The frustrating thing about this season of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ is that, although I support and am genuinely interested in the direction the show’s storylines are heading, the individual episodes in this back-half of the season have felt messily slapped together and have disappointed on their own merits. This week seems to pull things together and provides a lot of answers and clarification to a number of lingering questions.
Episode ‘Paradise Lost’ opens with a flashback to 1970. Teenage Gideon Malick and his twin brother Nathaniel attend their father’s funeral. Daddy was a HYDRA bigwig with connections to Daniel Whitehall.
In the present day, Malick returns home to his mansion to find Ward already there. Ward has already asked Malick’s daughter Stephanie to call a meeting of the HYDRA inner circle, where he will reveal his true self. Malick doesn’t exactly seem excited at the prospect.
At S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, Coulson is steaming mad about the revelation that Ward is back. May tries to focus on work and doesn’t want to talk about her ex-husband Andrew’s transformation into Lash. Mack has returned to work, and helps Fitz and Simmons in the lab examining the corpse of one of the Transia Corp. victims that Ward killed. Coulson announces a mission to investigate a suspicious agro facility subsidiary of Transia. Meanwhile, Daisy and Lincoln will split off on a side mission to search for an Inhuman from Afterlife who may have some info on the alien god that possessed Ward.
Malick tells his daughter that he had a vision of his own death when he touched the psychic Inhuman during last week’s events. He’s certain that Ward will kill him, probably during the HYDRA meeting as a show of power. Stephanie tells him that he needs to man-up and prove his value to Ward.
In flashback again, the Malick boys pay a visit to Daniel Whitehall (Reed Diamond) in prison. Although their father was a true believer in the Inhuman god, Whitehall is only interested in science and thinks all the HYDRA religious rituals are foolish. He also suggests that Daddy Malick wasn’t as devout as he claimed to be, and drops a hint that they should check out a copy of Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ in their father’s study.
Daisy and Lincoln take a quinjet to South Dakota, where they find a former Australian mercenary named James living in a trailer. Although James is a dormant Inhuman, he’s still bitter that Daisy’s mother Jiaying never let him undergo Terrigen transformation. (You’d think he’d be resourceful enough to track down some of the tainted fish oil in the wake of mass Terrigen exposure, but apparently not.) He’s also a paranoid loony and kind of a cocky asshole.
From their analysis of the corpse, Fitz and Simmons determine that “It” (the being currently possessing Ward’s body) uses micro-organisms as a weapon to destroy human flesh. That would account for the sand-looking stuff he throws around a lot. Because they have reason to believe that Giyera will be at the agro facility, Fitz builds special signature-guns that can only be fired by the hands of the people they’re assigned to.
At this point, we get a very welcome and much-needed explanation for what exactly Giyera’s power is. He’s not telekinetic in the same way Daisy is. He has the ability to manipulate and control inanimate objects to do his bidding with quite a bit of precision, but his power can’t affect living beings. Daisy, on the other hand, basically just throws stuff – including people – around using shockwaves. That being the case, I’m not sure what good signature-guns would be if Giyera can just take control of the bullets after they’re fired.
More flashbacks. Young Gideon finds the copy of ‘Paradise Lost’ that Whitehall mentioned, which has a hollowed-out section to hold a white stone. Gideon realizes that his father cheated at the ceremony in which the HYDRA faithful used stones in a bag to select the traveler who would be sent through the portal to Maveth to become the Inhuman god’s next host. By doing this periodically, they allowed the god to survive for centuries while they worked on finding a way to bring him to Earth. Daddy Malick made sure he’d never be selected for that job. Gideon feels betrayed by this. Nathaniel suggests that they put it behind them and participate in the ceremony honestly to let fate decide, as it always should have. “Together to the end,” they vow as Gideon tosses the marked white stone into a pond.
In the present again, the HYDRA inner circle convenes and Ward introduces himself. Some of them recognize him as Grant Ward and are skeptical, so alien Ward shows them his true face. (We only get to see it from the back, but it has lots of tentacles.)
At the agro lab, the S.H.I.E.L.D. team discovers a bunch of dead starling birds that were experimented upon. When they come across Giyera, they lure him into an empty room where he has nothing to control and lock him in with May. In addition to his Inhuman power, Giyera also happens to be a skilled martial artist, which means that actor Mark Dacascos finally gets to show off what he can do. He and May fight with a lot of showy flips and fancy moves. May eventually wins and locks him in a S.H.I.E.L.D. containment pod.
James reveals that he’s in possession of a Kree sphere doohickey that allegedly belonged to the first Inhuman the Kree created on Earth. Lincoln offers to trade him a Terrigen crystal for it so that he can transform as he always wanted. James accepts, but Lincoln tricks him and steals the sphere without giving up the crystal. “Not everybody deserves powers,” he says as he runs off with Daisy.
Using some info gleaned from the agro lab, Simmons concludes that alien Ward doesn’t just use micro-organisms as a weapon, but is himself a parasite comprised of many micro-organisms in a collective. She also believes that he retains all the memories of his hosts.
How much Ward remembers is of great concern to Malick, especially after Ward passive-agressively gives Stephanie a copy of ‘Paradise Lost’ as a message to her father. When she asks what that’s about, Ward explains that young Gideon Malick betrayed his brother and didn’t really throw the marked white stone in the pond. He pocketed it and put it in the ceremony bag so that he could avoid getting picked to go to Maveth. As a result of that, Nathaniel drew the unlucky stone and was sent through the portal to become the god’s host. Ward still has Nathaniel’s memories and feelings of betrayal. To teach Malick a lesson about sacrifice, he kisses Stephanie and murders her in front of her father.
On their way to rendezvous with Zephyr One, Daisy tells Lincoln about her vision of the spaceship (which may be a quinjet, based on the look of the interior). She says that she knows someone on their team is going to die.
On board Zephyr One, Giyera manages to pry open the doors to his containment pod by controlling a metal buckle he sneaked in. Once free, he’s basically unstoppable on the plane. He uses his power to control the plane itself and force it into a nosedive followed by landing at a HYDRA base. May is barely able to get out a radio message warning Daisy and Lincoln about what’s happened. Daisy turns to Lincoln and says that it’s time to unleash the “Secret Warriors Initiative,” whatever that might be.
The episode ends with Ward telling Malick that “Sacrifice is never easy” but they’re even-steven in his book now. Malick doesn’t appear to agree.
I’m relieved to finally have a decent understanding of what Ward is and what his powers are, why HYDRA sent sacrificial victims to Maveth for so many centuries, and (perhaps a lesser mystery, but one that had been bugging me) how Giyera’s powers work and how they’re different from Daisy’s. In addition to all that, this is a solidly-plotted episode and easily the season’s best entry since returning from hiatus in March. I hope the show can build off this as it heads toward the season finale.