Tonight, SHIELD undergoes an Identity Crisis and finally wraps a nice tidy bow on one of the few uninteresting subplots of the season in a very satisfying episode.
The unidentified man from last week Brian Van Holt aka Bobby Cobb (“Cougar Town” fans will get that one) picks up an artist and they’re back at her place for a nightcap. She swears she knows him. Honey, he’s in your place, no need for lame pick-up lines now. He shows her his tattooed chest, then pulls out his knife and no, that’s not a euphemism.
Cut to Coulson scribbling frantically away on the wall carving. Skye is having no luck deciphering it using her computer skills. Remember how important that was last season? Glad the writers are still utilizing them since it was the main reason she joined the team in the first place.
In the more action-packed subplot tonight, we’ve got a manhunt with the Alpha Squad: May, Hunter, Morse and Trip searching for Ward, who oddly enough, has not cut his hair/got a dye job/shaved or anything else that would help disguise his identity, which would seem like Step 1A when you’re on the run.
They spot him in a bus depot, but Ward is one step ahead of them. Without even looking in his direction, Ward tips Trip off that he’s got C4 wired on him set to blow. Then on a bus, he quickly identifies Morse and warns her not to follow him. In a nice acknowledgement of his non-SHIELD training, Hunter is able to keep his cover and tracks Ward to a bar. This looks suspiciously like the same bar Creel visited earlier this season, but fling Quinjet scenes can’t be cheap so we’ll cut them some slack.
Hydra’s second in charge, Sunil, arrives and Ward breaks down the Hydra hierarchy for us. Baron Von Strucker (who we saw in “Captain America: The Winter Solider“) is the top guy and Whitehall is running things in the States in his absence. Ward wants to meet Whitehall and promises to get Sunil close enough to Coulson to put a bullet in his head. The SHIELD assault team goes in to the bar to find Ward has killed everyone and tied up Sunil with a note “For Coulson.” Ward on the loose is going to make for a very appealing second-half of this season villain and the writers continue to push him further beyond and hope for redemption.
Meanwhile, Coulson and Skye go the stranger’s victim’s apartment. Coulson claims she’s a SHIELD agent, but can’t remember why he knows that. Skye doubts they have anything in common until they get to her bedroom and find paintings filled with the carvings/symbols. One is titled “A Magical Place.” So this is a SHIELD issue.
Simmons performs an autopsy finds the victim had GHD-25 in their bloodstream, as did the killer. So does Skye and Coulson, who reasons the only way they’ll get answers is if he straps back into the memory device. One of the great things about the show now is that it has enough of its own material to reference earlier episodes that have more significant meaning when it’s brought up again.
Only minor qualm with this is how did Skye become trained to navigate Coulson through this semi-hypnotic state? There were six Tahiti “patients” – all former SHIELD agents killed in battle and brought back to life thanks to GHD-25. Coulson recalls they all started becoming unstable once they started writing so the SHIELD doctor (too bad Ron Glass wasn’t available to return to reprise his role from the first season as the doctor who worked on Coulson) suggests mind-wiping the agents. They won’t be able to return to SHIELD, but could have regular, normal lives.
Skye has narrowed the ex-SHIELD agents down to the last two and Coulson guesses Sebastian Derek (Van Holt) is the killer, but the knowledge has sent him spiraling again and May tells them to lock Coulson up until she arrives. Coulson fools Skye and heads out to the home of the other SHIELD Tahiti agent (Joel Gretsch) desperately searching for answers. Derek takes both of them hostage, but the other agent gets loose and his SHIELD training kicks in and he catches a knife Derek aims at his eyes. Coulson gets loose and he leads Derek to the top floor where they both finally see the full picture of the carvings. The ex agent had been playing out the visions as well, but since he was putting his code together via a 3-D surface, Coulson and Derek both see it’s a city.
That’s most likely Attilan, the hidden city of The Inhumans, soon to be making their way to a Marvel movie of their own. But it seems like it’s going to be a long time for that to play off. Maybe the team meets Crystal or Madusa in the season finale? Coulson comes clean with the team and tells them everything, including their next mission: beating Hydra to finding this city. I like a clean, easily-stated spy vs spy objective for the team and finally ditching the code/carving mystery will provide for more of the SHIELD vs Hydra storyline that has made this show so entertaining.
Ward now goes for the patented Shane (“The Walking Dead”) makeover and goes nearly clean shaven. He calls Skye asking if Coulson got his gift and makes a thinly-veiled threat that the new recruits won’t last too long. He hangs up and seems to be en route to go after his brother.
Next week, it looks like an agent will get killed. My bet? One of those cast members not named Adrianne Palicki who has the “special guest star” tag. For those keeping track, that’s Trip or Mack.