This week on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D … HYDRA’s sleeper agents within S.H.I.E.L.D. reveal themselves. Victoria Hand leads the fightback against the uprising. Coulson and his team link up with John Garrett – but is there a traitor within?
This week’s mission
Garrett, Coulson and his team try to rescue Simmons at the Hub and secure it from the HYDRA threat.
S.H.I.E.L.D. destroyed from within
This episode pays off the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier as John Garrett is revealed as the Clairvoyant, whose loyalty actually lies with HYDRA, an organisation dedicated to global domination with its origin tracing back to the Third Reich.
The story twists and turns furiously, creating a series of misdirections to keep viewers guessing. If it’s no surprise to discover that May has been keeping tabs on Coulson and reporting to Nick Fury all along, her revelation that it was she who selected the other members of the team – a medical specialist (Simmons) to repair Coulson’s body, a technician (Fitz) to repair his brain and a tactical specialist (Ward) to help take him down if needed – doesn’t quite ring true and has the hallmarks of a giant retcon.
Coulson is already wary of Ward, but in turn the finger of suspicion points at Victoria Hand, followed briefly by Simmons (Coulson wants to know who she’s talking to at the Hub, but only because he’s concerned for her safety), and then Antoine Triplett (who locks the door on Simmons then draws a knife – which he hands to her) before circling back to Hand (who tests Triplett and Simmons by offering them a choice between HYDRA and death).
But the true betrayal is the most painful of all, as Coulson learns that it his long-time colleague Garrett who is the Clairvoyant. Aided and abetted by a whole host of S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives – including Jasper Sitwell – HYDRA all but destroys S.H.I.E.L.D. from within, forcing Hand into desperate measures to ascertain who is still loyal and dealing ruthlessly with those who aren’t.
Sadly we’re told rather than shown the effect of HYDRA’s insurgency due to the constraints of a TV budget and to avoid retreading ground already covered in The Winter Soldier. But that actually works in the episode’s favour, putting the focus on the characters rather than the cataclysmic events surrounding them. Coulson’s faith in May is shattered to the extent that he has no hesitation shooting her with an icer to buy himself time to deal with the drones’ attack – by contrast his trust in Skye remains unwavering.
By episode’s end – and after May’s best fight sequence of the series to date – the world is a different and significantly darker place. With Fury reportedly dead, S.H.I.E.L.D. in disarray and Coulson possibly the most senior agent remaining, his makeshift team is no longer flitting about on the fringes – it is now critical to the organisation’s survival. It’s a far cry from the lightness of the early episodes and the chumminess evident in the team in more recent ones. Not least because there is still a traitor within their midst …
Garrett and Ward
As noted in my review of End of the Beginning, there were more than enough breadcrumbs that pointed towards Garrett being the Clairvoyant, although the final twist of Ward also being a HYDRA agent was more of a surprise. Even so, events in this episode hinted at both men’s true allegiance well before the final reveals. Consider the following:
- When Ward is released from the holding cell on the Bus, Garrett looks him firmly in the eye and says, slowly and deliberately, “Apparently Hand is the Clairvoyant. Chew on that.” He’s doing more than imparting simple information here – he’s telling Ward their next move.
- Ward leverages his relationship with Skye – has he ever really had any feelings for Skye? Possibly, possibly not – to persuade her to hand him the hard drive containing the confidential data downloaded from the Bus’s systems.
- Inside the Hub, Garrett seems insistent on shooting Hand first and asking questions later – so that he can frame her as the Clairvoyant, just as he did to Thomas Nash last week.
- Finally, Ward insists on accompanying Hand and Garrett to the Fridge, putting him in position to kill Hand and free his former supervising officer and HYDRA colleague.
With Skye’s hard drive now in Ward’s possession, who knows what havoc Garrett and Ward could wreak when they arrive at the Fridge? Or will they devise a suitable cover-up to allow Ward to remain infiltrated within Coulson’s team?
At a stroke, Ward has suddenly become a much more interesting character, with his bland and squeaky clean personality now revealed as merely the front for the sleeper agent concealed beneath.
17 episodes in, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has finally revealed its full hand. With HYDRA now in play, super-powered villains and a genuine sense of espionage and jeopardy hanging over the entire season, the show might just be starting to fulfil its potential.
Hand mentions Captain America defeating the HYDRA-controlled helicarriers at the Triskelion in The Winter Soldier, as well as the capture of both S.H.I.E.L.D’s East African headquarters and the Treehouse.
S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury is reported as dead. Again, this relates to events in The Winter Soldier.
Hand and Coulson mention both the Fridge (a secure S.H.I.E.L.D. detainment and storage facility) and the Ice Box, a prison for super-human criminals to which Garrett is being taken before Ward intervenes.
So we’ll fly in there, face the music … even if it is the HYDRA theme song.
But what exactly is the HYDRA theme song, Phil? Something by Taylor Swift, perhaps?