Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. really pulled one over on me in this week’s episode “The Things We Bury.” With all the back and forth drama between Coulson’s mental state, Talbot and his haircut, Skye’s SkyeDad, the alien writing, the Divinery Obelisk, Hydra, Fitz’s recovery, Ward vs Ward, Mockingbird and Hance Lunter… I didn’t focus so much on Daniel Whitehall.
It’s not like the show has been hiding how weird Whitehall is, even. He was there in the season’s very first episode, hassling Our Agent Carter and being perpetually ageless, and he’s been masterminding Hydra’s efforts since then. Obviously something is up with him, it’s just that he’s so quiet in comparison to everyone else.
Now, though…now…don’t you just want him to die?
“The Things We Bury” is a relentless episode, and while this season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. could not be accused of being slow, this outing seems to have found an even faster setting on the blender of plot. Scenes in “Bury” cut themselves off just as their revelations land, leaving you reeling while the next storyline turns itself upside down. Simply keeping up is exciting and while the episode does slow down as it nears its end, it keeps delivering pay-off after pay-off. This is probably the first Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode so far where I immediately wanted to see the next one. 30 episodes later, here is my pay-off, and it feels oh so good.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been building the foundation for this kind of excitement throughout the entire season, shoring up the thematic parallels between its characters, fleshing out its villains, doing some world-building, scavenging and repainting the better plots from the first season, and being utterly unafraid of resolution. Every fix that the show implements makes it run smoother, faster, better, and now we’re getting breakneck episodes like “The Things We Bury.”
The episode opens with Coulson wasting no time in trying to locate the city revealed by the alien writing. He’s going to scan the planet for the city’s top-down pattern and that means sending Skye and Tripp on hilariously weird errands in Hawaii and putting Fitz back in the field. (What? Yay!) It used to be that this would take up the first 10 minutes or so of the episode, but there’s no time for that anymore. Bakshi is in the basement and Bobbi is squeezing every piece of intel that she can out of the wide-eyed Brit.
This might be our chance to get to know Bakshi, the vague and villainous wallpaper that has stared out from Whitehall’s shadow this season. He’s a lot like Quinn from the first season, devoid of desire and one-note and boring and auuuugh look out he just killed himself.
His devotion to Whitehall and Hydra is absolute and terrifying and puzzling, really puzzling, to Bobbi, because that scene isn’t so much about Bakshi as it is about adding another layer of intrigue to Super Agent Bobbi Morse. She’s not just an 11-foot tall tornado of staves and pain and hair, she’s also, it seems, a student of the Sherlock school of deductive reasoning. Where most of us summarize the information we take in passively, Bobbi dissects every bit individually, putting together a likely back story and emotional motivation for Bakshi based on a handful of verbal choices (and some secondary research into his schooling). She knows how to manipulate people into getting them to offer up the info she wants without them realizing it. We see it in how she refuses to cede her position of power to Bakshi and her ex-husband Jax Thumper is all too eager to confirm her expertise in this area.
So what use is a stumblebum guy like Graham Friendster to someone as capable as Bobbi? It’s a valid question, for us and for Ham Grunter, and it gets answered in a moment that is at once casual and unique to the Marvel universe. “You’re twirling,” he says, coming upon her pacing in between interrogations, idly brandishing her batons. He’s seen this before, he knows what Bobbi is feeling, and that’s just it, isn’t it? Bobbi spends her life being really good at being whatever person is most suitable for the situation that she is in. But this man, this living consolidation of Axe body spray and motor oil, is attuned to who she really is. And that’s a nice thing to have no matter where you are in life. For people like them, super spies on the edge of an age of heroes, that’s something to treasure. Even if it probably smells vaguely of jagermeister and burnt leather.
No time to dwell on this too much, though. Agent Carter is here! And May and Simmons are geek. ing. out. about her and why not, so am I, because it’s 1945 again and Peggy, she doesn’t blink, and puts Whitehall away for life. He could be so good at helping the SSR weaponize insane alien technologies, he argues, so sure that she’ll take the bait, and it’s so pleasing to see her refuse. Whitehall can’t know what personal cost playing with superheroics has already wrought upon her. “You’re not who I would want by my side.” To her viewpoint, making people into superheroes just winks their life away all the more quickly. Superheroes leave people behind that care for them and, less glamorously, have to clean up after them. Whitehall’s offer is poisonous and Carter’s mind cuts right through it. Enjoy dying in jail.
The things we bury, eh? The episode’s title is thematic in regards to the storylines that it features this week, but Agent BaldNow, god love ’im, is thinking outside of the box and won’t be penned in by the expectations of others, be they his former S.H.I.E.L.D. compatriots, Hydra, or the show’s writers. He’s Ward! Everything is a challenge to this guy now. You think he won’t bury a thing for real, punk? You don’t know crazy new Ward!
You feel so bad for his brother in this episode. The Senator obviously knows he needs protection from Ward but we know, really know, that Ward is going to get to him no matter what precautions the Senator takes. His days were numbered the moment Ward broke out, so when Ward plays knock-knock with that guy’s head you’re not too surprised.
