Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3, Episode 8, "Many Heads, One Tale" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

So for the first 2/3 or so of this episode, I was really enjoying myself.  There was a lot of intrigue, particularly with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s relationship with their frenemies at the A.T.C.U.  Several of the characters got some nice moments.  Fitz-Simmons received some much-needed plot development.  Overall, it was a really interesting and intriguing episode.  And then the ending happened.  And my mind kind of did this:

So the episode starts off with Ward and Malick having a conversation about their respective plans for Hydra.  This conversation is most interesting for its introduction of the concept of the “Von Strucker Family Vault,” a rumored treasure trove housing the true source of Hydra’s power.  Ward reveals that he is after the Vault as a way to gain access to that power and use it in his war against S.H.I.E.L.D.  However, Malick is not interested in working with Ward anymore and elects to have him executed by several of his men.  Unfortunately, Gideon Malick doesn’t realize he was dealing with Grant Ward, and the Expendables prove themselves to be—well—expendable as Ward brutally subdues them before indulging his inner serial killer by torch-uring them (that sentence made my wife sprain her eyeballs, but I like it so I’m leaving it in).  Eventually Ward gets the information that he needs—and no one has to really get burnt; I guess that’s all the loyalty Hydra can afford these days!  It was perversely fun to watch Ward dispatch the Hydra goons before torturing them—we haven’t seen enough of Ward being a badass lately.  And Ward’s psychopathic nature really came out in this episode, even though none of the violence really went beyond a PG-13-level.

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Once Ward has what he needs—the location of the Vault, which is in Germany—he leaves the thugs behind (whether any of them are still alive is debatable) and sets off for Germany.  He catches a plane to Moscow and even flirts with the stewardess to get close to the door, only to whisper his plan into her ear.  I found Ward’s announcement to the passengers quite amusing for how calmly he says everything.  And then he ends his speech with flair:  “From all of us here at Hydra, I’d like to thank you for flying the friendly skies.”  Right before blowing out the plane’s door with him strapped to it.  Say what you will about everyone’s favorite serial killer, but the guy’s definitely got style!

Ward’s next scene is of him making it to the Vault just a few minutes after Malick had arrived there.  And that’s where things get really interesting.  But I’m saving that for last.

Meanwhile Coulson decides to take advantage of Rosalind’s trust to find out the truth about the A.T.C.U., their treatment of the Inhumans they’ve captured, and the cure they are supposedly working on.  To that end he invites Rosalind to tour the Playground while practically his whole covert operations staff is out infiltrating the A.T.C.U. headquarters.  Their plan is actually pretty cool, using Andrew’s containment unit to send out a pulse and freak out the A.T.C.U.’s I.T. Department.  Then when the I.T. guy calls the F.B.I. to report the potential breach, they reroute the call so that Mack picks it up, setting the stage for Bobbi and Hunter to go in undercover, with Hunter pretending to be a hacker-turned-consultant for the F.B.I. (I was very much reminded of White Collar; Neal has this uncanny ability for talking his way into and out of bad situations just like Hunter did in this episode).  They give Daisy remote access to the A.T.C.U. database (“God Save the Queen,” and all that), and Daisy tracks down the possible location where they would be holding the Inhumans and researching their cure.  Bobbi investigates, but she only finds evidence of A.T.C.U. experimentation with administering Terrigen to everyone they get their hands on in order to create as many new Inhumans as possible.  The Inhumans themselves, however, are not on-site, and there is no evidence anywhere of an attempt at a cure.  Speaking for myself, I was pretty suspicious of the A.T.C.U.’s interest in the Inhumans from the get-go, and particularly after last week’s episode.  However, I don’t think I was quite expecting this.

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We cut back to the base, where Coulson is continuing to show Rosalind around after the two of them admired Coulson’s vintage S.H.I.E.L.D. memorabilia collection.  The tour ends with Coulson sealing the two of them into a containment room (bet she didn’t expect the tour to end in that bedroom!) and demanding to know about her Hydra connection.  She’s confused, but he refuses to let her change the subject or evade giving an answer:  the only way she could have known about T.A.H.I.T.I. was with either a high-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. contact or a high-ranking Hydra contact, and she denied ever knowing anyone in S.H.I.E.L.D. before him.  He confronts her with the evidence that his team uncovered inside the A.T.C.U., and she is absolutely confused until she puts the pieces together and arrives at Gideon Malick.  Evidently Malick is a wealthy industrialist who was on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s World Security Council, consulted with NASA, and is now one of Rosalind’s advisors—and in fact was responsible for suggesting the A.T.C.U. in the first place.  He’s been in charge of their Science Division all along, meaning that he was in charge of the Inhumans and the cure research.  This means that pretty much everything—the Inhumans, the cure, and even the Science Division of the A.T.C.U.—is a Hydra cover.

Fortunately, thanks to Coulson’s tough-love tactics, he and Rosalind are able to work together to get out of the situation.  Hunter and Bobbi get into trouble when the A.T.C.U.’s security discovers them, and they fight their way out, including a confrontation with one of the A.T.C.U.’s new Inhumans who was not placed into stasis.  This is none other than the Chairman (Mark Dacascos) as Giyera, who is essentially an Inhuman version of Magneto with the ability to control metal.  Wow.  Seeing him use his powers to throw metal objects around against Bobbi, who was using a slightly-more-advanced version of her batons which she could summon back to herself via magnetic wristbands was really cool.  Essentially, I guess you could say that her wrist bands gave her a technological version of Giyera’s ability.  That wasn’t the most impressive fight sequence of the season, but it was still pretty cool to watch.  After Bobbi and Hunter knock out Giyera, Banks enters the room and escorted the two of them out to the helipad where May and Lincoln swoop in and pick them all up.

