One Hand Washes the Other. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: “The End of the Beginning”

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. show runners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen recently gave an interview to The Hollywood Reporter that leads off with a warning that people watching the show shouldn’t expect a Marvel movie every week. The warning seems a bit misguided. We’re not disappointed in the lack of superpowered characters or derring do—Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has provided that in abundance, really—it’s more that the show hasn’t demonstrated that it has a grip on how to fully explore the characters and world that it has inherited.

This week’s episode “The End of the Beginning” is a solid response to that. It’s not a Marvel movie (although one character does leave to go be in a Marvel movie) but the episode utilizes the world that the show has hurriedly built this season in nicely varied and exciting ways. The show is finally beginning to cohere.

[Warning: There are spoilers for Captain America: The Winter Soldier in the comments!]

The episode opens with everyone in full Not Fucking Around mode. S.H.I.E.L.D. is coming after Centipede and the Clairvoyant and it’s not going to stop until Bill Paxton is smirking over its smoking corpse. It begins with Paxton’s Agent Garrett and B.J. Britt’s Agent Triplett admiring Britt’s perfect cheekbones on the Clairvoyant’s trail and checking in to a S.H.I.E.L.D. safehouse, only to find Mike Peterson there and further along in the process of becoming Deathlok.

The agents are no match for him until the electricity guns come out, at which point Peterson scampers out through the roof. (There’s a door, dude, geez. Were bad manners part of the whole cyborg upgrade?) The Clairvoyant can obviously tell where the agents are going, so they do three smart things. 1.) Retreat. 2.) Regroup with our beloved B-team agents and bring in experienced agents such as Coulson, Agent Victoria Hand, Agent Sitwell, and Agent Blake. 3.) Formulate a plan that will put multiple agents and multiple trails out there, in case the Clairvoyant can actually detect their plans with psychic abilities that S.H.I.E.L.D. still doesn’t actually believe in.

Agents of SHIELD season 1, episode 16: The Beginning of the End recap

And they continue to do smart things throughout the episode! Oh it’s nice to be able to type that sentence.

Even though S.H.I.E.L.D. still calls bullshit on psychic abilities, they double-check their database of people who once had shown the possibility of such powers, just in case they missed anything or demonstrated bias during their previous debunking. (Again! Smart!) Coulson sets it up so that only one person is correlating data on these maybe-psychics: Skye.

But Skye can’t order S.H.I.E.L.D. agents around, so she is hastily made a legitimate agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., with a medal and everything!

Agents of SHIELD season 1, episode 16: The Beginning of the End recap

Ward is so proud that he gets confused. Why are feelings? Is Skye daughter? Leaving nest! It’s not dwelled on for too long, but we’ll learn that this is a key moment for Ward, even as vacant as he seems. The gregarious Agent Garrett on the other hand immediately takes credit for Skye, pointing out that he was Ward’s commanding officer first so he’s kind of like Skye’s grandfather, you know? In any case, Ward definitely has feelings now. Maybe too many feelings. When Agent Triplett later shoehorns that the Clairvoyant is responsible for his previous partner’s death, Ward points out that their mission is to capture, not kill. But then he hesitates. Skye would be dead because of the Clairvoyant, too, if whatever happened in “T.A.H.I.T.I.” hadn’t been enough to save her.

Skye sends the senior and junior agents to different locations in duos. Hand sends Sitwell to go be in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and stays in the S.H.I.E.L.D. Hub to coordinate, Coulson teams with Garrett, Ward with Triplett, and May with a leering Agent Blake. All three teams head to the locations that Skye orders, but only May and Blake hit paydirt, even though that paydirt is a nursing home where a supposedly catatonic “psychic” by the name of Thomas Nash is housed. Nash isn’t there, the records were falsified, probably by the Clairvoyant in an effort to cover his tracks.

Deathlok IS there, though, and he’s got itty bitty rockets now! Pew pew splode go the rockets, which miss Blake and May even though Deathlok has a targeting system in his eyeball. (This is what you get when you don’t use Starktech.) I forget how May gets taken out, because it’s Blake who, even though he’s a bit of a creeper, shows us how the best S.H.I.E.L.D. agents can turn events towards their favor. He distracts Deathlok with chest shots that he knows won’t affect the cyborg, then switches his ammo with a tracer shot, tricking Deathlok (and us) into thinking it was just another bullet, even though we see the ammo switch. When Deathlok moves in for the kill, Blake makes an immediate appeal to Mike Peterson’s humanity, knowing that this is his only shot at surviving this encounter, and reminds Peterson that S.H.I.E.L.D. can help him get reunited with his son. Deathlok takes Blake out, but he doesn’t kill him. It’s possibly the only wiggle room the Clairvoyant-controlled Deathlok can exercise.

Agents of SHIELD season 1, episode 16: The Beginning of the End recap

(They should have had his left eye glow red! They do it earlier in the episode but it would have been so cool in this scene.)

Blake isn’t lying, though. Simmons has been sent to The Hub to prepare for Deathlok’s capture, so that S.H.I.E.L.D. can help Peterson and hopefully reverse what Centipede has done to him. Simmons is jazzed times ten. She now has access to labs that will be able to fully analyze what the Blue Kree Juice did to Skye, even though she is under strict orders from Coulson to Keep Skye’s Blood On The Bus.

Fitz jerry-rigs an encrypted line to Simmons as the Hub so he can help her with her work there…which is when he discovers that there’s already an unknown encrypted line in use on the Bus…by May.

