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The next episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “The Only Light in the Darkness” (1x19), sees Coulson going off on a mission to save a woman from a crazed psychopathic “monster,” even as the monster within the team reveals himself. Consequently, the conclusion of this episode may be the most personal yet for Skye and Coulson as they are forced to examine themselves and their relationships.
Remember, Retro-Reviews contain potential spoilers for all of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seasons 1 and 2.
The episode begins with a man—later identified as Marcus Daniels, aka “Blackout,” an escaped prisoner whom Garrett released from the Fridge—walking along a pier as lights flicker out when he passes. He approaches a fisherman and asks for a ride to Portland, but the man refuses. Daniels kills him with a touch (draining the energy from his body) and steals his car. We learn later on that Daniels was a lab assistant at a laboratory which was experimenting with something called “Darkforce” (“Nothing bad ever happens when you work with something called ‘Darkforce’”). However, there was an accident and he was exposed. The exposure fried his brain and gave him the ability to absorb all forms of energy, though this power is unstable. The last time he was loose, he went after a woman named Audrey Nathan, a cellist whom he heard playing. He called her his “only light in the darkness” and said that she was the only one who could save him. S.H.I.E.L.D. responded and took him into custody by overloading him with pure light, too much for him to absorb. Cellist, Portland, S.H.I.E.L.D. … can anyone see where this is going?
Before the team can leave Providence base, however, Koenig insists on putting everyone (except Coulson) through “Orientation”: a lie detector which Fury personally designed to be so good that even Romanoff couldn’t beat it (though Fury never said whether or not she actually did). The orientation questions are fairly straightforward, though we learn a few things about the characters: Trip’s grandfather was a Howling Commando, though he doesn’t like to brag about being a “legacy;” Skye’s given name is “Mary Sue Poots”—meaning she’s literally a “Mary Sue”; Trip says that Garrett talked to Alexander Pierce on occasion and said they had “mutual friends.” Everyone else passes the lie detector before Ward takes it. When asked about his family, Ward mentions having a sister (something that hasn’t come into play yet). Everything is going okay until Koenig asks why he’s here. Though every answer Ward gives (up until the end) is factually correct, the machine picks up that he’s hiding something, until Koenig asks “Why are you really here?” and he answers “Skye.” That was enough of the truth that the machine (or at least Koenig) bought it and didn’t shoot him. Unfortunately, he didn’t live to regret that decision.
The rest of the team goes to Portland, leaving May, Skye, Ward, and Koenig behind at Providence. May is particularly upset with this since she knows how personal this situation is for Coulson and wants to be there for him. However, Coulson still does not trust her, even though she passed the lie detector test, because she was hiding so much from him and knew what had been done to him all along. After she finishes making sure that the Bus has been repaired, May decides to leave because of Coulson’s mistrust, getting in a car with her mother and leaving to find Maria Hill.
Meanwhile, Skye convinces Koenig to let her hack the NSA satellite system to find their footage of the Hydra attack on the Fridge so they can track where the escaped prisoners went. Ward almost kills May, but doesn’t when she decides to leave. He kills Koenig as soon as Skye gets into the NSA system and hides his body in the storage room. Then he attempts to seduce Skye in order to get her to tell him where and how to decrypt the hard drive. However, that fails when she discovers blood on his neck and he has to wash it off. This gives her a chance to use Koenig’s lanyard tracking pad to find Koenig’s body. Her reaction to discovering his body and realizing that Ward killed him—meaning that Ward is Hydra—is probably Skye’s best moment of the season. It’s a perfect combination of horror, terror, revulsion, and fear, and Chloe Bennet pulls it off very well. Skye’s response of leaving a message for the team and playing along with Ward to buy time was also very much in character. All in all, I thought this was one of Chloe Bennet’s top 5 episodes of the first season.
The plot with Coulson’s team taking on Daniels was also really interesting, though not because of the villain himself. In fact, Daniels was a relatively straightforward villain: he is troubled due to the accident that gave him his powers, and the sound of Audrey’s cello soothes him. This is unique by comparison with other villains on the show, but it is still a straightforward story. The most interesting part of the mission is how personal it is for Coulson because he was the agent in charge who captured Daniels the first time he went after Audrey. Oh, and he also started a relationship with her in that incident’s aftermath. Remember that cellist he mentioned in The Avengers? This is her. He obviously still has feelings for her, and she makes it very clear that she hasn’t “gotten over” him, despite the fact that it’s been a couple years since S.H.I.E.L.D. informed her of his “death.” She still has dreams about the two of them talking; he still thinks about her and questions his decision not to reveal himself to her. In fact, Fitz tells him that maybe he should, but Coulson rejects the idea because he thinks that she is healing and moving on, and he doesn’t want to interfere with that. Add to that the fact that he still has a job to do and they can’t stay in Portland, and he just doesn’t see a way that revealing himself to Audrey would help her. It does end on a hopeful note, though, as Coulson says that sometime in the future things may change to the point where he can reveal himself to her and they might get that “happily ever after” (though he doesn’t use those exact words). I really enjoyed the glimpse into Coulson’s back story that we received in this episode. I think everyone was curious about it when he, Pepper, and Tony were all talking about her in The Avengers, so I’m glad that the show took the time to explore her in more detail. I’m actually hoping that we will get more chances to see Audrey in the future and that maybe Coulson will even get to explain to her everything that happened… right after he explains it to the Avengers!
The rest of that plot was also really cool. Simmons and Trip serve as the visible faces of “the CIA” for Audrey, but she immediately figures out that they are actually S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, and tells them that she fully trusts them because of Coulson’s actions the first time Daniels came after her. Coulson and Fitz first try to overload Daniels with the Dwarves, but he tells them that the personnel at the Fridge had actually helped him to become more powerful—in retrospect this probably should have been our first indication that Hydra had been experimenting on and manipulating gifted individuals for potential future use. We saw 2 additional examples in Blizzard and Absorbing Man during season 2, and Captain America indicated in Avengers: Age of Ultron that they had encountered other enhanceds while raiding other Hydra bases. And our first warning should have been this episode.
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When they realize that simply overloading him with light won’t work, Fitz uses stage lights and power cells from the jet to rig up Gamma Ray emitters based on some of Bruce Banner’s specs (because if anyone knows Gamma rays, it’s Banner). They use Audrey to lure Daniels to the symphony hall, and Fitz, Simmons, and Trip all use the Gamma Beams on him, though he succeeds in knocking all three of them out with his Darkforce beams. Ultimately, it falls on Coulson to grab one of the Beams and get up to within 10-15 feet of him and send the beam directly into him. Trip recovers and joins him, and between the two of them they manage to overload Daniels and cause him to explode in a burst of energy, though Audrey is knocked to the floor dazed by the force. Coulson rushes to her and tells her he’s still there, but leaves before she fully comes to, so she doesn’t know if he was really there. I actually liked this whole setup. It was intense and meaningful, especially for Coulson. I don’t know if we can assume that Daniels is gone for good, but I wouldn’t mind if they never see him again.
Overall this was a fun episode and helped to fill in a big piece of Coulson’s story. It also gave us some touching team moments between Fitz and Simmons and Skye and Ward. I liked how it put all the pieces in motion for the next episodes, with Skye leaving with Ward and May going off to find Hill. It wasn’t the best episode of the season, but that’s more because the bar’s been set so high by episodes like “Turn, Turn, Turn” and “Beginning of the End” (1x22), and not because of any major failings on this episode’s part—apart from giving us such a one-note villain.
What did you think of “The Only Light in the Darkness”? Do you want to see Audrey again? Would you like it if Coulson got a “happy ending” at some point in the series? Let me know in the comments!
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