As if we needed any more reasons to hate Ward, he has to go and kill Patton Oswalt this week. Agent Koenig, we hardly knew ye. In fact, we only know ye for about a half hour before you’re used as cannon fodder to make Ward a nastier villain.
Oswalt’s charisma and comic delivery make Koenig an instantly likable character, but a fun personality isn’t a big enough reason to care when Koenig is killed. Not when the stakes are extremely high and he’s a lousy S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. Considering his role as the keeper of a top-secret facility, he’s not very good with being discrete and sucks at vetting new arrivals. There’s a war going on, and the agents that let their guards down are the ones who die. Oswalt brings a refreshing energy to the show during his brief guest stint, so it’s hard not to think about Koenig’s potential if he wasn’t killed off, but his death does give Ward’s story some extra momentum by revealing his true allegiance to Skye.
The lie detector has become a useless device in TV dramas, and Koenig talking about how his lie detector chair tracks 96 different tells and could stand up to Agent Romanoff isn’t going to trick anyone into thinking Ward is going to get caught in a lie when he’s interrogated. The lie detector doesn’t create much drama, but it does offer some insight into the characters as it shows their answers to Koenig’s more interpretive questions. He asks them things like what they would wish to find inside a box that washes up on the island they’re abandoned on and why they’re still with their team when S.H.I.E.L.D. has been wiped out, and the agents’ answers reestablish their individual motivations now that the status quo has been altered.
The lie detector touch screen gives Koenig some warnings during his interview with Ward, but these are ignored when Ward tells Koenig that Skye is the reason he’s on the team, which isn’t a lie because he does need her to decrypt the hard drive in Hydra’s possession. Monica Owusu-Breen’s script is the problem with this episode, and Ward’s interrogation has a very strange flow. At one point, Koenig pulls a gun on Ward and starts to go heavy on the Hydra questions, but then Ward mentions his lovey-dovey feelings for Skye and he’s totally good to go. We don’t actually know what Koenig is seeing on the screen because it’s just a bunch of random lines and infographics—he could have pulled the gun just to see what kind of reaction it would get out of Ward—but if he’s indeed being warned that Ward is lying, he should be listening to the allegedly infallible machine instead of accepting Ward’s response.
The current mission for Coulson’s team is tracking down The Fridge’s escaped prisoners, beginning with Marcus Daniels, a former lab assistant turned superpowered stalker who goes by the name of Blackout in the comics. Gifted with the ability to control something called Darkforce (the episode wisely chooses to gloss over his origin), Daniels absorbs all the energy around him, which means a lot of shots of streetlights going out as he makes his way to Portland to find the object of his desire: Coulson’s ex-girlfriend Audrey Nathan, a.k.a. “The Cellist.”
“The Only Light In The Darkness” actually does a lot of the things the series should have been doing since the beginning, like delving into the characters’ personal lives and backstories, but the execution is flawed. Coulson’s relationship with Audrey has come up in the past, and while it’s nice to finally have a face for the infamous cellist, Amy Acker has to deal with some incredibly clichéd dialogue as Audrey remembers her late boyfriend who is secretly still alive. After being saved by Simmons and Triplett, Audrey tells them about Phil and how she still dreams of them together and laughing, but when it comes to establishing a personal relationship, “show don’t tell” is a more effective plan of action.
There’s a fascinating conflict at the heart of Coulson and Audrey’s relationship—he died and came back to life, doesn’t want to tell her because he doesn’t want to risk hurting her again—but it ends up getting pushed to the side to give Blackout time in the spotlight. I mean that literally, because the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents fight him with stage lights modified to shoot gamma rays, which is not only cheap, but looks very stupid. The agents do their best Ghostbusters impression as they overload Blackout with light, and after they take out the bad guy, Coulson gives his knocked out ex-girlfriend a kiss and tells her that he’ll be there for her before he abandons her. The storyline never delivers the emotional payoff of the reunion it’s building up to, and Coulson’s little message at the end pushes the plot into overly melodramatic territory.
This is the most romance heavy episode of S.H.I.E.L.D. yet, making more forward movement with the Ward/Skye relationship while also cementing a Fitz/Simmons/Triplett love triangle. The latter is actually quite fun and Iain De Caestecker is adorable, especially during moments like the interrogation when he immediately answers “Simmons” for the box question. The Ward and Skye courtship is really just there to amplify her shock when she discovers Koenig’s dead body and concludes that Ward is Hydra, but it takes an interesting turn after that point, when Skye decides to use their new intimacy to manipulate Ward. It’s unclear just how much Ward knows about what Skye knows, and that ambiguity helps add tension to the episode’s closing moments.
The best thing about this episode is the final scene, which shows Agent May getting picked up by her mother after she abandons Coulson’s team. Her mother works for a separate agency (the CIA?), and picks May up in Canada to give her details on the location of Maria Hill, another S.H.I.E.L.D. agent looking for new employment. The scene has a relaxed, natural flow that suggests the two women have a legitimate history together, and getting this peek at May’s personal life fleshes out her character a lot. Similarly, when Ward opens up to Skye about his troubled childhood and reveals that his abuse went further than just his older brother, the audience gets a stronger idea of how he became one of the bad guys. If Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. had explored these aspects of the characters earlier, these later events would have even more weight.
- This week’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. artwork by Pascal Campion has the kind of melancholy mood I was hoping to see more of in this episode:
- Next week: Maria Hill and Adrian Pasdar’s horrible fake mustache return to the series, most likely to confront Coulson’s team for hacking those NSA satellites. Hopefully Cobie Smulders gets to do more than just stand around and talk about how S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t exist anymore.
- Triplett being the grandson of a Howling Commando is a great little detail that doesn’t really mean much, but makes him a lot cooler for comic fans.
- “Moving speech. Truly.”
- “The TARDIS.”
- “Nothing bad ever happens when you work with something called Darkforce.”