Cool Train Set. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: “The Writing on the Wall”

I feel like we’re becoming better friends every week, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and I, and I’m going to be sad when Agent Carter steps in and I don’t get to witness the beefy rasslin’ and SkyeShoving that a new episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. promises.

“The Writing on the Wall,” while winning no points on originality of title, wins ALL the points for being a captivating episode of this show that wraps up the ongoing “alien writing” subplot. This season, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has become unafraid to pull the trigger on the many what-ifs floating around our characters, and it’s made them all the more exciting to watch. What if Simmons gets found out by Hydra? What if Ward escapes? What if Skye meets her SkyeDad? And what if…the alien writing finally drives Coulson crazy?

I have no criticism for “The Writing on the Wall,” honestly. It was just fun to watch and it did a great job of feeding my brain theories about the upcoming developments in the Marvel universe, while also giving me a heapin’ helpin’ of Agent BaldNow.

So instead of a step-by-step recap or a ponderous thematic essay, I think I’m just going to list out all the things I loved about this episode.


1.) It’s a Magical Way of Putting You Through Eternal Torment

I was not a fan of the GH-TK421WhyAren’tYouAtYourPost reveal from last season. Why was Coulson alive, we asked? Oh, because Nick Fury gave him some Kree blood that healed him but threatened to make him crazy so then Fury erased those memories with a spider-robot and okay, great, I’m just going to rest my eyes for a second while you tell me the rest.

This plotline was redeemed a tiny bit by the reveal at the end of season 1 that Coulson put himself through this process. (Getting to yell at Nick Fury helped a lot, too, in regards to me coming to terms with the plot.) But it was this episode that really made the entire Tahiti plotline substantial for me. Revealing just how extensively Coulson directed this endeavor grounded it in a way that made it intimately relatable. Here he is, trying everything to develop this magic cure-all, and he’s destroying person after person. Everything Coulson does just makes it worse, until finally he himself is forced to undergo the horror that he’s inflicted upon others.

When Slashy McBeefums trusses Coulson up in the welding barn (WOW what a sentence to find yourself writing) we’re worried about Coulson because he’s the main character but we’re not entirely sympathetic to him now that we know how much of the scenario is a direct consequence of Coulson’s actions. The terrible death that we experience in the opening of “Writing on the Wall” at first seems like a depressingly run-of-the-mill let’s-brutalize-a-woman-for-shock-value, but then we find out the larger implications behind it and how that death is a result of our hero’s obsession. It’s a heavy, heavy way to ground the Tahiti plotline in human stakes and as a result it legitimizes the details of that plotline.

Agents of SHIELD: The Writing on the Wall



2.) You’re Not Crazy, You’re My Director

In only one short scene and a passing line of dialogue, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. makes Fitz a powerful advocate for alternate states of mental awareness, and I thought this was a terrific and powerful use of the character. His sympathy for the fevered state that the alien writing puts Coulson in is potent. Fitz knows what it’s like to lose the reliability of connection; to have an answer always be just out of reach.

Fitz’s reaction to Coulson’s unraveling also provides a tangential link to the very mode of thought that the entire team is going to have to adopt as the Marvel cinematic universe expands. From our perspective, and the perspective of the agents, what Coulson is going through and what he’s chasing are completely insane. Despite the presence of thunder gods, iron men, and more, it seems…unprofessional…that S.H.I.E.L.D. is strapping its director into a memory machine so he can decipher some alien writing. How is this proper procedure?

And, you know, it isn’t what you’d expect or hope for from a military intelligence style of organization, but as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues, it’s going to come up against the realization that the world is just going to get weirder and their response to it is going to get weirder as a result. The genie is out of this bottle.

Coulson understands this and Fury understood it (hell, he promoted it). And now it seems that Fitz’s loss of recall has resulted in him gaining something just as important: acceptance of the changing nature of the world. The team will have to think differently to meet the challenges of what is to come, and Fitz doesn’t realize it yet, but he’s more empowered than most at being able to tackle those challenges.


3.) City in the Stars

And they’ve got one hell of a challenge ahead of them! A theory emerged over the summer that Skye is actually of Inhuman descent and while it fit in with what we knew at the time, the announcement of an Inhumans film coming in Marvel’s Phase 3 and the presence of the mysteriously powered Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch in Avengers: Age of Ultron puts some real weight to the idea that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is slowly uncovering Inhuman interference on Earth.

Skye being half-Inhuman would explain why Kree blood doesn’t make her batty, because as this episode revealed, she already has the genetic information about this mysterious city inside of her.

Agents of SHIELD: The Writing on the Wall

It would also mean that Skye was right. The alien writing is a map, of sorts. A top-down map of a mysterious city that our team is now focused on locating.

Does the Obelisk point the way to that city since it features the same style of writing? Possibly. But more likely it’s a Terrigen bomb, since it petrifies those that it does not deem suitable. The “it” here is misdirection. The Obelisk isn’t choosing anything, it’s just a container for a mutagenic force that grants humans superpowers if their genetic make-up allows for that kind of compatibility/alteration. It’s possible that Age of Ultron will reveal that the Maximoff twins got their powers from early exposure to this object.

And that city? Possibly Inhuman and possibly on the moon. And if that’s the case then the team will need someone who is now thinking in an unorthodox manner, like Fitz.

It’s an exciting idea, if accurate. Imagine season 2 ending with the Terrigen bomb going off.


4.) The Redemption of Lance Hunter

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is getting really good at making me look forward to watching Generic Gruff White Guys. Ward’s about face at the end of last season completely revived him as a character and he remains a magnetic presence. We can’t tell what this constantly-coiled killer even wants (besides the death of his brother, but even then I’m not sure) and somehow that makes Agent WrongBus all the more alluring.

This season Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has the same process to perform on the mysteriously still here Lance Hunter, Urban Cowboy. And it’s getting there. Slowly, so slowly, but it’s getting there. Rather than make Lance Hunter, Professional Blank Slate evil, they seem to be hanging a lampshade on his ill-defined character by having him be something different in every episode.

I mean, look at this.

Agents of SHIELD: The Writing on the Wall

If I knew Lance Hunter in real life I would never stop posting this on his Facebook page. Will he go undercover as a party clown in next week’s episode? Wait and see, True Believers!


5.) Hydra’s Evil is Unrelenting

Even when doing something as innocuous as parking, these bastards are evil. What if the fire department needs access to that hydrant? Do you even care, Hydra?

Agents of SHIELD: The Writing on the Wall



  • Strucker reference! I guess Strucker is in charge of Hydra East and Whitehall gets Hydra West? Or something like that?
  • I can’t believe there’s only three episodes left to this section of the season, then no Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. until March. I’m actually going to miss this show!
  • We’ll most likely be covering the interstitial Agent Carter in the same manner since the story is tied in somewhat to AoS and the larger Marvel universe. SSR foreverver.

If you block one hydrant, two more shall takes its place. Chris Lough writes about Agents of SHIELD whenever it comes around.


Back to the top of the page


Subscribe to this thread

Post a Comment

All comments must meet the community standards outlined in's Moderation Policy or be subject to moderation. Thank you for keeping the discussion, and our community, civil and respectful.

Hate the CAPTCHA? members can edit comments, skip the preview, and never have to prove they're not robots. Join now!

Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.