An amazing episode and an epic point to end on for a show that’s rocketed in quality over the course of the year. As promised, huge things are happening this week and confirmation galore as questions are finally answered, only to spawn five hundred new ones. Did someone say SUPERPOWERS?
We pick up with our cliffhanger from last week, with HYDRA’s quinjets getting ready to turn around and take out the Bus. It’s only due to some quick thinking and “fancy flying” by May that we’ve narrowly avoided disaster, although you’d think those HYDRA pilots would have waited to see some debris or something, knowing that the Bus has a cloaking device and all. Oh well. But now it’s time to deliver the bad news on Skye to Coulson. The two teams meet up and lay out the new plan: blow up the tunnels, bury the city, and rescue Skye if possible.
The big topic of conversation among the team now is Mack. Could he still be alive? If so, how or why? And can he be rescued? The different reactions that each pair of characters have is pretty interesting. Coulson’s concern is primarily for the big picture, but he can’t help feeling some responsibility to do whatever they can. Fitz and Simmons try to balance the analytical reasoning with their alternately hopeful and pessimistic attitudes towards his survival. It’s hard to separate out the plausible theories from rationalizations, after all, especially when it’s the two most scientifically-minded characters who are affected the most strongly by this. Lastly we have Morse and Hunter, where eventually it shifts more to what Mack represents to their relationship–an obvious secret that’s being kept, as he walks in on her digging through the garage tools scattered across the Bus floor and pocketing a flash drive.
Ward has Skye at HYDRA’s Puerto Rico base, and insists that he’s not loyal to HYDRA once again. Instead, he’s “keeping his promise,” and that means it’s time for Skye to meet her Dad at last. It’s kind of an awkward reunion (armed guards tend to have that effect on the situation), but it’s portrayed very well, as Skye’s Dad is both flustered and nervous, yet still retaining that barely restrained rage that’s been under the surface of his character throughout the season. And we don’t have to call him “The Doctor” any more, as confusing as that was, as he drops his name here–Cal. As in Calvin. Calvin Zabo, better known to Marvel Comics fans as Mr. Hyde. He also hums the “Bicycle Built for Two” song that was in Skye’s dream last week. The big fan theory is basically confirmed here, but I’ll save it for now. The main point is that he really, really hates Whitehall and that he’s mostly concerned with seeing Skye’s “destiny” realized here. Also that what Whitehall did to Skye’s mom is way, way, way worse than anything we might have guessed.
Morse and Hunter go to meet up with her contact, who’s currently doing multiple odd things and then talking to two obvious HYDRA agents. There’s a bit of uncertainty until it becomes clear that he’s selling the HYDRA guys out to SHIELD, and not the other way around. Which is nice, really, and marks a good contrast to the betrayal we saw in “T.R.A.C.K.S.” back in season 1. Back on the Bus, the team’s getting ready to plant the explosives, taking some hazmat suits with them down into the tunnels so that they won’t get hijacked like Mack was. They’ll also be using mechanical timers, courtesy of Trip’s grandfather, which have to be set by hand and on a very tight schedule to boot. Coulson also mentions to Koenig the “Theta Protocol,” which seems like a Chekhov’s gun if ever there was one. I’m just throwing this out there in case it becomes important down the line. Plans change as they locate the HYDRA base tunneling straight downward, however, and Coulson and May will be on the assault team to rescue Skye.
Time to check in with the bad guys, as Whitehall gathers Raina, Ward, and Cal (because Skye’s Dad is a little long) together to question just what they’re all up to. He’s got it mostly figured out–that Skye is here because she’s likely able to handle the obelisk, that Ward’s not so much loyal to HYDRA as he is to Skye, and he’s almost got her connection to Cal figured out, too. After forcing her to touch the obelisk, Skye uses it as a weapon against HYDRA guards and her father whips out a scalpel and starts stabbing guys, but it’s not getting them very far. Cal gets knocked out and any last shots at talking it out for Ward are gone, as Raina takes possession of the obelisk and quickly disappears. A few minutes later and Skye and Ward are tied up, with Cal unconscious on the floor. Ward tries to talk Agent 33 into some kind of weakness, but no dice. And as Cal wakes up, Whitehall returns and he lunges, only to get zapped by the very same device that was planted on Raina way back at the end of episode 4. Before Whitehall can get too far into the threats, the noise of a Coulson team assault draws him away. Ward distracts the HYDRA grunt long enough for Cal to overpower the device and remove it, then kill the grunt. He’s off after Whitehall, leaving Ward and Skye tied up back there.
