‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ 3.08 Recap: “You Don’t Live on Top of the Food Chain”

This week’s episode of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ is jam-packed with major plot events, including big revelations about the history of the HYDRA organization. It also teaches us that silver serving trays are completely bulletproof. Who knew?

Episode ‘Many Heads, One Tale’ opens with a meeting between Grant Ward, who fancies himself the new leader of HYDRA, and Gideon Malick (Powers Boothe), the last of the old-guard HYRDA elite. Malick rambles on a bit about the Von Strucker family vault, which holds the secrets of HYDRA’s greatest power. He then leaves Ward and sends in a team of goons to kill him. Despite being outnumbered and outgunned (in that they all have guns and he doesn’t), Ward pulls some crazy fight moves, one of which involves deflecting several point-blank gunshots with a tiny tray, and handily defeats all his opponents. Afterwards, he tortures Malick’s men for information on the vault until one unwittingly lets its location slip.

Back at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, Andrew is put into stasis and shipped off to the ATCU facility. This leaves May in a very sour mood. Fitz, meanwhile, has become obsessed with studying the NASA mission logo in Jemma’s photographs of her boyfriend Will, specifically its connection to the ram’s head symbol belonging to the ancient religious cult that previously controlled the monolith portal.

Mack expresses concern about Coulson’s relationship with ATCU head Rosalind Price (Constance Zimmer) possibly clouding his judgment, especially after Coulson invites Rosalind for a tour of the S.H.I.E.L.D. base. As if he were waiting for someone to bring that up, Coulson gathers the team and announces “Operation Spotlight,” in which he will keep Rosalind distracted while S.H.I.E.L.D. devotes every resource available to uncovering all of the ATCU’s secrets. He wants to know whether he can trust Rosalind, and he’ll leave no stone unturned to find out. To start, Daisy hacks the ATCU’s network, but does so in an obvious way that will be detected. This allows Lance and Bobbi to go into the facility undercover as FBI computer forensics specialists.

What Fitz has discovered so far about Will isn’t good news. He’s determined that his mission was never designed to succeed and he was never intended to return. Will and his team were sent through the portal as some sort of religious blood sacrifice. Jemma becomes disheartened both with the fact that Fitz hasn’t yet found a way to rescue her boyfriend, and the fact that he has devoted so much of his time to helping her just so she can be with another man. She feels terrible for doing this to him and tells him to stop. When he pressures her about it, she admits that she’s in love with Will. Fitz says that they’re cursed and kisses her. Jemma kisses back, but they both force themselves to stop.

When Ward can’t get a direct flight to whatever country the Von Strucker vault is located in, he catches a flight that passes over the location, blows the plane’s door and parachutes out, leaving the plane to either crash or at least desperately plunge to a safer altitude. That seems unnecessarily dickish, but that’s Ward for you.

Through his earpiece, Daisy feeds Lance a bunch of techie jargon to distract the ATCU agent watching over his shoulder while Bobbi slips away and goes snooping through the building. She searches for Andrew and the rest of the Inhuman prisoners to confirm their condition, but can’t find them, or any evidence that the ATCU is actually working on that cure Rosalind promised. Instead, she finds a huge supply of the tainted fish oil pills and the remains of numerous bodies turned to stone. She deduces that the ATCU isn’t try to cure Inhumanism, but has instead been actively trying to make more Inhumans.

The reason Bobbi couldn’t find Andrew is because he’s not at the ATCU base at all. Malick visits him, still in his S.H.I.E.L.D. containment pod, at an unknown location. He introduces himself as a Presidential advisor (which is true), but neglects to mention the “also an evil HYRDA operative” part. In their conversation, he plants seeds of distrust between Andrew and S.H.I.E.L.D.

Lance spots Rosalind’s henchman Banks heading his way. Because he knows that Banks will recognize him and blow his cover, he just gets up and runs for Bobbi.

Coulson lures Rosalind into a containment room in S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters and locks the both of them in together. He drops the charade and demands to know if she’s HYDRA. Rosalind is pissed at his deception and claims to not know what he’s talking about (which is of course exactly what a HYDRA agent would say). Coulson reminds her that, during their first meeting, Rosalind dropped a hint that she knew about the TAHITI project, but that was Top Secret and only known by a small group of individuals. She couldn’t have found out about it unless she got the info from HYDRA. Rosalind says that she was told about it by Gideon Malick, and suddenly realizes that she’s been played all along and was duped by Malick into doing his bidding. Also, Malick was at one point in charge of NASA, which explains the HYDRA connection to Will’s secret mission.

Lance meets up with Bobbi, but they get cornered by an ATCU agent who’s an Inhuman with telekinetic powers. Bobbi fights him off using her batons, which somehow now are magnetically linked to her arms and can return to her like boomerangs when she throws them. Or something. I’m not really sure what’s going on in this fight, but she staves the guy off long enough for Banks, who’s been ordered by Rosalind to help them, to arrive and lead them to a helicopter landing pad on the roof where May and Lincoln can extract them with a quinjet.

Ward finds and breaks into the Von Strucker vault, only to find Malick there waiting for him. Malick says he’s impressed. Although he expected that Ward would be dead by now, he suggests that maybe he’s a valuable asset after all. Malick then shows Ward a container that holds an ancient fragment of Kree monolith, and proceeds to tell him the true history of HYDRA, which goes back much further than Red Skull or World War II. In fact, the group has been active in various forms for millennia.

At the dawn of recorded history, a powerful Inhuman ruled much of the Earth until he was banished to the alien planet. His followers have been trying to rescue him ever since, regularly sacrificing their own members by sending them through the portal to either save or serve the master. None has yet found a way to return, and Malick wants very much to find out how S.H.I.E.L.D. managed to bring someone back.

In the epilogue, Ward visits Andrew and pumps gas into his pod. Andrew assumes that this is the cure and says that he isn’t sure he wants to be cured. Ward laughs. No, he wants Andrew to hulk out into his Lash form and become an Inhuman permanently.

Episode Verdict

This episode has a lot going on and works very hard to tie together the season’s disparate plot threads. It does a good job of that for the most part, but the serving tray scene is laughable and, to be honest, I’m sick of Ward at this point. He seems woefully outclassed by the far more intimidating Powers Boothe character. I have a hard time buying that Ward is going to be the show’s ultimate Big Bad. Frankly, I think it’s about time to kill him off.

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