Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2, Episode 14, "Love in the Time of Hydra" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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Tonight’s episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “Love in the Time of Hydra” (2x14), gave us our first look at what Ward and Agent 33 have been doing since the midseason finale left him with a pair of gunshot wounds and her listless without a leader.  In addition, we received further information about the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.”  Coulson also brought Skye to a cabin in the middle of the woods which served as Fury’s “safe house” for gifted individuals.

The episode had a lot going on, as just about every main character played a key role, along with important secondary characters like Talbot, Ward, Agent 33—even Bakshi—and then they introduced a number of entirely new characters as part of the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” reveal.  On the first watching, the episode is extremely busy.  On the second watching, however, the major themes come out and it is much easier to see how the episode coheres as a single narrative.  If you were confused by it on the first viewing, I highly recommend viewing it again and looking for how the different subplots come together around a couple of related themes.

The two themes of the episode—characters at different points on the journey to find themselves again and organizations dealing with duplicitous members within their ranks—dovetail each other very nicely, centering most especially around Ward and Agent 33.  The two of them open the episode by abducting a technician who can repair Agent 33’s face mask.  The repaired mask gives her the ability to capture and store up to three different faces, though it cannot switch between voices, meaning that she spends nearly the entire episode using May’s voice.  However, repairing the mask doesn’t help Agent 33 find herself; instead she starts experimenting with different faces before attempting to seduce Ward while “wearing” Skye’s face (Note:  Am I the only one still trying to figure out where she got a picture of Skye to replicate her face?  Just me?).  He doesn’t appreciate it, instead telling her that she needs to figure out who she is.  I think at this point we can officially put the final nail in the “SkyWard” coffin.  Sorry, guys.

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As a way to rediscover who she is, Agent 33 and Ward infiltrate the Air Force base where Bakshi is imprisoned.  33 uses her mask to pose as Talbot’s wife as well as a couple of different Air Force personnel (1 of whom is a man—freaky) to get to Bakshi and break him out of prison.  This is where the second theme comes into play as General Talbot goes on a witch hunt to find the impersonator.  He quickly puts the base on lockdown before locking all the female personnel on base into a room and interrogating them.  The glare he gave them had me half expecting him to start waterboarding someone!  He went into such a rage that he even forced his actual wife onto the floor at the end of a gun barrel before realizing his mistake.  That may have been the saddest moment of the episode, though his later conversation with Coulson gave it some humor.

When Agent 33 and Ward return to their hotel room with Bakshi, the episode ends with them attempting to brainwash him.  We’re left speculating as to why.  However, the episode does end on a happy note because Agent 33 finally deactivated the mask, allowing Ward to see her real face and telling him her real name—she’s finally discovered who she really is.  Unfortunately, she’s about the only one in the episode who really manages to find herself.

We also see that first theme—a character on a journey to find herself—at work in Skye.  Skye is not nearly as far along on that journey as Agent 33 was; she is still lost, terrified of her powers, willing to do almost anything to keep them bottled up inside.  This subplot began with Fitz and Simmons having a conversation about Skye and comparing her to Captain America and the Hulk.  When Simmons starts talking about the Hulk—and how Bruce Banner would almost certainly want to “cure” himself of the Hulk—Skye gets anxious and begins causing the plane to shake.  As a way to help Skye take control of her powers, Coulson takes her to a cabin in the woods which Fury used (uses?) as a safe house for “gifted” people like Skye.

Coulson then leaves Skye at the cabin for the rest of the episode, along with a set of “gauntlets” that Simmons had designed.  These gauntlets—unlike their comic book counterpart—are not designed to amplify her powers but rather to diminish them—though there are apparently some unwanted side effects (which Coulson of course didn’t explain).  Long story short, Skye is just as lost and confused as ever, still trying to repress her powers, and with no clear idea of who she is now.

