As every Marvel fan knows, Avengers: Age of Ultron arrives in theaters this Friday, May 1st. And this week’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pulls off the neat trick of tying into the summertime tent-pole without necessarily feeling like an ad for it. Instead it repairs some of the damage done to its characters’ relationships in recent episodes, while laying the groundwork for the recently announced S.H.I.E.L.D. spinoff show.
“The Dirty Half Dozen” benefits immensely from the skills of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s best director — Kevin Tancharoen (showrunner Maurissa’s brother, of Mortal Kombat: Rebirth and Glee concert movie fame). He uses his formidable experience as a choreographer for Madonna to deliver this season’s best action set piece, a single-take shot in which the camera follows Skye as she darts around a room whilst opening fire on a platoon of Hydra goons. It’s so well done it didn’t occur to me until much later that, as the only member of S.H.I.E.L.D. who now possesses superpowers, Skye scarcely needs a showcase for her marksmanship skills. Plus, it’s a little unfair that the team’s best fighter — Agent May — has never had such a perfectly designed scene. But it’s still entertaining as hell.
But May gets plenty more to do in this week’s S.H.I.E.L.D., which finds a reason to unite all of the show’s six original core cast members by sending them on a mission to free the cybernetic Deathlok and the Inhuman “Spark Plug” Lincoln from the clutches of Hydra, under one of its two new chiefs — Dr. List (we learn that the organization’s other leader, Baron Strucker is pursuing Hydra’s new directive in experimenting on powered people with “the twins” — Age of Ultron‘s Wanda and Pietro Maximoff). Ward (thanks to his “inside man” Bakshi) is tolerated long enough for him to issue once more apology to the team for betraying them last season, resulting in Fitz’s brain damage. His real motives for helping them aren’t revealed until episode’s end — he claims he wants former agent Kara turned Hydra operative Agent 33 to “get the S.H.I.E.L.D. part of her back”; He wants his old friends to grant her the redemption he doesn’t believe he deserves.
Hydra is what prompted Coulson to turn himself into Gonzales at the end of last week’s episode, but he’s once more got another secret agenda — to the chagrin of May, who resents that he secretly turned to her ex-husband Andrew for counseling when his mind was corrupted by the alien DNA that saved his life. It turns out that in addition to freeing the two powered prisoners, Coulson is after intel for Maria Hill, prompting her to bring the Avengers once more into the game.
For an episode loaded with action, “The Dirty Half Dozen” finds plenty of opportunities for exploring the show’s various character pairings. Besides Coulson and May — whom he’s dismayed to find has been given a vote in Gonzales’ new S.H.I.E.L.D. — Fitz and Simmons are reunited. And he too is dismayed to find she’s developed a mile-wide cold streak, which leads to a failed attempt to kill Ward. (Alas, poor treacherous Bakshi pays the price for her feeble assassination skills.) Elsewhere, Hunter and Mack appear to have buried the hatchet. While Bobbi shows increasing signs of disappointment with Gonzales’ attitude toward powered people like Deathlok.
Asgard knows what Gonzales would do if he got his hands on Raina, the show’s least sympathetic powered person (even in her new spiky form). Here she reveals she harbors ambitions to dethrone Skye’s mom as leader of Afterlife’s Inhumans, which prompts Jiaying to keep Cal, given his experience with Raina, close by for the time being. But her pre-cog abilities not only send Skye back to S.H.I.E.L.D., they anticipate Age of Ultron‘s principal threat — Ultron himself — whom she insists will change the world “forever.”
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has, at its best, functioned as a kind of thinking person’s G.I. Joe. And it’s satisfying to see its original lineup on one more Joe-like mission, even if it’s primarily intended as a means of airing grievances (a S.H.I.E.L.D. Festivus if you will). With only two episodes remaining in this season — and with Gonzales preventing Skye and Lincoln from returning to their people, thus threatening war — I’m hoping we’ll get at least one more hour as rewarding.
— “Ward is here. I don’t want to talk about anything personal in case… He’s like Candyman.”
— Skye has grown tremendously in the use and control of her powers. But using them as a defibrillator on Lincoln? Well, that may be a bit too much.
— I love Simmons’ impressed “Really?” upon hearing Fitz had tagged Ward. Of all the couples — or potential couples — on the show, there’s none more adorable than these two.
— “I’m really starting to wish I hadn’t eaten that Hot Pocket earlier.”
Next week: The Inhumans confront S.H.I.E.L.D. Who will Skye side with in “Scars”?
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).