Want to know whether this week’s episode of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ is any good? I’m sorry, that information is classified, Level 8 clearance required.
Oh, don’t worry. I’ll tell you anyway. Please don’t rat me out to S.H.I.E.L.D.
Episode ‘The Hub’ is all about secrets – why they’re bad, why they’re sometimes necessary, and whether they should be respected. Coulson and his team are called to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ultra-top-secret, super-high-tech headquarters, which is called… you guessed it, The Hub. Coulson is there for a mission briefing by his superior, Agent Hand (Saffron Burrows from ‘Boston Legal’). The details of the mission require Level 8 clearance, Coulson’s ranking and above. However, it will be carried out by two Level 7s, Agent’s Ward and Fitz. Yes, Fitz, the bumbling tech nerd. It’s his first field mission, a fact that troubles everyone else on the team, especially his partner/unrequited love interest Simmons. (Or is she his sister? I’m really not clear on that.) For his part, Fitz decides to man-up and act like it’s no big deal, even though he’s not-so-secretly terrified of getting killed.
Ward and Fitz are sent to some made-up Russian republic, where they have to locate and disarm a doomsday weapon called the “Overkill Device” currently in the hands of a terrorist group. The two of them are only given the minimum amount of information that they need to know to complete their specific tasks. Ward’s role is to get them into the compound and protect Fitz, who will do the actual techie disarmament stuff, after which they’ll call in S.H.I.E.L.D. for an air strike. Any other details of the mission are beyond their clearance.
Back at the Hub, Simmons frets about Fitz. Skye doesn’t care for all this secrecy stuff and doesn’t like being kept in the dark. She convinces Simmons to help her hack into the S.H.I.E.L.D. computer system. Somehow, this winds up involving Simmons shooting a superior S.H.I.E.L.D. officer with her “Night-Night Gun” tranquilizer. Oops. While in the network, Skye has a limited amount of time to choose between pulling up information on the mission or uncovering redacted files about her birth parents. Ultimately, she does the right thing.
Coulson catches them in the act and lectures Skye about the importance of respecting authority and rules, and warns her that she may have compromised the mission. However, he has a change of heart when Skye informs him about what she found out – that there’s no extraction plan for Ward and Fitz. They’re on a suicide mission, and weren’t told for fear that they might not go through with it. Coulson is furious that he was kept out of the loop on this, even though he supposedly has the proper clearance.
On the ground, Fitz proves to be a lot better at field work than anyone guessed. He not only gets himself and Ward out of a tight jam with some local mobsters, he flips the mobsters to become allies and transport them to the terrorist compound. Eventually, with the Overkill Device successfully disarmed and the air strike initiated, Ward realizes that their extraction protocol has fallen through. (He probably doesn’t know that it was a sham to begin with, though.) Ward tries to brace Fitz for the fact that they’re on their own. Fortunately, just at that moment, Coulson and Agent May arrive in their S.H.I.E.L.D. plane. Coulson defied orders and mounted his own extraction to save his team. They all jet off to safety together. Hooray for teamwork…
This is a very ambitious episode for the show. The Hub stuff alone conveys a much larger scale than anything we’ve seen previously, and for the first time, I felt that the visual effects throughout the episode were – if not exactly feature film quality – at least on the upper tier for a television series. The storyline has plenty of intrigue and some well thought-out themes, and still manages to fit in a lot of worthwhile character moments.
What the episode doesn’t have, sadly, is any legitimate suspense or excitement. At no point do we ever really believe that Ward and Fitz are in danger. The rescue mission to save them is also just kind of silly. Why was S.H.I.E.L.D. so willing to write them off as expendable when, as it turns out, extracting them is ridiculously easy? Seriously, May flies their gigantic jet into the middle of an air strike zone, lands it, picks them up, and flies off again, without any explosions or shooting or anything dangerous at all ever coming anywhere near them.
Once the mission is completed and everyone returns back to base, none of them face any repercussions either – not Coulson for defying orders, not Skye for stealing top-secret mission data, not even Simmons for shooting a superior officer. Any one of these actions should get the characters court-martialed (if S.H.I.E.L.D. is supposed to be a branch of the military) or shipped off to a secret hell-hole prison for detention. Instead, they’re all just shrugged off. This is sloppy writing.
- We get another none-too-subtle hint about what really happened to Coulson after dying in ‘The Avengers’ when Skye complains that, “He’s acting like a robot version of himself.” This plays into comic book fans’ speculation that he’s a Life Model Decoy and doesn’t realize it. But could Marvel really just be jerking us around by dropping red herring hints about this?
- Not only is information about this mission withheld from Coulson, he’s also denied information about himself and the aftermath of the Battle of New York.
- As a thank-you present to Skye, Coulson is able to pull the redacted file about her parents. He tells her that she was dropped off at the orphanage by an unidentified S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who may have been her mother. That’s all he gives her for now, but he confides to May that he actually knows more. “Some secrets are meant to stay secret” after all, it seems.