Agents S2EP2: 9x4

Agents remains a fun watch for Marvel fans, but anyone who hasn’t kept up with the series mythology will likely be lost in this week’s world-building.

As Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seems to be leaning plot-heavy and serialized for its second season, I’m experimenting with changing up the recap/review format – “Just-the-facts” story/reference recap upfront, “meat-and-potatoes” review after. My goal: Give you all the info you need without you having to sift through half a magazine’s worth of plot-recitation (unless, of course, there’s half a magazine’s worth of plot-points and Marvel Universe references). Let’s see how that goes.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesday night on ABC. If you need to catch up — and you might want to before you read this — you can watch on ABC’s website or Hulu.

So, then, to recap…

  • Lance Hunter (a name that sounds significantly less silly when you note that the actor’s actual name is Nick Blood. Seriously.), the last survivor of the mercenary team from last episode, passes on a rescue by Agent May so she can try to stop Crusher “The Absorbing Man” Creel from getting away with The Obelisk. Instead, he gets grabbed up by General Talbot, who wants him to double-cross Coulson.
  • Lance ends up double-double crossing both Talbot and Coulson over the course of the episode (even going so far as to stun-gun Skye, Tripp and May so he can try to kill Creel himself) in the name of avenging Isabelle Hartley. Somehow, Coulson still offers him a job doing S.H.I.E.L.D. 2.0’s “dirty work” as a rogue operator. Phew! For a moment there, I thought inexplicably bad leadership decisions would end with Fury’s tenure!
  • Creel’s body wound up absorbing some of whatever The Obelisk is, after all. Good news: Now he can turn people into charcoal, too! Bad news: It might be killing him. HYDRA says they can help… but so does Raina — aka “The Girl in The Flower Dress.”
  • As it turns out, the superhuman-obsessed Raina has “broken-up” with HYDRA (we last saw her talking to an unseen figure implied to be Skye’s “monster” father), and when Creel rebuffs her offer to acquire The Obelisk she hands him over to Coulson… mainly so she can steal it during the ensuing shootout.
  • Creel is brought down by a weapon designed by Fitz and his new friend: Mac! New S.H.I.E.L.D.’s engineer/mechanic takes it upon himself to make friends with the troubled scientist, and he also helps settle what I’m sure was a bet among many groups of fans: Fitz is aware that “Ghost Simmons” is imaginary, after all.
  • For those worried that the “team of secret-keepers” dynamic from Season 1 was gone, rejoice: Even though May is now enthusiastically playing surrogate mom to Skye, she’s still not above lying to her face: She knows that Coulson is “not okay,” and that his (recurring, we learn) compulsions to draw alien-writing on the walls remain a problem. I imagine the symbols Skye has been decoding have been coming from these sessions, and not from Garrett like she was told.
  • Coulson offer Talbot a deal that seems to be the setup for Season 2’s “mission structure:” If he’ll leave S.H.I.E.L.D. be, Coulson will let The General and his men take credit for all the HYDRA plots and supervillains they bring down. That’ll work. (Coulson on Creel’s post-defeat status: “Well, he turned to stone — but he could already do that, so who knows?”)
  • Raina gets away with The Obelisk and brings it to Skye’s Dad, played by Kyle Maclachlan, who still seems to be having a gooey-hands problem. He orders her to touch The Obelisk, and instead of turning her to ash it glows yellow/green from within and shows of more Alien Writing. “Bad Dad” explains: “It let you live,” and tells Raina to bring Skye to him.
  • I’m thinking more and more that The Obelisk either contains or is itself one of the Infinity Stones — “Time,” “Soul” and “Reality” are all still unaccounted for in the Cinematic Universe.
  • Alternatively, I suppose The Obelisk could have something to do with The Terrigen Mists, given that one of the more popular fan-theories is that Skye, Skye’s Dad, Raina and possibly Melinda May are actually Inhumans — widely expected to be the team/species the MCU uses as a substitute for the still-verboten mutants.
  • For some reason, I really want Maclachlan to turn out to be The High Evolutionary.

So how was it?

Pretty damn good, actually!

It feels as though the serialized-adventure format (as opposed to straightforward “monster of the week” format) of the post-Winter Soldier half of season 1 is going to hang around through season 2, and it’s a decidedly better fit — though the “feeding dead/defeated baddies to Talbot” angle is obviously designed to make sure one-off threats are still a presence. Still, things feel strong and confident — which is not something you could say this far into season 1.

I imagine the sudden shift to Hunter as the team’s new Wolverine (or maybe he’s closer to Gambit?) will rankle some fans, especially given how enthusiastically Tripp was received as a superior-replacement for Ward. I’m not over the moon for the character just yet, but I like the story-possibilities in Coulson subcontracting the nastier business of spycraft to rogues in order to keep S.H.I.E.L.D. 2.0 clean for the time being. There’s inklings of a mutual-attraction happening with Skye, but I hope they don’t feel the need to jump back into that right away. Bottom line: It’s an action show, and Blood has serviceable action-guy chops, so I’m onboard for now.

Speaking of relationships — the unexpectedly excellent rapport Fitz and Mac have is easily the happy surprise of this episode. I especially like that we don’t get some kind of convoluted “He reminds me of…” or “I knew his…” reasoning for why the burly, blunt-speaking mechanic wants to engage with the Team Geek — Mac just seems to want to be friends. The scripted structure of the ice breaking between them was a bit on the clunky side (Mac is the one who figures out that Fitz’s frustrated sputtering of “I didn’t solve this today…” doesn’t mean that he’s giving up, but that the answer is something he already invented but forgot) but the chemistry makes it work.

…Speaking of chemistry, since I’m sure Tumblr has already decided that this is a “thing,” yes — I did in fact notice that “Ghost Simmons” sizes-up Mac in subtly curious fashion before encouraging Fitz to accept his help, and yes that is interesting since she’s just a projection of Fitz’s subconscious. It certainly isn’t chiseled in stone anywhere that Fitz is 100% heterosexual, and we know next to nothing about Mac’s background, so it’s within the realm of possibility and it certainly would be an unexpected turn, I’ll say that much.

I get that “What is Skye?” and “What was the Blue Guy?” are likely the mysteries-worth-answering for this season (especially since both seem tied to eventual Agent Carter mid-series) and thus the alien writing needs to stay in the plot, but I was a little disappointed to learn it’s still a prominent problem for Coulson. Seeing him struggling with the weight of his new Director responsibilities was a great new angle for the season, and it’s somehow less interesting if he’s also still dealing with this craziness on top of it. A “normal” Coulson straining under real-world (relatively real, at least) pressure is relatable — Coulson dealing with that and possible alien-possession and not bouncing off the walls in a strait-jacket practically makes him a superhero in his own right at this point.

Still, at this point it feels like the season is still in setup-mode, introducing the new plotlines and toys we’ll be following through both this series and Agent Carter, so it’s possible there’s a point to doubling up on Coulson Issues that I’m not seeing yet. Similarly, I do feel like if we get to the mid-season break and “What is Skye?” hasn’t evolved into “What does Skye being ______ mean?” that particular thread will have gone on too long; but I’m willing to wait and see… Especially since the promos for next week’s episode are teasing the return of Simmons… as a HYDRA Agent! (Evil Natasha Henstridge? Which gods did I please?)

The Bottom Line: S.H.I.E.L.D. 2.0 continues to impress, but shows faint signs of slipping into season 1’s bad habits. Hope it keeps coming, and that the great two-episode turn for The Absorbing Man is a new baseline for how the show handles better-known Marvel characters and not a ceiling.

Recommendation: A worthwhile watch for fans, though I can’t begin to guess what all this mythology means to anyone who didn’t stay versed in season 1.

[rating=3.0]

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Bob Chipman
Bob Chipman is a critic and author.

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