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“The Bridge” (1x10) is when Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. really first began hitting its stride. It is the first episode to bring back Mike Peterson as a superhuman fighting on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s side. It is the first episode to start propelling the Centipede/Hydra plot forward. And it is the first episode to being with a “Previously on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” segment, so the difference is felt from the first moment.
Warning: All these Retro-Reviews contain spoilers for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seasons 1 and 2.
The episode begins with a trio of soldiers breaking through the roof of a prison and breaking out Eddison Po, the man that Raina went to visit at the end of “Girl in the Flower Dress” (1x05). The soldiers smash their way through the roof before knocking out the guards, sending them crashing across the room with each blow. When one’s sleeve gets bunched up, a Centipede becomes visible on his arm. The three soldiers escape with Po, and Coulson’s team is called in to track Po down, recapture him, and find out what they can about Centipede. However, they are not sent in alone; HQ sends them super-powered backup in the form of Mike Peterson, who has become a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent since his introduction in the “Pilot.” Mike actually plays a major role in this episode (which should have been our first warning that things were going to go poorly for him… this is a Whedon show after all!).
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Mike is introduced at a S.H.I.E.L.D. training facility where he is training by pushing a bulldozer across the field. Coulson brings him back to the Bus, where Fitz, Simmons, and Skye are all excited to work with him again, while Ward and May are not as happy with the arrangement. It turns out that Ward shot him with the Night-Night Gun at the moment before he would have exploded, freezing him and allowing his body the opportunity to absorb the Extremis. As a result, he has retained his abilities without regular injections of the serum—a problem which Centipede has been dealing with in its own soldiers. However, the tradeoff is that Mike’s metabolism is extremely elevated and when he exerts himself he needs a few days to recover. The Centipede is so intricately attached that it cannot be removed without killing him. In one of the funnier pieces of foreshadowing in the episode, Mike thanks Fitz and Simmons for saving his life and comments that the shot didn’t even leave a scar—too bad, considering the nice collection of them he has in his next appearance. Fitz designs a suit for Mike which offers him some protection and also monitors his vital signs—it actually looks pretty good, though not nearly as impressive as his later suits. Mike assists the team in attacking a Centipede base, but when the team arrives they discover it to be a trap, as the Centipede equipment and scientists are gone and the soldiers are there. Though Centipede nearly defeats them, Mike battles back and singlehandedly disables one of them, causing the others to retreat. However, the defeated soldier is killed by Centipede when his eye explodes, revealing Centipede to be the same organization which was controlling Akela Amador (“Eye Spy,” 1x04).
|I mean, "Hail, Centipede!" Yeah... that's totally what I mean...Image Courtesy www.facebook.com/AgentsofShield|
In one of the biggest pieces of foreshadowing in the episode, Coulson realizes that “Their technology keeps advancing at a disturbingly rapid pace. They must have endless manpower, resources,” and money. I suppose we should have recognized this for what it was: a hint that Centipede is going to be much bigger than a bunch of scientists who threw super stuff into a blender. If we’d been thinking, we would have realized that there are only so many organizations in the Marvel universe which can be described as having “endless manpower, resources.” One of those would be the Advanced Idea Mechanics (seen in Iron Man 3, though they were presumably destroyed). Another would be Leviathan, to which we were introduced in Agent Carter season 1. However, the third would be Hydra—and in fact Centipede did turn out to be a cover for a Hydra branch. While they were talking about the eye implants, Mike also asked Coulson about Akela Amador, the last person they’d encountered with one. It was an interesting piece of foreshadowing when Coulson described Amador as “a good agent who was forced to do bad things,” considering that Mike finds himself in that exact position only a few weeks later. It is not a coincidence that Centipede/Hydra came so sharply into focus at the same time that Mike Peterson reappeared on the show. Mike’s story and Hydra’s are tied extremely closely together—they are the hero and villain whose origin stories were being told by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1 [http://mcureviewer.blogspot.com/2015/06/origin-stories-in-agents-of-shield-part.html].
Mike’s relationship with his son is also a central focus of this episode. Coulson asks why Mike has not seen Ace since Union Station, when he attacked S.H.I.E.L.D., the police, and a bunch of innocent civilians. His reply is that he cannot bear to face his son again after becoming a “monster” in front of him at Union Station. However, Coulson tells him that he needs to think about Ace and his needs—and Ace needs his father. Coulson urges him to think about Ace before making a decision to devote himself fully to S.H.I.E.L.D. and leave Ace behind. Unfortunately, it is Mike’s decision to call Ace that gets them into trouble, as Raina and Po have realized that Mike is alive and in possession of his abilities, and that Mike “has” the one thing that their organization is missing for “Stage Three,” whatever that happens to be. Raina kidnaps Ace and tells Mike that Centipede will kill Ace if Mike does not do what they say. Because he wants to protect his son, Mike arranges for Coulson’s team to make an exchange: Mike for Ace. Coulson escorts Mike to the meeting, where he is blindsided with the revelation that Centipede wants him instead of Mike. Coulson agrees to the terms, despite Mike’s fervent desire to do it some other way, and Mike brings Ace to Skye. However, at the last moment Mike runs back onto the bridge to rescue Coulson, and the bridge explodes. Centipede escapes with Coulson, but Mike is apparently killed by the explosion. I really like the level of intrigue that they started building into the show with this episode. There is more deception and betrayal in this episode than I recall from the previous ones—and hitting much closer to home—and it only increases from here.
Skye’s search for her parents forms a minor secondary plot in this episode as she starts looking through paper files to try to figure out the agent who dropped her off at the orphanage. However, neither Coulson nor May is overly willing to help her, because both of them suspect that whatever secret S.H.I.E.L.D. was trying to hide by redacting the file—and whatever led to the agent’s death—will not be pleasant for Skye to find out. This leads May to snap at her that she needs to decide why she is with S.H.I.E.L.D. because “We have a mission, and it’s not to find your parents.” No… that’s actually the mission next year!
May and Ward’s relationship also becomes an issue when Ward chooses to take a punch meant for May, and she chews him out afterward, thinking that he was allowing his feelings to get in the way of the mission. Ward tells her that the decision “was tactical, not personal” because she would be better able to handle the Centipede soldiers than Ward. However, as we find out later, “It was tactical, not personal” could better describe their entire relationship: Ward chose to sleep with May as a way to nullify her as a threat to his overall mission of spying on the team and reporting back to Garrett. By this point in the season I’m sure that the showrunners already had the endgame worked out, so I would guess that this was an intentional hint that the writers worked in.
At this point in the season—the halfway mark in the sense that this is the midseason finale—the biggest flaw in the season-long narrative is the lack of a face for the villain. At this point Centipede is pretty well established as the villainous organization. However, we haven’t really had someone to associate with Centipede until now. The doctor from the “Pilot” was the first option, but she was killed in her next appearance, “The Girl in the Flower Dress.” Raina and Po were both introduced in that same episode, but neither of them reappeared before “The Bridge,” and neither of them is really the “man in charge” of Centipede. The “Clairvoyant” was namedropped in “The Girl in the Flower Dress,” but we did not see him until ‘T.A.H.I.T.I.” The closest thing to a face to associate with Centipede has to be Raina, who is the only constant from the beginning of the season to the end. I think that works fairly well, but I think the season would have been improved if we had seen her sooner than episode 5 so that we would have some point of reference for Centipede. I get that the mystery was an important part of Centipede—especially since the Clairvoyant was revealed as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and Centipede was revealed as a front for Hydra—but at the same time I think it would have been possible to give us a more satisfying face for Centipede and to keep Centipede in our minds throughout the season.
I think this may have been my favorite episode of the first half-season for how well it tied together all of the plot threads from the season to-date and set up the second half-season. Mike’s story of wanting to be a good father and at the same time feeling unable to face his son because of what he had done was an original idea for a superhero’s back story—made all the more tragic by what happened to him in the second half of the season!
What did you think of “The Bridge”? What was your favorite episode in the first half of season 1?
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