Saturday, November 15, 2014

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2, Episode 7: The Writing On The Wall

This week Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues to move things right along as they resolve a plot point that I thought would be dragged out until the end of the season. I for one welcome these accelerated plot lines, and hope the trend continues.


The Plot:
Coulson's compulsion to carve alien symbols into his wall increases, to the point where he's no longer able to sleep. As he searches for an answer, the Team finds a woman who's been killed and mutilated by the Carver, the man we were introduced to last episode, whose body is covered in tattoos of the alien symbols. Coulson recognizes the woman as an ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, which leads him to believe there's more going on here than anyone suspects. This prompts Coulson to use the memory machine confiscated from Raina last year, to hopefully unlock the secrets in his mind.

Once hooked up to the machine, Coulson discovers he wasn't the only patient of the T.A.H.I.T.I. project. There were six other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who were dying of various ailments and given the alien GH-323 formula, which cured them. Unfortunately, shortly after their recovery they all became unstable and obsessed with the alien writing. This prompted S.H.I.E.L.D. to give them all new identities and false memories.

Coulson figures out that the Carver was one of these T.A.H.I.T.I. subjects, and is systematically killing the rest of them as he searches for answers. He intercepts the Carver just as he's about to kill former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Cameron Klein, aka Hank Thompson. Klein has been building a model railroad layout that when seen from above, looks like the alien writing. Coulson and the Carver then realize that the symbols aren't a map or circuitry, they're a 3D representation of a city that absolutely isn't Attilan.

Meanwhile, the rest of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, including Hunter and Mockingbird, try to capture the escaped Evil Ward. They fail spectacularly, due to his cunning. At the end of the episode Evil Ward cleans up real good in preparation for a meeting with his brother Christian.

• The Carver kills art teacher Janice Robbins by slicing the alien symbols into her forehead. Later on it's revealed that she was really a former Level 6 S.H.I.E.L.D. agent named Rebecca Stevens. As you would expect by now on this show, Agent Stevens was actually a character in the comics. Not an important or well known character, but it's still a nice touch.

Similarly, Hank Thompson, owner of Thompson Welding & Electric, is also a mind-wiped former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, by the name of Cameron Klein, and he's from the comics as well.

• Worried about Coulson's alien writing obsession, Skye sends out a call for help to her hacker pals. She gets a tip from a friend called Micro.

I'm assuming Micro is short for Microchip, who's the tech support guru for the Punisher. Microchip provided the Punisher with various weaponry, vehicles and electronic devices. Sort of like Whistler in the Blade movies.

• Coulson refers his alien uncontrollable urge to carve the alien symbols as hypergraphia. Believe it or not, that's a real thing. It's the overwhelming compulsion to write. People who suffer from it often spend hours each day recording their every thought and action.

• When Coulson and Skye sneak into Janice Robbins' apartment to examine the crime scene, Skye comments that they're breaking about a dozen laws.

It's nice to hear a character acknowledge this for once. In virtually every action or suspense story, the main character will solve the crime, but he'll break numerous and sundry laws in the process. "Yeah, you solved Crime A, but you committed Crimes B, C, and D through H to do so!"

• Evil Ward leads the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents on a merry chase as he outwits and avoids them at every turn. I'm really glad he became Evil Ward. He's a hundred times more interesting now than he was last season.

• Evil Ward makes his way to a bus terminal where he has a stash of clothing, money and weapons inside a locker, squirreled away for just such an occurrence.

A smart move on his part, but I have to wonder-- does the bus station ever clean out the lockers, say once a year or so? Is it really possible to leave something undisturbed inside one for years at a time?

• At the bus station, Evil Ward knows he's being tailed by S.H.I.E.L.D., so he approaches a young mother and her son. He offers to carry their bags, knowing the agents won't risk a shootout while he's with a couple of innocents.

Again, a brilliant move on Evil Ward's part, but I thought the mother was a bit too quick to accept his help out of the blue like that. He's not that charming.

• As Coulson subjects himself to the memory machine to help him remember, Fitz tells Mack that the brain doesn't ever delete anything, it just forgets the connections. He says the brain makes backups of its memories. 

That was some pretty heavy-handed foreshadowing if ever I've seen any, and no doubt how Fitz will end up getting his groove back.

• Coulson intercepts the Carver at Hank Thompson's house and they begin fighting. During the battle, the Carver says to Coulson, "It's what lies beneath."

Obviously he's referring to the meaning of the alien symbols here, but I wonder if it's also a shout out to the 2000 Robert Zemeckis thriller What Lies Beneath? Believe it or not, Clark Gregg, our own Agent Coulson, wrote the screenplay to that movie! Who knew?

• During the big fight, the Carver throws a knife at Hank Thompson. His S.H.I.E.L.D. training subconsciously kicks in and he catches it with both hands, inches from his face. His look of total surprise, as he wonders how the hell he could do such a thing, was a nice little touch.

• Evil Ward captures Daniel Whitehall's lackey Backshi, and gives him to Coulson as a twisted peace offering.

How the hell do you pronounce Bakshi's name? Skye calls him "Back-shee," which is how I would pronounce it, but Coulson says "BUCK-shee." Take your pick, I guess.

• With the help of Hank Thompson's train set, Coulson discovers that the symbols aren't alien circuitry or a map, but a 3D layout of a city. But which one? There are numerous alien and lost cities in the Marvel Universe.

Could it be Attilan, the city where the Inhumans live?

It's entirely possible. In Marvel lore, the alien Kree race visited Earth in the distant past and experimented on mankind, creating the Inhumans. The Kree abandoned the experiment, and the Inhumans built a secret society in the Himalayas, and eventually relocated to the Moon.

This would fit in handily with many events on the show. S.H.I.E.L.D. derived the GH-323 formula from a blue alien that is almost certainly a Kree. And Skye was discovered in a village in the Hunan province in China.

Plus Marvel has already announced plans for an Inhumans movie for 2018, supposedly hoping to use them as a substitute for the X-Men. It's a bit odd that they'd be setting up the group this far in advance, but... maybe they really do have a master plan. And if that's what they are doing, how cool is it that they're using the TV show to set up a film!

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