Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S1 Ep16: End of the Beginning

When trust breaks down

This week on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D … Coulson goes on the offensive against the Clairvoyant. Skye gets promoted. And Deathlok shows off his new toys.

This week’s mission

The team combine with Agents Garrett, Triplett and Blake to track down the 13 candidates most likely to be the Clairvoyant.

The team confronts Deathlok (Image: ABC)

The team confronts Deathlok (Image: ABC)

Breakdown in trust

After last week’s standalone crossover with the Thor movie franchise, this episode returns us to the long-term Clairvoyant/Deathlok arc and accelerates it in the form of a multi-strand espionage thriller/manhunt.

There’s a lovely counterpoint at either end of the episode too. We start with Skye being congratulated on her upgrade to full agent status as she is welcomed into the big, happy S.H.I.E.L.D. family, and then being entrusted with co-ordinating the three-pronged operation to find the Clairvoyant. But by the end of the episode all trust has broken down. Coulson accuses Ward of working for the Clairvoyant. May fires an I.C.E.R. at Fitz after he discovers her encrypted comms line. In turn Coulson and Skye turn their guns on May. And Victoria Hand assumes remote control of the Bus and orders an assault team to take out everyone bar Coulson.

S.H.I.E.L.D’s business is secrets, but if the trust that keeps the system going suddenly breaks down, all that’s left are threats and suspicions around every corner.

Deathlok, Shmethlok

Deathlok’s role in proceedings is distinctly underwhelming. His costume looks a bit cheap, his initial confrontation with Garrett and Triplett doesn’t establish him as much of a threat, and while his new forearm-mounted rocket launchers look cool, they don’t achieve much other than taking down a couple of redshirts.

Indeed, his primary function in this episode is largely misdirection. His presence at the institution where Thomas Nash is being kept gifts S.H.I.E.L.D. a prime suspect to pursue. And after Coulson realises that the injured Blake tagged Deathlok with a tracker, he leads them right to Nash, just as the Clairvoyant wanted all along.

Presumably we will see Deathlok again in a more directly antagonistic – and hopefully meaty – role. J August Richards does well with what little he’s given. Even though Deathlok states that Mike Peterson is gone, there’s just a glimmer of the old Mike underneath that suggests the cyborg hasn’t entirely lost his humanity yet. It’s just a shame that he’s more plot device than genuine threat here, and that his costume doesn’t match the quality of the make-up work done to portray his facial burns.

Despite those quibbles, this was still a good episode. But a confrontation with an amped-up Deathlok would have been great. Nonetheless, it really feels like the series is on the verge of a major step forward in terms of its overall direction. End of the beginning, indeed.

So who is the real Clairvoyant? (Theories, not spoilers!)

We still don’t know for sure (unless you’ve been following at US pace), but I think the clues are all there. With Skye’s help, Coulson realises Nash was just a stooge – shades of Iron Man 3 – designed to put a face to the unseen enemy and present S.H.I.E.L.D. with a fake Clairvoyant to deflect attention from the real one.

Melinda May surely cannot be the Clairvoyant – she has neither the security clearance nor the computer skills to access the kind of personal records Skye describes to Coulson. We know that she’s keeping an eye on Coulson for someone, but this is most likely to be Nick Fury.

Fitz, Simmons and Skye fall into the category of being too callow. It’s clear that the Clairvoyant is a cunning strategist who has infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D, probably over a period of several years. We’re looking for an experienced, senior agent, not a relative rookie.

In which case, what about Victoria Hand? Possibly, but would the Clairvoyant do something so obvious as to order a S.H.I.E.L.D. team taken out in such a blatant fashion? It’s not really the Clairvoyant’s style.

Jasper Sitwell? We know so little about him – perhaps too little for him to be suddenly revealed as the Clairvoyant. The same goes for Antoine Triplett, who seems more focussed on making a play for Simmons than anything else.

Coulson accuses Ward of deliberately killing Nash as part of the Clairvoyant’s plan to cover his tracks. He claims he lost control of his emotions because Nash pushed his buttons over Skye. I’m not buying that. I think Ward’s definitely working on someone’s behalf and killed Nash under orders, just as Coulson has concluded. Given his historical relationship with John Garrett, could it be his former supervising officer?

Indeed, doesn’t Garrett tick most of the boxes we’re looking for in the Clairvoyant? High-level security clearance, tactically experienced, ability to influence Ward? And remember the Clairvoyant told Deathlok it was time they met face-to-face. With Deathlok slipping away in the corridors underneath the racecourse, who did Coulson find wandering around down there before discovering Nash? Garrett.

I haven’t seen or read about forthcoming episodes yet, so these are all just personal theories and not spoilers. But they make sense to me. How about you?

Marvel mentions

Agents Garrett, Triplett, Hand and Sitwell are by now familiar to viewers but Coulson’s former partner Felix Blake, who first appeared in the Marvel one-shot Item 47, has appeared only once previously in this series (Fzzt).

It at first appears odd that Sitwell makes a brief appearance only to be called away almost immediately on another matter, but this is a direct tie-in to events taking place in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Hand’s orders to take out Coulson’s team at the end of the episode are also likely to be related to the film’s plot, as is Simmons’ mention to Fitz of agents hurrying into the situation room at the Hub.

The brief x-ray image Skye sees of Deathlok is reminiscent of a number of his comic-book incarnations (as well as resembling a Terminator).

Skye mentions the comic-books’ Department H, a branch of the Canadian government tied to superhuman activity in that country, which oversaw the super-powered team Alpha Flight.

S.H.I.E.L.D’s detainment facility, the Fridge, is referenced in passing.

Best line

He doesn’t have abilities – he has security clearance. He’s an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Coulson realises the Clairvoyant may not be psychic after all.

Rating: 8/10

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. reviews

Preview: Can Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. work without Avengers?

1.1 Pilot

1.2 0-8-4

1.3 The Asset

1.4 Eye-Spy

1.5 Girl in the Flower Dress

1.6 FZZT

1.7 The Hub

1.8 The Well

1.9 Repairs

1.10 The Bridge

1.11 The Magical Place

1.12 Seeds

1.13 T.R.A.C.K.S.

1.14 T.A.H.I.T.I.

1.15 Yes Men

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