Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has returned with a bang: Coulson is back, but his left hand is not, and his “right hand,” May, is taking her own sweet time getting back. Skye is back, but is now going by her birth name, Daisy. Mack and Hunter are back, being competent and cracking jokes. Bobbi is back, but working in the lab rather than as a field agent while she recovers from wounds. Fitz is back, but searching for clues to Simmons’ disappearance in the field rather than in the lab. And Simmons has been having more than a little trouble getting back. The team has immediately found themselves at odds with a new agency, as well as a shadowy monster, and a resurgent Hydra. Today, we recap the first two episodes of the season. And this post will start a thread to give everyone a chance to discuss future episodes as the season progresses.
Only Agents cleared to observe SPOILERS should proceed beyond this point!
Stan Lee has long been a proponent of starting a comic book with action, or what Shakespeare used to refer to as “alarums and excursions.” In August 1965, that’s the way Lee and Jack Kirby kicked off the first adventure of S.H.I.E.L.D. In the course of that brief 12 page tale (appearing in Strange Tales #135), prospective S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury encountered assassination attempts at every turn. And along the way, the tale introduced many elements essential to the stories that followed: secrets within secrets, Life Model Decoys, hidden lairs, flying cars and helicarriers. So this year, we are not only celebrating the return of the television show, we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of S.H.I.E.L.D. itself.
The first episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season Three followed in these action-packed footsteps. We see the Terrigen-tainted fish oil pills from Season Two, a shattered cocoon, and are introduced to a frightened man who can warp metal objects. The man is surrounded by paramilitary troops in blue camouflage, but takes shelter in an alley. He sees those troops, and one of their SUVs, go flying back past the alley, and around the corner strides Daisy, flanked by Mack and Hunter. A flying elevator lands, the man is deposited inside, and it zips up to a new S.H.I.E.L.D. aircraft that puts last year’s Bus to shame. The troops are chastised for their failure by a mystery woman, whose picture is snapped by a lurking Coulson…and all this before the first commercial break!
The man with metal warping powers, Joey, is brought to the S.H.I.E.L.D. base, and during the rest of the episode acts as a surrogate for the audience, as the others explain to him what an Inhuman is, and that he has an alien gen, activated by a chemical called Terrigen which gave him his unnatural abilities. We see Joey react to this news with hysterical laughter, and clash with Daisy when she tells him he can’t leave. By the end of the episode, he is beginning to deal with his situation, but is still unhappy at the loss of his normal life.
Daisy and Mack convince Coulson that they should find and bring back the Inhuman, Lincoln, who is not only a doctor, but who was skilled at helping new Inhumans deal with their transformation. The two confront Lincoln in a hospital where he works. He wants nothing to do with them, and considers his Inhuman status a curse.
Coulson and Hunter investigate the mystery woman and her organization. We learn that transformations have been happening frequently, and Joey is the first person who didn’t vanish before they reached them. We see the mystery woman in her own base, looking into a room full of dead people with wounds in their chests. Coulson and Hunter find that the woman sometimes rides home from a DARPA office on DC’s Metro. They confront her, only to find it’s a trap. Coulson is unperturbed, and has a long talk with the woman, who calls herself Rosalind. Coulson asks her about her activities, and she trumps his probing by mentioning T.A.H.I.T.I. and Coulson’s resurrection. She accuses him of leaving a trail of bodies, blasted by energy weapons. He asks who is killing these individuals, and they realize it is neither of them.
The show cuts to the hospital in chaos, as a strange blue monster with spiny hair, fangs, a deep voice and energy powers strides down the hallway after killing a guard. This is obviously the one who has been killing new Inhumans. Daisy, Mack and Lincoln fight the monster, who takes their best shots, and disappears after Daisy quakes the floor open beneath him. Lincoln and the others go their separate ways. In the subway car, both Coulson and Rosalind get calls about the hospital incident, Coulson sets off a bomb, and he and Hunter escape.
