This Life or the Other: A Review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Mid-Season Finale – Season 1, Episode 10 “The Bridge”

Posted: December 16, 2013 in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Reviews, TV
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After our second two-week hiatus, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was back on Tuesday night with an episode that takes us back into the Centipede story arc just in time for the mid-season finale (the series will pick up again on January 7th). This time, we’re promised a bit of super-soldier action…only, it’s not Captain America. It’s Mike Peterson, the Centipede stooge who nearly blew up due to the instability of their serum back in the pilot episode. How well do he and the team work together?

<<Spoiler Alert: This review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S01E10 – “The Bridge” – will discuss major plot points and events in the episode; read at your own risk!>>

The opening splash shows scenes both from the “Pilot” episode, and from “Girl in the Flower Dress,” firmly establishing its Centipede focus. After the credits, we go to Havenworth Penitentiary, where Po, the man behind the glass in “Girl,” is sitting eating a meal. Another inmate starts to sit across from him, but he tells him the seat is taken. Moments later, the roof caves in, and three men in military fatigues come down on ropes, immediately engaging a group of prison guards that immediately swarm in to prevent the escape attempt. Its obvious very quickly that all three have super powers, and glimpses of centipede devices on their arms and necks quickly tell the story. Po calmly continues to finish his meal, and when one of the soldiers tells him it’s time to go, he takes another bite and insists that the soldier repeat his statement, adding “Sir” to the beginning. The four men then attach themselves to ropes, and are pulled out through the gaping hole int he roof by a helicopter. There’s no question who the real power in the room is. Po doesn’t stir an inch until he’s ready, sitting in the midst of battle without getting so much as a speck of dust on him. His first appearance in episode 105 was short but intriguing – he has good potential as a Big Bad, even if the Centipede storyline itself has been a little hit and miss.

On the bus, Coulson is speaking to Skye. She has a flash drive with information she has gathered about potential candidates for who her mother is/was. Coulson seems less interested than usual, and tells her that he has also enlisted May to help with the search. Down in the cargo area, May and Ward are sparring. Ward is openly flirting with May, who responds, “Not here.” Ward looks mildly chagrined, but his youthful exuberance is apparently a problem May hadn’t counted on when beginning the fling. Ward leaves, and May is surprised by Coulson – he has a real knack for showing up silently at the most inconvenient times for members of the team. It isn’t apparent whether or not he saw the flirtation, but he doesn’t give any hints either. He tells May they have a briefing.

When the team is gathered, Coulson goes over the information about the prison escape, and tells them they won’t be working alone. We cut to the S.H.I.E.L.D. training grounds, where we see a familiar face: Mike Peterson. He’s running sled drills – only he’s using a full-sized mining bulldozer to push against. He pushes it all the way across the field, and stops to catch his breath. Coulson approaches him, and hands him a uniform. “We need you to suit up,” he tells him.

Back on the plane, Coulson shows May who it is that’s helping them, and she says, “This is a bad idea.” He then tells her that he told Skye she would help in the hacker’s attempts to find her mother, and May tells him, “One mistake at a time.” He then turns to Peterson and warns him that there while he’s always happy to give people second chances, there are no third chances. He’s saying this just as much to May as he is to Peterson; her concerns for the direction Skye is moving in are somewhat assuaged by Coulson’s warning/reassurance. If Peterson doesn’t get any third chances, neither will Skye. This begs the question, however: what exactly constituted a second chance in Coulson’s books? Skye started out as a hacker actively fighting S.H.I.E.L.D. I imagine he doesn’t see this as a first strike, because she was still external to the agency at that point. Then, once inside, she actively worked to feed information to her Rising Dawn compatriot/lover on the outside. That’s definitely a strike, and resulted in her bracelet. But what about all of her other transgressions? The constant questioning of authority? The complete disregard for orders as seen in “The Hub?” While I find it annoying when Skye questions Coulson, I actually find it refreshing that May never hesitates to speak her mind to Coulson – but that’s because she’s the only one on board that sees him as an equal. That equality has been hard-earned, as we learned in the last episode, unlike Skye’s overbearing sense of entitlement, the whole, “I’m good at what I do, so you should give me everything I want” attitude. Nothing earned, nothing gained. Coulson has to stop catering to her.

