GH-325: A Review of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1, Episode 14 “T.A.H.I.T.I.”

Posted: March 5, 2014 in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Reviews, TV
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After a one month hiatus, we get to see whether Skye lives, or dies. Events in this episode could potentially have a huge effect on how the second half of the season plays out, but that depends largely on just how courageous the writers decide to be. With the big guns coming in – Bill Paxton guest starring tonight, and Jaimie Alexander reprising her role as Lady Sif from the Thor movies next week – the series has the potential to ramp up. Check after the break to see if they did so tonight.

<<Spoiler Alert: This review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S01E14 – “T.A.H.I.T.I.” – will discuss major plot points and events in the episode; read at your own risk!>>

We open on Coulson and Fitz wheeling the hyperbaric chamber containing Skye down a hospital corridor. Skye is taken into an operating theater, and Coulson reassures Fitz that she did a good job. Get used to that – reassurances are a common theme tonight. Turns out they’re in Zurich, at a S.H.I.E.L.D. medical facility. Skye goes under the knife, and the team sits in a typical hospital waiting room. This is an odd moment. They’re literally all sitting around moping, which is death in an action series. Why don’t they show us the surgery? I know it isn’t a medical drama, but still, it would be a lot more interesting than watching first Fitz blaming himself (he didn’t stop Skye), then Ward (he’s her Supervising Officer), then May – who doesn’t take the blame, but tells them it’s Quinn’s fault. Meanwhile, Coulson is on the phone demanding to speak with Director Fury. I know that the writers are trying to create intensity here (which would be much better done in the OR), and show how much the team cares, but it comes across forced – “look, see how emotional we all are.” I can’t help but feel this another attempt by the writers to try to force viewers to sympathize with their chosen POV character, Skye; unfortunately, when they try to force it, they fail. Tonight they even made me do something I hadn’t done before: cringe at some of May’s dialogue (but more on that later). After much gnashing of teeth, the surgeon comes to tell them that Skye is not going to make it. She urges them to bring any family Skye has to say goodbye, and Coulson tells her, “We’re her family.” Again, forced. Unless it turns out at some later date that Coulson and/or May are somehow Skye’s parents, this kind of camaraderie really doesn’t make any sense. As Simmons says later in the episode, they’ve only known each other for a few months, so it doesn’t make much sense that they’re so close. Perhaps this is the writers’ own subconscious concern at how they’ve mishandled Skye coming through.

As the doctor gives her verdict, May clenches her jaw, and quietly leaves the room. We see Quinn, sitting in the interrogation room on the Bus. The door opens, May comes in, and she slams his head against the table. Knocking him to the floor, she begins to beat his face to a pulp. Before she can kill him, the door opens again and it’s Coulson and Ward – they stop her. She growls at Coulson, “He deserves to die, not her.” Coulson tells her he needs her flying the bus, not killing their prisoner – he’s determined to find help for Skye. Outside, Skye is moved in beside the lab carried inside a sealed medical pod. Inside, Ward tells Coulson he’s just gotten word from HQ – they want Quinn signed over to them. Coulson refuses; he wants to keep Quinn until things with Skye shake out. They take off, heading for Bethesda, Maryland, based on Coulson’s medical file which states that was where he received treatment.

He meets Fitz and Simmons in the lab, handing them a thick binder clearly marked Level 10 – a security level above even Coulson’s rating; this is Coulson’s personal medical file, released to him by Fury, and he orders Fitz/Simmons to read it, to see if they can glean any knowledge that will help Skye. In the cockpit, Ward sits with May, basically drooling over how tough she was with Quinn. This, I get – they’re having a relationship, after all, and Ward is a trained killer. Of course he’s going to admire May’s strength. As they’re talking, May receives a transmission – they’ve disobeyed a direct order (by not handing over Quinn). May replies, “This is S.H.I.E.L.D. 616. How do we proceed?” For fans of Marvel comics, this is a bit of a sop – 616 is the number of the continuity our own Earth is in – there are thousands of other continuities in the Marvel Universe. May is informed that they’re about to be boarded. Outside the window, an F-35 comes into view. A second flanks the port side of the Bus, and then a transport jet appears above, lowering itself down and attaching via grapples to the top of the Bus. Inside, Coulson says, “If they scratch my paint, I’m going to be pissed.”