Meanwhile, Fitz is in Morocco, chasing a lead to Simmons’ disappearance and looking driven and unshaven. He meets with some terrorists, and trades bombs (the ones used last season to attack the U.N.) for an ancient scroll he thinks is connected to the monolith. The bombs go off in the face of the terrorists, and Fitz escapes in a hail of bullets.
Bobbi spends the episode working in the lab, recovering from wounds suffered during last season’s finale. We find Bobbi and Hunter are a couple again, and he wants to marry her, but she isn’t sure. The one thing they both agree on is the need to go after “him” (Grant Ward), but Bobbi wants Hunter to wait until she recovers and can help.
In a pivotal piece of exposition, the team gathers around televisions to watch a speech by President Ellis, who makes references that tie the show to the Avengers and Winter Soldier movies. The President has created a task force, the Advanced Threat Containment Unit, or A.T.C.U. Coulson realizes that Rosalind is connected with A.T.C.U. After the address, Coulson watches a simulation that shows Terrigen incidents spreading all over the world.
Fitz opens the scroll with Coulson, but finds it contains only one word, in Hebrew: “death.” Coulson tells Fitz they need to move on. Fitz agrees, but then goes into the room with the monolith, and blasts the containment door open with a shotgun. He pounds on the monolith, screaming in frustration, as nothing happens. Then, during the stinger scene, we see a strange blue landscape with a woman running across it. The woman is Simmons, and we see two moons in the background: wherever Simmons is, she isn’t on Earth.
The second episode starts with an unexpected flashback to the 19th century. A committee of men draws lots, and the loser loads up a pack and straps on a sword. He passes through a door, and we see the monolith that swallowed Simmons. We hear the noise of the monolith swallowing the man while the committee discusses the fact that no one has ever returned.
The show then focuses on four major narrative threads: Ward’s efforts to rebuild Hydra, Daisy’s desire to add members to her “Secret Warriors,” May’s struggle with her role with S.H.I.E.L.D., and the team’s attempts to rescue Simmons.
We see Ward in a fast car, weaving among columns in a parking garage, all with people standing beside them. There is a man on the hood of the car, who slides off in a heap when Ward stops. The man is a leader in the old Hydra, who Ward proceeds to mock. The people beside the columns are his new recruits, learning to show no fear. Then Ward targets a rich young man on a yacht, taking out all the security guards with ease, and knocking out his target. Back in his lair, he leaves a minion to torture the young man to get bank account passwords. But the young man turns on the minion, and gives him a savage beating. We find that the young man is Werner Von Strucker, son of the Baron Strucker—whose experiments created Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, and who was killed by Ultron. Ward offers Werner a role in the new Hydra.
Daisy is frustrated. She wants Doctor Andrew Garner (May’s husband) to clear Joey, the newly found Inhuman, to begin training. The Doctor says that Joey isn’t ready, and says she is desperate, and that desperation leads to mistakes. He also says Coulson is making questionable decisions and tells Daisy she is turning into a leader. She says she wants to give people a place to belong, and a chance to make a difference. He counsels her to be more patient.
We find May golfing with her dad. He questions her about giving up on S.H.I.E.L.D. They talk about how she was an award-winning figure skater in her youth. They get a visit from Hunter, who wants May to help him take out Ward. May’s dad points out that when Hunter arrived, May immobilized him and was ready to take him out with a kitchen knife. He tells her she hasn’t left her old life behind, and reminds her that when she fell during skating, “My daughter always got back up.” When we last see May, it looks like she’s made her choice, as she’s loading weapons into a truck with Hunter.
The thread that dominates most of the episode involves efforts to rescue Simmons. Fitz’s tantrum in front of the monolith has set off alarms, and the team gathers, pulls him away, and closes the enclosure just before the monolith liquefies again. Coulson decides to call on an expert on history and alien artifacts; Professor Elliot Randall (played by Peter MacNichol), an exiled Asgardian who we first encountered in Season One, who has been living on Earth for centuries. He’s in jail following a drunken rampage, but when he decides to go with them, simply breaks open the door of the cell and walks out. They show him the monolith, and he says it’s some sort of portal or wormhole. Upon seeing the scroll Fitz collected in Morocco, with the word “death” on it, he recognizes it as being connected to an English castle where he once attended a party. Professor Randall agrees to help them, but only if after they rescue Simmons, they destroy the monolith.
