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“Nothing Personal,” the antepenultimate episode in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1, is loaded with Easter eggs, references, and cameos, and at the same time manages to fill in a ton of puzzle pieces for the season’s remaining mysteries. All the pieces are starting to come together for an exciting season finale two episodes from now!
Reminder: Retro-Reviews contain potential spoilers for all of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seasons 1 and 2.
The episode begins with Maria Hill in Washington, D.C., having just finished giving testimony in the Department of Justice building. While on the phone with Pepper Potts (at this point Hill is definitely working for Stark), she tells her how much she despises testifying before Congress. However, the key in this scene is when Hill says, “Who or what is a Man-Thing?” Man-Thing is a Marvel Comics character similar in nature to DC’s Swamp-Thing but with the ability to transport between dimensions, who plays a role in some of the more “weird” and supernatural Marvel Comics stories. He is part of teams such as the “Howling Commandos” (the team with Morbius the Living Vampire, not the one with Dum Dum Dugan; comics can be confusing!) (Spider-Man: Web Warriors version), Legion of Monsters, and “Avengers of the Supernatural.” And based on this statement, I suppose we can safely assume that Man-Thing exists within the MCU, has his powers, may or may not have been locked up in the Fridge for a while, and is now on the loose. Could we actually see Man-Thing at some point in the future? It would probably need a lot of CGI, but everything is a possibility with an interconnected universe like this. At the very least, a gigantic plant monster running around would be kind of a big problem; maybe Man-Thing will be one of the first “super villains” that Skye’s Secret Warriors have to bring in.
Hill is talking to Pepper when she notices that all of the agents following her have been knocked out. She draws her gun only to lower it when she realizes that May wants to meet with her. The two of them talk briefly, during which time Hill tells May that “For now we’re privatizing global security”—explaining her decision to go to work for Stark Industries to get close to Tony Stark and the Avengers. However, this is not May’s primary mission; she wants to know who was in charge of T.A.H.I.T.I. so they can know definitively whether or not that agent was Hydra. Hill cannot tell May who it was, though they both acknowledge that Alexander Pierce was the only person Fury took orders from—and he was Hydra. Hill explains that all Fury told her was that “he buried that information when he decided not to bury Coulson.” This information sends May on a treasure hunt, leading her to dig up Coulson’s grave and find a flash drive.
Meanwhile, the team is sitting at Providence base trying to figure out what happened to the rest of their team. They know that May left through the front door and that Ward and Skye took the Bus, but they cannot figure out where any of them went or what happened to Koenig. Of course, that all changes when Simmons discovers Koenig’s body in the storage room and Fitz discovers a message Skye had written on one of the “windows”: “WARD IS HYDRA.” It’s interesting to note that while Fitz and Simmons are making their separate discoveries, Coulson is telling Trip his suspicion that either Koenig got a call and took a team, or else “We’ve had a wolf in the herd the whole time.” I wonder if Coulson suspected Ward of being Hydra even before they discovered Skye’s note. After all, he is the only one of the three original team members left at Providence who doesn’t have a visible reaction to the news. Simmons has tears in her eyes and a look of rage on her face when she announces that Ward must have been the one who killed Koenig. Fitz starts throwing things around when Simmons says it. Trip doesn’t react visibly, but he was completely enraged when they arrested Garrett at the Hub. It wouldn’t really surprise me if Coulson already suspected Ward, even though he didn’t want to believe it.
Knowing that Ward is Hydra sends the team into action-mode. Coulson and Trip immediately deduce that Hand is dead and Garrett is alive (and “raided the Fridge”—they really like that pun). From Ward’s actions, Coulson pieces together that Ward came back for Skye (and needs her alive) because Hydra needs her to decrypt the hard drive—and Skye is going to be stalling for time because she knows the truth. They quickly (in episode time) fix the base’s communications and track down the Bus in LA. However, before they can leave, Talbot and Special Forces raid the base with help from Hill. I really liked all of the dialogue during these scenes, with Talbot interrogating the team, Hill trying to convince Coulson to go along with her plan to have him take credit for handing over Providence base, and Coulson’s insistence that they can’t do it because Ward is Hydra. We really get to feel how persecuted the team feels by everyone’s insistence on labeling them terrorists even though they are loyal to S.H.I.E.L.D. and are trying to stop Hydra. When Coulson accuses Hill of worrying so much about him when they should have been worried about Hydra, we finally got to see Hill’s reaction to all the Hydra news. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we saw some of it, particularly with regard to just taking the helicarriers down instead of trying to salvage them. But here we finally see the reality of the Hydra takeover hit home for her: she’s part of an organization that prides itself in seeing threats coming, but they couldn’t see Hydra coming at all, and that really stings. Add to that the fact that Ward turned out to be Hydra—after Hill vetted him personally—and it made complete sense for her to join Coulson in overpowering Talbot and his men so they could stop Ward.
