All hell continues to break loose on this week’s episode of S.H.I.E.L.D., which literally hits the ground running, with May rushing to the aid of Henry Cavill, er, Lance Hunter, helping him pull a Nick Fury in Winter Soldier from the beneath the wreckage of the SUV in which he was buried at the end of last week’s ep. May then chases after the Absorbing Man responsible (and in so doing demonstrates some rather superb motorcycle skills), before being ordered to stand down by Coulson. The rest of our heroes return to the Playground in their new quinjet.
Skye (sporting some fetching bangs) informs Coulson the symbols he’s had her researching are on the Obelisk that Creel has stolen. Talbot nabs Hunter and offers him a deal: give him Coulson in forty-eight hours and he’ll receive two million dollars. Talbot’s no one-dimensional antagonist though. Last week we saw he was a loving husband and father, and here he promises Hunter a decent burial for his departed friend Hartley. Adrian Pasdar’s line reading implies Talbot is happy to do it out of pure respect.
Meanwhile, back at the Playground, Mack is shown to be a kindred gearhead to the still troubled Fitz, and the two get to work on the broken cloaking device the agents sorely need for their new vehicle. The show delights in finding such odd pairings within its cast, spurring the growth of characters by forcing them out of their comfort zones. Skye forms a connection of her own, for example, with Hunter once he returns, and gives the ever more self-confident agent pause in her devotion to S.H.I.E.L.D.. I like this new Skye. She’s little time for self-pity. And Chloe Bennet’s grown as an actress, projecting a wide range of emotions – sadness, frustration, disappointment – over Fitz’s mental state with just a quick look.
Poor Fitz, it seems, continues to imagine his former partner Simmons at his side, like a demure version of Battlestar Galactica‘s Number Six (if Number Six looked like the result of union between Anne Hathaway and Keira Knightley).
And speaking of deserters, a post-HYDRA Raina appears, looking to buy the Obelisk from Creel with a gift of the wonder substance known as “carbine.” Creel refuses to sell and instead steals the carbine. Coulson then connects with Raina, who explains the late turncoat John Garrett had the same visions Coulson has been been having after being injected with the drug that saved the S.H.I.E.L.D. director.
Raina informs Coulson the carbine contains a tracking device, and the agents follow Creel to his HYDRA meeting place. Coulson instructs Hunter to accompany them, but, in a twist, the bad boy winds up knocking out each member of the team and tackles Creel alone. In a further twist, even better than the shots of Creel using his absorbing powers is the sight of Hunter’s bullet flying through the air in slow-mo before bouncing off his iron-enhanced noggin. S.H.I.E.L.D. drew complaints that it sometimes looked cheap last season. It’s noticeably more handsome now.
Creel chases Hunter through a crowded office park, and in the confusion Raina makes off with the Obelisk. With the artifact overtaking Creel’s body, he reaches for Hunter with his death touch. But before he can grab the scamp, Coulson saves the day by stabbing Creel with one of his toys. It’s a bit of a cheat. I like a good gadget as much as the next espionage fan, but in the end I prefer my spies earn their victories through wit rather than technology. The scene is saved, however, by a lovely Terminator 2-inspired shot in which the various materials we’ve seen Creel absorb throughout these two episodes manifest themselves one last time on his body before the Obelisk wins out and he’s turned to stone.
As Hartley’s funeral, Coulson offers Hunter a new gig with his people. It turns out the mercenary’s ruthlessness is needed in the lean new machine the organization has become. And we learn Coulson has dispensed with S.H.I.E.L.D. security clearance levels.
We get to meet Skye’s dad, played by Kyle MacLachlan (himself a former agent – Twin Peaks‘ Dale Cooper). He asks Raina to bring his daughter to him in exchange for training in the use of the Obelisk, which she discovers she can survive touching.
In the episode’s final scene, Coulson keeps Hunter’s meeting with Talbot, giving him Creel and suggesting a truce in which he’ll bring him other such “presents” in exchange for some leeway. Talbot refuses, of course – this is, after all, the man who once hunted the Hulk – so Coulson shows the soldier his now fully-cloaking quinjets. It’s a good old-fashioned twenty-first century cold war fight, and Coulson wins it. This time with wits and tech.
So far this season, the show has kept what worked best in its first year, that Whedon-patented propensity for pairing end-of-the-world melodrama with the most mundane of concerns. As Coulson demonstrates with the episode’s two best lines: “We’ll have to burn the base and evacuate. I know — and we just re-tiled the bathrooms” and “The reality is, I don’t have a fleet of helicarriers or quinjets or thousands of agents at my disposal anymore. We’re lucky we still have our George Foreman grill.”
The line that lingers, however, is one uttered in last week’s season premiere. Coulson again instructs his people to “Go dark.” Just how dark is the question this season of S.H.I.E.L.D. poses. I’m happy to give the show as much time as it needs to answer it.
Next week: The son of Coul is getting tired of losing S.H.I.E.L.D.’s best and brightest to the enemy, and we’re told that “for the bad guys it’s recruitment time.” Wait, is that Simmons donning a HYDRA jacket and… HOLY CRAP, SHE’S POINTING A GUN AT COULSON!!!
My nails will be nubs ’til next Tuesday.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on ABC.