That was the weirdest Dr. Manhattan reference ever.
Although ostensibly about saving Skye’s life, “T.A.H.I.T.I.” circles the show back around to the mystery behind Coulson’s resurrection, diving deeper into the tangled world of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Before we begin I should take a few moments to talk about the preceding episode “T.R.A.C.K.S.,” since I didn’t get a chance to recap it. In a word, “T.R.A.C.K.S.” was awesome. Splitting up the story into four different character viewpoints shouldn’t have worked for a show as gooey as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but it excelled marvelously, giving us new ways of looking at these characters, providing some fun twists and turns, and moving the plot forward so relentlessly that I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. Stan Lee even showed up to tell the show that it could be doing a better job! This is why he’s The Man.
“T.A.H.I.T.I.” is not as awesome, mostly because it runs out of story to tell about ten minutes in, killing time until its big reveal with shooty-explodey infiltrations and Bill Paxton, but that reveal certainly gives us plenty to talk about.
The events of “T.R.A.C.K.S.” saw the team tracking down a shipment of Cybertek tech that, unbeknownst to them but knownst to us, was going to be used to turn super-soldier Mike Peterson into Deathlok. The chase ended with Skye tracking Peterson to a safehouse of Quinn’s, where she got to see Peterson get fitted with a bionic leg that undoubtedly will add the power of punches to his kicks before getting shot twice in the stomach by Quinn, under telephone orders from the Clairvoyant.
“T.A.H.I.T.I.” opens with the team scooping up Quinn and rushing Skye to emergency surgery. The outlook isn’t good. She was shot point blank and her intestines and stomach have been perforated. (This is extremely bad news. The shockwave force of the bullet alone causes damage to all the surrounding organs due to fluid compression. Then you have to deal with all the bleeding. Then you have to deal with the fact that your stomach is spilling acid onto everything. Then you have deal with infection. Even if she pulls through the initial trauma, Skye is probably going to die, and painfully.)
May offers a solution by busting into the interrogation room containing Quinn and punching and punching and punching him. For a quick moment, she loses control, something we’ve never seen May do before, and suddenly we see her in a new light. Is this why she never wanted to go back in the field? Because she knew something like this would eventually happen?
Coulson is also not having this, so he has the team set sail for the S.H.I.E.L.D. facility where he assumes he was fixed up by that weird brain-spider robot thing. If S.H.I.E.L.D. can bring him back from the dead, he reasons, then he can do the same for Skye. Because wow does he care about Skye!
This is one of my favorite aspects of Coulson, actually, and I would wager that it’s most everyone else’s favorite aspect of him, too, even if it’s not as obvious to others. Across the Phase 1 Avengers movies and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson has consistently demonstrated a desire to nurture and protect the people around him. Even way back in Iron Man, when he comes off as little more than a weasely middleman, he still makes it a priority to defend Pepper Potts against the Iron Monger, even though he’s hopelessly outclassed. This quality of Coulson’s comes fully into play in Avengers, and it’s the Avengers’ remembrance of this that ultimately brings them together.
This aspect of his character defines Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Coulson is changing from the skinny little spook who was just following orders in Thor to someone who actively questions his orders and who struggles to find a way to meld his work with S.H.I.E.L.D. with his urge to care for people. It explains why he’s so loyal to his honestly-not-all-that-great-at-their-jobs team, why he keeps them away from S.H.I.E.L.D. protocol half the time, and why he’s so obsessive about saving Skye.
It’s really that quality that makes him so endearing to me. This is a guy who actually cares about making the world a better place and who, most importantly, translates that into action. When Coulson’s S.H.I.E.L.D. buddy Bill Paxton shows up, he makes certain to point that out. “People like us…we need people like him.”
Oh, hey, so, Bill Paxton’s in this episode. You remember Bill Paxton, right? He’s your favorite character from Big Love!
Paxton’s character (basically, another Coulson-type, except he’s Bill Paxton) isn’t strictly necessary in this story, but the episode uses him well. He’s the bad cop to Coulson’s good cop, he’s the easygoing mentor to Ward, and he’s a hard-nosed warrior to everyone else. Paxton flips between all of these states effortlessly, and is a lot of fun to watch as a result. I’m not sure we need to see him again? But Coulson needs a friend that isn’t on his own team.
Because it sure doesn’t sound like Nick Fury wants to be his friend. In his haste to get Skye to The Magical Place, Coulson tries calling Fury to get the lowdown on exactly what happened to him. Except Coulson can’t even get through. Later, we find out that...maybe Fury got the message? Because Fury has sent Coulson all the files pertaining to his procedure. We learn his kind of off-handedly and it was by far the biggest WTF moment for me in the episode. Coulson confronting Fury about his revival should be a knock-down drag-out of a scene, not something mentioned casually. If you can get Samuel L. Jackson in for a gag post-credits scene, then you can do this, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
It’s made even more confusing by a later scene where Fitz and Simmons sift through S.H.I.E.L.D.’s files holographically so they can determine holographically where The Magical Place actually is...holographically. These files don’t come from Fury, they come from a friend Fitz has at the Triskelion. (Fitz has friends?) And the file they actually need is still locked by Fury himself. But didn’t Fury send Coulson his files? Wait, why would you even have a file about this “Guest House” where people can be brought back from the dead? And why won’t anyone pick up when I call S.H.I.E.L.D.? Don’t they want to know all the good ideas I have for new Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episodes? It’s all so confusing!!!!
