[This is a review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2, Episode 5 – There Will Be SPOILERS!!]
With Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. taking a break from its momentum building in episode 4, swapping tension and mystery for a classic caper, those who have stuck with the show from season 1 (or those who have been brought back into the fold with a much stronger start in season 2) will be happy to see this week’s episode offer some long-awaited answers – raising even more in the process, but establishing a team that seems poised to turn the tables in their favor.
In “A Hen in the Wolfhouse,” written by Brent Fletcher (Angel, Spartacus: War of the Damned), Raina (Ruth Negga) faces the task of recovering the deadly Obelisk to convince Daniel Whitehall (Reed Diamond) and his HYDRA colleagues to let her keep on living; but to do that, she’ll need to pay a visit to Skye’s father (Kyle MacLachlan). When her plan goes awry, she has no choice but to blackmail Coulson (Clark Gregg) into offering assistance, with his refusal leading her to blow Simmons’ (Elizabeth Henstridge) cover and fall victim to HYDRA security officer Bobbi Morse (Adrianne Palicki).
Although the previous episode offered a much needed break from the building tension of HYDRA’s growing strength, Whitehall’s evil plans, and Coulson’ slow spiral into madness(?) thanks to the alien material pumping through his veins, the writers waste almost no time in returning to the same high stakes world of cloak and dagger spycraft – and begin providing answers just as quickly.
After much of the mystery surrounding Skye’s (Chloe Bennet) parentage seemed manipulative in season 1 (we found her mother – but it’s her father who holds the real answers), this episode not only confirms that her father is closely connected to Raina, actively seeking Skye, and in possession of the Obelisk, but it does so without the ham-fisted musical swells or spotlight that some might have expected. Another sign that the writers are simply more confident in their story and assembled cast.
The subtlety granted by that confidence also means a chance to let Reed Diamond add some texture to the ‘big bad,’ Daniel Whitehall. Previously portrayed as a cookie-cutter villain likely most at home in a blood-smeared labcoat, his brief exchange with Simmons offers the chance to convey at least a slightly more professional air; a feature greatly needed if he is to become this season’s central villain.
But it is the ultimatum surrounding Simmons’ fate that is the biggest overall payoff. The return of Raina may remind viewers of some of the weaker points of the previous season. But even so, her showdown with Coulson succeeds in bringing several long-simmering subplots to a head. Skye’s unknown father is suddenly within her grasp, Simmons’ life hangs in the balance (along with Raina’s), and yet another hint at just what Coulson may be willing to sacrifice to live to fight another day is dropped.
Just how strongly that tension is executed is matched by the solution: not a standoff, a shootout or a sacrifice, but the introduction of Bobbi Morse a.k.a. Mockingbird.
The arrival of Adrianne Palicki’s undercover S.H.I.E.L.D. agent is sure to be an unexpected twist for those who aren’t versed in Marvel Comics history, and even if her ‘witty’ attitude isn’t exactly inspired (with a slow-mo hair flip seeming odd in an otherwise tense turn of events), casting Morse as created in the image of Black Widow is an idea plenty will get behind. Especially once she rejoins the rest of Coulson’s team, and her history with Mack, Trip, and Hunter promises a camaraderie that Coulson’s bruised and broken family doesn’t seem capable of.
Ending yet another episode with a potentially series-altering revelation suggests the writers really have found a story that’s capable of supporting its own weight; with the addition of another likable team member, a reunion of Fitz and Simmons (with HYDRA research to mine), and a new purpose for Skye to serve in the bigger picture, questions remain.
But AoS continues to show that audiences will wait to see them answered, as long as the show can offer a few thrills while paying off storylines that had seemed stagnant.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns next Tuesday with “A Fractured House” @9pm on ABC. You can check out a preview of next week’s episode below:
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