At the end of last week’s episode Tripp and Skye made off with a Quinjet and May escaped on a conveniently product placed Harley Davidson roadster. May quickly comes across the wrecked SUV that Hartley’s team escaped in. Hunter is the only one left alive with Hartley and Idaho killed when Creel took back the Obelisk. Trying to free Hunter he stops her telling May she has to get Creel, leaving a portable cutting tool behind for Hunter to try and escape she continues her pursuit and Hunter cuts himself free just in time for the armed forces to show up and take him in to custody.
May trailing Creel and asking Coulson if she can “take the shot” is told despite the fact this man just killed two of his team Coulson lets it ride. We can see it weighing on him, he’s now in the position he has to make the unpleasant decisions, as nice as it would be to take Creel down it is more important to find out who his contacts are so May is ordered to hold back.
Meanwhile Tripp and Skye have returned to find out that Lance has been captured and Skye wants to get back out there to track down the Obelisk telling Coulson the symbols on it match the symbols they’ve been researching for months. Coulson has her hold tight due to Hunter’s capture she may be needed elsewhere. It’s nice to see Skye take a more bold approach, she seems to have learnt a lot studying under May part of which is the ability to see through Coulson’s sleight of hand when it comes to dealing with subordinates.
Reviewing the Quinjet’s stealth systems Mack is assigned to reverse engineer it to fix the stealth system in the Bus and here’s where Mack’s character seems to come together and we see the potential of where he’s going to fit in with the family. Skye and Tripp talk about how Simmons “abandoned” them (which will be coming to a head in the next episode) and everyone uses kid gloves with Fitz, Mack treats him like a capable person not addressing him with some kind of childish care. He doesn’t push him around but treats him like any other member of the team.
Here we cut back to Hunter, who I’m starting to like a lot, his wit is a refreshing change and reminds me a bit of Mal from Firefly. He may have the crap kicked out of him but just uses that to fuel the wit machine that seems built in to all Whedonesque characters. Delivered in to the hands of Talbot given his mercenary history the expected resolution is he sells out the team for a bunch of money but when asked by Talbot what his price would be it’s 2 million dollars but also a decent burial for Hartley and her record expunged which takes Talbot aback. Like Mal this is a rogue with a good heart.
May is staked out by the bar that Creel is waiting for his contact in when things start to go sideways for Creel. Having absorbed part of the Obelisk he’s starting to involuntarily transform in to the material that the Obelisk is made of. This leads to a waitress accidentally being turned to stone and sending Creel to the wind now they’re on a timeline, he’s losing control because now he’s a deadly threat to anyone. May is angry she didn’t take Creel down but when Coulson says that he made the call so it’s on him she tries to deflect it but he’s having none of it. Again we’re hammered home the point “I am the man who makes the calls”. They are going to have to deal with this soon or this series may stall under the weight of its morbid depression but we start to see how he’s handling this pressure, holding up a paperclip he’s twisted it in to the shapes of the mysterious symbols as a reflexive unconscious twitch. The symbols are starting to bleed in to his real world life.
Returning to the fold how Hunter is greeted is a refreshing change. You have a team member who’s been in enemy clutches you don’t just throw open your arms and welcome them back you question them (especially when there’s known traitors in your midst) and instead of belabouring the point they straight up know he was given an offer and he doesn’t deny it. After last season’s trail of betrayal and subterfuge this kind of refreshing honesty is a nice change but also it helps us see the quality of Hunter’s character. He asks for his pay because he’s a mercenary and he asks for Hartley and Idaho’s as well but then he explains it’s not for him but for their family. This is the kind of material a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent is made of, commitment to the team through thick and thin and Coulson sees that.
While all of this is going on Fitz and Imagination-Simmons have decided to try and figure out how to disrupt Creel’s powers after failing to get the stealth systems up and running. We get a delicious taste of how Simmons seems to act like the mischievous imp on Fitz’s shoulder getting him to do things he would otherwise not have done but deep down you know he wants to. Their interplay is always a refreshing fun voice and even if it’s tragic in nature I’m glad to know it’s not gone and it’s at its most delightful when Mack walks in to the room. Fitz loves Simmons and that’s how he got in his current state but he’s also a realist and having Simmons admire the physical perfection that is Mack is an amusing aside watching Fitz get annoyed at Imagination-Simmons checking out Mack’s abs is a joy but it also helps him adjust. Fitz needs a friend and Imagination-Simmons encourages him to work with Mack sure she’s an imaginary friend but she’s constructive and after the depressing end and the painful start to the series it’s a good feeling to have and when Mack trusts him this is the first real step towards recovery not May, Coulson and Skye’s tender looks and “there there it’s okay” but Mack’s “you can do this now do it” attitude.
Things are not going well for Creel, cutting back to his truck of stuff we find he’s no longer able to transform. He tries time and time again but the Obelisk’s materials are overriding his genetics and he’s losing control Hydra also are keeping their distance. Abandoning the now compromised communications network they reach out to him via a burner phone. Unfortunately for Hydra there’s a third player, Raina rears her flower bedecked head. She continues with her Whedony flowery language offering Creel an incredibly rare element in return for the Obelisk, he refuses (of course) but takes her ring made of Carbine a compressed star dust carbon element. Super hard and dense it is exceptionally rare so of course he takes it with him. This material also has the ability to store energy which may payoff down the road. I never really liked Raina, her twee coy nature just annoyed me, but she does something very interesting. She’s playing both sides against one another, sending a message to Coulson (which also opened up an opportunity to make a penis joke which is a much needed moment of levity in an otherwise dark first couple of episodes). She lets him know about the Carbine and sets him in motion, not working for Hydra any more we’re left to wonder at her motivations. Interestingly she’s not interested in World Domination (which is so 1945), but if she’s not interested in World Domination what is she interested in? That sounds far more dangerous, but also Raina drops that Garett saw symbols and guesses that Coulson has them as well this un-nerves Coulson. Given a tracker they make their move with Hunter joining them in the field.