In the briefing room, the rest of the team is discussing Peterson and the events when the first met him. Of course, Peterson walks in just as they’re saying they don’t trust him, but he takes it like a trooper, apologizing for his earlier transgressions, and explaining that he’s ready to help. Skye acts nervous and gets oddly chatty; naturally, she feels as though she has betrayed Peterson as well, being that she was the first person to approach him, and had intended to use him against the very organization she is now nominally working for. They start the briefing by viewing video of Po’s escape, and Peterson recognizes one of the soldiers, a Brian Hayward; they decide to go to Cleveland, where the soldier’s sister is going to school.

Coulson sends Peterson down to the lab for tests while they’re en-route, and Simmons gets all tongue-tied while she measures him and takes samples. Fitz is visibly perturbed, and becomes hostile toward Peterson, who takes it all with good humor. I’m not sure where the show is going with the heavily cloaked love between Fitz and Simmons. At times (such as when Simmons almost died, or when Fitz was on the suicide mission with Ward), the love between them is palpable; at others, they seem more like annoyed siblings in their interactions. The relationship is somewhat schizophrenic – they’re by no means the center of the show, but some consistency by this point, halfway through the season, would be nice. While they’re doing the tests, Peterson mentions that he has to eat four times as much as he used to just to maintain his energy, but if he uses his super-strength, that goes up to ten times normal. This little piece of information becomes important later in the episode – it isn’t just Peterson who has the energy drain issues.

In Ohio, Coulson and Ward are driving to the university, discussing women. Ward plays the young bull to Coulson’s old bull, but he’s rather ham-handed, especially when he asks Coulson if a relationship gone wrong might have worked out better if Coulson’s lover had been in the Agency. Coulson looks at him sideways and says, “In my experience, that’s just asking for trouble.” May is cagey even if Ward is not, but Coulson’s the cagiest one of them all. If he doesn’t outright know that Ward and May are sleeping together, he certainly suspects it. He’s trying to warn Ward that things are likely to go awry, even if he won’t outright prohibit the relationship.

In a scene that mirrors what’s happening in the car, Skye approaches May to talk about her mommy issues. Unlike Coulson, May doesn’t have a maternal bone in her, and she lays right into the younger agent – they’re on a mission, and she needs to be focused. Skye looks taken aback, but doesn’t press the issue. They watch a video of the girl in the flower dress visiting Po in prison, and Peterson walks in – he I.D.s her as Raina.

We cut to a large, mostly empty warehouse, where Raina approaches Po, who is sitting at a table eating what appears to be a steak. Is this guy always eating? They speak briefly about the mysterious Clairvoyant, and about how much energy is drained from their men each time they use their super-strength – we see them hooked up to various IVs and drinking what appear to be energy drinks. Raina complains about S.H.I.E.L.D., and how they keep destroying Centipede labs, forcing them to move every few days. Po looks up from his food, and says quietly, “Time to stop running.”

May and Skye contact Coulson, who is sitting in Lola, and inform him about Raina. They were able to discern Po’s words from the camera angle, and ask Coulson if he knows who or what “the Clairvoyant” may refer to. He tells them that there’s no such thing as psychics (sounds like famous last words to me). In the near distance, we can see Ward approach a young woman. He gives her some blatantly false story about being from the lottery commission, telling her that her brother has won but has only a week to claim his prize. She tells him she hasn’t seen her brother since he got back from his last tour, and he gives her his business card – which doubles as a listening/tracking device. As soon as he leaves, she calls her brother, and they trace his call: Hayward is in Oakland. Back to the bus they go.

Peterson is in containment – I guess they’re still worried that he might go unstable again – and Skye comes to talk to him. He’s worried about his son, but Skye quickly makes the conversation about her and her parentage. Coulson arrives with a field outfit for Peterson.

As they are arriving, they have a quick briefing. Peterson is wearing his new outfit. Fitz and Simmons admire it, making Ward a little jealous in the process – guess he likes being the tough guy on the plane. Coulson tells them that their team will be handling the infiltration alone. May expresses concern, but Coulson points out that they’ve dealt with Centipede before, so they’re the most qualified team in any case.

Inside the warehouse, it looks abandoned. Coulson and Peterson walk through the half-lit room, when the get a warning from the bus that there’s a strange electronic signal emanating from nearby. They try calling Hayward’s cell phone (they got his number when they traced his sister’s call earlier), and one of the containers begins to ring. The door bursts off, and Hayward comes out, quickly followed by two other super-soldiers from two other containers. Coulson gets off a shot with the stun gun, but it doesn’t even slow down the soldier coming for him – he gets thrown against the side of a container, and lies there winded. Peterson takes on two, and is being pressed back. Ward and May show up, and begin to try to kick some ass. May’s is saved from serious harm by her extremely quick reflexes, but neither she nor Ward can really make a dent on the super-soldiers. At one point she’s about to take a potentially damaging blow, and Ward dives in front of her, taking it himself. On the other side of the room, Peterson gets pierced by a weapon through his shoulder, but he uses his strength to battle on, even as Fitz and Simmons worry loudly about his dropping blood pressure and vitals. Hayward is about to finish Coulson, but Peterson finds a hidden reserve, saving Coulson and knocking Hayward to the ground. The other two retreat, and Peterson helps Coulson to his feet. They approach him, and he quickly begins talking, saying “I won’t tell them anything” in a panicked voice. Suddenly, his eye sparks and turns a blood-streaked grey. This looks familiar.

Somewhere (presumably nearby), Raina and Po are watching what the now dead soldier was seeing, and pause on Coulson and Peterson as they stood over him. Raina recognizes Peterson, and Po tells her that she has just found the key to Stage 3 of their super-soldier program – the key to maintaining their energy without the exhaustion after exertion.

Back on the bus, they perform an autopsy on Hayward, discovering that his eye implant is the same technology as those found in Agent Amador (whom they saved), and her controller (whom they didn’t). This time, the eye has been upgraded so that they cannot trace the kill order to its source – it isn’t only S.H.I.E.L.D. that learns from experience.

We jump back to Po and Raina talking about the Clairvoyant. She expresses interest in seeing the Clairvoyant, but Po tells her point-blank that it isn’t going to happen. He threatens her openly, telling her that the last person that insisted on seeing the Clairvoyant lost his eyes – this is the reason Po was in prison, as he had removed another person’s eyes with his steak knife while in a restaurant, and then continued eating as though nothing had happened. I find his focus on eyes to be quite interesting. We know that he controls his agents through eye implants (does Raina have one as well? Does he?), and of course the origin of clairvoyant is from the French words for “clear” and “seeing,” thus clear-sighted or perceptive. He was in prison for taking the eyes of someone who had seen the Clairvoyant. He kills others by exploding their eye implants inside their skulls. And there is the connection with his time in prison, where he was being watched – not exactly a true panopticon, but a place of watching nonetheless. Seeing, watching, perceiving: I believe that it may turn out that Po is, himself, the Clairvoyant. His obsession with eyes certainly points in that direction.

On the bus, Ward is drinking a post-fight beer, when May approaches him and lays into him for allowing his emotions to get in the way during the fight. He tells her his decision was purely tactical – she’s the better fighter, and he wanted to insure that she could continue to fight. She seems to accept this paper-thin excuse, although I think she’s cutting Ward too much slack. Skye shows up, and May lays into her again, telling her that she has to make choices and decide where her loyalties lie. She points out that all of them gave things up to join S.H.I.E.L.D., and that she better be prepared to do the same. Skye looks on the verge of tears.

She goes to her berth, and tears up the print-outs she’s made of her search. She begins to sob, and Coulson arrives at her closed door. He pauses for a second, looking as though he wants to knock, but he turns back and walks away. Finally! Coulson has been coddling her from the very beginning. May is working to toughen her up (I don’t believe that she has any particular animosity toward Skye, but rather to the ridiculously lax treatment she has been given by Coulson), and for once Coulson doesn’t undermine her actions. Perhaps this is really what he meant by saying that he had asked May to help – he isn’t able to play the tough role that is needed to get Skye in line, so May ends up being the bad cop.

Coulson is back in his office, and Peterson comes to talk to him. They speak about family (I’m sensing a theme here), and Coulson tells Peterson that there are hard choices to be made, that family is often sacrificed. He refers to two lives – this life, or the other. It is clear that there is some regret in his voice as Coulson talks about the other life, the one he has forsaken; but he tells Peterson that this choice still lies in front of him.

He goes back to the containment room and calls his son – only to find that Raina is there with him. We cut to a briefing – they’re going to meet with Raina and trade Peterson for his son. They’re monitoring the area, and watching for reinforcements, so the team has to go in alone. They arrive at a closed bridge in Long Beach. Ward is overlooking the site with a sniper rifle, and the remainder of the team plus Peterson are in one of the S.H.I.E.L.D. SUVs. Coulson and Peterson walk out into the middle of the bridge, where a limousine sits waiting. As they approach, Raina gets out and walks to them. They meet, and Raina thanks Peterson for keeping up his end of the bargain. Coulson doesn’t look surprised at all – he’s the one being traded for the boy. Peterson grabs Raina by the throat, threatening to kill her, but she tells him it won’t make any difference – her life is worth nothing to her handlers, and boy will simply be killed if Peterson kills her. He lets her go, and tries to apologize, but Coulson stops him. “We talked about this, remember?” he says. Raina signals back to the car, and the boy comes out – Peterson takes him at a run back to the SUV. Raina injects Coulson in the neck, paralyzing him as a helper takes him back to the car.

Peterson arrives back with the rest of the team, and briefly tells them what’s happened, and that he has to go make things right. He runs back toward the limousine, but just as he arrives at the middle of the bridge a huge explosion takes out the car, and then everything else around it. Peterson cannot be seen – he was right in the middle of the area when the explosions hit. A helicopter comes up from behind the far side of the bridge, and fires a machine gun at Ward’s position, hitting him – he’s down and not moving. May immediately calls in the S.H.I.E.L.D., demanding satellite coverage of their area immediately.

Aboard the helicopter, Coulson sits with Raina and Po. He tells them that he won’t tell them anything. Po disagrees, telling him, “We want you to tell us about the day after you died.” Peterson was a red-herring: the key to Stage 3 is actually Coulson. Is it because he’s a Life Model Decoy? Or is this suggesting that he’s been injected with a form of the super-soldier serum, but doesn’t have the fatigue effects? Of course, he doesn’t seem to evince the super-strength either, but that could be because he hasn’t tried to use it, not knowing that it is something he can draw on.

This is a very high-stakes point at which to end the episode. Coulson is in Centipede’s clutches; Ward is shot, and may be dead; and Peterson is likely dead, although nothing is guaranteed. To be honest, I would have much rather seen Skye go than Ward (or Peterson – he could have made a much more interesting and well-rounded addition to the team than she has been), but the fact that the writers are willing to finally put team members in real danger makes this one of the most involving episodes of the series’ short life so far. It isn’t perfect – Skye was her usual annoying self – but the other characters seem to be finally losing their patience with her, which will either force a change in her, or may force her out. The New Year will see us begin with several questions left unanswered, but I suspect that the one they’ve been teasing us with the most – Coulson’s miraculous resurrection – may finally get some form of answer when the show returns on January 7th. After all, the next episode is titled “The Magical Place.”

Steve’s Grade: B+
We finally get a cliffhanger to end an episode, although choosing the mid-season finale to do so is a little predictable. Still, a solid episode that engendered a real sense of danger at times, and showed the consequences of our actions can be bigger than we thought.

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