This Agents of SHIELD review contains some spoilers...
The first part of Agents of SHIELD season one has been about building loyalty. Coulson’s team has learned to rely on and trust each other and have become a force for good because they have learned to work together despite their own baggage. Every challenge, every threat has been about testing the loyalty Coulson has worked so hard to build in his sometimes volatile group. Meanwhile, the shadowy organization led by the hidden Clairvoyant has been doing everything possible to tear the team apart. Their latest scheme gave fans a real piece of the Marvel Universe proper in Deathlok. Whose side is Deathlok on? Who is Skye, really (please be Jessica Drew)? How damaged is Phil Coulson after his forced resurrection? how will May and Ward’s carnal knowledge of each other affect the team? Is there anyone on Earth (other than Arrow’s Felicity Smoak) more endearing than Agent Simmons? Hopefully, Agents of SHIELD’s stretch run will answer these questions and have the decency to give fans more than a few teases at the wider Marvel Universe.
OK, strap into Lola and let’s do this!
"T.A.H.I.T.I." starts out like a medical drama with Skye hanging on to life after being gut shot by the show’s closest thing to a recurring villain, Ian Quinn. The sequence focused on Fitz’s guilt in not being able to help Skye before she was shot, Ward’s own guilt as failing Skye as her handler, Coulson raging and demanding to speak to Nick Fury, and the ever pragmatic May simply blaming the man that pulled the trigger. This is a nice little snippet into the broiling emotions of each cast member and a marked contrast to the show’s usual jokey tone.
With Skye dying, Coulson must confront his own mortality, which puts him in the same position as Nick Fury was when Coulson was stabbed by Loki in The Avengers. It’s a nice role reversal as Coulson must make the hard choices while his agent lies dying. Coulson’s line of “We’re her family,” when notified that Skye is going to die, says all that needs to be said about the character and his unyielding loyalty to his agents.
While Coulson does what he does (lead), May does what she does (hurt people) as she takes her frustration out on Quinn. The interrogation room beating may remind Marvel readers of Wolverine beating Crossbones aboard a Helicarrier after the assassination of Captain America. May, who at first acted as Skye’s foil, shows her first real emotion since the show began in defense of Skye, a woman May has grown to admire.
When Ward questions Coulson over whether it is right to try and save Skye, Coulson concludes the only way to save his agent, the woman who has become his surrogate daughter, is to put her through the same procedure of resurrection that he went through. As a commander, Coulson understands the need for the procedure and seems to have shed his pain over his own traumatic revival. With the team deciding whether to try and bring Skye back, the Bus is infiltrated by Agent John Garrett (played by Bill Paxton) and Agent Tripplet (BJ Britt), the Ward to Garrett’s Coulson. Once again, themes of loyalty are explored as Garrett fully understands Coulson’s need to help his agent. There is a beefcake brawl between Tripp and Ward initially, but Coulson quickly ends it and everyone becomes pals...a bit too conveniently.
Lest fans forget about Deathlok, Coulson and Garrett interrogate Quinn about the cyborg, but the greasy villain will make nary a peep as Marvelites must wait a little longer for some more J. August Richards goodness. Garrett and Coulson mock Quinn and poke him a bit, but the major issue with Quinn as a character is that he is no threat whatsoever. Yes, he shot Skye and became the catalyst for this episode’s drama, but he is an empty casing with "evil" stamped on the front. To put this show over the top, it needs a real villain with complex motivations...someone the viewers will want to see Ward kick the crap out of. Quinn is just a whipping boy.
Quinn reveals that he was ordered to shoot Skye by the Clairvoyant who figures that Coulson will bring her to the same facility Coulson was brought back to life in, and that the whole shooting of Skye was a ruse to find the secret to cheating death. Not a bad revelation, too bad fans have no idea who this master criminal is.
Oh, that reveal better be good.
These layers of intrigue reminds me of Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America and Secret Avengers, where no one quite knew who to trust within SHIELD. The layers of conspiracy do work, but the show eventually has to divulge some cards or it just seems as if they are teasing the loyal viewer.
Fitz and Simmons, through the use of an ultra-hidden digital secret box or something, discover that Coulson’s resurrection might be more than just experimental surgery. Now, thank goodness, there is more to Coulson’s revival than has been indicated. That was an anti-climactic reveal, and it being undone renews interest in a mystery that was once a key to the show's narrative. With Coulson’s secret open season again (and revealed to be a direct order from Nick Fury), Agents of SHIELD gets some of its intrigue back.
Fitz and Simmons magic data cube reveals the Guest House, a secret facility where Coulson’s medical resurrection took place. They discover that they must find a secret drug called GH-325 to bring Skye back. This sets up the episode’s big action piece as Garrett, Coulson, Fitz, and Ward bust into the Guest House, which is conveniently guarded by just two agents. Nope, sorry show...not buying that. Wait a minute, the Agents want to infiltrate a top secret facility and they don’t bring May? Listen, the X-Men always bring Wolverine, G.I. Joe always brings Snake-Eyes. Please Coulson, just always bring May. Thank you. Anyway, the Agents bust in, a fire fight ensues, and the two guards are shot. Now, let’s hope these guys are working for AIM or HYDRA or some nefarious organization because if not, Coulson and company pretty much just murdered two colleagues. We really could have used a bigger fight there for some drama.
At episode's end, viewers are treated to a look at what spooked Agent Couslon in the complex. Not only did he find a metal crate marked T.A.H.I.T.I. but he also found the source of the GH-325, a dissected blue skinned alien floating in a tank. I’m guessing a Kree and if I’m right, that’s some brilliant cross marketing with Guardians of the Galaxy right there.
So the show is juggling secrets as misdirection seems to be trumping loyalty as the core theme moving forward. What is T.A.H.I.T.I. and how does this newly introduced alien conspiracy fit into the secrets of Coulson’s revival? What effect will the alien juice have on Skye? Who are Skye’s parents? The show has a great deal to reveal and seems to be holding its cards too close to its chest. If the end of the magic trick is satisfactory, then Agents of SHIELD will have pulled off some deft plot juggling If the trick is a dud, they will have some pissed fans.
- The alien. Is it Kree? Atlantean? Inhuman (Terrigen Mist could be a possibility for what was injected into Skye)? Whatever it is, it opens some intriguing doors.
- Agent Tripplet, could he be Triathlon? Odd name for a random agent.
- Fury as the ghost-like super spy affecting all things SHIELD.
- The introduction in the sweeper of the Asgardian sorceress and temptress Lorelei. It’s pretty cool that the show can go from a conspiracy laden spy drama to a tale featuring mythic beings without causing whiplash.