Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been so on the ball this season, it’s almost hard to imagine a time when the show struggled to find its feet – and for that matter, an audience. While Captain America: The Winter Soldier helped elevate the show late last season, its been sustained by strong story arcs and interesting character development. And so far, every episode has more or less given us proof of an adage that seems to be forgotten in this day and age of television: give a fledgling show time to find its feet, and it will flourish.
We’ve spent the better half of the first batch of season two episodes establishing how Hydra has taken a hold in both S.H.I.E.L.D. and on the word, dealing with personal moments specifically important to characters such as Skye’s parentage and Fitz’s brain damage and Simmons’ undercover detail, and introducing fresh new blood in the likes of Bobbi Morse, Lance Hunter, and Mack. Tonight took us back to one of the biggest mysteries surrounding season one, and what is essentially almost the backbone of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Coulson’s resurrection, GH325, and those mysterious alien markings. And so that’s how we start off “The Writing On The Wall,” where we meet a man and a woman who are coming home slightly drunk from a bar, with the woman claiming the man seems familiar. Turns out she’s not wrong. They have met before, the man reveals, before opening his shirt to reveal the alien code tattooed on his body. Ah, it was such a promising night, too.
Coulson is carving his own alien code to some sweet music, and a worried Skye interrupts him. Naturally, Skye is a little wary of the fact that everything is seemingly connected – the information about her father, the Obelisk, the alien blood. Though Coulson is convinced the code is some sort of map, Skye thinks it’s a map to nowhere. Coulson, however, just can’t turn anything off, and he needs answers. When Skye shows him the picture of the woman who was murdered, with the markings carved into her back, Coulson recognizes her as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. Coulson maintains “we’re the only ones who know what we’re looking for” and although Skye is doubtful, a quick trip to her house turns up a painting of the alien code with the words “a magical place,” on the bottom.
While Coulson and Skye begin their search for answers, May and co. are attempting to keep tabs on Ward. And again, here’s a dynamic I feel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. really has been succeeding in each week – the fostering of group relationships. Strike Team May, Hunter, Morse and Tripp? Someone please give this to me all the time, every day. Hell, make it into a side show. It’s always tricky introducing new players into a show with an already large cast, but by splitting up the group, the show has smartly allowed us to invest in important relationships like Coulson and Skye, Mack and Fitz, and Bobbi and May and Hunter. When we were watching Coulson and Skye work together tonight, we didn’t feel like we were throwing other characters to the side, which might have been the case last season – and that’s a great strength to have in an ensemble show, especially one where the stories are presumably going to get more complicated as we move forward.
Simmons examines the woman’s body with help from Mack and Fitz, and did I mention I love the new Jemma Simmons? She’s confident, take charge, and more sure of herself than she ever was before, despite the fact you can tell she’s still upset about everything going on with her and Fitz. Her strength is impressive in a way that we had seen, but that she never had a chance to really embrace.
Turns out that both the killer and Stevens have GH blood, which marks them as T.A.H.I.T.I. patients, but since Coulson can’t remember enough to help, he makes the executive decision that they’re going to have to force the memories out of him by putting him in the memory machine. Skye is naturally worried but Coulson overrides him with his Director superiority – and, well, there’s not really a lot Skye can do but let him go under the knife.
Speaking of characters that are finally getting their due this season – whereas Grant Ward was previously little more than an undercover pawn, it seems that we’re finally getting more of an established storyline for his character. Ward is now free of authority, free of his prison, and he’s really on his own for the first time in forever. What does he do with his newfound freedom? He manages to use a pretend bus trip to alert Bobbi that he’s onto the fact she works for Coulson (but misses the fact that Hunter’s trailing him on a different bus, so we score one for S.H.I.E.L.D. in this segment), and then goes to a bar in Boston where he meets Bakshi. With “Strucker out of town” (nice nod to the man who will no doubt be instrumental in Age of Ultron, who, as we saw in the credits of Winter Soldier, is ready to deal with “an age of miracles”), Ward wants to know who Bakshi is reporting to. He also promises he can get him a “face-to-face” meeting with Coulson, which he does…by leaving Bakshi tied helplessly to a chair, knowing that eventually, Coulson and his team will bring him in for capture.
