Considering the events of the last weeks episode and incorporating the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, things are really looking bad for Coulson’s team right now. It looks like this episode is taking place in parallel with the events of Captain America. There’s a lot of parallels to the events of the movie, even down to repeating some lines from the film like “don’t trust anyone” (and some more that are more spoiler-y). This whole post is gonna be full of spoilers, so if you haven’t seen either the movie or the episode, the time to get out is now.
The episode picks back up with the stand off between May-Coulson-Skye and with the revelation of May’s betrayal, Coulson’s in no mood. Just to lump some more betrayal on top of the crap sundae that is this whole situation, May reveals that Fitz was also sending encrypted messages to someone. With no other options left, Fitz and May both lay their cards on the table. May claims that she’s been reporting to Director Fury and Fitz explains that he and Simmons are still working on investigating the GH-325 cure. Coulson knocks may out and drops her in a cell with Ward, who grills her about being a mole. Elsewhere, Garret is attacked by SHIELD drones and comes back to the plane to get help from Coulson.
Once Garrett’s back on the plane, Coulson and Skye update him on the situation. They tell him that they believe that the Clairvoyant is and agent of SHIELD and that it’s Agent Hand. Garrett protests, but Coulson is convinced. Either way both of them realize that they are being taken back toward the Hub. Skye also decodes a message that reveals an encoded instruction to members of HYDRA. HYDRA, was an organization associated with the Red Skull and thought to have been destroyed during WWII. They have maintained a parasitic existence within SHIELD for the past 70 years and this message is their call to arms to eliminate the SHIELD agents. As the plane lands it starts taking fire from HYDRA agents (or maybe SHIELD agents, who knows at this point). Coulson lets May and Ward out of holding as they need all hands on deck for the situation. He also has May contact Director Fury only to receive a message that Fury has been killed.
At that moment, May takes a stray bullet in the arm and Coulson takes her for treatment. As he’s treating May the two have it out about what’s been going on so far. May tells him that Fury was only having her keep tabs on him for signs of deterioration. She also tells him that she guided the selection of his team through Fury in order to assemble a crew that could support Coulson but also take him out if need be. The biggest reveal of all though, is that she knew about TAHITI. This hurts Coulson but it does lead him to trust May enough to take her with them. Before they leave the plane Ward points out that the plane contains a lot of information that could be valuable to HYDRA. This leads Skye to create a backup up the plane’s data before they scrub the whole thing to leave no info for HYDRA.
Inside the Hub Triplett and Simmons are captured by Agent Hand. She briefly explains the situation and offers them an ultimatum: join HYDRA or die. When Trip and Simmons fight back she reveals that it was a test to see if she could trust them. It then becomes clear that Hand is convinced that Coulson is a member of HYDRA which is why she was having him brought in to be killed. Hand believes that they must be merciless in dealing with HYDRA and has adopted a shoot-first mentality. When Simmons objects to the idea that Coulson could be HYDRA, Hand has someone recite a list of Coulson’s crimes and also points out the convenience of Agent Blake and Nash being taken out.
At this point Coulson’s team has split up inside the Hub. Ward and Skye are going to hack in to the system and Coulson and Garret are going to find Simmons and take out Hand. Skye and Ward spend some intimate time in a closet together before Ward goes all super-soldier in a hallway on a bunch of agents. The two seem to be rekindling their relationship sparks and Skye kisses Ward “just in case”. On Coulson’s end there’s a lot of arguing about how to handle Hand. Garrett is adamant that they should put Hand down quickly, and presents a list of Hand’s (really the Clairvoyant’s) trespasses against Coulson. During his rant he mentions a woman in a flower dress. At that moment, Coulson realizes that Garrett must be the Clairvoyant because he never actually told him about that. Just as he figures it out and realizes that he’s been playing into Garret’s hands this whole time, a team of agents bursts in the door. Garrett says that since some of them were hired by Agent Sitwell they should know what to do in this situation. As we know from Captain America, the now deceased Sitwell was a HYRDA agent. Apparently, that means take out the SHIELD agents in the room so that Garret can monologue a bit before having Coulson, May, and Fitz executed.