Docked, the plane disgorges two agents: Agent Garrett [Bill Paxton] and Agent “Trip” Triplett [B.J. Britt]. Garrett stays to speak with Coulson, while he sends Trip downstairs to secure the prisoner. Coulson tells Garrett that he’s keeping Quinn, and implies pretty clearly that if Skye dies, so does Quinn. Downstairs, Trip runs into Ward, and right away there’s a tension between them. Garrett is Trip’s SO – but before that, Garrett was also Ward’s SO. There’s a built-in rivalry between the two men, and they start to dance verbally, sizing each other up. When Trip asks to see Quinn, Ward refuses; when Trip goes to find him on his own, Ward stops him. The two fight – very dynamic, lots of leaping and flying – as they take the verbal dance physical. Ward is getting the upper hand, when Coulson and Garrett arrive, putting a stop to their fun.

In the lab, Simmons comes across a reference to a drug that helped Coulson: GH-325. They continue their search, as Coulson takes Garrett in to meet their guest. Quinn acts glib, but Garrett’s hand darts out and he grips Quinn’s tongue. He tells him that he only gets to keep it if he talks. He asks about CyberTek and the Deathlok program. Coulson almost smirks at the name, and Garrett says, “Catchy, right? Sounds like a wrestler from the 80s.” Good line, bit of humor, and the tongue threat have me liking Garrett already. Back in the lab, Fitz/Simmons call Bethesda. They find out that Dr. Streiten has gone off the grid – and further, that none of the doctors, not even the room number Coulson supposedly was treated in – exist at Bethesda. In interrogation, Quinn opens up a bit about his boss: “The Clairvoyant sees everything,” he says, then points at Coulson, “except what happened to him.” Coulson and Garrett come to the cold realization that the reason Quinn shot Skye was to pressure Coulson into finding out what happened to him when he was dead – so that the Clairvoyant can then find out as well.

We next see Coulson filling in the team in his office, and he tells them that he doesn’t want Skye to go through everything he went through – but she’s still alive, so they need to rush to avoid that eventuality. May says she wants to do everything they can to save Skye, but that “we have to acknowledge that doing so, may give the Clairvoyant exactly what he wants.” Coulson tells her, “It’s a risk we have to take.” It’s kind of an odd exchange: Coulson starts out saying he doesn’t want Skye to suffer like him, but that they have to risk doing it; May starts out saying she wants to do everything possible, but that it may give away the game to their enemy. It’s almost as though each was given lines intended for the other, as they both seem to be alternately contradicting each other and themselves, while at the same time supporting the opposing position. Or something. Down in the lab, Fitz/Simmons are looking in at Skye inside her pod, talking again about this mysterious GH-325 and it’s cellular regeneration capabilities. Apparently, when injected into the dead Coulson, it miraculously healed the rupture in his heart. We cut back to the office, where Coulson, now alone, is watching Skye on his monitor.

