This week’s episode of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD opens on a burned church, with a miraculously surviving painting from Spain having survived. After some banter, we see the backside of the painting with markings that look mysteriously like the things Coulson sketches during his episodes.
Next up, we see ladies man Nick Blood work his magic at the beach and just when you think he is just playing, you realize he is doing work too, having lifted something off his “target” and passing it on to Skye, who is working the Vespa, parking it in one of the jets. She quickly hacks her way into gaining Coulson and May entrance into a private party. We humorously see that May has the laugh equivalent of Elaine’s dancing from Seinfeld. Coulson and May then demonstrate a history of…dance, as they case the joint, reliving stories of their past. May then reveals that Coulson is getting worse, ultimately talking about a plan on how to take Coulson out if he gets crazy, only then to discover that their cover will soon be blown because General Talbot is at this party.
Coulson and Talbot then have a conversation on the balcony that ends with Talbot promising not to interfere. Coulson then interrupts the younger part of the team having some playful banter, to tell them because of Talbot’s presence they are making a play for the painting sooner rather than later.
May puts on the undercover smooth moves, scanning the retinas of the target using a smartphone. (I would like that app.) Coulson and May then sneak their way in to find the painting, being guided by the team back at the plane. May simply runs through the laser grids as Coulson got ready to yoga-like move through the lasers. Just as they get to the location, they discover that Talbot took possession of the painting from the church earlier in the day. And who is Talbot on the phone with? Hydra’s Doctor Whitehall.
May and Coulson then start to figure their way out of the situation, bantering about the past, only to run into Talbot, who reveals he needs Coulson’s help to interpret the painting, offering him an opportunity to examine it. Coulson agrees to it, only to turn May loose to figure out the real reasons for what is happening.
The team is back at the plane where Blood’s love life is chatted about and everyone is sharing their secrets. Fitz sits quietly on the sidelines being goaded by imaginary Simmons to join in.
May then breaks into the hotel room, taking down Agent 33, and revealing that Talbot is some kind of fake, added by technology until she is tased. Agent 33 then suits up using the technology as…May! Agent 33 is then given the gear she needs to take out Coulson and his team.
Fitz is chatting it up with fake Simmons, getting angry about the condition he is in, as well as talking about how his risk of declaration of love for Simmons bit him when Agent 33-May shows up, convienently planting some kind of weird device on the plane as she departs with Coulson.
Real Agent May is then shown tied up as Whitehall’s assistant threatens to hurt her and brainwash her if she doesn’t give him what she wants. That sets up May’s scary gaze as he prepares to electrocute her.
Agent 33-May then has a deep conversation with Coulson about what happens when he needs to be taken out, including him asking her to take over SHIELD when his time is over.
Fitz ultimately discovers the sabotage technology as the plane starts to self destruct, trapping the team in the bus.
Realizing she is fake, Coulson sweet talks Agent 33-May. As he beats her down in the hallway, real May gets her freedom and begins to do work, which leads to an Agent 33-May, Real May showdown in the hotel room hall. (I think I may have been staying in the room next door to this once on a vacation.) As the two of them fight, Coulson then has to track down the painting as Whitehall’s assistant runs.
Meanwhile, Fitz is trying to guide the reboot of the plane, with Blood being his hands as the other people work in different areas.
Fitz gets a celebratory beer and he is reminded that he is a part of the team. He reveals how deeply he has been hurt by Simmons’ departure. Skye is then shown to be digging deep into the research, looking at information on the painting.
Coulson and May debrief Talbot and for the first time, they call the writings as having an alien source, and that someone else is currently writing the insignias as well. Real May and Coulson have the conversation about what will happen, with May revealing that she will take care of Coulson, not in the “shoot you in the head” way but in the “retire to the Australian Outback” kind of way. They banter back and forth, with a steely May telling Coulson she will do what is necessary in the end.
The episode closes with Dr. Whitehall showing up and having a conversation with Raina, using some kind of device to take control of her and demanding that she bring him the stolen obelisk.
So what does this all mean?
- There is a part of the Coulson “episodes” deal that makes me think that Marvel is digging into its back catalog and wanting to give a deeper history to SHIELD. If you want to do that, you have to look at the Jonathan Hickman run that came out in 2011. It is more than a little weird as a series, yet very interesting series that could hold a lot of promise. Most notably, it could be a way to bring Doctor Strange and his mysticism into the Marvel cinematic and television universe.
- While they talked that the writings are new and “aliens” are involved, I am not so sure that is where it will end up.
- As a May and Coulson centered episode, it does more of what last episode did as well: reminding us that Coulson is a normal guy, not just the Director of SHIELD. The banter between him and May is well done writing, full of jokes and banter but also serious moments as needed.
- I like the way they are slowly building up the team and camaraderie, especially among the younger members of SHIELD. They are developing what all good Whedon projects have: a team. From Buffy to Angel to Firefly to, obviously, his run on Astonishing X-men, and The Avengers, great Whedon projects have a clear sense of teams and roles. With these new pieces in place, they are filling out their roles.
The scenes with Fitz are compelling to me. His heroic act and saving of Simmons has put him in his current challenged state. Yet, slowly and surely, he is working himself into a meaningful and important member of the team. He has the clearest sense of an arc this season and it is working well.
Overall, this episode is a 6 out of 8. It was solid but we didn’t advance the major stories forward in compelling ways. It did do much to build a sense of what SHIELD is in its new form and how that team is coming together.