“Heavy is the Head” is essentially the part 2 to the season’s premiere episode “Shadows” and while the plot is mostly concerned with mopping up the mess from the events of the premiere, during its quieter moments it builds a flickering tension in regards to Coulson’s new role as the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Last season saw him progressing to a more open approach with his team, to where you could feasibly see him thinking of them as his teammates rather than his subordinates. Now that his vista is greatly expanded, he’s forced to think of them as subordinates once more, and that could edge Coulson out of a show that’s meant to be centered around him.
Coulson’s struggle is essentially the show writers’ struggle, as well. How do you keep this character central now that you’ve elevated him logistically beyond the other characters? “Heavy is the Head” has Coulson point out again and again how he can’t be going out on missions anymore, how his wider perspective informs his orders, even if it seems like they don’t make sense. May herself goes rogue when chasing down Creel at the opening of the episode until Coulson finally explains why he wants her to break off pursuit. Coulson’s going for the bigger takedown, not just the momentary victory. But he has to explain himself, is the thing. And it’s obvious now that becoming Director has made Coulson accustomed to not feeling obligated to explain his entire thought process. He’s growing distant from his team and therefore growing distant from the characters that we’re following. This isn’t he guy who showed up in odd moments in Marvel Cinematic Universe movies anymore. This is the guy who stays in one room, has all of his action off-screen, and occasionally gets a phone call.
So far it seems that the way the show is addressing this concern is to hang a lampshade on it and have the more visible characters comment and argue over it. SkyeBangs is actively concerned with Coulson’s compartmentalization, as is May, although the latter is the only person whom Coulson will even allow to address said compartmentalization.
Although at least Coulson still listens to her, as we see later on in the episode when she urges him to stop fighting his “episodes” and just let the latest one happen. This might be the solution that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is hoping for in regards to Coulson’s new distance from the cast. If he can’t be around anyone as much then perhaps he can be his own stand-alone mystery? One hopes not, considering how tedious the mystery of his resurrection got in the first season. When he finally discovered the answer to that mystery we had already had months to theorize what could have happened. There’s a danger inherent in stretching a mystery out for that long in that your viewers can end up theorizing something far more imaginative than what the show (or book or whathaveyou) can actually provide. Preserving the shelf life of a mystery is extremely hard, which is why it’s so thrilling to read or see a mystery that manages to stay fresh right up to its big reveal.
In essence, do we really want to be dealing with the Obelisk into next year? Right now it’s nice to see the threads coming together on it. To figure out that the markings on the Obelisk are the same circuit-ish diagrams that Garrett and now Coulson see. That there may be a connection between the Overkill weapon and these diagrams (which we saw in “The Hub”) and Creel’s powers and maybe everyone’s powers. That there is definitely a connection between it and Skye and SkyeDad. (Oh, hey everyone, it’s SkyeDad!)
Coulson is obviously worried about it, although he compartmentalizes even that and has someone else working on digging up info on the Obelisk instead of Skye. Maybe he doesn’t want to rely solely on Skye’s work, or maybe she’s not familiar enough with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s past in order to suss out relevant clues, or maybe he just doesn’t want to put her in harm’s way.
It’s possible that Coulson already knows Skye’s connection to the Obelisk, hence keeping her away from it and anyone who is looking for it. Yet another thing for Coulson to worry about. Yet another thing that puts up a wall between him and his crew. Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
That uneasiness is leading to some poor judgment, too, it seems. When the episode isn’t busy hunting down Creel or worrying about Coulson it’s showcasing LANCE HUNTER, professional car crash survivor. Coulson is super into LANCE HUNTER, because even though LANCE HUNTER is willing to betray S.H.I.E.L.D. for only a couple million dollars, fucked up last week’s mission, and fucks up this week’s mission, Coulson is super into him.
I mean, this isn’t just me, right? Coulson has something for this guy. Here are a few things Coulson says about Lance in this episode:
- “A five alarm fire otherwise known as Lance Hunter.”
- “Part of me wants you here running back-end.”
- “You were never a Boy Scout, were you?”
OMG what if Coulson’s episodes are really just him writing slash about him and Lance?
Lance is okay. He’s loyal to specific people but not organizations. Other than that there’s not really anything to him except a desire to, in Coulson’s words, “Do the wrong thing for the right reason.” He clarifies that “I need you because I can’t be you, not anymore.” which is sort of a good reason and some nicely unorthodox thinking to promote when you’re dealing with things as unorthodox as…Obelisks. But Lance Hunter, professional car crash survivor, is no Coulson.
By the end of the episode it seems like we’re just about done establishing the new team, their resources, and their mission. Now let’s get weird, you guys. Take a break from Hydra/Obelisk times for a little bit and fight a sea monster or something. I think it could really bring the team together.
- Ghost Simmons is telling Fitz to steal things now. So Mac shows up and yells at Fitz, which turns out to be just what he needs. No glad-handing Fitz. Challenge his pride. Back him into a corner because then at least it’s easier for him to focus. Simmons barely appears once Mac gets on the scene.
- Also Mac calling him “Turbo” was my favorite.
- So who did Coulson send the top secret file on the Obelisk to? I’m guessing Simmons, Mockingbird, or Fury. Or maybe, just maybe, Tony.
- Talbot’s under orders to nab S.H.I.E.L.D. from a “Senator with deep pockets.” I guess Senator “Garry Shandling” Stern survived the Hydra purge post-Winter Soldier?
- Talbot mentions LANCE HUNTER’s involvement in an operation called “Panther’s Claw” in Basra, Iraq. Hmmmm.
- Kind of weird that Lance didn’t check with Fitz and Mac to see if they had figured out how to destabilize Creel’s biological structure. Especially since they did! Could have saved him a lot of mission-messing-up trouble.
Science times! Raina “gives” Creel a bead of carbon carbide (that she insists on calling carbine) that she says is super hard and absorb energy. Update! Just checked the captioning on this and Raina says “carbyne.” We’re trying to figure out what she means by that in the comments below!
She’s mostly right about that. Carbon carbide can be manufactured to be extremely dense and tough, but it can also be soft and amorphously-shaped. The term “carbide” actually refers to the molecular structure and carbon is super useful in this regard because it forms easily into that carbide structure and can be just as easily modified into strings or fabric or rocks and so on while remaining in that structure. It also doesn’t absorb energy so much as it is non-resistant to it. It conducts well! In any case, it was a nice cheap gift for Raina to not really give Creel.
- LANCE HUNTER whined about their non-lethal guns before shooting the team. So…did he actually want to kill them? Coulson why are you letting him on the team?
A five-alarm fire otherwise known as Chris Lough is the resident Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. recapper.