Thursday, November 19, 2015

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3, Episode 8: Many Heads, One Tale

This week's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. was one of the best yet, as we learn what's really going on inside the ATCU, Evil Ward gets even more evil and we learn some shocking new info about HYDRA.

Oh, and FitzSimmons finally kiss!

Let's get to it!

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
Evil Ward has a nice dinner with Gideon Malick. Ward is trying to find the Von Strucker family vault, which is rumored to hold HYDRA's greatest power. Malick says there's nothing in the vault, and that Ward no longer fits into his plans. Malick leaves and his goons move in to eliminate Ward. He easily beats Malick's men, then starts torturing them, eventually finding out that the vault is in Germany. Nice guy, that Evil Ward.

Meanwhile, S.H.I.E.L.D. hands Andrew over to the ATCU. Rosalind tells Coulson and May that they'll do everything they can to find a cure for Andrew's Inhumanism.

Back at S.H.I.E.L.D., Mack asks Coulson point blank if he's getting too close to Rosalind. Coulson responds by launching Operation Spotlight, in which S.H.I.E.L.D. will secretly infiltrate the ATCU to find out what's going on inside. That answer your question, Mack?

FitzSimmons are still trying to find a way to get back to Planet Blue and rescue Will. Simmons discovers Will's NASA symbol is also tied to an ancient organization that practiced blood sacrifices. This leads her to believe Will was sent to the planet to die. She's also upset that Fitz keeps trying to help her, which makes her feel guilty. Fitz tells her he's angry because it seems like the universe is trying to keep them apart. Simmons says she still has feelings for Will, but that Fitz "dove through a hole in the universe for her." They embrace and kiss. Fitz says they're cursed.

Coulson brings Rosalind to inspect S.H.I.E.L.D., so the rest of the team can infiltrate the ATCU in her absence. Daisy (who's also a hacker, remember) gains access to the ACTU computers and causes a security breach. Mockingbird and Hunter then pose as a couple of computer experts who show up to solve the problem.

While Hunter distracts the IT Department with his sweet hacker skills, Mockingbird sneaks away and tries to find out where the ATCU's keeping its frozen Inhumans. She finds no trace of them, but does find a lab full of Terrigen-laced fish oil pills. Apparently the ATCU isn't trying to cure Inhumans, it's trying to create even more! Whaaa???

The Team reports this to Coulson, who confronts Rosalind. He demands to know if she's working for HYDRA. Rosalind denies this, but realizes she's been giving weekly reports to Gideon Malick for years, and that he's been playing her. Rosalind then demonstrates she's telling the truth by helping Coulson rescue his Team from the ATCU.

Evil Ward makes his way to the Stucker Vault in Germany. He's surprised to find Malick's already there. Malick shows Ward the secret of the vault—  a small chunk of the Monolith encased in plastic box. He tells Ward that HYDRA is as old as the Monolith. Thousands of years ago a powerful Inhuman was born on Earth, and destined to rule it. Because humanity was terrified of the Inhuman, they banished it through the portal to another planet. HYDRA was founded with the intention of engineering the Inhuman's return. Every generation has sent men through the portal to "save or serve" the Leader on the other side.

Malick says HYDRA is building an army for the Leader's eventual return. He wants Evil Ward to be the "second head" of HYDRA, and will help him destroy S.H.I.E.L.D. if he finds out how they successfully brought someone back through the portal.

In the tag scene, Evil Ward confronts Andrew, who's still in his containment unit. Andrew's been taken to Malick's headquarters and not the ATCU after all. Ward tells Andrew he wants him on his side, as he floods his containment unit with mustard gas to force him to turn into Lash.

Thoughts:
• So HYDRA's been around for thousands of years, long before the Red Skull was even born. And they were founded in order to bring their "Leader" back from Planet Blue.

This retcon is news to me, and probably to most Marvel comic fans as well. I was under the impression that HYDRA was an offshoot of the Nazis. I guess this new HYDRA m.o. could still fit in with the Nazis and not overwrite anything we saw in the Captain America movies, but I kind of wish they'd just have created a new evil organization for this plotline.

Is this HYDRA/Inhuman connection something the show came up with on its  own, or is this the way it is in the comics now? It's been a while since I've bought any, so I honestly don't know what's going on over at Marvel comics these days.

• I guess this new info about the Inhuman Leader means Simmons wasn't stuck on Ego, The Living Planet after all.

I wonder who this Inhuman Leader might be? Obviously it's the hooded "Death" figure that Will warned Simmons about, that she saw for herself shortly before being rescued.

I'm still not totally convinced that Will's just a plain old, everyday astronaut like he claimed to be. I'm betting he has something to do with the Inhuman Leader. He's either the Leader himself, or some kind of projection made by him, in order to test Simmons or lure him to its lair.

