Friday, July 17, 2015

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1, Episode 16, "End of the Beginning" RETRO-REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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After last episode took a brief detour as the team helped out Sif the Bounty Hunter, “End of the Beginning” (1x16) sees the series start going full-throttle toward the dramatic conclusion, starting with this episode, which serves as a major lead-in to Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  This one is easily the most exciting episode to-date as new alliances are being forged, guest characters from all over S.H.I.E.L.D.’s involvement in the MCU stop by, and the team is torn apart by the betrayal of one of their own.  I remember watching this episode when it first aired last year and being insanely pumped to watch Winter Soldier and then come back for “Turn, Turn, Turn.”  And it’s the same this time around, too (even though this time the movie that comes between the two episodes is Ant-Man!).

Reminder:  Retro-Reviews include spoilers for all of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seasons 1 and 2.

The episode begins with Garrett and Triplett entering a safehouse and talking about their plans.  Garrett has the idea that maybe they need to check through the Index—specifically those crossed off the Index—and look into anyone who claimed to possess psychic abilities.  However, their safehouse is not safe for long, as Mike comes breaking through the door to attack them.  Trip shoots him a couple times with a rifle that shoots taser rounds, followed up with an ICER to the head, but none of it has any lasting effect on him.  Mike pulls off the taser and jumps through the ceiling to escape.  In rewatching the season, I am very impressed with Garrett’s plan:  He comes up with the idea to look into Index rejects (after having set up Nash as his fall guy) and then sends Deathlok after himself and Trip.  This simultaneously “confirms” that they are on the right track, throws suspicion off himself, and makes him instrumental in Coulson’s efforts to track down the Clairvoyant.  It must be pretty confusing to be heading up a manhunt for himself!

The episode cuts right to the Bus landing on an aircraft carrier (so which one is this?  It can’t be the original helicarrier; Fury squirreled that away after New York.  So is this the Iliad, Gonzales’ carrier in season 2?  Considering how expensive those things are, I can’t imagine S.H.I.E.L.D. having more than 1 conventional carrier to go with their original helicarrier and the INSIGHT carriers they are currently building.  But what do I know; they’ve got flying aircraft carriers!).  Five agents get on the plane:  Sitwell, Blake (from the Marvel One-Shot Item 47), Hand, Garrett, and Trip.  As soon as they are all aboard, they take off and climb to 50,000 feet in the hopes that if the Clairvoyant really is psychic, he will have a harder time reading their thoughts (spoiler alert:  he hears every word they say).  Coulson and Garrett explain their theory and their plan to interview the possible candidates to find the Clairvoyant.  However, carrying out the plan requires them to take advantage of a certain trainee’s pattern recognition abilities.

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This gives us one of the more touching moments in season 1 as Skye is given her S.H.I.E.L.D. badge and accepted as a full agent.  The whole team is excited for her (even May smiles), along with the special guests, though Hand seems slightly unimpressed.  Skye gives a really believable performance with how excited she is to finally be a part of S.H.I.E.L.D., despite her past slip-ups.  Now she finally has a place to belong with S.H.I.E.L.D., something she really hasn’t had in the past.  This leads to an interesting conversation between her and Garrett as she is giving him his assignment for the mission.  He tells her about all his injuries sustained on the job and compliments her on having survived 2 gut shots—they’re “the worst.”  He also comments that she has had a serious impact on Ward:  he’s gone from fighting “against” to fighting “for” something (meaning her).  Then before leaving he also tells her “I’m a SHIELD agent… just like you,” but he says it in such a way that it just sounds creepy now that we know him to actually be a Hydra mole.  In retrospect, I’m surprised I didn’t ask the question before:  “what was Ward fighting against before Skye?”  That’s another one of those little foreshadowings that we can pick up now that we know what’s happening.

Unfortunately, Agent Sitwell is unable to join them on their mission because he has orders to report to the set of Captain America: The Winter Soldier—I mean, the Lemurian Star (but it’s really the same thing).  Skye sends out three teams to investigate three of the potential Clairvoyant candidates.  Though Garrett and Coulson run into a potential ambush and Ward and Trip walk into a strangely-deserted prison office, the real action happens at an assisted living facility where May and Blake are looking into a man named Thomas Nash.  Blake gets attacked by Deathlok while May is discovering that Nash was never at the facility to begin with.  Blake manages to shoot Deathlok with a tagged round, though he is quickly subdued and stomped, leaving him in critical condition.  At the same time, Deathlok shows off his newest upgrade, an arm-mounted missile launcher which connects in with his eye implant and gives it targeting capabilities.  I’ve really enjoyed Mike Peterson’s story arc over the first season.  At this point in time he is being forced to hurt and kill people in the service of Centipede (Hydra), and hates himself for it.  With tears in his eyes, he tells Blake that “Mike Peterson is dead”—all that remains is Deathlok.