Back in the lab, Fitz/Simmons come across another reference to GH – this time, it’s “Guest House,” and it’s referring to a location only visited by a Level 10 – Director Fury. They know this must be the location Coulson was taken to. They attempt to access S.H.I.E.L.D. data, using one of the holographic interfaces they normally reserve for examining tech. Here, they’re moving the files around, kind of like a giant floating touchpad. Fitz frets – WWSD? (What Would Skye Do?) – and he tries to think outside of the box. He does so remarkably quickly, and without any real thought at all, realizes that the apparent encryption of the file he’s looking at is just a great big ANSI graphic, only flipped on one side. This was very disappointing from a narrative perspective. If Level 10 security at S.H.I.E.L.D. is this lax, they’d have absolutely no secrets at all; the fact that the information is really just a giant picture only makes sense if you consider the nice visual the director gives us, moving from ANSI characters floating in the air to an escarpment on a mountain. In a real-world situation (or for that matter, in a show that is trying to get us to take it seriously), it makes absolutely no sense, and is really writing down to the audience: “hey, people like pretty pictures and cool technology!” Disappointed in this particular narrative choice.

Not only does Fitz figure things out with far too much ease, they also somehow figure where the real-world cognate of the graphic file is with no problem whatsoever – it takes such little effort, that the show fails to even show how they did it. Huge gap in the story here.

So, the Bus arrives at this super-secret base that Fitz figured out how to find in under one hour (and in about thirty seconds for the big reveal), and Coulson, Garrett, Ward, and Fitz all exit, heading up to the main entrance. As it isn’t a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility, Coulson warns them the welcome may not be a warm one; Garrett brandishes his machine gun and says, “I’ll say pretty please.” When they ring the doorbell, two men inside take note, and ask them, “How was the drive from Istanbul?” No one knows the counter, and after three tries to appeal to their sense of decency (Coulson tells them that they have a dying agent with them), Garrett says, “Pretty please it is,” and the four proceed to enter via more direct methods.

Inside, the two guards prepare to fend off the attack, putting on Kevlar vests and grabbing weapons. They chat as thought this is just another day at work, providing an interesting counterpoint to their actions. Meanwhile, the four agents ride down on top of an elevator. They scout the area, and drop down, Fitz hacking through a secure door of bulletproof glass. They come under heavy fire, but stay low until the guards need to reload. Garrett and Ward each take one, Ward wounding his, and Garrett taking his out with a knife to the side. He looks at the guard’s badge, and says, “No hard feelings, Bob.” They follow the blood trail to the injured guard – he’s nearly dead when they find him. Coulson asks where the medical staff is, but the guard tells him that they don’t stay on-site. He seems to recognize Coulson, and with his last breath, asks Coulson if he knows about the timer. Garrett and Fitz have already found it – it’s a countdown, less than ten minutes to go, and it turns out that the entire place is rigged with Semtex explosives. Fitz and Coulson hurry to find medical supplies, while Garrett and Ward try to defuse the bombs.

At the medical pod, Trip – who has some medical training – is helping Simmons take care of Skye. This is where Simmons expresses wonderment at her, and the team’s, unreasoning affection for Skye. This doesn’t seem to worry Trip; in fact, he tells Simmons that if he’s every hurt, he hopes she’s in his corner for him. Interesting – potential future love interest for our scientist? May arrives and informs them that the comms are down, and that if she doesn’t hear from them in an hour, she’s going in. Skye suddenly starts to convulse. She’s going into cardiac arrest, and Simmons rushes in to aid her, Trip getting her a syringe with adrenaline to try to help.

Inside the complex, Coulson pauses at a window overlooking an operating theater. Below, he sees the table and device used to reconstruct his brain. He has a flashback – “Please let me die – let me die – let me die” – and is jarred out of it when Fitz comes up beside him. “Is it…” “Yes.” Three words, but some of the best dialogue of the entire episode, as Fitz and Coulson leave the unspoken between them. At the entrance, Ward realizes that the timer has no connection to the bomb, so he and Garrett decide to use some of the Semtex to blow open the doors and let them get out. Coulson and Fitz find a door labeled “Biohazard.” They go inside, Fitz a little bit hesitant, but Coulson telling him that they don’t have time to put on suits. Fitz laments not having Simmons and her medical knowledge at hand, but they’re quickly able to narrow their search to a locked cooler. Fortunately, one of the keys the dead guard was carrying opens it, and Fitz finds the GH-325 – a glowing green tube inside a stainless steel container. Ward finds them – they only have four minutes left – and Coulson sends he and Fitz back with the drug. He’s seen something, but doesn’t tell them: letters, partially obscured, spelling out T.A.H.I.T.I.

