Season 1 of Agents of SHIELD didn’t exactly end on a cliffhanger. There were plenty of plot threads left hanging, but all in all it wrapped up the main plot dealing with the Clairvoyant and gave the show a new direction moving forward–rebuild the agency and strike back against the newly emerged HYDRA. The show picks up with almost all of these, showing us what became of Fitz, Coulson, Ward, and wasting no time introducing a plethora of new characters.
The show starts up with our flashback to World War 2, specifically 1945 Austria. A couple of HYDRA Nazis are discussing an artifact they’ve found when Agent Carter and the Howling Commandos burst in and confiscate the object in question. We also see, briefly, that these HYDRA Nazis were in possession of a blue alien much like the one that Coulson found (likely the same one). Carter says that’s enough opening boxes, and the SSR, SHIELD’s precursor organization seen in Captain America, confiscate everything on site.
Jumping forward to the present, oddly enough, we start back with two new characters, Agent Isabelle Hartley (Lucy Lawless) and Lance Hunter (Nick Blood, decide for yourself whether character or actor has manlier name) trying to negotiate a deal for some intel on a box labeled 084 from a former SHIELD agent who’s sold out. The deal goes south fast as the Absorbing Man, a villain from the comics, appears and kills the former agent, forcing May, Skye, and Trip to come to their new teammates’ rescue. They get in touch with Coulson, who tells them to “go dark” and return to base. Definitely an exciting start, and this is all before the opening! We get a bit of a feel for the new characters from this–Hartley is experienced, no-nonsense Agent, but has a very different personality from May. She’s got a bit more as far as people skills go, at least. Hunter, on the other hand, gives the impression that they’ve known each other for a while and that this is just a job for him; but despite being “just a job,” it’s a job he wants to do right.
After the opening, we see General Talbot, anti-SHIELD jerk from last season, talking about destroying the organization on the news, while a few more new characters watch. I hope they introduce these guys better later on, because our brief glimpse of Idaho and Mac, whose names I only know from the press releases, doesn’t provide much insight. Koenig tells the team that Coulson wants to debrief them and that he’s actually here today, as he’s apparently been out recruiting a lot lately. His discussion with May here seems to be mostly for the viewer’s benefit, establishing just what they’ve been up to over the intervening months. The Bus has been out of commission, mostly because it’s all black and has a giant SHIELD logo on it, which tends to make it easy to identify. They’re working on a cloak for it, but no progress so far. It feels a lot like Coulson and May’s relationship has improved radically over where we last left it, which is good news for shippers and probably leaves the rest of us wishing we could have seen her earn that trust back. She shows Coulson the intel they acquired–and Coulson recognizes it as THE original 084, the same one Carter captured in the cold open. Imagine that.
Skye returns, having taken a few metal flakes that Absorbing Man dropped (they don’t know who he is yet) to the lab. And here, we finally see Fitz and Simmons, working in the lab. Fitz is a little short with her, trying hard to prove his usefulness. Simmons is very patient and concerned about him, as you’d expect. Almost a little too affectionate, but given the sacrifice he made for her, that’s understandable, too. Fitz is having trouble remembering words and forming sentences, but he’s determined to keep working in spite of the brain damage he suffered. May comes in and seeks an answer, but as she does the metal flake sort of… melts, and turns into a chunk of skin and blood. Gross. But, with that they’re able to find a DNA match and identify the man as Carl Creel, a superpowered individual who was supposedly killed by SHIELD. Garrett was the one who reported him as dead, however, which means he was almost certainly spared in exchange for working with HYDRA. And if HYDRA’s involved, we have an obvious source to interrogate further.
Skye and Trip are discussing the Koenigs, and how they’re completely identical and how creepy that is, while Skye studies the weird alien language that Garrett and Coulson both scribbled down in the previous season finale. Coulson shows up, and Skye assumes it’s about the writing, but no–he wants her to talk to Ward and try to get some info on Creel from him. Ward, for his part, has a scruffy beard and is being kept in a forcefield jail where he has nothing left he can hurt himself with (because he kept smashing his head into the walls, back when he was allowed to have real walls). He’s clearly gone a little cuckoo, but he’s still willing to tell Skye anything, although she is not the least bit interested in humoring him. Ward does tell her the truth, and gives them a frequency that HYDRA communicates on, revealing to them HYDRA communications going on in hundreds of places around the world. Whether they’re all bases or just retransmitters, it’s hard to say. But either way, they’ve apparently got a huge upper hand on our heroes.