None of the three candidates they went after were overly exciting; none are comic book characters that I could find.  However, Noriko Sato, the candidate that Garrett and Coulson went for, was said to have family ties to the Yakuza.  Considering that Daredevil introduced Nobu as a member of the Hand/Yakuza, could there be a connection there?  Probably not, but it’s always a possibility.

Now that S.H.I.E.L.D. knows Nash to be the target, the team starts digging into his background further.  Skye explains that he was recruited to a top-secret Canadian “Department H”-type of program which was trying to find people with the ability to affect others’ actions.  Could this be a reference to Alpha Flight, the official Canadian equivalent of the Avengers?  I would love to see season 3 of AoS explore this a little more, especially now that S.H.I.E.L.D. is expanding further with the introduction of the Secret Warriors.

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The team follows Blake’s tag to an abandoned racetrack with a full tactical team in tow.  Fitz uses the Golden Retrievers to locate Deathlok, giving us a view of all the cybernetics under his skin, including metal plating over/in place of half his skull.  I actually liked Deathlok’s suit in season 1:  it wasn’t very subtle and it looked pretty bulky, but it was just the first version of his suit; they made substantial improvements in season 2.  They confront Deathlok, who succeeds in escaping, though not before attacking Ward and taking out 2 of the tactical team members.  Coulson and Garrett find Nash in a wheelchair in a sub-basement room.  He starts taunting them with what he is going to do to them—and specifically to Skye to retrieve the GH-325.  However, before Coulson can remove him from the room and take him into custody, Ward shoots him in the heart, killing him.

Coulson puts Ward in the Cage for transport back to the Triskelion—where Fury agreed to meet him—but before they get there Coulson and Skye realize that they’ve been played.  Skye realizes that everything the Clairvoyant “saw” came out of their S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel files.  This leads to one of the more terrifying (and awesome) moments when Coulson says, “The Clairvoyant doesn’t have abilities.  He has security clearance.  He’s an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.”  Boom!  And just in time for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, too…

Meanwhile, Fitz installs an encrypted line so he can talk to Simmons, who stayed at the Hub with Trip and Hand.  She tells him that there is something big happening at the Hub, but the connection starts cutting in and out as he discovers another encrypted line with a receiver in the cockpit.  When he tells Skye, she tells him to cut the line so May can’t call out, leading May to go on the hunt for him because he cut the line.  She doesn’t find him until he’s locked inside the lab, at which point Skye and Coulson confront her.  While they are trying to figure out what’s happening, the Bus unexpectedly makes a course correction which no one on the plane knew about or set.  Coulson demands to know who did it, and it cuts straight to Victoria Hand in the Situation Room at the Hub ordering her men to take out everyone on the plane except Coulson—“He’s mine.”

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This whole episode was insanely intense and suddenly left us all wondering who we could trust.  May was working for someone else and wouldn’t tell Coulson to whom she was reporting.  And on top of that she shot at Fitz (with an ICER, but still).  Ward shot Nash—the “prop”—and Coulson suspects him of working for someone outside the plane.  And on top of that there is a ton of activity going on at the Hub, and Hand is behind it all.  Is Hand the Clairvoyant, or is there something else going on?  I really liked everyone’s acting throughout the episode, and especially the team as they were all pointing guns at each other.  I think this was probably the best episode up to that point in the season, though the series has continued getting progressively better since then.

I also really liked how this episode tied in with Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  Sitwell got the orders to report to the ship he was on at the beginning of the movie in this episode.  Coulson finds out that Fury is back at the Hub at the end of the episode.  And those are just the two most obvious connections.  The tone of the episode—with S.H.I.E.L.D. agents pointing guns at S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and not knowing who’s on what side—carries over very well into the third act of the movie and then into “Turn, Turn, Turn” (1x17), the next AoS episode.  You can see the movie without having seen AoS, and if you do you will not be lost, but if you’ve seen this episode then the movie is that much better.

What was your favorite part of this episode?  Whom did you think May was reporting to when you first saw it?

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