Despite repeatedly mentioning them in dialogue, ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ may never be able to land guest spots by Marvel’s A-List characters like Iron Man, Captain America or Thor. But hey, this week the show scored a return appearance by Cobie Smulders as Agent Maria Hill. So that’s, you know, something… Isn’t it?
Early on, Hill tosses out a reference to Marvel’s Man-Thing. Is even that just too big a property to show up in this rinky-dink series?
Since the disbanding of S.H.I.E.L.D., Hill has taken a private sector job working for Tony Stark. May approaches her in Washington, D.C. hoping to find out who was really behind the Tahiti project (or “T.A.H.I.T.I.”, though that’s annoying to type so I’m just going to spell it the standard way). Hill claims that only Director Fury knew.
At Providence Base, Coulson and his group search for clues as to the disappearance of Ward, Skye, May, Koenig and their jet. All of the base’s security footage was wiped except for one camera in the motor pool, where a brief image was captured of Ward and Skye walking onto the plane holding hands. It’s not long before Simmons stumbles upon Keonig’s dead body. Fitz also finds a message from Skye scrawled onto a painting: “Ward is HYDRA.” The cat is now out of the bag.
At first, Fitz can’t believe that his friend is evil, and gets really mad about it. Coulson quickly pieces together that Garrett must still be alive, and Agent Hand must be dead.
Meanwhile, Skye stalls whenever Ward asks her about decrypting the special hard drive that everyone is so concerned about for some reason. She pretends to be lovey-dovey with him. Unfortunately, Skye isn’t a very good actress. (Or maybe it’s just that Chloe Bennet isn’t a very good actress.) Luckily for her, Ward is oblivious and buys her story about the hard drive’s encryption. She tells him that it’s “geo-locked” to specific coordinates and can only be decrypted at the diner where she first met Mike Peterson. When they get there, she insists that it will take at least an hour to “hack” it. (Is she hacking the drive or decrypting it? Those are two different things.) In the meantime, they sit and drink coffee.
Back in Canada, Providence Base is invaded by an armed squad led by Col. Talbot (Adrian Pasdar) and Maria Hill. Coulson surrenders peacefully but is upset at Hill for selling him out. After talking for a few minutes, it’s clear that she’s still trying to protect Fury’s secrets. She and Coulson turn the tables on Talbot and disarm his men.
At the diner, some cops show up and quietly usher bystanders out. Ward can tell that something is up and tells Skye to get ready to run, until she informs him that she knows he’s HYDRA and tipped off the cops herself. Ward fights the police and Skye makes a dash out the door. She doesn’t get far, however, before Ward takes out all the cops and she gets grabbed by Deathlok (the former Mike Peterson, now a cheesy ‘Kickpuncher’ reject wearing Laser Tag gear).
Ward and Deathlok bring Skye back to the Bus (the plane). Ward tells her that he’s really in love with her; that part wasn’t an act. She’s dubious. Rather than torture the girl, Deathlok shoots Ward with some electrical doodad that forces him into cardiac arrest. He’ll let Ward die unless Skye decrypts the hard drive. Of course, she caves. She’s still in love with him after all. Skye tells them that the drive is really geo-locked to a specific altitude. They will need to get airborne for her to open it.
Just then, Maria Hill and Agent Triplett show up in a smaller jet to confront the Bus. Ward calls their bluff. He knows they won’t shoot the plane and kill Skye. What he doesn’t know is that, right at that moment, Coulson is climbing up his landing hear to sneak into the plane.
As the jet takes off, Coulson finds Skye. When he tells her that he plans to retake the plane, she informs him that Deathlok is on board. Coulson quickly changes his mind, and they head for the cargo bay. Deathlok attacks. In one of the most intensely cheesy sequences the show has ever done (and it’s suffered a lot of cheesiness), Coulson and Skye hope into his car “Lola” and drive it off the loading dock, plummeting toward the ground until the jet thrusters finally kick in at the last second. I can barely express to you how awful the VFX in this scene are. I had to shake my head in disbelief that it actually aired on primetime TV on a major network.
Wrapping up, Ward is now in possession of the decrypted hard drive. Coulson and the rest of his team take up residence at a motel. May returns with a flash drive that she dug up from Coulson’s fake grave. Finally, we find out the identity of the mastermind behind Tahiti. BUM BUM BUMMMM…. It’s Coulson himself! In a video message recorded before his death and resurrection, Coulson advises Director Fury that the project is too dangerous and has too many negative repercussions to the test subjects unless their memories are completely wiped. He advises that the program be shut down and also offers his resignation.
In befuddlement at this surprise twist, Coulson can only comment: “Huh…”
This is not a terribly exciting episode on the whole, and the shocking plot twist isn’t really all that shocking. Basically, I share Coulson’s reaction. On the other hand, I’ll give the series one thing: Over the course of just one season, it has turned its original premise completely upside down. How can these characters still be agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. if there’s no more S.H.I.E.L.D.? True, that’s almost entirely a consequence of the show’s reliance on being tied so closely to the Marvel movie franchise. Still, I wouldn’t normally expect this sort of thing to happen until at least a few seasons in.
We still have two more episodes left this season. Will S.H.I.E.L.D. be reinstated in the finale, setting everything back to the original dynamic for the second season? I hope not. That would be awfully boring, and this show has enough boredom to go around already.