In D.C., Talbot is in a park with his family, and a mystery phone rings. Coulson’s on the other end, telling Talbot that they want to protect him and his family. But Talbot’s a hardheaded jerk, so he ignores it and promptly gets attacked by Absorbing Man. There’s a neat reference here where Absorbing Man grabs a ball and chain from a post and uses it in the same manner as his traditional wrecking ball weapon from the comics. May saves Talbot while Skye takes out Absorbing Man with some kind of electrical weapon, but with Talbot’s troops closing in, they have to dash, capturing Talbot but leaving Absorbing Man in military custody. Once Talbot’s back at SHIELD’s base, Coulson tries to talk sense into him, but naturally to no avail. Talbot does get a pretty sweet crack in, though. Honeycomb Kill Room!
Fitz sees Koenig running the analysis while Coulson talks with Talbot and gets annoyed that no one trusts him to do things any more. Simmons tries to reassure him, but Fitz is struggling. He says that Simmons is pretty much the only one he feels normal around any more. It’s a touching scene, and it just gets worse with later revelations. I’m glad they’re taking this injury arc seriously; on a show like SHIELD, where they’re already making light of how often people come back from the dead, it’s important to see that some injuries still have real, possibly permanent consequences. It helps to reinforce the idea that these aren’t superheroes, but real people putting their lives on the line in a world full of people stronger than them. Excellent arc to tackle, provided it keeps going this way.
Coulson ends up having to use the night-night gun on Talbot, who they then leave stripped but with a communication device in the middle of nowhere. They steal his access code and use it to break into the military base where the Absorbing Man (and the 084) are being held. Coulson sends pretty much the whole team out, including the new guys. Meanwhile, incompetent military men are keeping Creel in a clear prison, so he absorbs the clear plastic, becomes transparent, and they open the gate and let him out. I think we all saw that coming the second he was in a clear cage. Really makes you wonder why they’re so common in fiction when they always suck, huh?
Once on base, they dig through all the confiscated SHIELD materials until finding the original 084’s box, getting it open just in time to get attacked by Absorbing Man again. Hartley tries to pick it up with her bare hand, but it immediately begins transforming her into… something. Alien symbols appear on it, and she can’t let go. Hunter arrives in time to scare off the Absorbing Man, but no one knows what to do to help her. Coulson does not give the order to retreat this time, with May insisting that there’s still something else on base they need. Hunter ignores Coulson’s orders and takes Hartley to the car, where Idaho is waiting, May, Trip, and Skye are left to fight off the military units, making their way to a field where the Quinjets are being held. They successfully steal one and cloak before they can get shot down. Since Fitz was proving incapable of finishing their own cloak, this was deemed a necessary maneuver. Worse still, Coulson reveals that Simmons left the team–the Simmons that Fitz has been talking to is a figment of his imagination, in what is probably the only way to make the poor kid’s suffering all the more tragic. Worse still, she left thinking that her absence would be better for him, when it’s clearly been the opposite. Very rough, and it makes their earlier scenes in the episode much more painful in retrospect.
Absorbing Man is more concerned with the 084, so he’s moved to intercept the car. Hartley insists that Hunter must cut her arm off before the 084’s effect can spread, and right as he starts to do it, Creel appears. He flips it in a manner very reminiscent of how the Winter Soldier flipped Fury’s car in Captain America 2, sending Hartley’s arm, still clutching the 084, flying, and presumably killing her in the process. It’s not clear whether Idaho is dead, too, but he’s supposed to be in the next episode, so I’m not so sure he is. Absorbing Man turns his arm into rubber before grabbing the 084 and leaves with it, while Hunter lies helplessly in the wreckage next to his dead friend(s). And for one last shocking revelation, we see that the man behind it all, the one ordering Creel around, is one of the Nazis from the 1945 scene, who hasn’t aged at all.
In my opinion this was a very strong season opener, with lots going on. It introduced a lot of new elements, it touched on almost all the outstanding plot threads from season 1, and it even managed to incorporate the Agent Carter cameo in in such a way that it added to the plot rather than disrupted it. Having watched this, I’m pretty optimistic about the rest of the season. I only hope we get to see more of Hartley, in some form or another; she was looking interesting and it’s a shame to kill her off so fast. But then again, having her death as a catalyst for Hunter’s development into an actual agent certainly makes sense.
Next week: “Heavy is the Head.”