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Ironically, Coulson’s story about the red 1962 Chevy Corvette that he rebuilt with his father may be the key to Skye rediscovering herself.  While in the quinjet, Coulson tells Skye about how he helped his father rebuild a red Corvette, and that by rebuilding it he gained a new appreciation for it.  It now has the ability to fly (Coulson never explains when it was given flight capability, but I think it was something he added), but “it’s still that red ‘62 Corvette at heart.”  No one would ever call the ability to fly a problem that needs fixing; in fact, now that it has that capability, if it could not fly then there would be a problem.  In the same way, now that Skye has her earthquake powers, she needs to embrace them.  Control them, yes, but not to get rid of them.  For her to get rid of her powers would be like Coulson taking out the repulsors on Lola.  Also, just as Lola remains a red ‘62 Corvette, Skye remains the same person.  She just has something more to her.  Skye is getting very close to that breakthrough, but I think she’s going to need someone to actually spell it out for her before she will get there.

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As part of the Skye subplot, we also see Simmons continuing with her own identity crisis.  Last season (up until the midseason finale of season 2) she was extremely confident and sure of herself; now she is nearly as lost as Skye.  She continues talking about trying to “cure” or “fix” Skye as though that is the only thing that matters.  Her doubts and fears are starting to poison all of her relationships, but especially with Skye and Fitz.  As of now she still isn’t “GenocidalSimmons,” but sooner or later I think she’s going to reach a breaking point and have to either come back or go all the way there.

The fourth woman suffering from something of an identity crisis in the episode is Bobbi.  I don’t think that she’s suffering from the same level of identity crisis as Skye or Agent 33, but it seems clear from her interactions with Gonzalez (the head of the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.”) and Hunter that she still has feelings for Hunter and doesn’t want this double-cross to ruin their relationship.  I don’t know whether we can extend this to include doubts about the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” or about her opinion of Coulson, but it looked to me like there was more going on in Bobbi’s mind than she was letting on.  However, this subplot—as well as the Simmons moments—really felt like it was too much for the episode.  It worked thematically with Skye and Agent 33, but I felt like either the Bobbi/Hunter subplot or the Skye/Coulson subplot should have been moved to a different episode to make more space for the “meat” of the episode:  Ward and Agent 33.

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The fourth subplot of the episode centered on Mack, and specifically on Coulson’s and May’s suspicions of him.  This mirrored General Talbot’s hunt for the mole on his base very nicely.  Where Talbot knew there was a mole but didn’t know who, Coulson and May knew there was something up with Mack, but didn’t know what.  Their suspicion of Mack helps to set up what looks to be the main plot for next week’s episode:  the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” will start moving against Coulson’s team, while Coulson and May ferret out the moles within their midst.

Looking forward, I am curious to see what Skye will decide regarding her “gauntlets,” as well as how she will make use of her time at the cabin.  Will we see her starting to experiment and make better use of her powers in next week’s episode?  The teaser for next week’s episode certainly looked like they left her very few options other than “Quaking out” to escape from the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.”  I also want to see how Hunter’s escape will play out and affect Bobbi’s mission to take down Coulson.  Is Bobbi completely working for the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.,” or is she playing them for Coulson?  I really hope it’s the latter, but either way it’s making for an interesting plotline!

Overall, though on the first watching this episode felt like it had too much going on, watching it again helped make things fit together.  I enjoyed this episode, though not as much as the previous episodes this half-season.  It seemed like this was one of those episodes that has to have a lot going on just so they can get all of the pieces in place for the next couple of episodes when all the action starts going down.

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On Friday I will have another post with my reactions to the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” reveal from this episode.  However, before that I will be posting the first in a mini-series of articles looking forward to the release of Daredevil on April 10.  Tomorrow (Thursday) is going to be a very brief overview of the different characters they are bringing to Netflix as well as the Defenders team.  If you want to get an email when I publish these articles—and whenever I publish a new article—go to the top of the page and enter your email address in the box labeled “Subscribe to Mostly MCU Reviews” and click “Submit.”

What did you think of “Love in the Time of Hydra?”  Was there one plot from this episode that you really enjoyed and want to see more of?  Let me know in the comments!

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