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May and Lincoln actually have a couple of interesting scenes together, surprisingly.  At the beginning of the episode, Lincoln shares with Daisy that he’s kind of scared of May (and let’s admit it, he kind of should be!), which makes it all the more off-putting when she selects him as her partner on the mission.  While on the mission, which involves the two of them sitting in a quinjet for hours on end waiting for the call to pick up Bobbi and Hunter, May eventually tells Lincoln that she wants to apologize to him for Andrew because Andrew killed so many of Lincoln’s friends and tried to kill him.  She feels guilty over what happened, but Lincoln actually thanks her for saving him by shooting Andrew.  The two of them don’t get a whole lot to do, but I feel like that conversation was really good for both of their characters.  It shows that what happened to Andrew has left May vulnerable, and it shows Lincoln becoming a little more of a team player.

Fitz and Simmons also do not get a ton to do in the episode, but they still get some very substantial character development.  It seems like every time Fitz has seen the picture of Simmons with Will, he has had the same expression of anger, jealousy, and sadness on his face.  Ultimately, everything boils over in this episode.  Fitz keeps trying to find a way to get Will back, and it becomes too much for Simmons to take; she is thrown off because he has not been visibly upset at being asked to help the “competition” get back and so she storms off.  He chases after her and finally vents his frustration with the situation:  they are “Cursed by the cosmos” and the universe doesn’t want them together.  However, they share a couple kisses, despite Simmons’ misgivings and confusion with regard to Will.  I really hope that they don’t decide to keep this relationship interesting by playing up the “love triangle.”  When it comes to stories, I am a fan of simple romance and complicated plot, not the other way around.  As of now this is not quite too much, but it could certainly get there if/when they get Will back.

This episode offers us a lot of exposition about the Monolith and the organization that has been behind it.  From Fitz and Simmons we learn that the organization is thousands of years old and has always been associated with Satanic, ritualistic blood sacrifices: Will and the other astronauts were not sent on an expedition but as sacrifices (and the fanboys say “Duh”).  And what is this organization?  Fitz and Simmons put the pieces together with their books of symbology and trace the carving from the temple through a number of different design evolutions until the ram’s head symbol slowly becomes… HYDRA!

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And as this is being laid out, Malick explains to Ward in Germany that Hydra is far older than Red Skull, and was in fact formed specifically because of the Monolith.  Evidently there was an incredibly powerful Inhuman born thousands of years ago.  This Inhuman was feared by the people of his age, who sent him halfway across the galaxy through the Monolith—and at this point it should be clear that he’s practically an Inhuman Apocalypse (functional immortality, danger level off the scale, ability to shape-shift…).  However, this Inhuman was in fact the true founder of Hydra, and Hydra has been attempting for millennia to bring him back to Earth.  All the sacrifices sent though the Monolith were intended as tribute to serve the great leader.  And this great leader is none other than the entity which attacked Simmons and Will, which much be thousands of years old by now.  I find this whole twist to be absolutely incredible and shocking.  I really did not see this one coming.  We now know why it was that Jiaying feared the Monolith so much:  the original reason the Inhumans feared the Monolith was not because they thought it would suck them in, but because this entity could return to Earth by coming through it!  I’m guessing there will be a lot of people upset with this reinvention of Hydra as being an ancient secret society rather than just the Nazi “deep science division,” but I really like it.  Obviously the group’s original name was not “Hydra;” I would assume that that name was given to it right around the time of Red Skull, so in that sense “Hydra” itself originated with Red Skull, who was just the most recent practitioner of a much more ancient secret society.

The episode ends with the revelation that Malick is using the Inhuman outbreak to build an army for the entity to lead, and that Andrew/Lash is going to be one of their soldiers.  Additionally, he and Ward are going to attempt to carry out Ward’s vendetta against Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D. together so they can find out how S.H.I.E.L.D. succeeded in bringing someone back through the portal.

So this was a very Ward- and Malick-centric episode, and may be the most Hydra-centric episode that we are really getting this half-season.  Last week’s episode gave us Lash’s back-story; this week’s episode gave us Hydra’s.  That major Hydra reveal was a huge surprise—helped to some degree by Ward’s shocked/skeptical look when Malick is explaining the story to him.  In terms of shock value, I definitely think that this reveal was on the same level as the Hydra reveal in Captain America: The Winter Soldier—and perhaps more because it is such a departure from the source material.

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I really enjoyed all of the fun character moments, particularly Fitz and Simmons, Bobbi and Hunter, and May and Lincoln.  I definitely think that Coulson and Rosalind’s relationship will be rocky after this (to say the least), but the fact that she was completely unaware of Malick’s nefarious purpose does leave the door open for her and Coulson to mend their relationship going forward.  And the fact that his suspicions were justified does somewhat exonerate him for having those suspicions.  Going forward, I am very curious to see how these relationships are going to develop and how the A.T.C.U. will factor into it all, particularly now that we know that they were infiltrated by a Hydra Head.

What did you think of this episode?  Did you see the Hydra reveal coming?  Do you think that the Inhuman/entity is the MCU Inhuman equivalent of Apocalypse, or do you know of another Inhuman from the comics whom this could be?  Let me know in the comments!

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