‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ 1.17 Recap: “Out of the Shadows, Into the Light”

I haven’t written much about ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ in a while. Partly, I was too busy with other things to write TV recaps. Partly, I’d just lost interest. Although I’ve kept up with the show in the meantime, I’ve mostly remained underwhelmed by it. The ads for this week’s episode promised a “game-changer.” Has the series finally turned the tide?

I think it’s safe to say that ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ is indeed the best episode that ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ has aired so far. Unfortunately, it’s still frustrating on a number of levels, and I doubt that it will really change the show’s fortunes too dramatically.

I won’t waste a lot of time recapping every plot point that has occurred since the last episode I covered. Most relevant to new events is that Coulson and his team spent several episodes on the trail of a presumably psychic villain called “The Clairvoyant” who was always one step ahead of them. In the prior episode, they finally caught up with him, and Agent Ward shot him dead in cold blood to put an end to his devious deeds. Conveniently, he did this before they could question the man. This led Coulson to question Ward’s motives. He suspects that the man Ward killed was just a patsy, and that the real Clairvoyant is actually not psychic at all, but rather a mole working within S.H.I.E.L.D. to monitor their activities. Just as he began to put the pieces of this puzzle together, he discovered that Agent May had a secret hard-line on the plane and had been reporting on Coulson to someone mysterious. The last episode ended with him confronting her, and with their plane being taken over remotely and directed off course.

As we pick up, May swears that she was reporting to Director Fury and has no idea about a mole or the truth about the Clairvoyant. When Coulson demands that she call Fury to validate her story, a voice she doesn’t recognize answers the phone and announces that Fury is dead.

S.H.I.E.L.D. drones attack another jet piloted by Coulson’s former partner Agent Garrett (Bill Paxton), but Garrett evades them and links back up with Coulson’s plane. At this point, nobody much trusts anybody else. Coulson believes that Agent Victoria Hand (Saffron Burrows) is the Clairvoyant and the ringleader behind all these events. Seemingly in support of this theory, we see Hand give orders to kill everyone on the plane… except Coulson.

Still under remote control, the plane is directed to land at the S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters called “The Hub.” Immediately, S.H.I.E.L.D. soldiers lay siege to it and storm inside. Coulson and team stay hidden until they can overcome the soldiers and walk out wearing their uniforms, after which they sneak around the Hub searching for their friends Simmons and Garrett’s partner Triplett (who were already at the Hub and have been captured). If this sounds like a plotline from a little movie called ‘Star Wars’ that viewers of this show are likely to have seen before, yes, it’s an exact copy of a plotline from the first ‘Star Wars’.

Simmons and Trip are brought to Agent Hand, who tells them that she works for HYDRA, the evil Nazi spin-off organization from the ‘Captain America’ movies. She demands that they swear loyalty to her cause. When they refuse and attempt to escape, Hand reveals that this was just a test. She’s not really evil, but she thinks that Coulson is.

Some action-y stuff happens. Ward asks Skye on a date, then single-handedly takes out a hallway full of soldiers. Coulson wants to capture and question Hand, but Garrett insists that they need to kill her. In fact, he’s a little too pushy about that. Consequently, it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise when Garrett slips up and reveals that he knows info about Coulson’s recent capture by the Clairvoyant that Coulson never told anyone in S.H.I.E.L.D. Yes, Garrett is really the Clairvoyant.

More action-y stuff happens. Garrett is captured. Hand overhears everything and knows that he’s evil. As the good guys regain control of the base, they learn that HYDRA has overtaken S.H.I.E.L.D. operations around the world. Events here tie into ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ (which I still haven’t seen, so thanks for spoiling it, stupid show).

Hand puts Garrett on a plane to a surviving S.H.I.E.L.D. prison facility called “The Icebox.” Coulson is left in charge of the Hub to pick up the pieces there. Ward volunteers to go with Hand. While in flight, out of the blue Hand decides that she wants Ward to kill Garrett. Instead, he shoots her and her men dead and sets Garrett free.

Oooh, plot twist. Ward is evil.

Which makes no sense at all considering everything he’s done previously in the series, but consistency or logical writing are not strengths of this show.

Notably, Ward does not address Garrett with a “Hail HYRDA” (or “Heil HYDRA”) after killing Hand. That, combined with a quick moment where Coulson is seen talking to Ward before he leaves, have led viewers to speculate that Ward isn’t really evil, but going deep cover to infiltrate HYDRA. I assume that’s probably the case, but killing Agent Hand seems awfully extreme to make that happen. I will groan very loudly if it turns out that Hand faked her death.

So, is this episode really a game-changer? It certainly upends the dynamic of the series and will leave S.H.I.E.L.D. on the defensive. It’s also generally a better-produced episode than any prior, with fairly good writing, mostly competent VFX, and a reasonable amount of excitement (by network TV standards). However, for as shocking as the plot twists are supposed to be, they’re mostly very predictable, and I’m left quite annoyed that the story relies on viewers having seen the latest ‘Captain America’ movie to understand everything that happens. While I realize that the cohesiveness and interconnectedness of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of its greatest strengths, I’m also reminded that ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ is basically time-wasting filler between Marvel’s feature films. Although the events of the movies frequently impact the direction of the show, does anything that happens on the show have any impact on the films? It doesn’t seem that way.

Unfortunately, I’m left doubtful that future episodes will build off this in a meaningful way. I fully expect the series to return to its state of tepid mediocrity in no time at all.

[See Comments section below for further thoughts about the episode that have bugged me since I finished the recap.]

7 comments

  1. Josh Zyber
    Author

    Questions I thought about this morning after the recap was published: If Agent Hand was in charge of the Hub, and she wasn’t evil, does that mean none of the soldiers who followed her orders were HYDRA at all, and that HYDRA didn’t actually infiltrate the Hub? Or are we to assume that there were a bunch of other HYDRA operatives there, working below and around her? And if that’s the case, why would they allow her to attack Garrett multiple times, first by the drone strike on his plane and then later with the assault on Coulson’s plane?

    And where were all of the other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and employees at the Hub during the big siege? In previous episodes, the place was huge and constantly buzzing with activity. Were they all HYDRA?

    The plot of this episode makes less sense the more I think about it.

  2. I must confess I haven’t watched this since Episode 3…I’m kind of at the point where I’m waiting to see if it gets a renewal (numbers are there, but the show isn’t cheap to produce) before I dive into the rest.

  3. You definitely should have left this on the DVR until you saw Winter Soldier. The movie basically functions as a long (and uncharacteristically good) episode of the show, and they were pretty upfront about it being directly related. I think it was pretty ballsy and admirable to jump right in practically in real time with the movie, it lends the show more weight which it desperately needed.

    • Jason

      Agreed.

      That the show would so directly and immediately tie into Winter Soldier shows that Marvel is willing to go all in with it. Sure AOS suffers from television budgetary restraints and sloppy writing but it is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Canon and hopefully with a second season the cause and effects of the films on the show and vice-versa will become more apparent. I don’t blame them for needing time to find their footing especially since the show only was conceived after the success of The Avengers. Much of Phase Two was already underway at that time and to throw another cog in the machine at that time would be difficult for any studio to handle and I think they’ve done an okay job with it.

  4. I saw this episode the day before going to see winter Soldier, not realizing the connection. Actually the strength for me of the whole Marvel universe mythos is that each movie and now the series expands on the story. This last episode and the movie renewed my interest in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and it’s my understanding that Joss Whedon and the TV series writers’ hands were tied, while the awaited the release of the latest Captain America. I prefer to be the optimist, and think that this is the first in a series of episodes that will elevate the series quite a bit.

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