With any modern superhero TV drama, a certain number of event episodes get baked into the course of any given season. Just like their comic book counterparts, these events are meant to present the universe at its best – big action, major changes and a few new characters being guaranteed. Last night’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode – with the turning-point indicating title “One Door Closes” – didn’t quite check all the boxed of a major event, but it did show off some of the show’s best qualities along the way.
Running as S.H.I.E.L.D. has been of late on a string of parallel plotlines, the episode is almost entirely built on stories with long-standing connections crossing over or blowing up. No where is this more apparent than in the flashback sequence that provides the spine of the hour. Drawing heavily on the events and feel of Marvel Studios’ blockbuster film Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the story anchors itself on the so-called “Day S.H.I.E.L.D. Fell.”
With Hydra revealed to the world as having sunk its teeth into the spy organization, Bobbi Morse and Mack find the Hellicarrier they’re assigned to under siege. The flashback setup allows for an origin story to be told not just to the two agents we’ve come to know on Coulson’s team over this season but also for the expanding cast of characters we’re interacting with in the present. Details like Bobbi dumping her husband Hunter in the worst possible way at the worst possible moment or Mack earning his stubborn honest streak after an attempt at subterfuge gets a close friend killed all play into this. But as the members of the supposedly sinking ship discover their commanding officer – Edward James Olmos’ Robert Gonzalez spouting lines cribbed from a dozen Battlestar Galactica episodes – the real thrust of the story becomes a suicide mission to keep some secretive Nick Fury tech out of Hydra’s hands.
That whole scenario runs alongside our modern day story: the new S.H.I.E.L.D.’s siege of Coulson and company’s hidden home base. While the buildup to this episode had it seem like the resurrected Director of the S.H.I.E.L.D. branch we know and love has been the total dupe of Gonzalez’s team, here Coulson at least feels one step ahead of the fight as he calls out Mack for his double agent status and quickly catches Bobbi in the act of stealing the Fury tech he’s been entrusted with. But even Phil isn’t so far ahead of the game that he can stop the pair of turncoats from throwing a major monkeywrench into his operation, and Bobbi’s pulling the cord on an EMP lets all hell break loose.
The ensuing scramble in the darkness brings a number of the relationships S.H.I.E.L.D. has been focusing on all year into sharp focus and puts them all to the test. Of course, May’s loyalty to Coulson remains unshakable as she takes on Bobbi in a knock-down, drag-out fight that ranks among the series’ strongest. Later when Bobbi attempts to use her growing friendship with Simmons as a cover to escape, the formerly meek scientist shows just how effective the thick skin she earned at Hydra and obsessing over the Inhuman threat has made her. Conversely, the still recovering Fitz can’t quite bring himself to fighting back against his therapeutic pal Mack as the new S.H.I.E.L.D. agents take the base. Those parallel scenes also serve to underline just how different the once upon a time team of FitzSimmons have grown this year. So when the pair are confronted with Agent Weaver – a “nuS.H.I.E.L.D.” member last seen on the show as a member of their supergenius training program in Season 1 – there’s some legitimate doubt as to whether either or both of our lab friends will end up playing along with the brand new bosses.
On the other side of the world, a completely different set of tandem stories collide in a much quieter manner. Going stir crazy in a safehouse we learn was meant to house Bruce Banner, Skye can’t quite come to accept that she’s supposed to spend the rest of her life wearing Simmons-designed gauntlets to protect her from her own power. Enter Gordon – the finally-named eyeless Inhuman who’s spent the season recruiting those affected by the Terrigan mists. While his pitch to her contains a few too many “As you know, Bob” clichés mixed with “I can’t tell you these seeekrits until you’re ready” theatric, actor Jamie Harris is at least a charmer in the role.
In any other season of any other superhero show, Gordon’s leaving Skye to contemplate her status would lead us to about a month of her reconsidering her allegiances in the face of potential cosmic answers. But again, S.H.I.E.L.D. thankfully cuts such hemming and hawing short. When Bobbi Morse and the “I’m here to be gruff” Agent Calderon lead an extraction team to the safehouse to bring Skye to heel, she lets loose with her quake powers in full. The whole “I’m only doing this because Calderon shot first, but now I’ve likely mortally wounded Calderon” element seems forced to say the least, but the late game twist pushes Skye into accepting Gordon’s Inhuman invitation. That’s a promising status quo shift for the very last leg of this season’s new episodes.
Similarly, the end of Coulson’s storyline this week was equally predictable but also welcome. With his base overthrown and the non-May members of his team in cuffs, Phil sits down for a one-on-one with invading commander Gonzalez. The showdown articulates the same thing that the end of our flashback does: exactly how this new S.H.I.E.L.D. functions separately from the one we’ve been following all year. And on its face it makes some sense. Inspired in part by a rousing “Let’s take the fight to Hydra…together!” speech by Bobbi, Gonzalez’s team is built on the premise that Fury was too secretive a boss for the spy organization and that a more democratic approach works. As Fury’s hand-picked successor, Coulson was never going to fit this bill – setting aside his whole “resurrected by alien blood that did strange things to his mind” issues – but even as those pieces fit together, others are out of place.
If this new S.H.I.E.L.D. is dedicated to transparency, how come they’re the ones who have been operating in the shadows while Coulson and company have established diplomatic relationships with the Air Force? If they’re dedicated to stopping the spread of Fury’s more dangerous tech, then what exactly was the deadly secret they almost sunk their own ship for and where did it end up? And who in the hell bankrolls these massive spy operations anyway? Those are just a few of the logistical questions that start to chip away at the whole “the real S.H.I.E.L.D.” setup, but any comic book show relies on hard and fast logic second and fun hijinx first.
The episode wraps with an on-the-lamb Coulson reconnecting with an in-it-to-win-it Hunter to not only track down Skye but also take the fight back to whatever S.H.I.E.L.D. is in their way. It’s a fun new status for the season to go out on regardless of how many crisscrossing stories got us here, so let’s just see where the ride takes us next.
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