What do you know, ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ actually is still capable of producing a pretty good episode in the middle of this very dull season. That it does so while focusing on a peripheral character is even more surprising.
I’m not saying that ‘Rise and Shine’ is a great television masterpiece or anything. However, it’s a rare bright spot in a dreary season.
After Coulson surrendered and allowed himself to be taken prison, Gen. Hale reveals to him without any further prevarication that she’s part of HYDRA. “I thought we stomped you out,” he retorts. Hale suggests that the time has finally come for S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA to unite in a common cause. A good chunk of the episode then details Hale’s backstory.
28 Years Ago
In flashback, we see a teenaged Hale (Alyssa Jirrels) as a go-getting overachiever at a HYDRA boarding school, where she’s being groomed as the next generation of HYDRA leadership. Unfortunately, her chances for advancement are dampened when she develops a rivalry with privileged snot Wolfgang von Strucker, destined to be a major HYDRA scientist. However, she manages to impress Daniel Whitehall (Reed Diamond), who tells her about an exciting new project to develop super-soldiers with the power to infuse their bodies with any material they desire.
Hale is eager to work on the project, until Whitehall informs her that von Strucker has been chosen to lead it. Hale is disappointed to learn what Whitehall has planned for her. At an appointed time, she will be artificially inseminated and give birth to a perfect genetic candidate who will become the first super-soldier. Young Hale bristles at being used as a simple breeder but, as a loyal believer in the cause, grits her teeth and agrees. (Also, she’d probably be executed if she refused.) In the meantime, she will be placed undercover at the Air Force Academy.
2 Years Ago
A high-ranking Air Force officer now, the adult Hale has a teenage daughter (Ruby) who’s a total badass fighter with a cocky attitude. However, after Whitehall’s death, the current HYDRA leadership doubts the usefulness of his projects, including Ruby. Their new focus is on aligning with the Confederacy, an alliance of several alien races, one of which is the Chitauri who attacked New York in the first ‘Avengers’ movie.
As Gen. Talbot (Adrian Pasdar) leads his mission to flush out the last of HYDRA, he discovers that Hale’s superior officer in the Air Force is a mole, but he doesn’t suspect Hale herself. This leaves Hale and Ruby as the final vestiges of HYDRA. They’ll have to rebuild on their own.
6 Months Ago
Having been shot in the head by an LMD that looked like Daisy Johnson, Gen. Talbot is having a difficult recovery and suffers a serious lack of impulse control that leaves him prone to frequently lashing out in anger. Hale connives to get him transferred from the military hospital to a private clinic for specialized care. That of course turns out to be the HYDRA base, where he’s put through the same introductory routine we saw Werner von Strucker go through a couple episodes ago. He wanders into a break room, Ruby ignores him, the whole deal.
Hale shows Talbot an alien device that she claims can allow them to travel to the stars. She explains that HYDRA made a deal with the Confederacy for protection from a major war heading toward Earth. Hale needs a particle infusion chamber that was confiscated when HYDRA was brought down, and Talbot knows where the old contraband is being stored. Talbot won’t have any part in this, though. Calling Hale a “filthy calamari Mata Hari!”, he swears that he’ll never talk and never break.
24 Hours Ago
Coulson is brought to the same base and is put through the same routine, but sees through it immediately and won’t play along. He makes Hale come to him. She shows him the alien device and says that she wants him to meet her contact in the Confederacy. They grab handles on the device and vanish, then pop into the dark, Matrix-y room we saw last episode.
Coulson is introduced to a mysterious alien cloaked in shadow. I don’t believe his name is mentioned in this episode, but he’s credited as Qovas. He claims that alien warships are already en route toward Earth, and he demands that Hale and Coulson turn over all their gravitonium and Inhumans. (He’s welcome to take the entire cast of the ‘Inhumans’ spinoff show. Nobody else wants them.)
After returning to the room they came from, Coulson tells Hale that it’s insane to partner with these aliens. She actually agrees, and says that she’s just been playing along with them while angling to alter the deal. This is why she wants S.H.I.E.L.D. to team up with HYDRA. She says that she needs the particle chamber to make a super-soldier infused with gravitonium, which she believes will be the ultimate weapon to defend Earth from the aliens. However, she doesn’t believe her daughter Ruby has the right temperament to become that super-soldier, and wants Daisy to do it instead. Coulson warns her that he’s been to the future and knows how that scenario plays out. She thinks he sounds delusional.
Hale drags out a shaggy and bedraggled Talbot, clearly now a broken man. He apologizes to Coulson and says he held out as long as he could, but he told Hale everything he knows.
Later, Ruby gets a word with Coulson and demands to know where Daisy is. She knows what her mother has planned, but wants to be the Destroyer of Worlds herself.
In S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, Daisy and May figure out that Hale must be a HYDRA agent. Rolling her eyes, Daisy groans, “Hale HYDRA.”
May talks to Fitz, still locked up in a cell. He says that he doesn’t regret his actions in restoring Daisy’s powers. May says that isn’t what she came for. In fact, she needs him to embrace the villain inside him. In the Framework, he was a top ranking HYDRA officer. He surely must have the best insight into how such a person thinks and what they’d have planned.
Jemma operates on Yo-Yo and gets her new robotic arms working. Mack worries that Yo-Yo has become reckless. Since learning that she survives into the future, she believes that nothing can kill her in the present. This gives Daisy an idea.
Fitz asks for access to computers and the lab, but Daisy says no. She’s still pissed at him. Besides, she has a better plan. She wants to find Robin (still a little girl in this time). The best way to prepare for the future is to know what happens in it.
The episode ends with a nice moment where Jemma tells Fitz that Deke is their grandson, which is proof that everything will work out between them. “You and I are invincible,” she declares.
This season has been a long slog for the most part. This episode was, to me, a lot more interesting than the last 14 leading up to it. We’ll have to see if the show can build off this small amount of momentum in the final batch of episodes, or if it will simply return to more tedium.