As Coulson goes into the memory machine, he experiences flashes from his time at the Guest House, where he interviewed Stevens and six patients total. Stevens tells him she was dying, which is why she volunteered to be part of the experience. There are more flashes, all of which involve the patients getting progressively crazier and more unstable as they start to write the alien code, to the point where Coulson recommends everything be shut down and the host destroyed. Apparently, that’s not possible, because according to one of the members involved in the project, the host – which is older than anything – is forcing its memory onto patients. Coulson manages to name the rest of the individuals, until he goes completely mental and Simmons and Skye decide to pull him out of the machine. He’s a little more than out of it when he wakes up but Skye gets that gun in his face and he calms down. As it stands, there are only two patients from the T.A.H.I.T.I. project that are still alive, but Coulson is unsure which one is actually the killer we saw at the beginning of the episode. At the request of May, he agrees to be locked up, and if it seems too easy, it is – he tricks Skye into being trapped into Ward’s old cell instead, and goes off to deal with the killer himself.
Mack and Fitz are playing video games and discussing the brain (or, more accurately, Fitz’s brain) and again, let me take a moment to say how much I adore this dynamic. These two have wonderful chemistry, and I really hope we see them grow more…even if it means less FitzSimmons time overall. Simmons sees Skye on the monitors and rescues her, and Skye alerts them of Coulson’s actions while Strike Team: Let’s All Kick Ass breaks in to take Ward down. Coulson, meanwhile, has found Mr. Thompson, who is playing with his son and toy trains, and tries to talk with him about the alien markings. But he’s technically too late – the killer has already been there, and takes Thompson and Coulson hostage.
Apparently, we learn that the reason the killer keeps cutting into his victims is because pain makes him remember the things that Coulson erased. He reveals the tattooed code on his body, and Coulson tries to reason with him based on the fact that he knows they’re connected. Thompson manages to get free and helps Coulson escape as well, and here’s our fight scene of the evening, which is actually pretty awesome. Go Director Coulson! Kick some butt!
As Mack and Skye (fresh off of a conversation about Tahiti) bust in to help, Coulson manages to get hold of the killer and forces him to look down at the train tracks, which he realizes are a two-dimensional pattern. The man calms down after looking at the model, and Coulson realizes that the alien writing is not a map like they previously thought but rather, a blueprint for a city.
Later, a now-calm Thompson thanks Coulson for helping him out, and Coulson reveals that the compulsion that had been eating away at him and everyone else is gone. Whatever was in their blood, it was driving them to go to that city, to go home, to a place they didn’t know how to find. While Skye goes off to hack Bakshi’s cell phone, Director Coulson faces the team and tells them that the pieces are coming together, fully opening up on how he’s been acting and what he’s learned. He shows them the blueprint, and also proves that he’s gotten really good at using those hologram things. Personally, it’s a little emotional for me to see such a nice, big team when at the end of last season, we had only a handful of agents after Hydra’s fall, ready to rebuild at Nick Fury’s request.
In other news, Ward is clearly over “no shave November” and shears off his beard as well as most of his hair, cleaning himself up for the first time last season – looks like the old Grant Ward is back, and in more ways than one. (By the way, did you all catch the really interesting easter egg of a framed Captain America print that says “Trust Cap to Lead The Way”? And my apologies, my original twitter said “war” because I couldn’t read it well in the dark. We know Marvel is heading into a Civil War storyline soon, and a large part of that conflict is going to be whether to follow Cap or Tony – might this be some random foreshadowing?)
Ward calls Bakshi’s cell phone and Skye answers (appropriately) with “Hail Hydra.” She doesn’t exactly expect Ward on the other end of the line, but manages to hold her own as he alerts her to the fact that he has Bakshi exactly where he wants him, and threatens the new recruits. Our parting shot is Ward packing up a bag with a paper that has his brother’s face on the front page. And we all know how Ward feels about his brother….
- Mack: “Does he have alien blood, too? Imagine that…S.H.I.E.L.D. being run by a man that’s part alien.” / Skye: “Imagine that.”
What did you think of the episode?