Franchise synergy is the game at play in ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ this week, as the show hammers in a pretty shameless tie-in for its upcoming ‘Agent Carter’ spin-off. Fortunately, the episode is a pretty good one anyway.
‘The Things We Bury’ jumps around among three different timelines. Here’s how it breaks out chronologically:
A Long Time Ago
We open with a flashback to 1945 Austria, where the evil Nazi Daniel Whitehall (Reed Diamond) – or Werner Reinhardt, as he was known at the time – is testing the alien obelisk on local villagers (who are weirdly Asian, for some reason I didn’t quite catch). Anyone he forces to touch it turns to stone, except one unnamed young woman (Dichen Lachman from Joss Whedon’s ‘Dollhouse’) who is unaffected. Reinhardt/Whitehall is fascinated and wants to slice her open to find out what’s so special about her, but the Allied forces, specifically the Strategic Scientific Reserve (forerunner to S.H.I.E.L.D.), break up those plans.
Agent Carter (Hayley Atwell) questions Reinhardt. He wants to cut a deal like many other Nazi scientists who went on to work for the Americans, but she’s not interested, and instead has him locked up in a secret prison known as “The Rat,” where she intends for him to rot away forever.
Shake It Off
After 44 years in confinement, it’s 1989 and Reinhardt is an old man. Unexpectedly, he’s released under the pretense of budget cuts, but it turns out that one of his guards is a HYDRA mole.
Reinhardt returns to Austria and finds that young woman, who somehow looks like she hasn’t aged a day. Really determined to find out her secrets, Reinhardt slowly and methodically takes her apart piece-by-piece in a long and agonizing process until he distills a youth formula from her, which he drinks and returns to youthful vigor. The girl all used up, the newly rechristened Daniel Whitehall tosses what’s left of her body away.
The Here and Now
In the present day, Skye’s father (Kyle MacLachlan), currently known only as “The Doctor” (who?), has returned the obelisk which he calls “The Diviner” to Whitehall and promises to answer all his questions about it. Whitehall believes that it’s a weapon and wants to unlock its power, but Doc tells him that it’s actually a key. In the ancient past, aliens came to Earth with plans to eradicate the human race, with the exception of a select chosen few who would be allowed to enter the city they built (the one that the strange symbols point to). The Diviner determines which people are worthy of entrance and which are not. Of course, even with that explained, they still need to actually find the city.
Whom Do You Trust?
In scenes clearly meant to parallel those between Carter and Reinhardt, Bobbi interrogates Whitehall’s No. 2 guy Bakshi. She uses all sorts of tricks to get him to give up information on Whitehall, and he in return messes with her head by suggesting that either she or Simmons may have actually been brainwashed by HYDRA without remembering it, and could be ticking timebombs waiting to go off and betray S.H.I.E.L.D. Bobbi dismisses the suggestion, which of course means that it’s absolutely true.
Meanwhile, Simmons digs through old SSR paperwork that was never digitized (and therefore never hacked by HYDRA) until she discovers the truth that Reinhardt and Whitehall are the same person.
Later, Bakshi slams his face against the table to break open a cyanide capsule embedded in his cheek bone. The S.H.I.E.L.D.ies stabilize him, but we last see him on life support.
What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?
In a storyline that I found a little confusing, Coulson brings Trip and Fitz on a mission that takes them to Hawaii and Australia for reasons that don’t appear to amount to much. Coulson forces Fitz, who’s still suffering the effects of brain damage, to practice stripping and rebuilding a communications transceiver until he can do it in under six minutes. The plan is to (I think?) break into some sort of government facility where they will hack into a satellite in order to locate the alien city. Something like that, anyway.
Well, the team gets ambushed by HYDRA and Trip gets shot. Among the hostages at the facility is The Doctor, who offers to help Trip. What he’s doing there, I have no idea. Of course, Coulson doesn’t know who he is, but Doc soon reveals himself as he holds Trip’s life in the balance. He leaves Coulson with a choice: He can either capture The Doctor or he can save Trip, but he can’t do both. Coulson save’s Trip while Fitz completes his fiddling with the satellite, which finds the city.
Ward vs. Ward
Still on the loose, Grant Ward kidnaps his politician brother Christian (Tim DeKay). He tries to make Christian admit that he had abused Grant (at the prompting of their parents), and forced him to nearly drown their younger brother Thomas in a well. Christian says it’s all in his head and Grant was the abusive one the whole time. The two play mind games for a while, each trying to make the other doubt his own memories.
Grant brings Christian to the site of the old well and forces him to dig it up. Finally, Christian confesses to the abuse. Grant hugs his brother, tells him that all he ever wanted was the truth, and says, “It’s time to go home.”
Later, a news program reports that the Grant family home has burned down, and the bodies of Christian and his parents were found inside, in an apparent murder-suicide. Geez, that’s dark.
A Little Powwow
Grant Ward next introduces himself to Whitehall and The Doctor, offering his services. What does he have planned here? I don’t believe that he’s really loyal to HYDRA. I assume that he’s going to reunite Doc with his daughter Skye.
In a final flashback, we learn what The Doctor’s real motives are. That never-aging woman that Whitehall tortured and murdered? She was Doc’s wife, Skye’s mother. Doc swore vengeance when he found her body, and has worked for years to put himself in a position to exact it.
Maybe I just wasn’t paying enough attention, but the Coulson storyline sure felt muddled and needlessly confusing to me. The episode didn’t really need to shoehorn Agent Carter in either.
That said, just about everything else works great. I like the way this season’s narrative is shaping up and the show is making real strides at building the Marvel franchise’s mythology between movies. Kyle MacLachlan is also turning out to be a lot of fun as a (is villain the right word for what he is?) with wild mood swings.
‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ will have two more episodes in 2014, and then take a break until March, while the ‘Agent Carter’ show steps in for a while in between. This seems like a pretty good strategy to keep up the franchise’s momentum without fatiguing viewers by running both shows simultaneously.