(WARNING: If you haven’t seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier and don’t want to be spoiled, then don’t read this review and don’t watch this episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. until you see the movie.)
My interest in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has never been higher than it was after seeing Captain America: The Winter Soldier this past weekend. Seeing the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D. on the big screen posed a wealth of questions regarding the future of this series, and while it’s still unclear what the long game is here, one thing is certain: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is becoming a far better TV show. “Turn, Turn, Turn” is the first episode to actually take place during the events of a Marvel movie rather than just dealing with the fallout, and while some of the developments probably come out of nowhere for people that haven’t seen the number one movie in the world, the story greatly benefits from the events of the film.
It’s risky for Marvel to spoil almost all the major events of its new blockbuster in this episode, but the studio is probably assuming that most of the S.H.I.E.L.D. audience saw The Winter Soldier on opening weekend. It would be far worse if this series didn’t immediately pick up on the cataclysmic S.H.I.E.L.D. changes in the film. The Winter Soldier was planned far ahead of this TV show, so the writers of the series knew going in that there would be a major upheaval in the back half of the season, but the relationship between the two narratives isn’t entirely beneficial.
The beginning of this series suffered from a lack of a strong antagonist, and while it becomes clear in retrospect that the enemy is S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Hydra agents that have secretly infiltrated it, the writers couldn’t hint at that too heavily because it would spoil The Winter Soldier. It made for a listless start to the series, but now that all the juicy secrets have been revealed, the momentum is picking up, and the show is becoming much more complex and captivating. The reveals in “Turn, Turn, Turn” make sense of a lot of the problems of those early episodes, specifically why Coulson was given his team, the point of all those “case of the week” stories, and why Agent Ward has been so uninteresting.
“Turn, Turn, Turn” immediately feels different thanks to the Blue Oyster Cult musical cue at the start, and the guitar lick of “Don’t Fear The Reaper” sets the tone for an episode that is just plain cool. Agent Garrett (Bill Paxton) is listening to the song when two S.H.I.E.L.D. drones ambush his plane, and when the music is cut off, the aerial action begins. This episode definitely pushes the limits of this show’s CGI budget with the two dogfight sequences, and director Vincent Masiano does very strong work creating a sense of big screen spectacle on network TV. (I’m not sure how much input a TV director has on CG sequences, but I’ll assume Masiono had some part because the overall direction is better this week.)
Garrett meets up with Coulson and his team after their tense stand-off with May the mole, informing them that something is wrong at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters and he needs their help. They decide to team up to save Agents Simmons and Triplett, who are stranded at the Hub when all the shit goes down, but Garrett is intentionally leading them into a trap where Hydra agents are waiting. That’s because Agent Garrett is the Clairvoyant and last week’s cliffhanger was all misdirection to make us think Victoria Hand was important. As we learn by the end of this episode, she’s not.
There are three big storylines at play this week, and each has one major reveal. The first is May’s allegiance. She’s thrown in the brig for refusing to divulge the identity of the person on the other end of her secret encrypted line, but after she learns that Nick Fury has died, she’s able to come clean about her mission. May tells Coulson that she was responsible for picking his team based on specific parameters given to her by Fury, all intended to keep an eye on Coulson if things should go wrong with all the weird stuff they put in his body to keep him alive. In the event of an emergency, the team needed someone who could repair Coulson’s body (Simmons), a technician that could work on his brain (Fitz), and a fighter that could put down Coulson if he proves hazardous (Ward). It explains why this team exists and why they were given so much freedom by S.H.I.E.L.D., an intentional move by Fury that helped create an environment that would be most conducive to May’s monitoring efforts.
The second storyline is cribbed from The Winter Soldier and the accompanying reveal is that Hydra had infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. at its conception, spreading its influence until it had control of nearly every high-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. official, including Agent John Garrett. All those “case of the week” episodes introduced technology and mystical artifacts that are now at risk of falling into the hands of Hydra, and while that doesn’t make those early stories any better, it makes their developments feel more significant. Victoria Hand assumes that Coulson is with Hydra by connecting the wrong dots regarding his recent missions, and while he’s not working for the bad guys, he did help them by retrieving these various objects and putting them in The Fridge, a place that Hydra can easily access when it makes its presence known. But how will Hydra get to The Fridge after the events of The Winter Soldier? That’s where the third storyline comes into play.