Meanwhile Fitz is trying to tell the new boffins in the lab the trick to how to defeat Creel, Mack is there and can see they’re making them nervous he kicks them out of the lab and is straight with Fitz who, to be polite, looses it shouting “I didn’t solve this today” over and over Mack clicks that he’s already figured it out. Pulling up Fitz’s reports they start paging through his various inventions before finding the magic bullet a device that can be modified to disable Creel’s powers and Fitz takes a halting step towards healing. Watching the three actors playing off one another could be fun and I’m looking forward to seeing how Mack and Fitz’s relationship alongside Imagination-Simmons develop.
The sting begins to go down with Skye trying to identify the contact unfortunately for the team Hunter has his own plans. His goal is to take down Creel who is losing control which is when we see the seed for next week’s episode when Bakshi uses a code phrase that seems to clear the Obelisk from Creel’s system but also seems to transform his mental state lending to the suspicion that Hydra uses mind control to keep their operatives in line. At this point Hunter makes his move but not before Creel is tipped off Creel chases hunter and when Bakshi goes to grab the briefcase it’s gone. Things aren’t looking too good for Hunter who is getting beaten down with a metal hand and is about to be touched by Creel’s Obelisk form when Coulson sticks Fitz’s destabilizer out of his back. Sort of a last minute cheap save it’s certainly dramatic as it turns Creel in to stone like all other people who’ve touched the Obelisk but unlike his normal form he’s frozen solid.
Here we get the start to a very dense ending, first Coulson arranges Hartley’s funeral and has a heart to heart with Hunter. He admits he can’t be in the field any more but he needs someone like Hunter inviting him to join the team. Hunter is in shock as he just shot three of Coulson’s agents with icers, Coulson laughs and reminds him that it included Agent May and she not just holds a grudge, she savours it. Coulson sees something in him though; he realizes he has to trust to get the job done and someone who’s skilled and flexible enough to make the right choices when needed but more important has been vetted by people he trusts he thinks he can work with Hunter to be the voice that pushes back when others wont and we get the new dynamic. Mack and Hunter are the force pushing back on the old team keeping them balanced against the nostalgia for easier times and evaluating their decisions with a clear unbiased light.
Next up we have Fitz, Mack, Skye and May all sharing various moments and while Mack and Fitz have an awkward bonding moment May and Skye have a very different conversation. Skye knows something is up, she knows he’s breaking and May is running interference and her feelings are clearly interfering and this is when we find out he’s been breaking having “episodes” which are the creepiest thing in ages. May and Coulson have been documenting them but Coulson has been engaging in strange private rituals, barefoot he cuts in to a wall carving out the same shapes that Garret was carving and he carved at the end of the last season. May all the while takes pictures, it’s good that he’s opening up to her but her love for him may be compromising her objectivity. What does this all mean?
This gives way to a scene may be a bit of a clue, we know Skye is an O84 and in last season we got a brief glimpse of the bloody hand of her father today it pays off, we find out that Raina grabbed the Obelisk but her new employer is Skye’s father (Kyle McLaughlin) who’s hands are still bloodied. I thought I would struggle with in this role having seen him doing comedy in Portlandia but he is possibly at his most disturbing since Twin Peaks if not ever. There’s a serene calm to his character but the kind of calm you get before a storm or a wave wipes clear the land, the kind of primal forces of rage that have no direction. We’ve been introduced to the Kree already in the MCU and they have been cruel religious zealots and I’m starting to suspect that we may have the answer to what Skye is. She was injected with Kree blood, this healed her but she’s not having the visions. Why? Because she’s Kree? Possibly, the Obelisk responds to her father differently it doesn’t kill and Raina is able to pick it up because it “let her live” implying intelligence, this artifact is alien but responds to her bloodline and her father will only show Raina how the Obelisk works when she brings him Skye. While Hydra may have been the former big bad I suspect they are going to be a distraction at this point, the nuisance that keeps S.H.I.E.L.D. from dealing with the real enemy (which I suspect will come to a head if we make it to the the Avengers 3 and have to come head to head with Thanos and interstellar forces).
Finally we get the last act to our dense ending, Talbot and Coulson have a showdown with Coulson playing the smarmy puppet master with almost as much talent as Nick Fury himself. He’s disarming and condescending all at once telling Talbot he’s brought him Creel as a peace offering all the while making jabs at his security and how it’s Talbot’s team’s fault for not taking care of him right. Cryogenically frozen we’re set up (though it may be a red herring) for Creel to possibly regain his powers and unfreeze himself since very little is known. Talbot has 45 minutes to get him to a power source before the cryo-tube Coulson has stuck him in runs out of juice. Talbot swaggers and rebukes Coulson’s offers of partnership with Coulson offering Talbot the praise for the hard work of S.H.I.E.L.D. bringing down Hydra so Coulson decides to wave his big stick with a glee inducing reveal. Though they may not be as powerful as they once where he still has the ability to mess with the heads of the enemy and Talbot is left guessing as we are and once they start running the preview for next week’s episode. For that all I have to say is WhaaaaAAAAA?!!!