside of “something new made up for the show”) – since it would work as a tease for the Kree-heavy Guardians of the Galaxy movie.
  • 2.5 Oh, also – it’s probably the easiest “reach” for Skye’s connection: If she were, say, a human/Kree hybrid; it’s conceivable that getting a booster-shot of “pure” Kree blood will unlock whatever her 084-worthy powers are. In fact… it wouldn’t be a bad way of “backdoor-piloting” Ms. Marvel. But I’m not 100% convinced about that one, either…
  • 3. When Tube Guy first slides out into Coulson’s view, the light catches his skin and you can clearly make out what looks like geometric/straight-line tattooing on his left breast that’s either glowing or “shiny.” There’s only one set of blue people in the Marvel canon I know of offhand that have “ink” like that: Homo merrmanus, The Atlanteans. These are the folks that Namor: The Sub-Mariner is the King of – he’s just not blue like the rest of his race because he’s a hybrid with a human father.
  • 3.5 The main thing that might hold this one up: For some reason, Marvel hasn’t bothered to buy Namor’s movie rights back from Universal. However, those rights can often be weirdly character-specific (see: Quicksilver and Scarlett Witch can be Avengers, they just can’t call them mutants) and he’s not the only hybrid, human-looking Atlantean: He has a clone second-cousin (long story) named Namorita. Fun fact about her: She’s had trouble with her artificially-assembled genetic structure, and her skin has changed around from Caucasian to Atlanean to pink-ish as a result. In the episode, Skye’s skin turned from it’s natural color to purple/gray as the GH235 took effect. And hey… didn’t she call her hacktivist collective “The Rising Tide?” Not terribly likely… but if you were looking for this show to get more out there, “Skye is actually half-fishperson” definitely qualifies.
  • A more immediate question: If Extract of Tube Guy can heal dead tissue, can it also keep something alive unnaturally long? There’s a lot of Marvel Villains with explicit S.H.I.E.L.D. connections who’re actually long-lived Nazis, for example – and one of them is scheduled to show up for Avengers: Age of Ultron (and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him or others kicking around at the margins of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.)

Next Week

It’s girlfriend bonding time in The Yes Men, as the female Agents join Lady Sif to thwart Lorelei; whose sorcery can make any man her slave. Y’know what I always wonder about that particular magic power? How does it work outside the strictures of heterosexuality? Like… are gay men immune to the spell? Can she also control lesbians? Does it only work at half-strength for bisexuals? I somehow doubt I’ll have any answers after this.

Bob Chipman
Bob Chipman is a critic and author.

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