If your DVR recording of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ this week was pre-empted by news coverage of Tuesday’s political primaries, as happened in my region, don’t just shrug it off and assume there was no new episode. One indeed aired, perhaps later in the evening than scheduled. Check your provider’s On-Demand offerings to find it.
‘The Inside Man’ is a pretty decent episode overall, but this back-half of the show’s season still feels haphazardly structured. Not only is that spaceship non-sequitur from last week a total no-show, the cliffhanger ending where Inhuman Ward says something threatening and blows evil alien sand at Gideon Malick’s henchman Giyera has no follow-up at all. What happened there is never mentioned, and Giyera seems perfectly fine.
Instead, we open with Ward (I’ll just have to call him that until the Inhuman inhabiting his body is given a name) talking to Malick, who tells him his Inhuman army is progressing nicely and proudly introduces his latest acquisition, the Colombian cop named Lucio with the power to paralyze anyone by looking at them. Seeing that Lucio has been blindfolded, Ward asks to look at his eyes. When the blindfold is removed, Lucio of course paralyzes everyone holding him. However, his power doesn’t work on Ward.
Elsewhere, Coulson meets Gen. Talbot (Adrian Pasdar) at an airport and gloats a little about being his boss now. Talbot is clearly unhappy about having to report to him. Nonetheless, they’re scheduled to go to a “Symposium on the Alien Contagion” in Taiwan, where representatives from several world governments will meet up to discuss what to do about the Inhuman situation. As new head of the ATCU, Talbot will represent the USA. Coulson will go undercover as a CDC doctor to give a briefing about what the Inhumans actually are.
On a training field op with May, Lincoln keeps tabs on Coulson and Talbot from a discrete distance. When they enter the airport parking garage, Lincoln spots Carl Creel, the HYDRA agent who killed Agent Hartley (Lucy Lawless) at the beginning of Season 2. Creel is a powered individual (but not Inhuman) who can morph into any substance he touches. Lincoln leaps into action and rushes in to zap Creel with his own electrical powers, but Creel insulates himself by touching a rubber tire. The two tussle a bit until May arrives and touches Creel’s head with a metal rod. His head turns to metal, which allows Lincoln to zap him again. Suddenly, Talbot orders them to stand down. He says that Creel wasn’t there to kill him. He’s his bodyguard.
Coulson has Creel locked in a S.H.I.E.L.D. containment pod. (The interior surfaces are all padded with soft cushions, so there’s not much he can use to get out.) Talbot says that Creel was brainwashed by HYDRA but is now cured and reformed. Fitz and Simmons question him about how he could have survived touching the Terrigen obelisk, which turned any other non-Inhuman to stone. He doesn’t know. Although Daisy and Lance object, Talbot insists that he trusts Creel with his life and won’t travel to the symposium without him.
Daisy herself will be left behind, because the rules of the symposium prohibit aliens. Lance will come as protection, but isn’t allowed to bring any weapons.
Back at the HYDRA lair, Ward’s weakened body isn’t getting any stronger. Malick suggests that the Inhuman should perhaps transfer to a new host. He offers up some of his strong henchmen, including Giyera, but Ward says he can’t inhabit an Inhuman host.
When they arrive at the symposium, Coulson tells Talbot that he suspects one of the delegates may be a mole for Gideon Malick, but he isn’t sure which one. Talbot spouts some pretty racist accusations and narrows the field down to any or all of them. Coulson rolls his eyes. Lance, Bobbi and May break into the delegates’ rooms and snoop for clues.
Malick has to leave the HYDRA base on business, and instructs Giyera to keep a close watch on Ward. As soon as he’s gone, Ward tells Giyera to ignore those instructions and bring him five live humans. Giyera is too afraid of him to refuse.
After Coulson makes his argument to the symposium that Inhumans are “as human as we are, just with a little something extra,” the Australian delegate acts hostile and paranoid – perhaps too much so. The Russian delegate offers to create a sanctuary haven where all Inhumans will be able to live together. Talbot finds this suspicious, as if the Russkies just want to round up all the Inhumans for their own nefarious, Communism-loving purposes.