It’s up to Trip, Fitz, and Simmons to plant the bombs underground, and as they start running short on time it looks bad for Fitz as he takes off under the opinion that splitting up will get it done faster. But lucky for him, he doesn’t encounter a possessed Mack while down there, and all three of them are able to get back up with 10 whole minutes to spare. Coulson, May, Hunter, and Morse are able to slowly but surely make their way through the base. As Cal comes around the corner and starts advancing on Whitehall, the latter raises his gun–bang, and a dead Nazi. That’s what’s so great about Coulson, really. No time for monologuing or seconds chances. Just blast them and ask the questions later, just like with Garrett at the end of the season 1 finale. But is Whitehall really dead? Hmm…
Ward manages to free himself using the grunt’s knife, and then frees Skye, who immediately picks up the grunt’s gun and shoots Ward several times with it. And based on everything she’s seen him do, and knows about him, that’s a completely justified line of action. Ward’s left to bleed out in the hallway as Skye goes after her father. Her father who, by the way, is PISSED. He’s been waiting like 25 years for revenge, after all, and he’s not going to take denial at this point very well. He nearly beats Coulson to a pulp before Skye shows up with a gun, but she can’t bring herself to shoot him. Instead, she manages to make him leave, but he does so with a vague promise that after the change, she will come seek him out. And that’s when the last piece of the puzzle drops in: he calls her Daisy, thus 100% confirming Skye’s identity as the comic book character Quake, aka Daisy Johnson, daughter of Mr. Hyde. With Coulson so badly injured, she decides to take it upon herself to retrieve the obelisk, although he tries to talk her out of it. She goes downstairs and finds the drilling is complete, and Raina’s gone down. She has no choice but to follow.
Agent 33 finds Whitehall’s very still body and is at a loss. She returns to where Ward was being held, and he manages to talk her into saving him, which ought to make for a very interesting pairing.
Down in the tunnels, Skye chases Raina, and Coulson eventually follows, but it quickly becomes apparent to the bomb-placing team that they’re going to have to stop that explosion and since they’re mechanical, that means someone’s going to have to do it by hand. Trip races through the tunnels with a torch like he’s headed for the Olympic games, ripping out each timer with only seconds to spare. Raina runs into Mack, who leads her to the temple and goes motionless once they arrive. Skye finds him shortly afterward, and he doesn’t react at all. She continues on into the temple chamber with Raina, and the obelisk is triggered, floating onto the platform and opening to reveal a crystal. Coulson’s stuck outside dealing with Mack, while Trip is able to make it into the chamber just before the giant stone doors slide shut. The crystal begins to give off a mist, and Skye and Raina are both encased in a weird rocky substance, while the crystal fires off shrapnel that pierces Trip’s stomach. He begins to turn to stone, too, but as Raina’s and Skye’s rocky chips away and breaks, revealing their newly empowered selves (Well, Skye’s; we barely get a glimpse at Raina). Trip isn’t so lucky, however, and appears to have died just like how anyone else who touched the obelisk did. The tunnels start shaking in an allusion to Daisy’s powers, and Mack’s been freed from whatever possessed him.
The tag has another man picking up a glowing obelisk inside his home, speaking to someone on the phone before turning to face the camera–he has no eyes. A new inhuman? A network of them? We’ll have to wait until MARCH to find out. The fact that the wait seems so unbearable is all the proof you need, really, that this is a fabulous episode. It’s almost perfect; the hour just races by, and I was on the edge of my seat, literally shaking with anticipation throughout the last 15 minutes. SHIELD has come a long way in a year.
A lot of people are trying to say that Trip somehow survived, but I don’t buy it. What happened to him looks visually very similar to the other obelisk victims, whereas what happens to Raina and Skye, while still very stone-like, is a completely different animation. It covers their clothes, while his aren’t converted, which is exactly what happened to the waitress in episode 2. If that’s not proof enough, the way he crumbles ought to seal the deal. It doesn’t flake off like Skye’s or Raina’s. So he went from nearly dying in episode 8, to Mack appearing to die last episode, to Mack being saved and Trip dying in this one. Trip was a good character, even if he ended up on the edges of the spotlight for most of the season due to the actor’s other commitments. A real shame to lose him, but he was definitely the most likely to go. RIP, Trip!
I’ll be picking back up when the show returns, likely with a different format, but next week we still have Ascension to look forward to. In the mean time, here’s a small album of images from the transformation sequence: