Sometimes it seems that all hope is lost. That a show with recognizable potential has past the point of redemption. That it’s game over. But that time is not this week! No! For indeed, peeking between the clouds of wooden acting and stilted dialogue, comes a new episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D…. and spoiler alert, people of Earth… it’s a pretty good one.
You heard me.
Now Apparently A Permanent Fixture Previously On: As random plots get tied together from earlier in the season, we always need these recaps, I guess. Basically, this time, we need to remember that Skye is looking for her parents.
Cold Open: S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy! Do they have a Sorting Hat at future Hogwarts? Oops, no time to worry. The students are at the pool, only, it’s uh… freezing. For no apparent reason. One student is nearly trapped in the ice when it rapidly freezes over his leg, but another busts the ice open with the hilt of a pool skimmer. Yikes!
Act I: After the briefest of cold opens, Fitz-Simmons are talking about how they designed a device that can freeze pools! Well, it wasn’t designed to be used in that way, but someone has apparently weaponized it. For that reason, Fitz-Simmons have been recalled to the Academy. Well, the SciTech Academy. Apparently there are three … Communications, Operations, and SciTech. I think that answers my incredibly important question about how they’re sorted into Houses. I guess you just apply for the division you’re suited for! There’s a rivalry between Sciences and Operations. Skye makes a funny about this to a passing Agent May, who confesses that Ward, Skye, and Fitz-Simmons are going to the Academy… she and Coulson are bound elsewhere. Skye is a little worried about Coulson, actually. Remember, how he had it kind of crappy last week? Ward re-assures her. There’s something about Ward this week that seems less wooden. Maybe I’m imagining things. I hope not though.
At the Academy, the Shield ActionTeam is met by the lovely Agent Weaver (Christine Adams), apparently some kind of administrator. Weird that they don’t make that clear. It also seems like Agent Ward outranks her. I wish I knew a little more about how S.H.I.E.L.D. is organized (and by a little more, I mean a LITTLE, not a lot. Please no one inundate me). Does being Level 7 give Ward clout automatically, as well as determine his secrecy rating? Is Level 7 a rank? Has this already been explained and I just blacked out? Anyway, Agent Weaver is worried they might have a bad seed at the academy. Ward tries to explain the meaning of this term to Skye who helpfully informs him that it is also a phrase that normal people know of! It was a very Joss Whedon moment. I assume that Jed must have had some hand in this scene. It’s fun to try and guess.
While Fitz-Simmons prepare for their lecture on how you should be careful of the potential of dorm room science projects to be weaponized into something dreadful… Ward and Skye visit the Wall of Valor, a memorial to S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who have fallen in the line of duty. Skye wishes that she’d come up through S.H.I.E.L.D. the right way, but Ward talks her down. It’s a stunningly human moment from Ward. Did I drink a lot before this episode? I’d like to believe that, instead, Ward is finally a character instead of a caricature.
On the ActionPlane, Coulson and May rehash the whole ‘Coulson was dead and got brought back by mad science’ thing. More importantly, May has a line on one Richard Lumley (Boyd Kistner), former Agent, who vanished 23 years before. I have deep suspicions that he’s connected to Skye’s mysterious past! Sounds like fun.
At the Academy, Fitz-Simmons begin their lecture. Apparently they’re held in some reverence at the Academy. Meanwhile, Ward is interrogating the near-victim of the pool freeze, a young man named Seth (David Zovatto), one of the top students at SciTech. Seth admits that the academy is competitive, but that they don’t typically attempt to kill one another to gain pole position. He also claims not to know a student named Donnie Gill (Dylan Minnette)…
…Who at the same time is freezing over solid during Fitz-Simmons’ lecture! Fortunately, Fitz-Simmons are seasoned field operatives, and Skye and Ward arrive just in time to identify the freeze device responsible and smash it. Their combined efforts save young Donnie before he suffers much in the way of undue effects.
Oops, there’s the scene changes I’ve been missing. In a tinted limo, we’re re-united with hilariously evil CEO Ian Quinn (David Conrad) who you might remember from the Gravitonium debacle. He’s just here to tell us he’s involved in this somehow, before we’re back to the Academy.
Eh, it’s just some filler dialogue. Donnie has a 190 IQ, no friends, no enemies, has trouble relating, blah blah blah. The faculty is worried about him. Wards wants Fitz-Simmons to take the group to the students’ refuge, The Boiler Room. There’s another scene change in here, but I don’t even want to talk about it. I spent more words explaining that than the time we spent scene-changed. Ugh. Anyway, Ward ACTUALLY wants Fitz to go make friends with Donnie Gill. Simmons and Skye make fun of him, because he’s abruptly acting like a human being, and this is new for all of us. Humour helps break the tension. The rest of them will check out the Boiler Room. I capitalize it, because apparently the SciTech students turned the literal boiler room of the campus into a nightclub. No, I am not kidding. There appears to be no cover, and while Ward is twice the age of any student on campus, apparently real S.H.I.E.L.D. agents drop by from time to time.
Over at Donnie’s place, Fitz and he compare notes on being the biggest nerd on campus. Fitz is impressed by the cool gadgets that Donnie’s been working on. In his own time, he also invented weird things. You know, like technology that could be weaponized into a FREEEEEEZE gun.
In Mexico City, May and Coulson being unobtrusive in their bright red ActionCorvette. They are talking about Skye. Actually, May is doing almost all of the talking. This is a day for breakthroughs for everyone! Skye has finally completely won May over, we discover. This is actually nice to hear. I was tired of May being unbearably frigid toward poor Skye. Or maybe I was just bored after we had to deal with it from Ward as well? Hmm. Coulson’s got concerns about the whole ‘re-worked his brain and implanted false memories’ thing. May does not. I like that Coulson is dealing with some stuff to make him more interesting. He’s not so smarmy here, and he doesn’t feel like he knows everything anymore. He even says he’s ‘tired of secrets’. We all know that’s not true, right? He’s a man of secrets. Fortunately, about this time, they spot Lumley and go into pursuit mode.
It’s a hilarious kung-fu mismatch between Agent May and Lumley. He literally hits her with a pallett, which slows her down for a second, while Lumley attempts to flee. But then we discover that the unobtrusive and very stealthy bright red Corvette can fly. Well, then! Coulson identifies himself, and Lumley sags in relief. Or despair. Or something. “Oh good. This is about the baby girl, isn’t it?” Time to learn cool things!
Lumley tried to take a cyanide capsule. Coulson is horrified. What did he think they were going to do with him? Well, there’s a story! 24 years ago (this is the number associated with Skye’s infancy, in case you forgot) Agents Lumley and Avery were in China. A whole S.H.I.E.L.D. team had apparently been wiped out trying to recover an 0-8-4 (this is the code given to an object of unknown origin. Previous examples include the Peruvian artifact we saw earlier this season, or perhaps even the Tesseract itself (this is the dumb, generic name given to the Cosmic Cube in films such as ‘The Avengers’). It turns out that the 0-8-4 these agents were retrieving was a baby girl, who exhibited no special powers that they ever observed. One by one, everyone who knew about the kid was hunted down and destroyed, including Agent Avery. Lumley is the only other survivor. Before her death, Agent Avery faked a Level 8 (!! who the eff is level 8 if Phil Coulson is only level 7? Just Nick Fury? It all seems kind of arbitrary though, let’s not think too hard) clearance. Avery assigned the S.H.I.E.L.D. foster system to move Skye around every few months not because she wasn’t wanted… but to keep her safe. Wow. Let’s take a breather after that.
Back at the Academy, Skye has blended in. Because she’s very smooth, as we’ve seen, she apparently flirted with the bartender and convinced him that she’s a Level 7 operative at the Sandbox (a S.H.I.E.L.D. pure research facility). After she expressed curiousity over top candidates who might be interested in assignment there, she was pointed toward one of the lovely young ladies from the cold open. Ward decides to check it out. Meanwhile, up in Donnie’s dorm, Fitz tries to befriend the troubled young man. He also helps him solve a problem with power generation for some dorm room science project Donnie’s been working on. I’m sure that was a good idea.
Ward is not good at flirting with young S.H.I.E.L.D. cadets. The dialogue here isn’t that good, and neither is he. It’s kind of a bummer. He’s made great strides during this episode, but right here, I either want to punch him in the face, or do the Picard-style facepalm til the scene is over. Right up until young miss… whatever… drops a bombshell. Donnie and Seth are friends. They’ve been bantering for weeks about how they would get to meet the great Agent Fitz. Ward immediately spots the problem. They just now arrived… and didn’t know they were coming… and oh. Right.
Fitz decides to play hero after he realizes that he’s been had, and that helping Donnie with his science project probably actually means that he just taught Donnie how to power a full scale version of the FREEEEEEEEEEEEZE machine. Unluckily for Fitz, Seth is also present, and shoots him in the head. Probably non-lethally. But still. It all comes together now; Seth and Donnie have been in touch with comically evil CEO Ian Quinn (But he really just loves free enterprise, guys! Emphasis on the comically evil.), who seems to do nothing in life except fly around in his private jet and facilitate supervillains and weapons of mass destruction (though, to be fair, he may just not have had time to rebuild his magnificently appointed villa since we last saw him). Skye even confirms with Coulson that this is Quinn’s modus operandi.
Oh, right, we’re back on the ActionPlane now. Coulson is acting kind of weird toward Skye. I WONDER WHY. Fitz thinks that Donnie is still not a bad guy. Also, he abruptly realizes that the device he saw used exotic and rare materials that could never be obtained on the open market by cadets. They’ve got a financial backer.
In a parking lot somewhere, Seth is on the phone with amusingly sinister CEO Ian Quinn.
On the ActionPlane, we now learn that Seth’s father works for Quinn WorldWide. Remember how, to the rest of the world, Quinn isn’t full of cackleworthy menace? Hmm. Even Seth and Donnie probably don’t know that he’s hysterically foul. Quinn tells Seth he wants a full-scale demonstration to prove that the device is worth his time now that the ActionTeam is on the case. Then he hangs up the phone and immediately orders his pilot to turn around. Remember what I keep saying about him? It’s ha-ha funny! It’s heinous!
Donnie is having second thoughts about just randomly firing up their untested ice machine at full scale. Seth convinces him otherwise, and they push the big red button. Only, instead of doing whatever idiotic thing they thought they would do… well, even Donnie doesn’t know what dumb thing they just did.
On the ActionPlane, Coulson squares with Skye. He tells her the whole truth. The music rises as he does so. The music tells us how we should feel about each of these scenes! I’m still in shock over the fact that Coulson decided to square with Skye. Is this show getting like… a lot better? Please, dear reader, you tell me. Skye says that the truth about her past cannot be worse than what she imagined. Coulson assures her: “It is.” Rise, emotions! Obey that musical cue! The music is so ascendant, it can carry us through to other scenes…!
Agents Ward and Weaver witness the instanteous formation of a huge, dangerous storm system.
Skye is in tears.
Donnie and Seth are at the eye of the same storm. Seth is triumphant; Donnie is deeply concerned. While the device worked… they could be in terrible danger.
After the break… Donnie is yet more concerned. They seeded the clouds, only they did a REALLY good job. Ice is coming. Like, a capriciously lethal amount. He begs for Seth’s help to try and reverse the process. Coulson orders Ward to see if he can extract Donnie and Seth, but Ward takes one look outside and says: “Not so much”. The only remaining recourse is to land the ActionPlane in the eye of the storm and get the two young men out manually. Luckily, Agent May is a good pilot and stuff. I’m sure they’ll make it. Uhh… not before Seth is hit by a bolt of lightning though. An unfortunate consequence of holding on tight to a metal object that rises up above its surroundings. Donnie is knocked back as well, and the machine is totally fried. The ActionPlane descends, the ActionTeam is here to save the day… but Seth is already too far gone, despite Fitz-Simmons’ best efforts. Donnie is devastated.
In the aftermath, Donnie is being shipped out to the Sandbox, where S.H.I.E.L.D. can keep an eye on him. May wants to revisit the whole ‘she and Ward are making love with machine-like precision and wooden facial expressions’ thing but Coulson’s not concerned. She also seems genuinely upset, like a real human being, at how badly it must have hurt Skye that Coulson told her the truth. Coulson, though, is positively glowing, as he talks about Skye’s reaction… guys, it turns out that Skye is a hero, she’s an ‘up’ person, and she gives her all for the team. Now, I don’t want to put too fine a point on this, BUT ALL THE VIEWERS KNEW THAT ALREADY COULSON, GOOD GRIEF. We got over ‘conflicted allegiances Skye’ like ten episodes ago. As part of the exeunt, we see Donnie making ice with his finger. Hey, it’s the influence of farcically vicious CEO Ian Quinn! Makin’ dem Supervillains!
In a final segment, Coulson calls amusingly malicious CEO Ian Quinn to threaten to blow him out of the sky if he ever comes near a S.H.I.E.L.D. aligned nation again. Quinn’s unruffled, and tells Coulson that … ‘The Clairvoyant told me to say “Hello”‘. Because we can’t have two groups of bad guys. God forbid. They’re all one group of interconnected evildoers, responsible for all of the evil! The musical cue tells me dread, but I felt ‘yawn’. Tsk tsk. The music wasn’t powerful enough.
Guys, this episode was great! The best one so far, by a clear margin! I know that people have already fled this show, and believe me, I get it. No one watches it more times than I do, despite the pain and suffering it causes. But if every week was like this one, we’d have an above-average TV show. Isn’t that all we can ask for from the broadcast networks anymore? Anyway, I’ll join you all again next week, for another journey into the unknown. Meanwhile, I’m going to see how a guy gets entrance into the S.H.I.E.L.D. academy… seemed like a pretty happening place.