• When Ward's torturing Malick's men for info, he menaces them with a blowtorch and ominously says, I was a bit of a pyro when I was a kid." That was a callback to Season 1, when we found out that Ward was sent to juvie for torching his parents' home.

• Coulson briefs the entire S.H.I.E.L.D. staff on Operation Spotlight. What a coincidence that all the main cast members just happen to be standing in the front row during the meeting!

• Last week I said I didn't think Rosalind was working for HYDRA, and it looks like I was right. She's being played by Malick, and seems to have genuinely believed everything she told Coulson about the ATCU.

Of course there's always the possibility that this is all yet another elaborate ruse on her part, and she's just pretending to be Malick's patsy while secretly working for HYDRA after all. But I don't think so. That would be a little too convoluted.

So what happens to Rosalind now? It's unlikely she'd want to continue being Malick's patsy. Will Coulson offer her a job at S.H.I.E.L.D.?

• Rosalind's claim that she didn't know what was really going on inside the ATCU is some awfully sloppy writing. A couple weeks ago in Among Us Hide..., she gives Coulson a tour of the facility and shows him an elaborate Inhuman storage system, saying they're keeping them in stasis while searching for a cure.

So we're really supposed to believe that in the entire time she's been in charge of the ATCU, she never once took a stroll through the place to see how things were going and noticed something was wrong? Never noticed there weren't actually any Inhuman storage units on the premises? Never noticed the large supply of Terrigen-tainted fish oil pills, or the bins full of calcified humans who didn't pass the test? That seems unlikely.

On the other hand, maybe not. Back when I worked at the newspaper I had several managers and supervisors who never once visited my department. In fact I don't think they knew where it was. And I know for a fact they had no idea how the newspaper got made every day!

• I loved Hunter's "hacker" disguise. He and Mockingbird make a fun team. There were rumors a few months back that the two were going to get their own spinoff series. I'd hate for Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. to lose them, but it looks like it would be an awesome show.

Kudos to Hunter for being able to spout all that computer technobabble while Daisy dictated it into his earpiece.

• Mockingbird's upgraded her battle staves! They're now apparently magnetic, and she can call them back to her with a pair of electronic wristbands. This is similar to Captain America's magnetically returning shield in Avengers: Age Of Ultron.

When Mockingbird's Inhuman foe used his power to levitate the guns and point them at her, it reminded me more than a little of Magneto in the X-Men films.

• Leave it to Hunter to incapacitate a superpowered Inhuman simply by clocking him in the back of the head!

• During Rosalind's tour of S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson mentions his people developed his bionic hand. Hmm. I kind of figured he probably went to his pal Tony Stark and had him develop his prosthesis. But then I remembered that couldn't be, because Coulson STILL hasn't let any of the Avengers know he's alive.

• Look, another top secret government organization that plasters its logo in the lobby!

• During his argument with Simmons, Fitz declares “We’re cursed! The bloody cosmos want us to be apart!” Fitz skirts dangerously close to breaking the fourth wall with his little meta comment here. After all, the "universe," aka the show's writers, ARE keeping them apart. And for no other reason that our entertainment!

I was very impressed with Simmons in this scene. Fitz has been going above and beyond to help her get Will back, even though he has feelings for her. This makes Simmons feel incredibly guilty and angry at herself for putting Fitz in such an impossible position. It was a very subtle and mature plot point for a comic book show.

• As Simmons screams at Fitz, she angrily rakes all the books off a nearby table. Cue the "Book thrown in anger that jusssst happens to land on a relevant page that sparks an epiphany" trope.

• Simmons gives the Team a little presentation demonstrating how the HYDRA logo has evolved over the centuries, from a vague "V" shape to a stylized ram's head to the all-encompassing octopus of today.

As a graphic designer, I'm having trouble following the progression here. Especially since she had to turn the final logo upside down to get it to somewhat resemble a rudimentary octopus and fit her theory.

• Back when S.H.I.E.L.D. was studying the Monolith in their basement, I wondered why it had several rectangular holes in its surface. Now we know. HYDRA apparently carved out several chunks of the Monolith for further study. Pity the poor technician who was forced to cut out pieces of an object that could transport him to another planet at any second! 

This was an awesome touch, and proof that this show rewards the audience for paying attention. 

On the other hand, I'm not sure why an object that periodically liquefies and re-forms itself would be riddled with permanent holes. If some of it was missing, wouldn't it just be a couple of inches shorter when it re-formed?

• Malick seems to know an awful lot about S.H.I.E.L.D.'s success in bringing Simmons back through the Monolith. Does his position on the World Council grant him regular updates from Couslon? Or is there a mole inside S.H.I.E.L.D. sending him weekly reports?

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