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Warning: Spoilers for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode “One of Us” (2x13)
So this week’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode, “Love in the Time of Hydra,” looks like it will shed even more light on the mystery surrounding Bobbi and Mack. Ever since the first half of this season there’s been something up between them. They hinted a couple times at having an agenda beyond pure loyalty to Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D.—and they even hinted that Agent Hartley was involved in that plot somehow (could this be how Lucy Lawless will reappear in “One Door Closes”?). That hidden agenda was there under the surface from the beginning of the season, but it really started coming to the forefront after Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returned from its midseason break. In “Aftershocks” (2x11), Bobbi and Mack had an in-depth conversation about their mission, and Hunter confronted Bobbi about it while they were in the SUV waiting for Bakshi to make his move. Then at the end of the episode Mack scanned Coulson’s office to locate Fury’s “toolbox,” which they are going to try to steal. In “Who You Really Are” (2x12), it all started coming to a head: Bobbi and Mack had a heated discussion about bringing Hunter into the fold and about “pulling the trigger” on something. When they were facing off against a Kree soldier and an Asgardian warrior, Bobbi made a comment about “calling in some real backup.” The episode concluded with Hunter finally confronting Mack, demanding to know, “who is ‘backup’?” Mack reacted by putting Hunter in a sleeper hold. As soon as that happened, it was only a matter of time before we would learn what those two were doing.
And we did learn at the end of “One of Us” (2x13): They work for “S.H.I.E.L.D.… the real S.H.I.E.L.D.” Wait… what??? What is this new S.H.I.E.L.D. and what does it mean for Coulson’s S.H.I.E.L.D.? Let’s run through some of the possibilities.
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They could be working for one of the “Good Guys”
The “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” might be working for Captain America, Hawkeye, Maria Hill, the Avengers, or one of the other “good guys” that we’ve met. Alternatively, they could be a new espionage organization within the Marvel Universe—something like the West Coast Avengers, Secret Avengers, or Secret Warriors, perhaps? The MCU version of S.W.O.R.D. (S.H.I.E.L.D.’s space arm from the comics) could be another possibility, especially after the comment about “backup” against the alien Kree.
Of those options, the one that sticks out to me is actually Hawkeye. Hawkeye is set to play a larger role in The Avengers: Age of Ultron after being relegated to the background for virtually all of Phases 1 and 2; however, Clark Gregg and Jeremy Renner have both dropped hints the Hawkeye could be making a cameo appearance on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. What better way to tie in with Age of Ultron and give Hawkeye another appearance in Phase Two than by connecting him to this conspiracy with Mockingbird and Mack? He could be one of the backers of the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” because he is suspicious of the new S.H.I.E.L.D. and looking to test it and determine if it is legitimate or a Hydra front.
What makes this option so appealing (personally) is that I just don’t want to hate Mockingbird or Mack—they’re both good, likeable characters. After all, Mockingbird is an Avenger in the comic books—one who has played both sides of the fence at times but who has ultimately wound up on the side of Good. From a story perspective, we have already seen Mockingbird betray her supposed allies once; for her to do it again would feel like rehashing “A Hen in the Wolf House” (2x06), when Mockingbird outed herself as an undercover S.H.I.E.L.D. agent backing up Simmons.
However, I’m not entirely convinced by this. After all, why would any of the “good guys” be planting moles within S.H.I.E.L.D. when they could just as easily have Tony Stark’s new assistant Maria Hill call up her old buddy Coulson to get the scoop? Hill herself could be doing it because she doesn’t know Fury appointed Coulson as the new S.H.I.E.L.D. Director, but the same issue comes up.
Related to this is the next option:
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They could be working for Fury
The “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” could be a second organization which Fury started as an even more secretive version of S.H.I.E.L.D., one which will operate even more in the shadows than Coulson’s S.H.I.E.L.D. does. He may even have given this second S.H.I.E.L.D. a different scope and mission than Coulson.
What makes this option appealing is that we know Fury doesn’t like to lay all his cards on the table unless he has to. After watching S.H.I.E.L.D. fall, it seems reasonable that he would form multiple groups to increase the chances that one would emerge free of Hydra influence. Also, like the previous option, this gives the added benefit of keeping Mack and Bobbi as heroes.
However, there are two problems with this option. First, Mack and Bobbi are very interested in stealing Fury’s “toolbox” from Coulson’s office. If Fury actually established this second S.H.I.E.L.D., wouldn’t he have given its Director his own “toolbox”? And if the Director needed something from Coulson’s version, it should be a simple matter of just calling up Fury and having him ask Coulson for the information. Second, it seems pretty clear that Coulson does not know about this “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.,” and that Bobbi is keeping it a secret from him. If both S.H.I.E.L.D.s were started at Fury’s direction—and Fury placed people he trusts absolutely in charge of each—I would expect either the Directors of each (at a minimum) to be aware of the other’s existence, or for no one in either organization to be aware of the other’s existence. That the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” knows about Coulson, but Coulson doesn’t know about the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” (even though all the evidence suggests that Fury trusts Coulson completely) makes me doubt that Fury has anything to do with the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.”
