In this week’s return episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., "T.R.A.C.K.S.," written by former Chuck writers Lauren LeFranc & Rafe Judkins, Coulson and the team jump aboard a mysterious train transporting an unknown package for Ian Quinn. When their covers are blown, the team is separated and under attack by agents with “night-night” weapons, which leads to Coulson and Ward being left on the side of the tracks. The package is revealed and Deathlok is officially born, while Skye finds out what happens when Mickey Mouse gets angry.
LeFranc and Judkins wrote previous series highlight, “The Hub,” so it’s no surprise that this week’s episode is of similar quality. Even without the enticing mystery of the inner-workings of S.H.I.E.L.D., as with their last episode, the writing duo were able to take Coulson and the team on a surprisingly fun adventure presented in many parts, from different points of view. However, when it comes to tying that story, or its characters, to established narrative-arcs, the series’ flaws shine brightly through, as even the best story is going to be brought down by its weakest parts (such as Ward and May’s relationship).
Even so, a renewed and reenergized Coulson returned along with the show, and at more than one point highlighted the reason why fans first fell in love with him. Though his role may have been limited in scope (and action), there’s no denying the fact that a much stronger, more original version of Coulson has finally found its way to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Yes, it appears Phil Coulson has returned, and when the series most needs him to, no less – and even the holo-table scene between him and Ward was thoroughly enjoyable, even if a bit long. That scene, if anything, completely sums up the series: a small, fun idea stretched to its limits, to the point of failure, by those who should know better.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has grown, though, into an episodic life where the series can survive – at least with LeFranc and Judkins leading the adventures (until we’ve seen otherwise) – but no matter how fun the adventure can be, or how unique the presentation, the lack of compelling through-storylines (Skye’s parents) will always bring whatever fun was being had to a grinding halt. For instance, take Ward finding May’s goggles on the ground after he and Coulson jumped from the train. Ward was overly-upset; Coulson didn’t care. It’s hard to deny that there’s a problem when characters aren’t even going along with the ridiculous love story which, even now, still doesn’t make much sense. The problem isn’t that it exists; it’s that we continue to visit it – and everyone’s performance is held back when forced to touch such meaningless arcs.
Skye died - at least for a few moments - and the series felt freed when she did. Mistakes were made and there were consequences for what happened, which helped to elevate Quinn to more than “the husband on Ghost Whisperer.” More importantly, Coulson failed. That was all taken away, however, when a hyperbaric chamber is used in place of “Tahiti”, and now Syke possibly has a chance of almost certainly surviving. Her death scene was one of the best in the entire series, and it’s really the only time viewers were able to actually care about her.
The Clairvoyant knows all and is on the loose; Ian Quinn follows the Clairvoyant and is on the loose; Rana follows the Clairvoyant and is on the loose; and Deathlok follows the Clairvoyant and is on the loose. Now that everyone is following one person, for whatever reason, it’ll be interesting to see how Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. makes use of its most powerful mystery. This, it seems, may be what ultimately decides its future.
Agents of Shield teams up with Bill Paxton on Tuesday, March 4th @8pm on ABC. You can check out a preview of next week’s episode below: