Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S1 Ep18: Providence

Agents of ... Nothing?

This week on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D … HYDRA raids the Fridge. Coulson faces a test of his faith. And Ward returns to seek out Skye.

This week’s mission

On the run from the menacing Colonel Talbot, Coulson takes flight with his team on a wild goose chase in search of Nick Fury. Meanwhile Garrett and Ward go after S.H.I.E.L.D’s deepest, darkest and most dangerous secrets.

Agent Eric Koenig (Patton Oswalt, right) has important news to share with Phil Coulson (Image: ABC)

Agent Eric Koenig (Patton Oswalt, right) has important news to share with Phil Coulson (Image: ABC)

Agents of … Nothing?

The TV arm of the Marvel Cinematic Universe completes its pay-off of the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier by showing us the aftermath of the film’s story. S.H.I.E.L.D. is in disarray, torn apart by the HYDRA forces concealed within its heart and being treated as a terrorist organisation to be shut down by Colonel Talbot‘s ‘peacekeeping force’.

The episode is split into two distinct strands, held together by a single relationship built on deception: Ward and Skye. In the first strand, Phil Coulson faces the sternest test of his faith yet. With Nick Fury reported dead and Victoria Hand supposedly transporting John Garrett to the Fridge, Coulson is the de facto leader at the Hub.

Talbot’s impending arrival forces him to take his team (plus Agent Antoine Triplett) out of harm’s way on a hastily repaired Bus to buy time to regroup. However, they appear to be out of ideas until Coulson’s badge glows with co-ordinates that he believes is Fury’s doing. The rest of his team is unsure and concerned that it may be a HYDRA trap but, despite May‘s best attempts to talk him out of it, he insists on following his blind faith in Fury all the way to the Canadian wilderness.

Just when it looks like he has led his team down a dead-end and his faith wavers, he is rewarded by the revelation of a secret base manned by a single agent, Eric Koenig, who has christened it ‘Providence’. Coulson’s faith is rewarded as Koenig tells him that Fury is, in fact, still alive.

Opening Pandora’s box

The second main storyline follows HYDRA’s next moves in their plan to secure global domination. Firstly Raina, who has been passing the time constructing origami flowers, is busted out of prison and brought to Havana, where she is disappointed to discover that the Clairvoyant, Garrett, isn’t actually a mind-reader after all. He needs her to extract the encrypted data from Skye‘s hard drive and conduct tests on human subjects to replicate Coulson’s resurrection using various vials he grabbed from the secret medical facility where he was treated.

Meanwhile, Garrett and Ward go to infiltrate the Fridge, where S.H.I.E.L.D. keeps its most dangerous criminals and discoveries. They release the prisoners and procure, among other things, the Tesseract-based weapon found in Peru, a Berserker staff and the sample of gravitonium containing what remains of Dr Franklin Hall. When Raina reveals that Skye has encrypted her hard drive to erase itself if anyone but her tries to access it, Garrett sends Ward, who has been in contact with Skye all the while, to Providence to bring her to him.

Pulling the pieces together

Ever since its return from its mid-season hiatus, the show has been promoted with the hashtag #ItsAllConnected, and this episode not only brings the show fully up to date with The Winter Soldier, but is also heavily laden with internal continuity references. From the return of Raina and Ian Quinn to the Fridge containing the Tesseract-based weapon found in 0-8-4 , the Asgardian Berserker staff from The Well and the sample of gravitonium seen in The Aseet. there are lots of little rewards for loyal viewers.

Last week saw the writers attempted a massive retcon which explained, only partially convincingly, exactly why Coulson ended up with the team members he did. This week we have Ward explaining to Garrett how he systematically gained the team’s trust: saving Simmons by jumping out of the Bus after her (FZZT), staying close to the wild-card Skye by becoming her supervising officer and pretending to develop feelings for her, and neutralising the threat of May by becoming intimate with her. It’s a decent attempt to explain away the oddity of the Ward/May relationship but, like last week, a not entirely convincing one.

More persuasive is the explicit parallel drawn between Ward and Coulson. Both were hand-picked by charismatic mentors while still very young men, and both have such unflinching trust and belief in those leaders that they will go to any lengths for them. It also emphasises the mirror image nature of S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA – in their own way both are trying to bring order out of chaos, albeit via diametrically opposed approaches.

There has been a lot of speculation that Ward may yet turn out to be one of the good guys, even though his actions so far – killing Hand and two guards on the transport plane, then shooting two more guards in the head point-blank at the Fridge – suggest otherwise. Among other theories of various levels of credibility, is it possible that he has been using one of Fitz’s new variants of the ‘icer’, firing knockout rounds married to blood capsules, thereby avoiding killing anybody?

There’s a distinct possibility Ward will be ultimately be revealed as a triple agent, although personally I hope he remains as being truly HYDRA. That way we avoid the obvious cop-out and it would establish him as an ongoing big bad for next season once Garrett is removed from the picture.

Overall, this was a strong, thoughtful episode which did an excellent job of advancing the overall plot despite having to bear the weight of both TV and film continuity. And Patton Oswalt’s turn as Eric Koenig provided some well-judged moments of levity to balance out the darkness of the last couple of episodes. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a dramatic turnaround in quality from one half of a show’s debut season to the next. Over the space of eight episodes, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has moved from being nice-to-watch to must-watch TV. Impressive stuff.

Marvel mentions

In passing, various characters mention Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow),  the Cube (S.H.I.E.L.D’s alien prison), Captain America and Agent Maria Hill.

The barber chair which takes its occupant down through the floor and into a secret underground base is a comic book device, but here it is used to transport people into a Hydra facility rather than a S.H.I.E.L.D. one.

Glenn Talbot is known to comic fans as an adversary of The Hulk.

Similarly, the lanyard-loving Eric Koenig appears in Sergeant Fury and his Howling Commandos.

Garrett tells Ward about Johnny Horton, a criminal who has lion’s paws for hands. He’s known to comic book readers as the Griffin. Garrett reveals a metal plate on his side which suggests he may have cybernetic implants similar to Deathlok’s, reflecting the comics’ Garrett, who was made into a cyborg.

Best line

Alright, alright. Put your arms down, Kaminsky. You look like a West Texas cheerleader at a pep rally.

Garrett tires of one of his soldiers’ over-exuberance in hailing Hydra. 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

1.16 End of the Beginning

1.17 Turn, Turn, Turn

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