At the entrance, Ward shoots the Semtex attached to the doors, and they come unhinged. They pull them, and get Fitz through with the drug, Garrett shouting, “Go save the girl.” Ward follows Fitz on Garrett’s orders, Garrett going back to collect Coulson. They’re down to three minutes now.

On the Bus, Simmons is going through a bit of existential angst. She’s questioning whether it is worth it to keep bringing Skye back when she goes into arrest. Again, this feels very forced. It isn’t as though Skye has been dead and had brain damage at this point, and the mission they have been on for less than ten minutes (remember, the guards set the timer when they went to defend the base) is all about saving Skye – and yet she’s somehow had time to go from “I love her and I don’t know why” to “Get me the Epinephrine so I can save her” to “Should we really be putting her through this agony (that she can’t actually feel because, hey, she’s actually unconscious right now)?” This is forced writing, and it doesn’t do a damned thing to elicit sympathy, or do anything more than create a false tension. Whoever wrote this episode needs some remedial dramaturgy 101. Fortunately for Simmons, her conscience – in the form of Agent May – tells her they’ve come too far to stop now. What she should have said is: “Stop being unnecessarily melodramatic, or the sympathy you’ve built up with the audience by being quirky/funny/smart/cute might get squandered.” But no, she didn’t say that.

Back in the complex, Garrett finds Coulson looking like he’s seen a ghost. He’s wandering down the hallway stunned. Garrett grabs him, and tells him Fitz and Ward have gone ahead with the drug. This snaps him out of it: “The drug?” he says, panicking. “They can’t give it to her!” The two run towards the entrance. At the lab, Fitz arrives just as Skye goes into convulsions again. In another odd moment, she appears to flatline – and yet she’s arching her back up toward the ceiling as Simmons does manual compressions (don’t they have a defibrillator on board?). If you’ve ever seen someone in full cardiac arrest (I have), they aren’t arching their back anywhere. Maybe if they’re being shocked at the same time (like with a defibrillator) – but when your heart stops, your muscles aren’t working. I know it looks more dramatic to have her arching her back and looking like she’s in pain (so that Simmons can consider not saving her, due to the obvious agony), but there are enough people with basic first aid knowledge, not to mention generations brought up on increasingly realistic medical dramas, that this just rings silly. So, Fitz hands her the GH-325, and not knowing how much to administer, Simmons goes ahead and injects the entire vial. Up in the cockpit, May fires up the Bus’s jets, and gets them ready to go – they timer is almost done. At the last possible moment, Garrett and Coulson jump in through the open hanger, as the jet lifts up off the ground. The mountain implodes, and the ground falls away as the Bus lifts smoothly into the air. Coulson runs to the lab, and orders, “No – don’t give it to her” – but he’s too late. The drug already in her system, Skye seems to suddenly stabilize. Simmons gives everyone a reassuring smile – see, she knew it would be alright – when just as suddenly, Skye’s heart starts to race, and she’s doing the arching thing all over again, with a bit of choking to boot. Simmons looks like she’s going to start crying, her reassuring smile turning to a despairing shake of her head. But then, just as quickly, Skye’s system returns to normal. This takes about seven seconds of screentime. Trip leans in and tells Simmons, “You’re a real miracle worker.” Ewww! I mean, she injected Skye with an unknown mystery drug, and it happened to save her life, while Simmons was panicking and previously getting all angsty over whether she should be trying to save Skye, and now she’s a miracle worker? I’m surprised he didn’t also ask her out on a date right then and there, because he’s obviously not been watching what she’s actually been doing, concentrating on his interest in her instead. He’s not the only one handing out compliments. May smiles slightly, and tells Coulson, “You did it.” Again, forced – this is right after she went from dead, to good, to dying, to good again in seven seconds – how does May know Coulson did anything? How does anyone know if Skye is going to live for the next seven seconds? But the episode is coming to an end, and the writers want us to feel closure. Instead, we get more sloppy writing.

