As a rule, I’m not a big fan of it when TV shows reveal a shocking plot twist that a longtime recurring character is secretly evil. That generally involves a lot of desperate ret-conning that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. After having already done that with Grant Ward in Season 1, ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ pulls the stunt again this week, on a lesser scale. Fortunately, the show makes a stronger case for it this time.
As we learned at the end of the last episode, the Inhuman-murdering monster known as Lash turns out to be the friendly S.H.I.E.L.D. psychologist – as well as May’s ex-husband – Dr. Andrew Garner (Blair Underwood). He always seemed like such a nice guy prior to this.
Episode ‘Chaos Theory’ opens with a flashback to six months earlier, as May and Andrew took a vacation together to Maui. This establishes that May believed she had a real shot at happiness with him. She even contemplated leaving S.H.I.E.L.D.
We then move forward a few months, to the aftermath of the Season 2 storyline involving the Inhumans. Coulson leaves a bunch of Jiaying’s effects with Andrew and asks him to go through them to see what he can learn from her. Upon opening a booby-trapped book, Andrew is dosed with Terrigen mist and is encased in rock. He later comes out of this cocoon a changed man.
So, at least we know that Andrew wasn’t always evil. This is a fairly recent development. Also, from his perspective, what he’s doing isn’t evil at all. Although he has little control over his urge to kill Inhumans, he sees himself as judging the good ones from the bad ones and only taking out those who might be a threat. That explains why he hasn’t killed Daisy yet. However, it’s clearly a bit of moral equivocation on his part. Some of the Inhumans he’s killed or tried to kill haven’t really done anything bad at all.
Even though May has been told Andrew’s secret, she frustratingly decides to keep this information to herself. I’m sure she justifies this as trying not to set him off or put anyone else in danger, but it seems needlessly risky to me. By the time she gets back to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, May is told that Andrew is off-site at a training facility called the Cocoon, where he’s evaluating a recent Inhuman recruit named Joey to determine if he’s ready for field duty. You may recall Joey from the season premiere. He has the Magneto power to manipulate metal, and has made great strides in being able to control his abilities. Joey seems like a genuinely good person who wants to help S.H.I.E.L.D. and make a difference in the world. Nevertheless, Andrew fantasizes about blowing a giant hole in his chest.
May barges in and interrupts their conversation. She asks to speak to Andrew alone, and confronts him about his secret. She antagonizes him enough that Andrew shoots her with an icer pistol. May wakes up later handcuffed to what looks like a generator. Andrew tries to explain his situation to her. He says that he loves her and wants her to help him, not fight him.
Elsewhere, Mack tracks down Lincoln and convinces him to return with him to the new S.H.I.E.L.D. jet, Zephyr One. (That doesn’t seem like something Lincoln would agree to, but we’ll go with it.) Lincoln tells Coulson that he believes Lash must be a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. with inside access to information about the Inhumans. Realizing that Andrew has Jiaying’s ledger with the identities of numerous Inhumans in it, Coulson puts two and two together. Lincoln says that Andrew is still in a period of transition, and eventually will become a monster full-time with no ability to transform back to human again. Coulson orders that the plane be turned around and head for the Cocoon.
Andrew and May talk for a while. May tries to talk some sense into him. She even kisses him, until Coulson interrupts. He has a team of S.H.I.E.L.D. and ATCU agents behind him, but still believes that Andrew is a good man who can be talked down. Unfortunately, Lincoln gets really hot-headed and attacks Andrew, causing him to hulk out. This leads to lots of chasing and fighting and shooting. Lash picks up Rosalind (Constance Zimmer) and tosses her off a balcony, but Daisy discovers a new power and levitates her safely to the ground – which is kind of a big deal, because Daisy doesn’t trust or like Rosalind at all.
Eventually, May stands between Lash and Coulson. She continues to talk to her ex-husband, and gets him to calm down and revert to human form. But when he starts acting irrationally again, she shoots him point-blank and tosses him into a containment unit designed to hold him. Coulson asks how she knew that the bullets wouldn’t kill him when he was in human mode, and May replies that she didn’t. She was willing to kill him at that moment.
Rosalind offers to put Andrew in stasis at her secret prison, which will slow down his transition. Even Daisy, who has been adamantly opposed to everything Rosalind is doing, acknowledges that this would be for the best. May agrees and gives her OK.
Fitz continues to work on his calcuations for opening a new portal to the alien world. Jemma gives him her broken phone and asks if he can fix it. Fitz indeed does so, and sees her photos of Will, which make him jealous. However, he also watches her many video diary entries that she narrated to him and realizes exactly how strong her feelings for him are. He meets up with her again and the two of them share a nice moment watching the sunrise.
Grant Ward meets with Gideon Malick (Powers Boothe), who tells him that he needs to “think on a grander scale.” Ward says that he wants to kill Coulson and topple S.H.I.E.L.D., but that doesn’t really sound like as grand a scale as Malick probably intended. Also, he’s forgetting that his HYDRA predecessors thought the same thing about killing Fury, and that didn’t exactly work out for them.
Their conversation is interrupted when Rosalind calls Malick and tells him that they’ll meet later. Are we supposed to think that Rosalind is evil? I’m guessing not. She probably believes that Malick is still a member in good standing with the World Security Council.
Nonetheless, we’re left feeling uneasy when the episode ends with the revelation that Rosalind and Coulson had a night of sexy-time fun.
I assume this is the last we’ll see of Blair Underwood for a while. That’s kind of a shame, because he was a good fit for the show. While I’ll admit that his character didn’t have a whole lot of point or purpose prior to this plot twist, I’m ambivalent about the twist itself. It’s handled well enough, but still feels like a cheap way to write him out.
On the other hand, the episode has a very strong emotional component, both in the relationship between May and Andrew, and especially between Fitz and Jemma. The latter is even a little heartbreaking.