On the D/L – Agents of SHIELD
Season 2 Episode 14 – “Love in the Time of HYDRA”
Ward finally returns to Agents of SHIELD and for once he’s not trying to give Coulson and the others a hard time.
He has been conspicuously absent since he convinced Agent 33 to join him in whatever it is he has planned but the break was fine as he’s not connected enough to the main story threads to need to appear in every episode. It turns out that he and Agent 33 have been trying to track down a scientist who can help fix her broken facial disguise mask so that she is better equipped to sneak into places.
Once the mask is fixed we get an interesting exploration of what happens to someone post H.Y.D.R.A. brainwashing. Agent 33 has completely lost her own sense of identity and that’s something that really bothers her in many ways. She can’t remember who she is and is horrified by her own face due to how disfigured she is. The mask offers an effective way for Agent 33 -I’m just going to call her Kara from here on- to reflect on all she has lost and obsess over her disfigured appearance. The scene where she copies the likeness of models in a magazine says a lot about her state of mind and how she feels right now.
Compounding the issue is Ward who is up to his standard manipulation tricks. He gives her what seems to be his standard pep talk about his family being hard on him but finally accepting him. He leaves out the fact that he murdered them as usual. It’s good to see that Ward is still manipulating people towards his own mysterious ends.
The mask is a clever way to explore Ward’s complicated relationship with other characters in the show. Since Kara’s mask was stuck on May’s face in the initial scenes but was left with a disfigurement due to the damage it could be seen that this represents Ward’s relationship with S.H.I.E.L.D. and how that has been damaged by what he has done.
When Kara alters her appearance to look like Skye and attempts to seduce him it gives us further insight into Ward’s bizarre relationship with his former teammates. He tells her that Skye made it very clear that she doesn’t want anything to do with him when she shot him repeatedly and that’s something that bothers him. He obviously still has feelings for her. Of course this opening up could be part of a tactic to gain her trust and manipulate her but it does seem genuine enough. There are other examples of a potential manipulation attempt when he encourages her to find her own identity to replace the one that she lost. The episode strongly hints that she is beginning to fall for him which can’t be good for her.
Their plan to break Sunil Bakshi out of Talbot’s custody was pretty fun if a little cheesy. I do like how Talbot approached the investigation once he found out that she was posing as someone on the base. His tactic of asking each of the women a question that only they could answer was a clever idea that allowed Adrian Pasdar some opportunity to chew the scenery. Talbot is a strange character who occasionally comes across as a little goofy but I still enjoy his presence. Unfortunately he hasn’t been given anything significant to do in a while but it’s good that they are keeping him around.
We get some exploration of the “real” S.H.I.E.L.D. and even find out that it is run by Robert Gonzales played by none other than Edward James Olmos. There isn’t much to his character as yet other than the authority that Olmos’ presence brings to the role by default. We do get some insight into the agenda of this other version of S.H.I.E.L.D and what they stand for. It turns out that they don’t approve of what Nick Fury stood for and want an organisation where the leadership are transparent with their intentions. The problem they have is that they think Coulson is following Fury’s lead and is a loose cannon after being injected with alien DNA. I like that the writers are following up on the things that Coulson did when obsessed with finding the Inhuman city. He was incredibly reckless so it’s good to see that not everyone is happy with it. In general this is an interesting way of looking at things and I’m curious to see what will happen when the two groups meet. If nothing else, Edward James Olmos should bounce really well off Clark Gregg.
Seeing the “real” S.H.I.E.L.D. through the eyes of Hunter is a good idea as he’s not quite close enough to the other team to appear fully loyal to them so it’s possible that he could come around to their way of thinking. Using these scenes to further explore the relationship between Hunter and Bobbi kept everything seeming personal enough. It seems that their relationship always fails because Bobbi has other obligations. It’s especially difficult for Hunter as he was only just starting to come around to the idea that he and Bobbi could be united in a common cause for the first time ever but that dream is shattered by her different allegiance.
I wasn’t quite convinced that Bobbi is fully committed to this group as we never really get an idea of why that is. With Mack it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t agree with Coulson’s methods and wants an alternative cause to follow but with Bobbi there’s no clear motivation there. Maybe this will become more apparent in the next episode.
Coulson wisely takes the advice from last week about removing Skye from duty due to the danger she represents. He takes her to one of Fury’s safe houses apparently used by Captain America when he was thawed out so that she can get control of her abilities. Coulson’s scenes with Skye were really well done and using the metaphor of Lola -The Corvette- to describe his relationship with her since the series began was a nice touch. Some of the dialogue was overly sentimental but it worked for me. It’s interesting to see Coulson’s character being so heavily criticised by Gonzales earlier in the episode and having that contrasted by how he actually acts.
Chloe Bennet is still playing Skye as being scared and doing everything she can to restrain herself. She is trying to put a brave face on it but it’s not easy given all the discussions going on around her. Simmons isn’t helping matters by aggressively commenting on how dangerous Skye is every chance she gets.
One of the best scenes in the episode was the argument between Fitz and Simmons over the nature of super powers. Fitz thinks that Skye could be on the same level as the Avengers but Simmons feels that the only comparison is to The Hulk because of how randomly destructive she is. Fitz points out that Simmons is the only terrifying change around here and it’s a powerful moment designed to shock her. I don’t like what they’re doing to Simmons because it’s a clear plot device to have someone be against the notion of super heroes but at least they’re making the best of it when it comes to the already troubled relationship between Fitz and Simmons.
In a bit of a side note there seems to be a lot of references to the “Index” which looks to be foreshadowing next year’s Captain America: Civil War with the subject of superhuman registration. I like that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is actively making itself a part of the universe it inhabits instead of dancing around it uncomfortably.
A strong episode with an interesting use of Ward in his return to the series while still leaving his motivation ambiguous.
Using Ward’s partnership with Agent 33 aka Kara to explore his fractured relationship with the other characters worked really well. Kara’s disfigured Agent May mask is an effective symbol of that destroyed relationship and reminds us that Ward is truly on his own.
Kara’s complete loss of identity at the hands of H.Y.D.R.A. was a nice touch as well. I like that she cycles through different faces because she is ashamed of her own. She has lost everything she is and it’s interesting to see how that has affected her. It also leaves her wide open for manipulation from Ward which certainly seems to be his plan.
The “Real” S.H.I.E.L.D. plot is pretty interesting so far and I liked the contrast between the secrecy that Fury represented and their apparent transparency. They don’t like Coulson because he is following in Fury’s footsteps and feel that he’s dangerous because of his reckless behaviour. It should prove to be an interesting conflict when it eventually happens.
I like how they grounded the conflict between the two organisations in Hunter and Bobbi’s relationships. It seemed that they could make a real go of their relationships because their allegiances finally matched but now it seems that history is repeating itself in terms of their relationship. I don’t think that Bobbi’s motivations are clearly defined enough to make her position entirely believable but the scenes between her and Hunter are well done.
Skye being sent off to a secluded place until she can learn to control her powers makes a lot of sense given the circumstances. It provided some good scenes between Coulson and Skye as they discuss their bond and how that relates to Coulson’s connection to his car.
The argument between Fitz and Simmons was really nicely done. Fitz shames her by pointing out that the change in her is more terrifying than the changes that Skye has undergone. Simmons has completely flipped in her opposition to people with super powers so it’s good to see the show address that.
In general this episode seemed mostly transitional but there were plenty of good character beats to keep things watchable.