Coulson looks at May, and leaves without responding. She asks Garrett what happened in the mountain, but he doesn’t really have any answers. Garrett goes to see Quinn and take him to the transport. He tells him that he has good news and bad news. The bad news is that the complex the Clairvoyant wanted to know about is destroyed, and that Skye is going to live – thus giving them a witness to take down Quinn for attempted murder. Quinn asks what the good new is. Garrett replies, “You still have your tongue.” This, again, is good writing – short, witty, funny, and honest. As they leave, Coulson thanks Garrett for letting them keep Quinn. They banter, and Garrett asks if he’d really have thrown Quinn off the plane if Skye had died. Coulson points out that he never made that threat – it was Garrett. Garrett smiles, and tells Coulson he’ll see him soon, as his man Trip seems to have “eyes for that biotech gal of yours.” They’re intending to make Garrett a recurring character, and this is a good choice, as Paxton brings some real acting chops, and a very interesting character to the table.

In his office, Coulson is approached by May, who asks him why he doesn’t seem happy that they saved Skye, and why he didn’t want them to use the drug on her? He goes into flashback mode, back in the T.A.H.I.T.I. room. He goes inside, sees some test tubes labeled “GH” with various other numbers, including GH-325. He follows tube through a pump, behind a wall, and into another to see where the GH-325 is coming from. He opens up a round door, and a liquid filled pod slides out. Coulson looks horrified: inside the pod is a large humanoid alien, blue-skinned, eyeless and with autopsy suture marks across its chest. Its lower body is missing, and two large tubes are coming out from where its hips should be, leading into the wall. Apparently, GH-325 is somehow being produced by this alien corpse. He snaps out of his reverie, and tells May that he had suffered, and that he was afraid that Skye would suffer too, “But she didn’t. For whatever reason, she didn’t.” He doesn’t tell May what he saw. Coulson said several episodes ago that there would be no more secrets within the team – but it looks like some things just can’t be spoken about until they are fully digested. We cut to Coulson, sitting beside Skye at her bedside. She’s still asleep, but the ventilator and most of her monitors have been removed. Her color is back, and she appears to be resting peacefully. Yet Coulson still has a haunted look on his face.

In the stinger, we move to the sere vista of Death Valley. A young couple is checking out of a motel, “Just Married” drawn in soap on their two-seat convertible. The husband, Jimmy, goes outside to wait for his wife as she settles the bill. From out of the heat haze, a woman in odd clothing approaches. She looks confused, a little dazed, but when she sees the man waiting outside by his care, she walks up to him. She talks about Midgaard being a different from what she was expecting, and he looks at her like she’s a little crazy. “This is Death Valley,” he tells her. She wants transportation, but he points out that his car is a two-seater, and he’s waiting for his new wife to come outside. “You prefer her to me?” the Asgardian asks, incredulous. He says yes, but she moves in closer, captivating him with her eyes. She mesmerizes him, and we see Jimmy’s new bride Nicole come outside, only to see the car driving away into the distance. In the car, he tells his passenger that he will protect her, and asks her name. “Lorelei,” she says, “my name is Lorelei.” We heard a few weeks ago the the Lady Sif would be making an appearance in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and now we know why. Lorelei is an enchantress, younger sister of the very powerful Amora the Enchantress, and her special talent is love, and enthralling people to do her bidding. In the comics, she’s been in cahoots with Loki in his never-ending war against Thor, so her appearance here cannot bode well – or perhaps it does. Some more excitement might be just what the doctor ordered.

