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After the huge action and intrigue of “Turn, Turn, Turn” (1x17), “Providence” slows things down somewhat by focusing more on the characters’ reactions to everything that happened with the Hydra uprising, Fury’s death, and the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. After how big the last episode was, I was a bit caught off-guard by how intimate this episode is, but it really works as an opportunity to slow down and reflect on what’s happened.
Remainder: There will be spoilers for all of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seasons 1 and 2, along with Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The episode begins with Ward and Hydra raiding the S.H.I.E.L.D. prison facility where they had been holding Raina. She is in the process of folding yet another piece of origami, which she displays alongside dozens of others. However, she hears a commotion in the hallway. Ward opens her cell door, frightening her. He pulls out a box and hands it to her. She opens it to reveal a flower dress—a “gift from the Clairvoyant.” Ward brings Raina to a Hydra base in Havana, where she meets the Clairvoyant—I mean Agent Garrett. She is rather disappointed to learn that he is not really clairvoyant, but she decides to continue working with him by attempting to recreate the “Jesus juice” that brought Coulson back to life. I find it very interesting that Raina decided to continue working with Garrett even when he turned out never to have been clairvoyant—especially when that was the whole reason she decided to work for him in the first place. Of course, I suppose she didn’t have much of a choice.
The major story, however, focuses on Coulson working to get the pieces picked up after everything that happened in the last few episodes. It starts off at the Hub, where Skye informs him that there are currently three bases confirmed to be in S.H.I.E.L.D. hands—including the Hub. Not an auspicious beginning, but they get good news shortly when the Cube reports having been secured. This episode gives us a huge surprise when Skye tells Coulson that he was right: having all these secrets out in the world with no one to guard them isn’t the safest thing in the world. Wait… didn’t Black Widow and Captain America come to the exact opposite conclusion in Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Yes, they did. They decided to release all of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s files—or at least all their personnel files—to the public at the end. And wasn’t Skye all for freedom of information at the beginning of the season? Yes, she was. So is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. contradicting Winter Soldier and second-guessing its moral (while simultaneously pushing Skye out-of-character)? I actually don’t think so; I think that this is a normal and human reaction to this kind of revelation. Cap and Widow come to one conclusion; Coulson and Skye come to the opposite conclusion. It’s not like they’re talking to each other, and it’s normal for people to react to the same stimuli in different manners. I would actually be more surprised if Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. came to the exact same conclusion as Winter Soldier without the two groups interacting.
Things start going wrong for S.H.I.E.L.D. very quickly as Col. Glenn Talbot contacts the Hub and informs Coulson that he will be sending in a “peacekeeping force” to take control of the Hub. Though Coulson makes a show of cooperating with Talbot, he immediately enacts the “Odyssey Protocol” and tells all the loyal S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to leave. He thinks that Talbot is not going to cooperate with S.H.I.E.L.D. and will instead either have them arrested or just kill them all with bunker buster missiles—and either of these possibilities would mean that the authorities are focusing entirely on S.H.I.E.L.D. and ignoring the real threat of Hydra. We can second guess Coulson’s decision to run, but at the end of the day he’s doing it for a good reason, because he feels responsible for stopping Hydra. So Coulson and his team goes on the run, taking Trip with them—though Coulson is not too willing to trust Trip, considering how closely he was working with Garrett. It’s ironic that Coulson is so mistrustful of Trip, when the real traitor was staring him in the face this whole time: Ward was Garrett’s prodigy for years.
Speaking of Ward, he has a very interesting story in this episode. We learn a little more about his past, that Garrett saved him from it while he was in his teens. We learn what all he did to infiltrate the team and gain their trust—and amazingly, just about everything we’ve seen in the series was part of his plan. By saving Simmons he won everyone’s trust, and especially Fitz’ and Simmons’. The biggest threat to his mission was May, and he neutralized her by “letting things get intimate”—though I think we can all agree that he really regretted it when she tried to kill him at the end of the season, settled for nailing his foot to the floor, and then went after him again at the end of season 2 (leading directly to him killing Kara). Skye was the only unknown, and he neutralized her by becoming her S.O. so he could find out how she thinks. Long story short, Garrett’s assessment of Ward’s undercover abilities as being better than Romanoff’s might actually be correct.
