Hydra has been a presence throughout Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s third season, but it’s been a tangential one, with Ward and his evil organization distanced from the primary drama between S.H.I.E.L.D., the A.T.C.U., and the Inhumans. Ward has been off rebuilding Hydra and Coulson has sent a few of his agents to neutralize that threat before it gets any bigger, but Hydra has fallen down S.H.I.E.L.D.’s list of priorities in the age of Inhumanity. That changes in “Many Heads, One Tale,” which pushes Hydra back into the forefront by connecting it to all of this season’s storylines.

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Hydra was the mystery organization that sent Will and his crew to the alien planet, part of a ritual sacrifice Hydra regularly makes to the extremely powerful Inhuman banished on the other side of the portal. Hydra has also been pulling the strings of the A.T.C.U. thanks to Gideon Malick’s influence in Washington, and they have no interest in curing Inhumans. Instead, they’re forcing Terrigenesis on unwilling participants to build up an Inhuman army, one that will serve that ancient Inhuman exile when he eventually returns to Earth. Malick plans on making that happen by using his piece of the teleporting monolith, and he wants Ward to help him learn how S.H.I.E.L.D. was able to bring someone back through it.

Bringing all the season’s different story threads together gives this week’s episode a strong sense of direction, and writers DJ Doyle and Jed Whedon balance these more sweeping plot developments with intimate character moments that have more emotional significance. The big event in that department is Fitz and Simmons’ kiss, a bittersweet moment where Simmons tries to convince her best friend that they’re not cursed by the cosmos. With all the tension that has been building between these two characters, the kiss is a very welcome release, but it’s brief. The ghost of Will haunts both of them, and a kiss isn’t going to immediately exorcise it.

Fitz and Simmons make some forward progress by unloading emotional baggage, but there’s still plenty to unpack before they’re at a point where they can start a romantic relationship. Of all this show’s relationships, Fitz and Simmons has the most depth and definition, and ABC knows this. The promotional voiceover leading into this week’s episode wonders if Fitz and Simmons are going to take it to the next level, and it’s interesting that their storyline gets the attention when its not the main plot of the episode. Their relationship is one of the major selling points of this series, and this season has been at its best when Fitz and/or Simmons have been the focus.

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Coulson and Rosalind are at the center of another troubled romance, and after last week’s hook-up, Coulson is even more suspicious of his new partner. He launches Operation: Spotlight to uncover the truth regarding what the A.T.C.U. is doing with the Inhumans, and invites Rosalind for a tour of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s land-based facilities, which ends with her being trapped in a room and interrogated about her allegiances. As is often the case in Whedon TV shows, a man turns into a total asshole after having sex, and while Coulson has reason to be suspicious of the A.T.C.U., Rosalind doesn’t actually appear to be involved in the shadiness.

There’s still the very real possibility that Rosalind is deceiving Coulson, but this week’s episode gives the impression that she legitimately didn’t know about Malick’s Hydra connections when he offered her the job. Much of that impression comes from Constance Zimmer’s performance, which captures the pain Rosalind feels when Coulson doubts her honesty and her shame when she realizes that she’s been a pawn. She shows a lot of vulnerability, but there’s still plenty of strength in her performance; she doesn’t let Coulson badger her, and has her own ammunition to fire against Coulson when he goes after her. Her must cutting comment is when she tells Coulson that he derives sadistic pleasure by metaphorically stabbing people through the heart because he was literally stabbed through the heart, drawing attention to the fact that Coulson isn’t a particularly good person despite all his noble intentions.

The action sequences do a lot of work to elevate this episode, beginning with Ward’s takedown of Malick’s goons at the start of the story. Dynamically filmed by Garry A. Brown, it considerably increases Ward’s threat level by showcasing Brett Dalton’s skill as an action performer. Bobbi’s fight with Malick’s Inhuman crony isn’t as intricate as Ward’s opening sequence, but it makes up for it by introducing an awesome new function to Bobbi’s batons, which are now magnetically attracted to metal bands on Bobbi’s wrists. With martial artist (and Iron Chef America host) Mark Damascos as Bobbi’s Inhuman opponent, it would have been nice to see this fight go on even longer, especially because the episode cuts away when the action is still ramping up, but it’s still a standout sequence.

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The prospect of Hydra having an Inhuman army is bad news for S.H.I.E.L.D., but a promising development for this series, which has been reluctant to really commit to the creation of recurring Inhuman characters beyond Lash and Joey Gutierrez. It’s understandable that the show wants to stay focused on the characters that make up its very large ensemble, but there’s an opportunity to introduce more spectacular storytelling to this series and the writers aren’t taking it. Hopefully this week’s reveals mean that the “Secret Warriors” storyline will finally kick into high gear, because S.H.I.E.L.D. is going to want its own team of good guy Inhumans to even the playing field.

Stray observations

  • Jessica Jones debuts this Friday, and you should be very excited for it. I’ll be doing episodic reviews for TV Club twice a week.
  • Skye and Lincoln’s romance still doesn’t have any sparks, but his conversation with May this week is Lincoln’s strongest moment this season. That’s mostly because of Ming-Na Wen’s performance, but at least he’s in a scene with actual emotional impact.
  • There are now two Inhumans with powers related to metal. Still not enough to replace Magneto.
  • Fish oil pills as the MCU’s main Terrigen source will never not be funny.
  • “I feel like you’re gonna tell me I didn’t make Little League All-Stars.”
  • “We really have to figure out other ways to flirt.”

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