Regarding the alien Coulson finds in the complex, there are many possibilities within the Marvel universe as to what it might be. My personal vote is that it might be a Kree, and here’s why: there are two main divisions in the Kree race – blue and white. White kree can pass for human (the most famous Kree is Captain Marvel, a superhero on Earth). Coulson was given the GH-325, and it nearly killed him – he remembers (thanks to Centipede’s mind machine) the weeks of agony he went through while his body and brain recovered. Now, Skye is given the same drug – remember, she’s gone into cardiac arrest, so she too is clinically dead (though not for as long as Coulson was). Her body, however, takes the drug, absorbs it, and heals in a matter of seconds. Combine this with the fact that we already know she’s an 0-8-4, and this might very well mean that she is, in fact, Kree. If so, there is a famous white Kree woman in the Marvel Universe as well: Ms Marvel. Could this turn out to be who Skye is? It would explain a lot of why the focus has been on her from the beginning, and might make the series into the kind of super hero adventure a lot of fans were hoping for. Russ Burlingame over at the comicbook blog has written a good article exploring what other alien races might be involved.

Overall, I know that I sound a bit harsh about this episode. I felt the writing was sub-par, that the acting was over-wrought, and that the emotion was forced. There were, however, some highlights. Bill Paxton was like a breath of fresh air, shaking things up and putting on a good show – he also had most of the best lines of the night. We learned a bit more about Coulson’s miraculous return, and we might have just seen an origin story for a very interesting character. Could Skye be Ms. Marvel? Despite my disappointment at aspects of tonight’s episode, I’m still looking forward to seeing how things will shake out, now that we have at least three bad guy origins under our belts, and perhaps a hero as well.

Steve’s Grade: C
My grade would have likely been lower, but Bill Paxton comes aboard as a new recurring character, Agent Garrett, and injects some much needed humor and good acting into the series. Now that Skye’s survived, let’s see who she really is.

To see my review of the next episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and some of the fallout from the GH-325, click here.

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Comments
  1. Br'nn says:

    I highly doubt that Skye will turn out to be Ms. Marvel, as I’m fairly confident that she’ll be seen on the big screen and will have a far more known actor playing her. Also, Ms. Marvel isn’t actually Kree, she’s just given her powers by Captain Mar-vell, who is. I suppose that since she becomes a Kree/Human hybrid from that exposure, you could make the leap, but I still am skeptical. I just can’t see Marvel putting one of their most popular female characters into this series with a no-name actor and one that looks nothing like the character in the comics.

    Either way, this was a mixed-bag episode, like you said. Some good moments and some shaky leaps. There’s at least a direction that they’re obviously headed, so let’s hope they stick the dismount!

    • zillwood says:

      I agree on all counts – but with some of the stuff that’s happened this season, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised to see them try to pull something big out of their hats. They’re very aware of the negative response aspects – especially Skye – of the show have been garnering, so they might try to do something drastic. It’s a shame re: Skye – I don’t think Chloe Bennett is a particularly bad actress, I just think the writing they’ve given around her character has been altogether too forced.

  2. Br'nn says:

    The follow-up to the article you linked to in the review. I could see her being Phyla-Vell, but not Carol Danvers/Ms.Marvel/Captain Marvel (which is what she goes by now in the comics).

    http://comicbook.com/blog/2014/03/06/agents-of-s-h-i-e-l-d-five-more-theories-about-the-blue-alien/

  3. Br'nn says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see them try something big, either, but I still can’t see them tying Chloe Bennet (who I agree is making the best of what they’ve given her) to the character of Carol Danvers, a character I fully expect to beat Wonder Woman to the screen in her own movie in Phase 3 of the MCU.

    • zillwood says:

      Wow, cool stuff – I would be ready to buy that bridge much quicker than the other possibility. See, this is the issue – while I don’t always like what they do with the show, there is still enough really interesting stuff happening in the background to keep me coming back. Guess that means they’re doing something right, eh?

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