After Blake’s run-in with Deathlok, the agents regroup and track Deathlok to a new location, going in force this time and sending disposable tech ahead to scout the area. (Again again! Smart! Why didn’t they do that in “T.A.H.I.T.I.”?) Peterson puts up a fight, but it’s all a pretense to lead them to a specific chamber housing…the Clairvoyant.

Agents of SHIELD season 1, episode 16: The Beginning of the End recap

It’s Nash, not catatonic but unable to speak or move on his own. A computer set-up allows him to monitor events around the world and communicate with Centipede agents. Nash starts going Full Hannibal (never go Full anything, excerpt Full Not Fucking Around, because that is awesome), taunting Coulson and the assembled agents about how bad they are at their jobs, and how events are progressing satisfactorily despite the agents’ efforts. Coulson and Garrett are pissed, but Coulson keeps his head together. They’re going to dismantle all the equipment and take Nash in, so shut up Nash.

Then Nash starts detailing what Centipede is going to do to Skye, and Ward Ruins Everything Again.

Agents of SHIELD season 1, episode 16: The Beginning of the End recap

The Clairvoyant is shot through heart, mid-sentence, thoroughly dead.

Coulson understands, but he is NOT HAPPY with Ward for blowing the mission and it’s pretty likely that this is not only the end of Ward’s career in S.H.I.E.L.D., but probably also the end of Ward’s ability to not be mixing hooch in a prison toilet. Coulson and Ward are so busy yelling at each other about Feelings that they don’t notice that Fitz is Benny Hill-ing around the plane, trying not to get shot by May.

Skye notices, though, because goddammit if she’s an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. now then she’s gonna be the best damn agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. there ever were, and runs to tell Coulson that May is about to kill Fitz and also P.S. to stop yelling about their protective feelings towards her.

No one in this episode is ever fucking around and that includes May, who went to make another one of her clandestine “reports” through her encryption line, found it severed, and is now stalking Fitz through the plane with a gun. It gets tense because, well, these are close quarters, but mostly because Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has done such a good job building May up as a bad-ass that it wasn’t a question in my mind as to if she was going to shoot Fitz, just when.

It’s a tense chase, made all the more tense when May actually fires two headshots the second she thinks she’s cornered him. Shit.

Agents of SHIELD season 1, episode 16: The Beginning of the End recap

Luckily for Fitz, Coulson is there and full of fury at her betrayal, gun pointed at May from the high ground and Skye flanking May at 90 degrees. (Smaaaart!) May slowly stands down, claiming that this isn’t what it looks like, and she can’t explain but they’ll have to trust her. Look, she’s shooting tranqs, not real bullets.

Coulson is not having it. The bullets in his gun ARE real and he will straight up end May if she doesn’t drop her weapon and surrender. Wisely, she sees reason.

Suddenly, the plane changes course and heads back towards the Hub, seemingly of its own accord. Coulson knows exactly what’s going on. Thomas Nash was a puppet, unable to speak for himself. The real voice behind the Clairvoyant is someone else. Someone able to track S.H.I.E.L.D.’s comings and goings from inside S.H.I.E.L.D. itself. Someone who has access to every file except the one Nick Fury himself kept locked away: the same file that details how Coulson was brought back to life.

Someone like Victoria Hand.

Agents of SHIELD season 1, episode 16: The Beginning of the End recap

And now that Coulson and his team know, it’s time to end them.

 

Tidbits:

  • Deathlok, your costume is the worst. Hopefully this is just the current phase of his slow transformation into the monster we know and love and read like one issue of back in the 1990s.
  • This is the first of seven episodes that will run every week leading up to the finale. ABC has been promoting it under the sub-title “Uprising,” and while the title is silly, I’m looking forward to the gauntlet the team is about to go through.
  • The next episode is titled “Turn, Turn, Turn,” a phrase that Garrett used to describe his relationship with Ward and subsequently Ward’s relationship with Skye. It sounds like we’ll be getting some big developments from Garrett in the next episode.
  • Speaking of, I totally thought Garrett was going to turn out to be the Clairvoyant. He’s played by a big name actor in a recurring but not indefinite guest spot, and he charmed his way into Coulson and company’s trust so quickly. I mean, I wanted the Clairvoyant to be Loki in a stunner guest appearance, but logically I knew it was going to be someone more S.H.I.E.L.D.-related.
  • Still, Ward would not have shot Nash unless goaded by Triplett, so Garrett may still be working an angle for the Clairvoyant/Hand.
  • So, who was May reporting to? Was it Hand? Could she not tell Coulson because she didn’t yet know Hand is the Clairvoyant and thus still thought it was super extra secret? Or was she reporting to Fury himself? Except why would she need to tell Fury that “he knows”? Fury already knows that Coulson knows. Aw, it was probably Hand at the other end of the line and May was just getting played.
  • Coulson’s team really fell to pieces in this episode. May was being played by Hand and almost killed Fitz. Ward was goaded into fucking up an important mission. Simmons stole Skye’s blood and has now unknowingly delivered what Hand wants directly to The Hub. Only Skye and Fitz keep it together, and Fitz only does so accidentally, considering that he discovered May while disobeying orders himself.
  • I loved the contrast between the older agents and Coulson’s team. The show really underscored the gap in expertise between them without undercutting our agents’ own usefulness.
  • There are also HUGE developments occuring this week in Captain America: The Winter Soldier that are definitely going to inform this storyline! We’ll have a review of that movie here for you on Friday morning.
  • So is Hand indicative of The Hand from the X-Men comics? Does the show get to play with them?
  • Department H! OMG please have Alpha Flight somehow show up next season.
  • And Speedball. We want Speedball.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Speedball


Chris Lough writes about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. here and about Cosmos here and about other things elsewhere. And on Twitter.

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