I feel like ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ is getting a little desperate with its callbacks to old storylines. What’s the point of bringing back a minor Season 3 character that nobody remembers?
Episode ‘Principia’ opens with a young man named Alex (Spencer Treat Clark), who I suppose looks kind of familiar, maybe. He’s seeing a psychiatrist for trauma allegedly sustained from being abused by S.H.I.E.L.D. Alex creeps the shrink out by rattling off details he’s picked up about the doctor’s family and personal life, and screams “I remember everything!” as orderlies haul him away. OK, sure. Whatever.
Alex next wakes up in a strange, nondescript building with no windows. His door is open and there’s nobody to stop him from wandering around. He comes across an office breakroom and grabs some food when Ruby, Gen. Hale’s daughter, walks in. She’s wearing headphones and pays no attention to him at all, even when he tries to ask her where they are.
They meet again later and Ruby tells Alex that they’re in a safe house. He says that he remembers her as being a childhood playmate, and Ruby seems surprised by this. Alex also knows who her mother is and wants to speak with her.
Finally, it’s revealed that this Alex kid is Werner von Strucker, the son of a HYDRA big-wig who had a rather forgettable story arc in Season 3. I’m sure we were supposed to recognize him right away, but that hardly seems like a realistic expectation. The last we saw Werner in Episode 3.11, he was half-dead and Coulson forced him to go through the TAHITI treatment to pick apart his brain for valuable information. That must be what messed up his mind and left him so pissed off at S.H.I.E.L.D. Hale orders her daughter to do whatever it takes to recruit him to their team – the not-so-subtle implication being that she should seduce him.
Ruby’s strategy for winning Werner over is to be honest with him. She tells him exactly what her mother asked her to do. Ruby also suggests that she has her own agenda and is perhaps planning to double-cross her mother. Werner is convinced and agrees to join the team for now. Hale introduces him to Carl Creel.
The Arms Race
Over at the current S.H.I.E.L.D. base, Yo-Yo doesn’t like being babied by everyone. Coulson assures her that Fitz is going to make her some great cybernetic arms, but they’re a little short on the necessary materials for that at the moment so it may take a while.
Fitz also has more pressing matters to worry about. He says that the gravitonium bomb they used to seal the breach to the fear dimension was only a band-aid and will not hold for much longer. They need more gravitonium, stat. The most promising lead for that involves former HYDRA scientists who worked at the Cybertek Labs front company. (That’s a Season 1 deep-dive.) To find those scientists, first they need to find a guy named Murray Jacobson, who also goes by a host of other aliases.
Coulson, Daisy, Mack and May go on a mission to capture this Jacobson guy in a parking garage. He tries to flee but they box him in. Before putting up a fight, he spots Mack and calls out a friendly hello to him. Despite having looked at photos of him (and presumably studying the mission profile), Mack only now recognizes that Murray Jacobson is really an old friend from S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy named Tony “Candyman” Caine (Jake Busey). He insists on calling Mack “Mackhammer” and busts his chops about being a big M.C. Hammer fan back in the day.
All friends now, Tony comes to the base with the others and explains that he was involved in a top secret government project to recruit HYDRA scientists and give them new identities so that they could work for the good guys. Jemma and Fitz are hopeful that the Cybertek scientists may have a way to save Coulson from his impending death, but Coulson insists that he doesn’t want any more artificial life extension. He’s been through that and it wasn’t pleasant the first time.
Tony facilitates a meeting between S.H.I.E.L.D. and one of the scientists, who claims he only worked for HYDRA because they threatened the lives of his family. When asked about the gravitonium, he says that the last he saw of any was on board a cargo ship called the Principia, but unfortunately it sank in the middle of the ocean.
Fitz warns that a leak in the breach has caused an “anomaly flare.” Deke is the first to experience this when he sees a vision of his dead mother. Even though he knows she’s not real, he can’t help freaking out when a Kree warrior suddenly appears and kills her. Deke fights with and has no problem killing the Kree, which really makes one question the Kree reputation for being a fearsome warrior race.
Throughout the episode, Fitz has been annoyed with Deke, and feels like he’s been forced to babysit the useless twit. However, Deke shows him up by being the first to realize that the Principia ship didn’t sink to the bottom of the ocean. After the boat was struck by lightning in a storm, the gravitonium caused it to go up, not down. Fitz does a satellite search for flying objects in the area and locates it right away.
Coulson leads a team on Zephyr One and they indeed encounter a ship floating in mid-air. Coulson, Mack and Daisy board the boat. Unfortunately, it looks like someone got there before they did and stole most of the gravitonium. Only a softball-sized chunk remains, just enough to keep the ship aloft. Mack puts it in a box, and Fitz warns that they have 90 seconds to get off the ship before it plummets back down to the ocean.
Although it appears at first that the ship’s entire crew is dead, it turns out that some of them are robot soldiers that activate upon the intrusion and attack the team. Mack gives the gravitonium to Coulson and Daisy and lags behind to fight the robots. He tells them not to worry; he has a plan.
The ship plunges, but sure enough Mack got off in time. The team returns to the base, where Tony congratulates them and says that it’s time he took his leave. He promises that he’ll do some research into the Deathlok program that Coulson asked him about.
Deke overhears Jemma saying a phrase that the apparition of his mother reminded him of and suddenly puts the pieces together that Jemma is his grandma. He opts not to say anything for now.
Mack tells Yo-Yo that he brought a present for her, and dumps the body of a robot soldier at her feet. Fitz should have all the parts he needs to make her some great cyborg arms now.
Is Jake Busey really a big enough guest star that an episode needed to be centered around him? Honestly, what does his character do or accomplish in this episode that the S.H.I.E.L.D. team couldn’t figure out on their own? Mostly he just stands around grinning and cracking jokes. Perhaps this is just an introduction for a more involved storyline later, but a lot of this episode feels like wasted time.
I also don’t give a damn about Werner von Strucker and fail to see what use he will serve on the team Gen. Hale is assembling. I’m sure that will be explained eventually, but I’m not terribly impressed so far.
While this episode isn’t quite as dull as most this season have been, it also doesn’t do nearly enough to shake the series out of its current torpor.