If it looks like Coulson and it sounds like Coulson, that doesn’t mean it’s Coulson, which is at this point one of the few things we know about Sarge by the end of “Toldja.” However, one quality the two characters played by Clark Gregg both share is a level of cunning and planning that ensures a prediction made by Sarge early in the episode: he wouldn’t be wearing handcuffs for long.
Like any good nefarious plan, there are a couple of fakeouts, which Sarge’s team put into place after being brought into S.H.I.E.L.D. custody by Agent May (who seems like she’s one snarky comment away from just flat-out ripping off Sarge’s head). But while Jaco’s ability to literally breathe fire doesn’t lead to a successful jailbreak, Sarge is really betting that when Mack sends his agents after two Shrike-infected civilians, they’re ultimately going to need some help to survive.
Sarge’s blunt “who else was in love with this guy?” is the sort of line that Gregg works hard to sell — it’s too simplistic to say that he’s having a lot of fun while leaning into the more sinister aspects of Sarge as a character, because nothing about his performance could be considered over-the-top. Instead, what stands out about Gregg’s work, this week in particular, is that he seems to genuinely appreciate the opportunity to play a new character within the context of the show. When you consider that Gregg has not only been playing some variation of Coulson on a fulltime basis since 2013, but first originated the character in 2008’s Iron Man, it makes sense that he’d want to switch things up a bit for a while.
Mack’s decision to make a deal with Sarge — freedom in exchange for information that ultimately saves the Zephyr from destruction — is built on the notion that while Sarge might be bad, the Shrike are worse. But the ongoing threat posed by the Shrike, despite the frequent mentioning of the fact that they’re planet killers, has yet to feel like truly apocalyptic peril for the Earth. In fairness, the infection and incubation process for this parasite is legit terrifying, but the fact that the show has only showcased separate incidents, as opposed to a united menace.
It’s currently hard to picture this becoming a full-on plague as described, but maybe that’s where the arrival of “the maker” comes in. This episode marks the official beginning of the second half of the season, and right now it feels like there are some massive piece of the puzzle still missing in order for these scenes to inspire real terror. Still, death-by-Shrike does not look like a fun way to die.
Meanwhile, FitzSimmons fans (yes, including yours truly) were undoubtedly pleased by the fact that while last week’s episode was entirely devoted to the pairing, they were still a part of the action in “Toldja.” In fact, their storyline served as a comparatively light diversion, as Enoch accidentally transports the calamity-prone pair to Kitson City, a place where Fitz and Simmons had both had very different experiences earlier this season.
As opposed to “Fear and Loathing on the Planet of Kitson,” though, Jemma’s having a lot less fun this time, due to the lack of hallucinogens and also getting captured by Mr. Kitson (played by the always welcome Anthony Michael Hall) who runs this town and has it in for Fitz and Enoch.
A lot gets packed into Mr. Kitson’s introduction, from the “heartwarming” story of how his grandfather’s slaves “built the original settlement with their bare hands” to how “decency doesn’t put food in the mouths of my wives.” Kitson gets no comeuppance in this episode; in fact, he gets a sizeable payday from the mysterious Izel, who sweeps in during Kitson’s Game of Games (Ellen Degeneres wishes that NBC would let her use guillotines) — that, plus all the details established about him and his little criminal empire, makes his eventual return feel like a safe bet.
By the end, Fitz and Simmons have embarked upon a new adventure — one which will bring them back to Earth, which may feel like good luck at the moment, but with Izel calling the shots when it comes to what’s next, it’s likely not to be an easy journey home. At least FitzSimmons is still a united front. And they’re unstoppable, so what could possibly go wrong?
- While some reunions may be on the horizon, it’s farewell to Enoch, at least for a little while (though planting the communicator makes it pretty likely that Joel Stoffer will be back).
- Deke’s fancy new shoes and lack of knowledge about “revolutionary” Michael Jordan are the sort of fun details that hopefully get included
- “Everyone seems to have a lot of feelings around here” does a nice job of capturing the essence of the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew as a whole. The emotional trauma experienced by these characters would keep an entire army of Counselor Trois busy.
- If pink-haired badass Izel looks familiar, it’s because actress Karolina Wydra has popped up in a number of series over the past several years, including Quantico, Sneaky Pete, and the final two seasons of House, in which she played House’s immigrant wife Dominika.
- This isn’t the most important aspect of the episode by a long shot, but I’m vaguely obsessed with Sarge’s patchwork sweater. With the leather straps and ridged shoulder detail, it looks like something worn by the dragon hunters in the 2002 classic Reign of Fire. That’s not a complaint!