ABC and Marvel Studios are making a very big deal about Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. delivering more of the fantastic developments fans were expecting from the beginning in these final episodes, but except for a few moments at the end of “T.A.H.I.T.I.”, this week’s story is very much in line with what has preceded it. Skye’s been shot. The team disobeys orders to find a cure. Touch screens are used. Action sequences unfold in dark, nondescript locations. The team spends a lot of time on their goddamn plane. And then there are some interesting reveals in the final moments to suggest cool things to come. It’s not horrible, but it is bland, although the appearance of recurring guest star Bill Paxton spices things up a bit by adding a gruff old son of a bitch to the show.
Picking up shortly after the end of last episode, this week’s story begins with Skye being admitted to a S.H.I.E.L.D. hospital, where doctors discover that the bullet has penetrated her large and small intestines. It’s probable that she will die, but Coulson’s not willing to give up on her, especially because he knows S.H.I.E.L.D. has ways of reviving people when they’re completely dead. If he can figure out how he was brought back to life, then he can use those methods to bring Skye back, but in order to do that, Coulson is going to need to reveal some information to the rest of his team. He fills in Fitz, Simmons, and Ward about his resurrection in hopes that the first two will be able to touch screen their way to some answers and so Ward doesn’t feel left out (he’s very sensitive), but by the end of the episode, Coulson will have a brand new secret to keep from the rest of his team.
The team breaks protocol by keeping Skye’s shooter Ian Quinn (David Conrad) on the Bus instead of taking him into S.H.I.E.L.D. custody, a decision that brings the wrath of Bill Paxton’s Agent John Garrett down on them. Or at least that’s the way things look until Garrett and Coulson talk for a bit and decide that saving Skye is the top priority, joining forces so that they can save this random hacker woman. They interrogate Ian Quinn together and get some cryptic knowledge about The Clairvoyant, then rush off to save the day with Ward and Fitz when the mystery drug is located.
Considering how deeply buried the secret of Coulson’s resurrection has been for the entire season, Fitz and Simmons sure have an easy time tracking down the drug used on him and the location where it’s held. They start by looking through Coulson’s medical records, discovering a mysterious drug, GH-325, that regenerates dead tissue, but when they try to find out more, they reach a dead end. Luckily, Fitz has a connection at The Triskelion who has given them access to a digital cube that contains all of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s administrative data, interoffice memos, travel arrangements, and purchase orders, which really isn’t something a top-secret spy organization should be handing out for others to rummage through.
The cube expands into a giant digital library that Fitz and Simmons navigate extremely quickly by waving their hands around, discovering the location of a decommissioned World War II bunker recently visited by someone with Level 10 clearance (most likely Nick Fury). The base’s name, Guest House, fits the initials in GH-325, but they can’t access the file because it’s encrypted. Or is it? With a few hand motions, Fitz turns the encryption into an array of numbers that, when hands are moved a certain way, form a map of the Guest House’s location. I read a lot of comics, and while that type of tech-assisted storytelling shortcut might work in a comic where it’s easier to completely suspend disbelief, it reads as lazy on a television show that is supposed to take place in a more realistic environment. There’s not any digging that happens when characters investigate on this show, they just wave their hands and stuff happens. It’s basically magic disguised as technology, giving the writers a quick way to move from point A to point B without thinking too hard.
The hand-to-hand fight choreography is better this week, particularly the scene where May walks into the interrogation room and pummels Ian Quinn’s face, but the shootout at the Guest House is a murky mess. Yes, the shootout is supposed to take place in the dark, but there are ways to film darkness and still make sure the viewers know what they’re seeing. The stakes are supposed to be incredibly high during the scenes in the Guest House, but a bomb rigged to explode in 10 minutes is one of the most standard ways of building suspense on an action-adventure series. This show isn’t ballsy enough to pull a fast one on the audience and kill a different character while Skye is on her deathbed, so it never feels like there’s much danger surrounding the situation.
This show has gone out of its way to establish that there are no psychics in the MCU, so it’s likely that The Clairvoyant is a S.H.I.E.L.D. mole using the organization’s surveillance capabilities to get all his (or her) information. With the knowledge that Garrett will be appearing in multiple episodes this season and has a higher clearance level than Coulson, he’s definitely one of the frontrunners for The Clairvoyant’s true identity. Think about it: Ian Quinn killed three of Garrett’s men using information that Garrett could easily know, and killing those agents is a great way of making Garrett look like a victim rather than a mastermind. He conveniently appears right when Coulson and his team start doing exactly what The Clairvoyant wants, leading Garrett to the place where Coulson was revived. And the complete destruction of the Guest House also works in his favor by making it look like the trail has been cut off for Centipede. In the comic books, Garrett is a morally dubious character, so it won’t be a huge surprise if he turns out bad on this series.
After Fitz rushes out to bring the GH-325 to the Bus, Coulson discovers a room marked T.A.H.I.T.I., an acronym that isn’t explained, and may never be explained because last episode was called “T.R.A.C.K.S.” and that didn’t mean anything. What happens inside the room is the most intriguing aspect of the episode, showing Coulson as he discovers that the drug is actually a fluid mined from a strange blue creature that only has a top half of its body. Marvel knowledge would suggest that the creature is either a Kree—an alien race that will be appearing in this summer’s Guardians Of The Galaxy—or an Atlantean. Either one of those possibilities opens up interesting storytelling possibilities for the future, but I’m personally hoping it’s an Atlantean because then that means the MCU is one step closer to introducing Namor, the Prince of Atlantis who is also one of the biggest egomaniacs in superhero comics.
After discovering the source of the GH-325, Coulson rushes to the Bus and tries to prevent Simmons from administering it, but he’s too late. Skye’s life is saved but now she’s been exposed to an alien substance with unknown side effects, so it’s hard to tell just how big a victory this is for the team. I’ve been harsh on Skye in the past, but her absence in this episode is felt, so it’s a success in that it made me appreciate her role as the audience surrogate in this world. The show is definitely speeding up as it races to the finale, but now it needs to find a way to balance plot acceleration with character development. The agents talk about how they are a family and need each other, but those personal bonds aren’t fully formed yet. If S.H.I.E.L.D. is going to deliver truly powerful stories, it needs to find a way to define those relationships and deliver spectacular action.
- This week’s tag introduces Lorelei (Elena Satine), an Asgardian who also happens to be the younger sister of Amora the Enchantress. I have a soft spot for Lorelei because of Walt Simonson’s The Mighty Thor, but I can’t imagine tonight’s cliffhanger having much of an impact on people that don’t read Thor comics.
- David Conrad and Tahmoh Penikett have to be related somehow, right? They are two actors cut from the same cloth.
- Only one month until Captain America: The Winter Soldier! The commercial that plays during tonight’s episode looks awesome.
- This episode shows that Skye is important to this show by throwing in a couple moments where characters need to hack something and they can’t do it. In both instances, things work out fine.
- If the Guest House is such an important location, why are there only two guards protecting it?
- Trip: “How did Coulson score such a sweet ride?” Ward: “He died.” Trip: “That’s tight.”
- “Sounds like some wrestler from the ’80s.”
- And because it’s Bill Paxton: