‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ 2.20 Recap: “Cards on the Table”

Before returning to ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ this week, many viewers may ask whether it’s safe to watch the latest episode if they haven’t seen ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ yet. To that, I can offer a qualified, “Yeah, I think so.”

I say “qualified” because I haven’t seen ‘Ultron’ yet, but I watched the episode anyway. Honestly, the tie-ins are pretty weak. The episode opens with mention that something happened that involved the Avengers and robots and mass destruction. OK, it also says that Ultron was defeated, which I suppose you could consider a plot spoiler, if you were really naïve enough to believe there was ever some infinitesimal chance that the movie might end with Ultron murdering all the Avengers and wiping out humanity – in which case this show wouldn’t be back for another episode anyway (or would need to be renamed ‘Marvel’s Robots of Ultron’).

Beyond that, the characters just sort of shrug-off the near-apocalyptic events of the movie and get back to doing what they were doing before. Frankly, I suspect that someone binge-watching this show sometime years in the future from now will be terribly confused by all this talk about things that are never shown and seem to have no further relevance to the series.

Theta Protocol

Oh, the episode also includes a brief flashback to one year earlier (including a cameo by Patton Oswalt as a couple of the Koenig brothers) in which Coulson reveals that his mysterious “Theta Protocol” was all about the secret construction of another helicarrier. I guess that must also factor into the movie in some other ill-defined way, but is quickly pushed off to the sidelines here. What a strange name for such a project. How did Coulson keep this secret, anyway? He must have had hundreds, if not thousands of contractors working on it.

In the present day and the aftermath of Ultron, Coulson has been vindicated, though Commander Gonzales (Edward James Olmos) still doesn’t like him very much. They strike a deal where Coulson will take over as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. again while Gonzales, Weaver and possibly some others will constitute the World Council he has to report to.

Agent 33 is declared officially free of HYDRA brainwashing. Skye’s friend Lincoln wakes up from a brief coma and is very concerned that S.H.I.E.L.D. knows about the Inhumans. (That name is now official; Skye uses it to identify the group to Coulson.) He has reason to worry, as Gonzales wants very much to find the rest of the Inhumans, catalog them and add them to the Index.


In the Inhuman village, Raina ingratiates herself to the community by telling people’s fortunes. She claims that she’s much better now that she understands her power. She tells Jiaying and Gordon that she’s had a dream about a strange Kree stone. This worries them greatly, because whatever it is will mean bad things for the Inhumans. Raina believes she knows where it is, and volunteers to go with Gordon to scope it out.

Gordon teleports them onto the S.H.I.E.L.D. aircraft carrier. They skulk around through the hallways a bit until Lance spots them and sets off an alarm. This leads to a cat-and-mouse chase until Gordon teleports them into a secured room holding the stone, which repeatedly morphs from solid to liquid and back. (This must be the secret thing Coulson knew Gonzales was hiding on the ship.) Gordon and Raina teleport home to report what they found.

Coulson places extra security around the stone. Gonzales uses captured HYDRA tech to trace Gordon’s teleportation and find the location of Afterlife. He believes the Inhumans are a threat and wants to attack. Coulson maintains a cooler head and wants to try diplomacy first. He asks Skye if she can talk to her mother (another secret she reveals to him) and arrange for a sit-down meeting. Skye feels that her loyalties are being tested, but agrees to try. She and Lincoln leave S.H.I.E.L.D. and call for Gordon to pick them up.

Trust No One

Back in Afterlife, Cal (Kyle MacLachlan) warns Jiaying that Raina is a duplicitous schemer and can’t be trusted. As if to confirm this, Raina tells Gordon that she’s had a vision of S.H.I.E.L.D. destroying their village, but asks him to keep it a secret from Jiaying. She says that the whole thing will start when Jiaying meets with S.H.I.E.L.D. and they need to prevent that from happening. Raina helpfully offers to take the meeting herself. This seems to be an obvious power play on her part.

Gordon doesn’t fall for it. He tells Jiaying everything and turns Raina in. Raina insists that she’s telling the truth, but nobody will listen to her.

Jiaying agrees to take the meeting with S.H.I.E.L.D. after Cal volunteers to surrender himself to them. He says that this will be seen as an act of good faith from the Inhumans.

