Again picking up immediately after last week’s episode left off (S.H.I.E.L.D. does serialized stories so much better than it does episodics), “The Things We Bury” concerns precisely that, focusing on the long-hidden secrets of Ward and Whitehall.
The former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent catches up with his brother, Senator Christian Ward, in order to force a confession out of him for the long-ago murder of their brother, Thomas. By episode’s end, however, that confession will be used as an explanation for the politician’s sudden suicide. But is he really dead? In any event, Ward winds up at HYDRA HQ, convincing Whitehall of his loyalties. Could he and his brother have faked the latter’s death as part of a scheme to ensnare their shared enemies? Or is this just wishful thinking on my part? In any case, with actor Brett Dalton still a core member of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s cast, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this does prove to be just an elaborate ruse. But it’s the journey, not the destination, and the machinations of the show’s writing staff are much appreciated.
As for Whitehall, while he’s certainly evil, he’s no genius, as we learn in a flashback to World War II. After finding the Obelisk, he experiments with various human subjects and finds a young woman (Dichen Lachman of Mutant Enemy’s Dollhouse) with the rare ability to touch it. But he’s soon captured by Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell, in yet another guest appearance designed to build interest in the January premiere of Agent Carter). Rather than sign him on as yet another ex-Nazi scientist for the U.S., she leaves him to rot in his cell, which he does for 44 years, until undercover HYDRA agents spring him free in 1989 and he finds his Obelisk girl hasn’t aged in the ensuing years. In perhaps S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s most gruesome scene ever, he dissects her and finds whatever secrets to longevity her body holds, rejuvenating himself into the man we love to hate.
Up till now, Whitehall’s regarded the Obelisk as a weapon, but Skye’s dad informs him it is in fact a key to finding the lost city that Coulson also seeks. Kyle MacLachlan really is the standout performer in this episode; his Doctor the crazed, over-the-top villain we deserve but didn’t quite get in Bill Paxton’s John Garrett last year. MacLachlan clearly relishes the opportunity to play a man with nothing left to lose. For we learn it was his character’s wife whom Whitehall experimented on and killed in 1989. In the present day, he’s set to wreak vengeance upon the HYDRA head, telling him the Obelisk — which he calls “The Diviner,” since it decides who deserves to live and who dies — comes from “Blue angels who came bearing a gift for all mankind… These visitors didn’t come to save mankind. They came to conquer it.”
Could the Diviner have specific ties to Ronan? McLachlan’s character, like the late Kree Accuser, is a bit of a religious nut, claiming his goal is to be reunited with his family in the afterlife. It’s probably the closest S.H.I.E.L.D. will get to showing real-life spiritual zealotry. But it’s impossible not to enjoy the way MacLachlan lurches between menace and clown when he meets Coulson in Australia, when his team is using an EMP to find the location of the hidden city. Which they discover just as the director is about to tell Skye he’s seen her father.
If the show’s producers keep the momentum going half as well as they have for the past several episodes, by midseason S.H.I.E.L.D. will finally be the show its fans have always deserved.
— Bobbi (after Bakshi tries to kill himself): “I can’t argue a man to suicide!” Hunter: “Clearly you’ve never argued with yourself then!”
— There’s far too little of Bobbi and Hunter’s fighting/foreplay in this episode (though they do finally get it on inside a S.H.I.E.L.D. SUV). More please.
— Coulson’s behavior in this episode is a tad reckless, bringing Fitz out into the field when he’s still dealing with brain damage. And Mack, who’s demonstrated a keen instinct for people, doesn’t quite trust the director. Could he still be wrestling with the alien blood he was given?
In two weeks: Patton Oswalt returns — along with May’s evil doppelganger — and the team is reunited for their journey to the lost city.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter @JMaCabre.