Just as they’re about to die, Skye manages to disable the base which gives them the ability to fight back. After the guards are neutralized Agent Hand’s team bursts in and lets them know that they’ve heard everything. In the aftermath of the confrontation Hand tells Coulson that HYDRA has taken over two of the primary SHIELD bases and that Captain America’s status is unknown. In the wake of the fallout she suspects that herself, Ward, and Coulson may be the highest ranking SHIELD operatives left. Coulson lets Ward go off with Hand to put Garrett in the Fridge while he sets his team to work on repairing the plane. He tells May that he doesn’t consider her a friend but he does consider her an ally and that those are in short supply. When asked what they’re going to do, Coulson simply responds: “survive”.
At the end of the episode, we see Garrett being transported on a plane with Hand, Ward and some other faceless agents. Hand offers Ward the chance to shoot “the right Clairvoyant” this time. Ward takes the gun and proceeds to shoot Hand and the other SHIELD agents. He releases Garrett and the episode ends with a close up on Ward’s brooding face, with Garrett babbling more old combat stories in the background.
First off, I was glad that I turned out to be right about May reporting back to Fury. Even though she did end up damaging her relationship with Coulson I did think that having her completely betray him would’ve been too out of character for May. I was surprised to hear that she had been a part of the TAHITI cover up. When she was talking about how she influenced the assembling Coulson’s team, it made me reevaluate how I viewed Coulson. When he was given this new team, I felt like he was being treated as an important asset that SHIELD couldn’t afford to do without. This almost made it seem like he was some kind of special needs case that SHIELD was just trying to manage.
Aside from that, the biggest reveal in this episode for me was Ward. This episode was really well done with the way that they tried to obfuscate the identities of the HYDRA agents. Both Agents Hand and Garrett presented compelling cases as to how the events of the season so far pointed to how someone was a HYDRA agent. Not only did the dialogue do a good job of hiding this, but so did the staging of the episode. With everyone being able to fight against faceless agents it didn’t tip off who’s side anyone was actually on. I really was ready to believe that Hand was evil up until her stunt with Trip and Simmons. I mean, even her appearance with the red accents and highlights in her hair, suggests that she would be a HYDRA agent. All of this misdirection was really one big smokescreen to hide the fact that Ward was actually the traitor on Coulson’s team. Given that Ward killed all witnesses of his betrayal I’m wondering if it’s going to take a little while for Coulson’s team to figure this out (especially poor Skye who’s getting played really hard right now).
Marvel really created a nice complementary event for the HYDRA takeover depicted in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I especially enjoyed this because I remember thinking during the movie, “I wonder what’s going on with the Agents of SHIELD cast while Cap’s doing all this stuff?” I can’t think of another situation where a show and movie could add extra dimensions to each other at the same time. Even if it seems like a small thing, the intricacy and thought put into the overall story is evident in how smoothly they were able to execute the episode along with the movie. That being said, I feel like there are some things that between the movie and the show are kind of unclear about the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe.
At the end of “Winter Soldier” it seemed as though SHIELD no longer exists. Not only is Fury still pretending to be dead, but Black Widow publicized all of their hidden information which should make it near impossible for either organization to operate. During the first teaser at the end of the movie they actually kind of imply that the SHIELD /HYDRA conflict may no longer be of any real importance as the forces behind HYDRA may be moving on toward bigger things. In contrast, the end of this episode makes it seem like both organizations still exist in a fragmented fashion and that there’s going to be a power struggle between the remaining SHIELD and HYDRA factions. Essentially, this leaves our cast in a state of limbo. They’re no longer part of a real organizational hierarchy and I’m not even sure what authority Coulson’s team still has under the law. We know that Maria Hill and Nick Fury are still alive and that the Black Widow is still doing intelligence work, but it doesn’t seem like any of them are in a situation to help Coulson out. That leaves him no only without help but without a goal. With no orders to follow it seems like survival may actually be the only thing to shoot for. Obviously, there is someone still interested in Skye and Coulson but it remains to be seen how much firepower any of the HYDRA agents will have left after SHIELD’s purging.
I feel like this episode gives the show a bit of a fresh start. I don’t feel like I don’t have to care as much about some of the shortcomings of the show in the past because this gives the show a chance to now go in a completely fresh direction. I’m excited to see what they choose. Granted, with only 5 episodes remaining in the season I hope they stick with whatever direction they pick for those 5 episodes.