The team gets to a complex in, like, the Black Hills of Dakota that may or may not belong to S.H.I.E.L.D. but probably belongs to S.H.I.E.L.D. just a more secret kind of S.H.I.E.L.D. where they ask you “How was the drive from Istanbul?” in order to check that you’re cleared to enter. Coulson and company don’t know, and don’t even try to answer “That’s nobody’s business but the turks.” but they’re not nerds. Or they’re not nerds about that, anyway.
The team ends up shooting and exploding their way in while Skye goes into cardiac arrest like ten times while Future Cast Member Trip makes googly eyes at Simmons. (I should have mentioned...Skye is also on the plane with them. S.H.I.E.L.D. has amazing Inserting-Entire-Intensive-Care-Units-Into-Airplanes technology available.)
Once the boring part is over, Coulson eventually finds the table he was operated on, then keeps looking for the chemical they need to make Skye’s body repair itself. They find it and scamper, because the place is about to explode because reasons, but Coulson won’t go. He has to see what’s behind the door marked “T.A.H.I.T.I.”
The plot kind of forgets about the bomb while Coulson goes walkabout, and Skye gets the magical healing chemical just in time, turning a weird color at first but then settling back to normal. Still healing! Still conked out! But normal.
Quinn is shipped off to the Fridge (where we’ve previously learned that Emil “The Abomination” Blonsky is also being kept, so THERE’S a time bomb waiting to go off...) and Paxton and Coulson chuckle that the Clairvoyant totally set him up. Skye will live to testify that he shot her so he’s going to prison forever, probably, which hooray! I dislike Quinn as a villain. He’s not smarmy enough to be fun and not evil enough to waste energy on disliking. He’s just there. Drinkin’. Smirkin’. Takin’ orders. Time to make room for a more engaging villain!
Paxton and Trip leave and Coulson admits to May that Skye is reacting far differently to the cellular-regenerating chemical than he did. His own experience was traumatic and painful, whereas Skye’s seems to have been relatively smooth.
We’re not told why this is. All we know is that behind that door marked “T.A.H.I.T.I.” was half a blue guy, being drained of the very chemical that saved Skye and Coulson. A blue guy that, for some unknown reason, the Clairvoyant can’t see. Dunh dunh HUHHHH?
Alright, let’s dig into this. Who or what is the blue guy? Kree? Frost Giant? An Atlantean? The various licensing agreements that Marvel has with assorted movie studios might rule out Kree, as supposedly Fox bought the rights to depict them along with the Fantastic Four.
An Atlantean would be an intriguing development. The chemical seemed to react to Skye as if she was biologically compatible with it, and she’s a literal unknown at this point, so it’s possible that she’s a half-human, half-Atlantean kid, abandoned at birth. Namor and Altantis would be a pretty interesting angle for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to tackle. But again, Namor is closely tied with the Fantastic Four, so Fox might have those rights.
A Frost Giant seems a likely possibility, especially since the show has already dealt with the consequences of Asgardian shenanigans once and will obviously be doing so again.
It also might align with the real identity of the Clairvoyant. That is, if you agree with my crazy theory that the Clairvoyant is possibly Loki working from afar. Who else would be so interested in Coulson’s resurrection? And who is, himself, a Frost Giant accustomed to a human form? It would be one hell of a reveal, and we know that Tom Hiddleston is always up for reprising his role, even if he has to do weird things to conceal his presence.
Just a theory! Piled on top of another crazy theory. What I really want to know is why it matters to Coulson that his second life comes courtesy of Dr. Manhattan’s spinal fluid (or whatever that thing was). I hope the show takes the time in future episodes to detail Coulson’s reaction to this information. Does he dig deeper? Does he accept things as they are? Coulson seems to have a lot of rage building up about his resurrection, and he hasn’t directed any of it at the organization that’s responsible for it in the first place. When are we going to see Coulson act?
- I love that Trip wanted a drink before interrogating Quinn. That guy is a professional!
- So if the Clairvoyant can see everything except what was happening in that weird S.H.I.E.L.D.-not-S.H.I.E.L.D. base then what does the Clairvoyant even want? They would already know pretty much everything...
- The shoot-out in the base was pretty boring, and it makes me curious how the show approaches these kinds of fights and the attempts they make to jazz them up. Every episodes tends to contain a physical fight or gun battle, so how do you keep that interesting? I have the same reaction to vampire fights on Buffy, too.
- Does S.H.I.E.L.D. have a guy who’s job it is to just create acronyms? Because after writing this recap I’m going to murder him.
- The Lorelei post-credits scene was oddly limp. Here’s hoping they do more with her abilities in next week’s episode than just have a bunch of guys fawning over her. I suppose that would be the true test of a Whedon show. Will they play Lorelei as a joke, or take her character seriously?