At S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson prepares for his trip when Gonzales asks him to sit this one out. He says that, with so much alien blood in him, Coulson can’t be objective. Agent May sides with Gonzales. Because this comes right on the heels of Mack resigning from S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson doubts himself and agrees to let Gonzales take the meeting in his place. Yes, Gonzales, the guy who’s been virulently prejudiced against powered people this entire season, and just ten minutes ago wanted to launch a pre-emptive attack to wipe them out. That’s a great idea, Phil…

Several quinjets launch en route to Afterlife. Most of them are pretty crowded, except for one that only has May and Bobbi in it. But wait! That’s not May at all! It’s Agent 33 disguised as May. She puts the plane on an auto-pilot landing sequence and turns on Bobbi. They fight in the plane. Bobbi eventually proves the victor, but as soon as she steps off the plane, she gets shot down by… Grant Ward! Leaving 33 behind was a setup. She was a mole for him the whole time. But was their endgame really just to capture Bobbi, and maybe a quinjet? Those stakes seem pretty small-potatoes, don’t they?

Lest we worry that Ward has killed Bobbi, the episode makes it clear that he’s only iced her. After all, Marvel has already announced that Adrianne Palicki’s character will head up her own spin-off series soon, so we can’t be killing her off now, can we?

This Is War

The other quinjets land in Afterlife. Gonzales is brought before Jiaying, who turns over Cal as discussed. Gonzales is a little confused by that, but takes it as a good sign. Cal is brought to one of the quinjets, where a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent finds vials of his rage serum on him. Huh, that’s strange. How did those get there?

Surprisingly, Gonzales doesn’t try to inflame tensions between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Inhumans. He lives up to his word and is very diplomatic. He even makes a peace offering of a necklace belonging to Jiaying that he retrieved from Whitehall.

Aww, that’s nice. Jiaying has a present for him as well. She pulls out a crystal filled with Terrigen mist. She shatters it on the table, and the gas quickly turns Gonzales to stone! She then takes his gun and shoots herself in the shoulder, then runs outside screaming that S.H.I.E.L.D. tried to assassinate her.

It appears that Raina told the truth about Jiaying’s meeting with S.H.I.E.L.D. going south. We just didn’t realize that Jiaying, not S.H.I.E.L.D., would intentionally instigate a war because she hates humans so much.

Looking back, this is actually pretty consistent with Jiaying’s character. She’s always been cold and aloof, and quick to make hard decisions and sacrifices for what she perceives to be the greater good of her people.

Pointless ‘Age of Ultron’ tie-in or no, this is a huge and exciting episode with a hell of a plot twist. Is Marvel still planning to make an ‘Inhumans’ movie down the road? If the big war with S.H.I.E.L.D. plays out on this TV show, what will there be left to do?


  1. Bill

    Knew Gonzales would be gone. Like Paxton last year, he was a special guest star and a minor diversion brought in to provide a weird short-lived “real” S.H.I.E.L.D. subplot that seems to have been just padding and really went nowhere. Feel sorry for Skye who has such a cold mother and crazy father. Cal was an idiot to put Jiaying back together.

    Season 2: Full of plot holes every week. Writers need a continuity editor. Things happen one week and then even though they seemed to be important are never brought up again. Just about every character at some point changes from good guy to bad guy (and vice-versa). The home of the inhumans looks like a Disney resort rather than a real place. Very unconvincing. Almost nothing in the way of plot, character development, themes carried over from the first season. Season 2 was a completely different series and the whole season has been unmemorable. Reminds me of how Revolution changed from intriguing to boring and pointless in its second season.

    Last Question: Will Fury make his end of season appearance to clean up everything for season 3 as he did last year?

    • Josh Zyber

      The one point I’ll agree with you on is that Season 2 is nothing like Season 1. Unlike you, I see that as a good thing. I think this season has been a big improvement and is far more interesting.

      > “Cal was an idiot to put Jiaying back together.”

      Considering that Cal brought his rage serum vials with him when he got on the S.H.I.E.L.D. plane, he must be fully on-board with Jiaying’s plan. In fact, it was probably his plan that he talked her into. You could argue that Jiaying was an idiot for listening to Cal, but not the other way around. Cal is getting exactly what he wants from Jiaying.

      • Ryan

        I would disagree that it’s all Cal’s plan. I think that if Skye chooses the Shield side, that’s also where Cal will fall. I honestly think he’s worried first and foremost about her safety. Whereas Jiaying cares about Skye, but clearly not enough to respect her daughters position or opinion over what she perceives as the safety of her people or even her hatred of humans.

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