Really, the suspense in this sequence doesn’t come from wondering whether Senator Brother will survive but what exactly Ward will do to him. The two of them get into a spirited debate about who is really the evil one, with Senator Brother insisting that it’s not him, and Ward insisting that, well, it is him but it’s all because you were evil first, big bro! It’s impossible to say who is telling the truth here and I doubt that we’re meant to know. Ward’s brother gets caught in some obvious lies, which casts doubt on his sincerity, but he also doesn’t seem twisted enough to act like Ward does and, in any case, he’s a Senator, so communicating through lies is less a sign that he’s twisted and more a sign that he knows what is expected of him.
“So it’s a well now?” We recall the Senator saying to Coulson a couple episodes ago and, yes, it’s a well. Dig it up, why don’t you, big brother, so it can also be your tomb? The well is real, we see, so Ward is at least telling the truth about some of his upbringing. The Senator’s following well-side confession would seem to offer further confirmation but again…we don’t know. The Senator lies, after all. This might be another one. If he just confesses then maybe Ward will leave him alone?
So he does, and it appears to really affect Ward. Wherever the needle is on the lies-o-meter in this scene, Ward at least takes his brother’s confession for truth.
Wow, what an intense epis…it’s not over? It’s not over. Ward sets his family to the torch, regardless of his brother’s confession, and immediately schedules a meeting with Whitehall. He wants to…well, actually, we don’t know what Ward wants. It’s what makes him so damn scary. Now that his family is out of the way, there doesn’t seem to be anything he actually desires. Is he tired of Hydra and aching for redemption from Coulson and Skye? Is he accepting of his evil and willing to help Hydra in its plans? Is he utterly sick of himself and intent on wiping out every source of that evil, including his family, including Hydra?
We don’t know, we just know that Ward is irredeemable, and it’s fitting that he ends the episode sitting next to Whitehall, just after we find out how irredeemable Whitehall himself is.
Because even though we get a neat little time-lapse passage of Whitehall dying in jail, he’s eventually sprung in 1989 by a Hydra-infested S.H.I.E.L.D. Hey Whitehall, remember that woman who was on Dollhouse and whom you tried to make the Obelisk melt but she didn’t melt? Well she did more than not-melt, she became totally ageless and now that it’s the 80s and you’re super old we thought you’d enjoy her being kidnapped and brought to you for one last hurrah of Nazi Experimental Surgery. We’ll even order pizza. Pizza!
Poor Dichen Lachman. One wonders if they maybe fibbed to her a bit about her role on this show, because all she gets to do is scream and get cut up in a tremendously disturbing dissection sequence that I refuse to screencap and don’t really want to talk about anymore because oh god.
Did Whitehall implant that woman’s organs inside of himself? And that worked?
Just in case we had any doubt as to what kind of monster Whitehall is, what kind of threat he poses…take him down, Coulson. Take him down really painfully. Cast him in the next Saw movie if you have to, just make him feel the pain that he’s inflicted to others over the past few decades.
Unless the Doctor SkyeDad gets there first, and he might since he’s sitting right next to Whitehall and Ward at the end. He’s got his own brand of crazy for us, and especially for Coulson, whom he sees as a usurper to his own rightful role as The One True SkyeDad. He ambushes Coulson, Fitz, and Tripp during their mission to hijack a satellite network to scan the planet (this episode has so. much.) and shoots up Tripp just so he can get some chat-time with Coulson. We find out a lot about SkyeDad, about the Obelisk, about its origins, the city, and Skye herself while Tripp bleeds out over the course of six minutes. (I have a theory: Tripp is a hologram who thinks he’s a real person. It explains everything.) Then we find out two other very important things:
1.) Dichen Lachman was Skye’s mom. The Doctor found her after Hydra dumped her body in 1989 and he’s been plotting his revenge ever since.
2.) Coulson has found the city.
- The Obelisk fell from the sky in China, probably close to where Attilan was constructed?
- Or maybe not. That map seems to place the alien city in the Dominican Republic.
- So…Whitehall has Skye’s mom’s organs in him, meaning he and Skye would be healed by GH but not given a compulsion to get to the city?
- The Doctor thinks the Diviner is marking out who the aliens shouldn’t kill during their invasion. Does it grant agelessness to everyone who is able to touch it without dying or, if it’s a Terrigen container, was that just the particular superpower that Skye’s mom got? Or is Raina now ageless?
- I guess Bobbi didn’t have a Hydra trigger word but wow was the interrogation scene tense until that became clear!
- I was curious if Kyle MacLachlan’s character would turn out to be Maximus the Mad, but that looks unlikely now.
- What is the significance of Skye’s real name?
- The promo for next week’s episode looks like it’s REALLY going to turn things on their head. May is fighting herself again, but this time it looks like the circumstances are different… what if we’re not just dealing with the Kree here? What if we’re also dealing with Skrulls?
- Still no Speedball: