Coulson and WardAnother amazing episode as the various factions we’ve been introduced to this season start running into each other, and our wild cards keep dropping into play to complicate it even further. The march towards the finale has indisputably begun, and we’ve still got the Avengers 2 in between!

When you start getting a lot of characters that need screen time, it can be hard to balance those needs. The episode this week does a pretty good job of that, although the “real SHIELD” and the members back at base are the ones getting the least. Everyone gets at least one scene: Ward and 33, Mack and Bobbi, Cal and Lincoln, etc.¬† It quickly becomes apparent when you’re watching this episode that there really are a lot of groups in play all of the sudden–the Inhumans, Coulson’s SHIELD, “real SHIELD,” HYDRA, and then we have people with their own agendas like Ward, Bakshi, and Cal who shift alignments between them frequently. It’s a testament to the writing so far that having all four of them active in one episode doesn’t feel overwhelming. Let’s look at each of them individually here.

The Inhumans, we see largely through the same characters we’ve been focusing on so far: Lincoln, Jiaying, and Gordon. We do see now that they seem to place less value on the lives of regular humans, as Jiaying tries to get rid of Cal without concern for the inevitable rampage he’ll go on. They do allow Skye to leave with him and “let him down easy,” as it were, but she’s being followed by Lincoln the whole time and Gordon sweeps her away without concern for the others in the building (even Lincoln, apparently) which really complicates the whole situation. It’s safe to say, at this stage, that the Inhumans care only about the well being of their society and other Inhumans. Ordinarily, that’d mean their isolation in Afterlife handles everything, but with HYDRA out hunting for powered individuals, and now targeting Gordon specifically (boy, wouldn’t that be a terrifying power in their hands), it’s forcing their involvement to greater levels in the story ahead.

Was Bakshi ever really brainwashed at all?

Was Bakshi ever really brainwashed at all?

HYDRA, who we haven’t seen much of lately, is back, as part of the tie-in to Avengers 2. Dr. List in particular will be featured in the movie, and it seems he’s one of the last few high ranking members following the execution of Coulson’s plot.¬†Will this consolidation of power within HYDRA play into the film? HYDRA’s fascination with superpowered individuals stretches back to the first Captain America, was seen with Cap 2‘s post-credits sequence, and is coming to a head now. For a group that is so adamant about disavowing their connection to the Nazis, they still seem to be awfully concerned with creating perfect humans. And now that they have Lincoln, with his abilities, and a trail of bodies of previous Inhuman captives behind them. Whether he ends up grateful to SHIELD for saving him and being more open to them, or taking the whole experience as evidence that all unpowered humans are dangerous remains to be seen. And Bakshi–was that brainwashing Ward tried to pull even successful? It’s starting to look like it wasn’t.

“Real SHIELD,” on the other hand, seems to be holding steady. There’s still little trust for Coulson and company, and they even seem to be pulling May (who’s mostly been sidelined after headlining last week’s episode) closer to their side. Simmons is stunned by that, naturally. Bobbi is more understanding than Mack, and it’s becoming clear that she feels more like the infighting is a waste of resources. Then again, they spy through Deathlok’s eyes and see Coulson hanging around with known HYDRA agent Grant Ward. That can’t be good for the trust, after all, and May and Simmons are both at the top of the list (well, after Fitz) when it comes to people with reason to hate him. With Coulson in their custody at the end of the episode, there’s the inevitable offer to team up for the greater good here–although Coulson will undoubtedly have a lot of explaining to do first. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll be more understanding towards Coulson and his team after working together.

May and Simmons' trust in Coulson is probably a little shaken.

May and Simmons’ trust in Coulson is probably a little shaken.

Which brings us to Coulson’s team. I’ve seen people speculating about where they’ll end up after this season, be it as a part of “real SHIELD” or taking over “real SHIELD” or just having the two coexisting independently. I don’t think there’s any chance that the two groups will merge, as their approaches towards powered individuals are too radically different and neither side will be willing to compromise on that point. Coulson wants his stuff back, of course, and we know he was the rightfully appointed successor to Fury, but he’s not going to let this stand in the way of defeating the actual bad guys. Is there a reason why, I wonder? Something a little more personal–perhaps an aspect of the Papa Coulson personality that we’ve seen emerge over the course of the season, in regards to protecting Skye. He knows that List targets powered people and that they were particularly targeting Gordon, who just left with Skye right in front of his eyes. His concern for Skye’s safety takes #1, even if that means allowing himself to be captured by the usurpers of “real SHIELD.”

It looked like the start of a pretty cool fight.

It looked like the start of a pretty cool fight.

With our wildcards, it’s a toss-up. Cal wants to protect Skye, as does the Inhumans and Coulson’s team, but the Inhumans hate Cal and Cal hates Coulson, so who knows if those things will be set aside for Skye’s well being or not. We don’t even know what Ward and 33 want, or if Bakshi is still operating under their orders or if he’s broken off on his own. That’s all out there, ready to change the direction things are heading in at any time. Should make for an interesting turn in next week’s episode, “The Dirty Half-Dozen.”

This was a great episode, IMO, where the season’s storylines are starting to pay off. So much was going on, it more than made up for setting things aside last week for the sake of flashbacks. Everyone’s getting something to do, and we’re seeing characters encounter each other, like Lincoln and Deathlok, who we’d never have guessed would fight a few weeks ago. The march to the end continues on!