The team travels to the castle, and finds a secret room marked by the same Hebrew word. The room is full of steampunk machinery, with a well in the center. They discover the equipment is designed to control the monolith, and have Mack fly it out on their new aircraft (which is called Zephyr One), and drop it into the well. They start the machinery, and the portal opens. But the machinery is unstable, and after they fire a flare through the portal, it all comes apart and the portal closes. Daisy has been affected by the portal, collapses and complains about a pulsating sound. They realize that the monolith is controlled by a resonance, and that Daisy’s powers can activate it. So they build a frame with a cable, and a probe to drop through it. Daisy uses her power to activate the portal, but before they can deploy the probe, Fitz takes the cable and jumps through. He finds Simmons, and after a struggle, they join hands. But the machine is coming apart, and the portal closes. The team looks into the well, and all they see is a pile of dirt. Fitz emerges from the dirt, and then so does Simmons, and the team celebrates. Back at the base, we see Simmons awake with a start, and sit up in bed with a flint knife clutched in her hand. She then sees Fitz sitting next to her, also asleep, and snuggles up next to him, with her head in his lap.
The stinger for this episode finds Doctor Garner talking to a new student who wants to join his class in mid-semester. The student turns, and we see it is the young Strucker, with an evil smirk on his face.
The two episodes were a strong start for the new season. The performances were good, the scripts were snappy, and things moved at a brisk pace. The return of the Asgardian Professor Randall was enjoyable, as it was a nice nod to the earlier days of the show, and added some humor to the proceedings.
The team is worn down by the challenges they faced in the first two seasons, and while they have bounced back stronger than ever, they still showing the scars they accumulated along the way. Some of them, especially Hunter and Mack, tend to use wisecracks as a coping mechanism, which helps lighten the mood of the show. Clark Gregg’s performance as the wounded and harried Coulson was especially noteworthy in both episodes.
The search for 0-8-4 artifacts is behind them, as is the opposition of General Talbot and “Real” S.H.I.E.L.D. It seems that ACTU will fill the role of the ‘frenemy’ team in the coming season, rivals that will clash with, but also grudgingly cooperate with S.H.I.E.L.D. to deal with common threats. Constance Zimmer did a good job as Rosalind, and it will be interesting to learn more about ACTU.
For those who are familiar with the comics, the reveal of Werner Strucker is huge. Baron Strucker played a major role in Hydra in the comic books, and many were surprised to see him so quickly dispatched in Age of Ultron. But now we see that a Strucker will be playing a role in Hydra moving forward, and we can expect it will not be a small one…
The new monstrous blue Inhuman (played by Matt Willig), while he is unnamed in the show, is called Lash, and is the first Inhuman on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. who comes from the comic books (Daisy was not originally an Inhuman in the comics, so she doesn’t count). Lash is a new character, and was not part of the pantheon of Inhumans that first appeared in Fantastic Four comics back in the 1960s—it’s obvious that Marvel is saving those characters for the upcoming Inhumans movie.
So, yes: the show is off to a strong start, but it needs to be strong at this point. While ratings for the season opener (at 4.9 million viewers) were better than the disappointing ratings for last year’s finale, the ratings need to improve further to justify this expensive show continuing into Season Four. But there are a lot of well-loved genre shows that didn’t find their footing until after the first year (Star Trek: The Next Generation and Babylon 5 come immediately to mind). With the strong story arcs of the second season, and these two episodes to start the third season, it looks like the show will continue to grow, and live up to its potential.
This post will give people a place to discuss the show each week, and depending on the level of interest shown, might be followed up with a mid-season or end-of-season post as well. So let the discussion begin—and, as Stan Lee used to say back in the ‘60’s, “Don’t yield, back S.H.I.E.L.D.!”
Alan Brown has been a fan of S.H.I.E.L.D. from the beginning. He still remembers the day as a young boy when he read that first S.H.I.E.L.D. adventure and saw Jack Kirby’s splash page reveal of the helicarrier.