This week’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is packed with both action and plot.

If you want to read up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., you’re in the right place. But remember: SPOILER WARNING is in effect. If you haven’t caught this week’s episode, spoilers are below… or you can catch up by watching on ABC’s website or Hulu.

And now, on to “Hen in the Wolf House.”

Kyle MacLachlan is always a fun presence to have around: he’s one of those actors who’s exactly “off” enough to always be interesting, but has enough of the basic look of a traditional leading-man (tall, angular features, it’s always just a little surprising that he doesn’t have an English accent) that he can “hide out” in an ensemble until his natural oddness can pop out and be surprising.

He’s playing the classic “X-Factor” (not referring to the comics) role here: A villain (Skye’s apparent biological father, a yet-unidentified superhuman with rage-control issues working as a criminal-surgeon for some reason) whose goals intersect those of HYDRA (conquer the world) and S.H.I.E.L.D. (save it) in more personal ways. It’s a fun turn, especially because he looks just ridiculous enough delivering super-strength beatdowns for it be amusing but still “work.” We still have no real clue who/what he is — the new popular fan theory seems to be Mr. Hyde, which would make Skye Quake — but I’m thinking Inhumans. Either way, should be fun to find out.

Skye’s Dad (“The Doctor”) is the highlight of this week’s “Hen in The Wolf House” in terms of abject weirdness, but it’s a joyfully “stuff”-packed installment besides: Secrets get revealed, arcs get closed, loose ends get tied, new people join and old favorites return.

Season 2 continues to feel very much like a deliberate make-up for what people disliked about Season 1, particularly the adherence to an episodic status quo — though, to be fair, it could just be a result of needing to cover a lot of ground and likely execute a “half-way finale” before the series takes its hiatus for the Agent Carter miniseries. Thus far, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 2.0 has openly flaunted the idea of things getting “settled.” New dynamics like Aloof Coulson, Simmons being both imaginary and a HYDRA double-agent, Fitz needing to re-make friends, etc that could easily be season-long arcs get tied-up in two or three episodes (or changed entirely) and in that respect “Hen” is some kind of motherload.

In short order: Simmons comes in from the cold. Adrianne Palicki’s Agent Bobbi Morse joins the team (after some fun but utterly-unconvincing misdirection where she appears to be a HYDRA Agent) and turns out to be the answer to the “Lance’s ex” mystery. Skye figures out that Coulson is the source of the alien-writing she’s been analyzing for him, and he not only admits it — he explains his reasoning: He wanted to see if it would “trigger” her like it did him (he didn’t start drawing until he saw Garrett do it, but then couldn’t stop) and the fact that she isn’t reacting to the alien serum makes him think she might be an alien herself.

Topping it all off? After making it look very much like The Doctor was going to be a chaotic troublemaking “second heavy” with his own agenda… he marches into Whitehall’s HYDRA HQ and basically says “On second thought, yeah! Let’s team up and use this Obelisk to kill S.H.I.E.L.D.!” Nice curveball.

There are still a few nagging issues: Skye not wanting to simply get the answers she wants re: Evil Dad from Ward because… she doesn’t, basically, still feels like artificial tension and the new wrinkle that she doesn’t buy it because his source is Raina doesn’t really change that. On the other hand, Raina herself has gotten a lot more interesting now that she’s a more-or-less independent player — the idea that S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA have now both forcibly-injected her with tracking devices is a nice bit of moral-gray for the conflict. We also find out that her obsession with natural-born superhumans (and potentially being/becoming one herself) comes from her “grandmother’s fairytales.”

One thing I will say: They need to start definitively giving things actual names. It’s nice that we now know The Obelisk is actually called “The Diviner,” but Skye now has two names neither of which are apparently the “real” one. “The Doctor” is still just that. And since everyone and their mom saw Guardians of The Galaxy by now, it’s probably okay to just say that the Dead Blue Guy was Kree. Or whatever he was.

PARTING THOUGHTS

  • It’s interesting to see them hang a lampshade on the implications of Fitz’s subconscious projection of Simmons having a crush on Agent Mack. More interesting still that he doesn’t seem to find it all that noteworthy one way or the other, apart from an opportunity to again declare that he knows Imaginary Simmons isn’t real. No clue if this is where they’re going, but bisexual men are still quite rare on mainstream TV — and unless I’m missing something, it’d make him the first “out” LGBTQ character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, yes?
  • Speaking of which, am I really going to have to pretend to be surprised when it turns out later in the season that Simmons actually is a HYDRA brainwashing victim, which Fitz will realize because he knows her best but will argue with Imaginary Simmons over it because it might be his brain-damage talking?
  • It’s sort-of “goofy” that the show treats Skye’s big guess about the alien writing (“It’s a map!”) like some kind of major outside the box breakthrough. It’s a pattern of straight lines and circles — wouldn’t “map” (or chart) been the first thing anyone thought of?
  • What is Raina? No idea, but it suddenly feels less like “just” a reference that she’s named after a Saurid creature.
  • It’s a little disappointing that they didn’t crack a single Wonder Woman joke, considering Pallicki’s history with the character and her big hero-sequence involving an invisible jet…

Bottom Line: This episode had solid superhero spycraft and feels like it’s building toward something pretty special.

Recommendation: If you still doubt that the series has improved tremendously, this is as good a way as any to jump on.

[rating=3.5]

NEXT WEEK:

In “A Fractured House,” HYDRA stages a S.H.I.E.L.D. false-flag attack, we meet Ward’s maybe-evil-maybe-not senator brother, and a bunch of other stuff that will all probably be overshadowed by the debut of Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer (well, that’s definitely one way to get the ratings up).

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Bob Chipman
Bob Chipman is a critic and author.

Avengers 2 Trailer Will Debut During Next Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

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