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Ward meanwhile took Skye to LA on her instructions, where they sat in the same diner from the “Pilot” (1x01) and Skye pretended to decrypt the drive. I really liked all of their scenes together, as all we had were those two characters: Skye pretending to go along with Ward and Ward pretending to be a good guy. I think the best part is in the diner when Skye starts talking about Ward going undercover for a long time and getting close to people, only to turn around and betray them. Then she starts in on how it must have felt for him to learn that Garrett was Hydra after they were so close. The whole time you can see the confusion on Ward’s face as it is all hitting very close to home. And finally Skye reveals that she called the police on him with a “Hail Hydra,” and he realizes that she had been playing him the whole time. These scenes give us some major character development for Ward. While they are on the Bus after Deathlok revealed himself and stopped Skye’s escape, we finally see the toll that all of this has had on Ward. He finally lowers the mask and we see just how much betraying the team has tormented him—specifically because Skye hates him for what he has done. Meanwhile, Skye is terrified of Ward and disgusted by his feelings for her.
Perversely—and perhaps a bit confusingly—Deathlok is actually a fun addition to the Ward/Skye dynamic. He and Ward butt heads multiple times, though they still haven’t explained why it is that Ward hates him. They only met briefly in the “Pilot,” and they were technically on the same side all through the first season. My best guess is that Ward is jealous of how powerful Deathlok is due to the Centipede serum and cybernetics. Regardless of why he dislikes Deathlok, I really enjoyed their not-so-witty banter, particularly after Deathlok nearly killed Ward to force Skye into explaining how to decrypt the drive. This scene also gives us our first glimpse into Hydra’s “Incentive Program,” which becomes more of a major plotline in the season finale, “Beginning of the End” (1x22). However, it does fill in that Mike’s son is not safe, and that is one of the major reasons he’s working for Hydra.
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After Skye tells them how to decrypt the drive, they start preparing to take off, but S.H.I.E.L.D. shows up to stop them. Ward talking to Hill is another fun conversation, particularly when he says that, “A lot of us lost respect for Fury when he picked you as his second. If he needed eye candy around, he could’ve at least picked Romanoff.” However, Ward calls Hill’s bluff and takes off, though not before Coulson manages to sneak aboard through the wheel well. Coulson frees Skye and the two of them escape in Lola, though the car is totaled in the descent from 35,000 feet. I liked the reveal of how many major upgrades Lola has—including machine guns built into the headlights.
The episode ends with the team sitting around the pool at a motel. Hill leaves to return to Stark, but not before telling Coulson that there’s no “getting the band back together;” S.H.I.E.L.D. is finished. She suggests that Coulson go into the private sector and work for Stark, though Coulson refuses the offer. In the end, it’s a bittersweet moment: they have time to breathe and recuperate, but we all know that it’s not going to last. They are going to have to go after Ward and Garrett, and to do that they will have to track them down. I really like the moment with Fitz and Simmons sitting at the pool and comforting each other.
May shows up in the “end-credits” tag to reveal what she found on the hard drive: she discovered who was in charge of the T.A.H.I.T.I. Project, and he left a report with his recommendations. The supervisor was… Coulson, himself! Before his death he was working on it as a method “to potentially save a mortally-wounded Avenger,” but the side effects of the process are so terrible that he recommended terminating the project. Through the whole video we see the two Coulsons: the one on the screen is looking more serious than usual while explaining his reasoning; the one watching it is in complete shock. Even though there was a lot of exposition in that brief scene, I thought it worked extremely well—primarily because of Clark Gregg’s delivery on both sides. Ironic that Coulson was trying so hard to figure out who was behind it, only to discover that it was himself all along.
I really enjoyed this episode. There wasn’t a lot of action, but it gave us a couple of fun Easter eggs and some great character development from Ward, Skye, Coulson, and even Hill. Plus, if you want to know who was behind the T.A.H.I.T.I. Project, this episode is a must-watch.
What is your favorite Agent Hill episode from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? Do you want Man-Thing to appear in the MCU at some point?
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