At S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, Simmons analyzes Creel’s blood and determines that its metamorphic properties make it resistant to the Terrigen transformation. She speculates that it could be used to make a vaccine against Terrigenesis. Daisy, who feels that her own transformation was a great awakening, is immediately aghast at the suggestion, but Lincoln argues that it could be a good thing. He says that not everyone is ready or wants to be awakened (citing Andrew/Lash as an example) and should be offered the choice. They have a big fight over this, which is a shame, because they were just about to get all sexy-sexy until Simmons interrupted.
Hunter goes off-mission when he spots Creel walking away from the conference. He trails him to a truck, in the back of which is a crate with a boy locked inside in suspended animation. He takes this as confirmation that Creel is evil. Before he can notify anyone else, Creel sneaks up behind and knocks him unconscious.
As the delegates prepare to vote on the Sanctuary issue, Talbot announces that he knows which of them in the room is a traitor. He calls guards in to arrest… Coulson… whom he reveals has been spying on all of them. Gideon Malick then walks in the room and identifies Coulson as the Director of HYDRA. Yes, Talbot was apparently Malick’s inside man the whole time.
Lance wakes up to find a bunch of armed baddies staring down at him. Reminding them that the conference is a weapons-free zone, he and May quickly disarm all the opposition, but one drives away with the truck and the boy (who it turns out is Talbot’s son) inside. May goes after the truck while Lance and Bobbi arm up with a secret cache of guns that Lance snuck in.
Malick claims that Coulson is trying to exterminate all the Inhumans, not save them. As far as any of these delegates know, Malick is a trusted member of the World Security Council, so they have no reason to doubt him. After they haul Coulson away and lock him in a cage, Talbot demands that Malick release his son. Of course, Talbot isn’t actually evil; he was just being blackmailed. Malick betrays him and locks him in the cage with Coulson, then orders his henchmen to kill them and leaves the room like some Bond villain. Fortunately, Creel saves them. He’s loyal to Talbot after all.
May rescues Talbot’s son and all is forgiven, but Malick has escaped. Coulson tells Talbot he has a strange feeling that Malick isn’t actually in charge of HYDRA anymore, and may be reporting to someone… or something.
Giyera brings Ward the five human victims he asked for, all of whom stand paralyzed before him by means of Lucio. Ward does something weird that involves sand leaving his body and forming a human-ish shape floating in the air, then dissipating and infecting the human victims. Exactly what’s going on here isn’t clear at all. The next we see him, Ward is covered in goo but looks much healthier, and he’s surrounded by five crispy-fried corpses. Giyera and Lucio stand outside the room, looking horrified.
Daisy eventually apologizes to Lincoln for being so bitchy about the idea of a Terrigen vaccine. She makes it up to him with that sex they didn’t get to have earlier.
The episode ends with Malick on a private jet, talking to the Russian delegate about finalizing their plans for an Inhuman sanctuary. Hidden in the luggage compartment of the plane are Lance and Bobbi, who have no idea where they might be going.
As I said at the start, this episode is a little shaggy in its construction. I’m not fond of the way Ward’s new powers are so poorly defined, as if the show is going out of its way to not commit to any specific explanation so as to give the writers time to make something up later. (Next week’s episode appears to be all about Ward, so perhaps we’ll finally learn more about this then?) For that matter, I don’t think actor Brett Dalton is pulling off the evil alien god thing particularly well. He just seems like a mildly grumpier version of the character he’s played all along.
Coulson’s smugness is also particularly grating this week for some reason. He smirks far too much whenever his plans fall apart or his life is in danger.
Those issues aside, the episode develops a pretty fun ‘Mission: Impossible’ vibe when Bobbi, Lance and May use spycraft to investigate the delegates, and I’m still interested to see where this storyline is headed.