Somewhat connected to the previous two options is the third one:
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They could be another S.H.I.E.L.D. group which emerged from the rubble of the original S.H.I.E.L.D.
In “Turn, Turn, Turn” (1x17), Agents Hand and Coulson talked about teaming up to keep S.H.I.E.L.D. together as the two of them were possibly the highest-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. agents left who were not traitors or dead. Before Ward killed Hand and freed Garrett, the Hand and Coulson were contacting S.H.I.E.L.D. bases and agents around the world to establish which ones remained under S.H.I.E.L.D. control, building themselves a network. In “Providence” (1x18), the next episode, Colonel Talbot starts sending in Special Forces troops to occupy S.H.I.E.L.D. bases, putting a quick end to Coulson’s efforts to keep S.H.I.E.L.D. going. Instead, Fury personally instructed Coulson to rebuild S.H.I.E.L.D. from the ground up in “Beginning of the End” (1x22).
However, what is most important now is Coulson and Hand’s response to the Hydra uprising, which may have been mirrored by other high-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who grabbed a piece of the S.H.I.E.L.D. pie in the confusion. They may have done this because of a sense of loyalty to S.H.I.E.L.D.—trying to keep as much together as they could—or because they saw an opportunity for glory for themselves. Either way, some of these groups may have coalesced to create a larger organization—the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” for which Bobbi and Mack work.
This may be the most likely option of the three I’ve listed so far because it accounts for the placing of double agents within S.H.I.E.L.D. by the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” and for Coulson being unaware of the so-called “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” It could also make for an interesting conflict as the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” has to reconcile itself with the fact that it does not have the same legitimacy as Coulson’s S.H.I.E.L.D.: Fury “commissioned” Coulson; he didn’t “commission” the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” Would this make a difference to them the way it would to Coulson? If all of this is the case, then which one really is the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.”?
I can’t think of any issues with this option off the top of my head. However, for Mack to be calling this new group the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.,” he has to have a reason for considering this one to be more legitimate than Coulson’s S.H.I.E.L.D. And if that does not come from either Fury or another former Agent with a higher rank than Coulson (a possibility) being in charge, then where would it come from?
The final two options seem highly unlikely, but I’ll still offer them for debate:
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They could be working for the “Bad Guys”
The “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” could be an organization which is trying to gather intelligence on S.H.I.E.L.D. before destroying it. Possible organizations include Hydra, Leviathan, or AIM (less likely after Iron Man 3, but not impossible). Given that Hydra has already masqueraded as S.H.I.E.L.D. once, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that one of the Hydra Heads could have rebranded his group as “S.H.I.E.L.D.… the real S.H.I.E.L.D.” to trick loyal S.H.I.E.L.D. agents into once again working for Hydra without realizing it. And the same holds true for any other evil organization.
Of the three organizations mentioned, the most intriguing possibility is Leviathan because that creates a built-in crossover with the Agent Carter TV series. It would answer a lot of unanswered questions from Agent Carter about Leviathan: was Leviathan just Doctor Fennhoff, or was he just a small part of a larger organization?
However, this possibility doesn’t really convince me. Looking at Bobbi’s conversation with Mack in “Who You Really Are,” it’s seems apparent to me that Bobbi was affected by having her “friends” point their guns at her in the Hydra uprising. I just don’t see her knowingly doing the same thing to her friends so soon thereafter.
Now for an option that comes straight out of left field:
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The “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” is being run by… SKRULLS!!!!!! (Dun Dun Duuuun)
In the comics Mockingbird was replaced by a Skrull for a while, a plot which the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes animated series played with when its version of Mockingbird was replaced by the Skrull Queen. And there was a Kree soldier in “Who You Really Are,” so…
But for some reason I’m not really buying it. Secret Invasion would just be too big to be confined to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Avengers: Age of Ultron already has enough villains with Strucker, Ultron, (and Klaw) without adding Skrulls to the mix. Oh, and Age of Ultron is already responsible for laying the seeds of Captain America: Civil War, which is more than enough without trying to plant seeds for Secret Invasion as well! And since this whole subplot seems to be coming to a head by the end of the month, I just don’t see them introducing the Skrulls and then not bringing them into the movies until next year or later. They could certainly use the Skrulls in Phase 4 or 5, but if that’s the case then I don’t see them coming to the surface before Phase 3 has even started.
So there are five different possibilities. Of the five, I think the ones I buy the most are the first—Bobbi and Mack are working with Hawkeye—and third—the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” is another independent S.H.I.E.L.D. splinter group which emerged from the wreckage following the Hydra uprising. Good thing we don’t have long to wait before finding out what’s really going on here!
So what do you think the story behind the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” is? Are they working for Fury? For the Avengers? Are they really Hydra in disguise? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.