Judging by the comments on these reviews, Ward is the most reviled character on this series (Skye is a close second, but opinions have started to change regarding the team’s hacker), and this episode takes advantage of that fan hatred by revealing that Ward is a Hydra double agent. He’s already the character people hate, so why not provide a reason to hate him in the story? If Hydra had its tentacles so deep in S.H.I.E.L.D., it makes sense that it would have an agent hiding in Coulson’s team, and Ward is the most logical choice: He’s a character in the middle of a love triangle so his betrayal impacts Skye and May, and he hasn’t proven as popular with fans as the rest of the cast members so there’s a sense of relief when it turns out he’s a traitor and not someone like Fitz, who reaches new levels of adorableness this week by crying when he’s faced with a near-death situation.
The Ward reveal comes at the end of an episode that spends a lot of time building up the romance between Skye and her S.O., going so far as to include a scene where Skye kisses Ward after the two set up a future drink date if they survive. It’s an inappropriate time for Ward and Skye to be dealing with their sexual tension, but the episode’s cliffhanger reveal of Ward’s true allegiance adds an intriguing layer of manipulation to their interaction. Skye’s 084 status and the alien goo in her veins make her someone that Hydra is interested in, and their chat about their feelings helps Skye believe that Ward is someone she can trust. Victoria Hand thinks Ward could be trusted too, but she’s wrong. He accompanies Hand as she takes Garrett to The Fridge, and when she asks Ward if he’d like to kill the real Clairvoyant after accidentally killing an innocent man, he shoots her and the other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents on board. It’s a genuinely surprising cliffhanger that makes Ward’s character much more interesting, and it’s nice to see that this show is capable of delivering a legitimate “Oh shit!” moment.
Show-runners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen are the writers of tonight’s episode, and if this is representative of what the future of this series will look like, then Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is finally on the right track. The MCU just needed to kill S.H.I.E.L.D. to make it happen. The action has never been better, from the aforementioned dogfights to the shootouts to the hand-to-hand combat, and there’s a legitimate sense of danger surrounding these characters. This series is about the world’s most powerful peacekeeping organization, but up to this point, it’s felt like S.H.I.E.L.D. has been holding back its punches. Hydra doesn’t hold back, and Ward’s betrayal is foreshadowed by the brutality of the fight sequence pitting him against a squadron of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. It’s a wonderfully staged scene that makes excellent use of a close quarters environment to heighten the chaos of the action, and establishes Ward as a major threat by showing just how deadly he is in the field.
One of the best things about the back half of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s first season is that it’s considerably fleshed out the relationships between characters, making them more than cardboard cut-outs that simply fulfill specific roles on a team of spies. We’re not talking about Breaking Bad or The Sopranos levels of character developments here (hell, we’re barely talking about Dollhouse levels), but at least the writers are making an effort to get the audience to care about this cast. May’s current situation gives Ming-Na Wen the opportunity to really flex her acting muscles, and the chemistry she’s cultivated with Clark Gregg over the course of this season adds a lot of weight to May and Coulson’s scenes. Chloe Bennet has really come into her role as Skye, and over the last few episodes, there’s been a sense that Skye actually belongs in this story rather than being a narrative stowaway.
This newest revelation about Ward goes a long way toward fixing his character, who will likely stick around for this show’s potential second season considering the amount of work being done to build up his romance with Skye. Ward’s connection to Hydra opens up a lot of story possibilities for him, just as S.H.I.E.L.D.’s connection to Hydra opens up a lot of story possibilities for this entire series. When the end of this episode cuts to the Hydra logo instead of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s, it feels like the start of something new and far more exciting than what came before.
- Patton Oswalt guest stars in next week’s episode as an agent working at S.H.I.E.L.D.’s infamous Fridge facility. That should be fun.
- The shot of the S.H.I.E.L.D. insignia on a window shattered by Hydra gunfire is a really nice way of boiling down this entire episode’s story into a single image. And speaking of episode images, Marvel has started releasing posters by comic book artists for each new episode leading up to the finale, beginning with tonight’s pin-up courtesy of cover artist extraordinaire and upcoming Elektra artist Mike Del Mundo.
- Considering how shifty this show was making Agent Triplett out to be over the last two episodes, it’s not that surprising that his S.O. is The Clairvoyant. Granted, it’s not surprising at all that Garrett is The Clairvoyant because I predicted that after his very first appearance.
- Deathlok is totally going to join Coulson’s team if this show gets a second season, playing the conflicted hero trying to make good for the horrible things he’s done against his will. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Coulson and Skye begin to develop some sort of superhuman ability thanks to the alien goo. Maybe in the season finale?
- “She’s a sleeper. I mean, the other kind of sleeper.”
- “You should go straight for the head. Hydra’s always talking about getting heads cut off, right?”
- Skye: “But it’s suicide.” Ward: “Not if I don’t die.”
- “I’m not an idiot. We live on the same plane, for god’s sake.”