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I really enjoyed all of the Hydra scenes in the episode. Ward and Garrett’s plan to get into the Fridge is cool, especially in how it played off of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents’ inherent goodness: S.H.I.E.L.D. trains its people to instinctively help people, and especially their own. In this case, that comes back to bite the two guards when they help Ward only to have him shoot them in the head. Garrett’s “raiding the Fridge” line was as much of a groaner as any of his other puns, but watching him do so was a lot of fun. He shows Ward a room filled with all the dangerous and alien weapons which S.H.I.E.L.D. had supposedly destroyed via the Slingshot, and the two of them grab a few fun “toys” to help them with their plans. Garrett takes the Peruvian 0-8-4 and uses it to break all of the prisoners out of the Fridge, and meanwhile Ward kneels and contemplates while holding the Berserker Staff. We did get one quick Easter Egg in the Fridge sequence when Garrett told Ward about his first trip to the Fridge: he was dropping off “Johnny Horton,” a man who had somehow given himself lion’s paws for hands—and that reference would be to the Griffin, a character who actually took on much more of a griffin-like appearance in the comics, complete with wings. We also got a foreshadowing of the future when Garrett released all the prisoners and told one in particular to “Follow your dreams.” The man he spoke to was Blackout, the villain in the next episode, “The Only Light in the Darkness.” He said that he was releasing them all as a way to keep Coulson occupied while he was consolidating his power and completing the Centipede work. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t take advantage of that scene to introduce in a few more recognizable villains and artifacts, but they can always do that moving forward, considering just how much was removed from the Fridge and disappeared.
The Hydra portion of the episode ends with Ward returning to the team and going back undercover to get Skye to decrypt the hard drive so Hydra can access all of Fitz’ and Simmons’ research on Coulson and Skye. However, the team is on the run.
I really liked how this episode put Coulson and the team on the run, on their own without backup, and running short on supplies. Coulson is left which a Herculean task for the rest of the season: he has to stop Hydra, but he doesn’t have any help to do it. The team only figures out some sort of a plan when Coulson’s badge starts glowing with a series of numbers which Coulson takes as an indication that Fury is still alive. Coulson figures out that the numbers are a set of coordinates, which lead to the middle of the Canadian wilderness (too bad Wolverine couldn’t stop by for a chat!). They follow the coordinates—though the rest of the team is divided on whether or not to follow Coulson. May in particular is afraid that the T.A.H.I.T.I. mind wipe may have been done under the direction of a Hydra agent who programmed this into Coulson’s brain so that he is now leading the team into a trap. All of this gives us some of the best (in my opinion) moments of the episode, while Coulson is trying to convince the team to follow him, and they are not quite buying it. Coulson tells them that they all took an oath when they received their S.H.I.E.L.D. badges: “To serve when everything else fails. To be humanity’s last line of defense. To be the shield.” When they are in the wilderness, Coulson goes almost ballistic, saying that “This has to mean something”: they have risked and lost so much for S.H.I.E.L.D., and after all of that S.H.I.E.L.D. still has to stand for something. At this point he is really at the end of his rope and close to giving up—but it’s at that exact moment that they discover Providence, one of Fury’s secret bases, and meet Agent Eric Koenig. I really like the Koenig brothers for their comic relief. Koenig’s introduction in particular is awesome, as you can really tell that Patton Oswalt (who’s a bona fide comic book nerd in real life) is geeking out over meeting Coulson just as much as Coulson was geeking out over meeting Cap in The Avengers. You can really tell that he’s loving every minute of his time on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which makes it that much better that they brought him back as a (pair of) recurring character(s) in season 2—and presumably in season 3 as well.
Of course at the end of the episode we find out that Fury is still alive when Koenig tells Coulson about Fury’s escape and that there are only a handful of people who know. He tells Coulson that he can’t tell the team, but Coulson really doesn’t like the idea of keeping more secrets from his team, though in the end he agrees to keep the secret.
Overall I really enjoyed this episode. It pushed the narrative forward a little more as we saw Centipede “getting the band back together” with Raina and Quinn, but it focused most of its effort and energy on slowing things down and giving the characters a few moments to reflect. The ending of Winter Soldier really didn’t offer a lot of that: there were moments of shock and confusion as the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents found themselves pointing their guns at each other, but no real opportunities to reflect on how badly they had been hurt by the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D. and rise of Hydra. Everyone seemed to go right on with their lives as Hill got a job with Stark and Agent 13 (Sharon Carter) got a job with the CIA. At the end of the day, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was left to pick up the pieces of the ordinary S.H.I.E.L.D. agents’ shattered lives and show them coping with this devastating revelation, and I thought “Providence” did a good job of showing that. We get other glimpses of it in the rest of season 1 and in season 2, but this is the episode that devotes the most time to agents reflecting on the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. And they did a very good job of it. It wasn’t nearly as action-packed and exciting as “Turn, Turn, Turn” or the last few episodes of season 1, but it didn’t really need to be.
What did you think of “Providence”? What villain or artifact would you have liked to see introduced at the Fridge?
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