Tonight is the second episode in the Uprising arc teased in promos during the Oscars a couple of weeks ago, and it marks the first crossover of any substance the series has seen so far. In last week’s stinger we saw Lorelei, an Asgardian enchantress, arrive on Earth and immediately mesmerize a newlywed man, forcing him to take her out of Death Valley while leaving his stunned bride behind. This week, the team looks for help in the form of Lady Sif, Thor’s ally from both the comics and the movies, in order to deal with Lorelei’s superior abilities. While Bill Paxton’s Agent Garrett was a nice change from the ordinary in last week’s episode, Lady Sif should add a whole new dimension – literally. So, does her addition improve the chemistry on the show? Click through after the break to find out.
<<Spoiler Alert: This review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S01E15 – “Yes Men” – will discuss major plot points and events in the episode; read at your own risk!>>
The cold opening picks up right where the stinger left off last week, as the ensorcelled Jimmy drives Lorelei through Death Valley. They stop at a bar to resupply, and the bikers surrounding the place immediately catch Lorelei’s eye. She picks up on the leader, Rooster, and quickly finds out that he has men that follow him – the beginnings of an army. Jimmy comes back outside, and his jealousy rears its head – he tells her that he thought they’d be together forever. She corrects him: she told him that “we’d be together till the end. It is,” she says, as she slams him hard in the chest, throwing him thirty feet through the air, “the end.”
On the Bus, Skye wakes, and she begins to sit up. Before she can get her bearings, Simmons rushes in and tells her off. She takes some blood, and they banter about how cruel Simmons is being as she takes yet another blood sample. Ward comes in, and he smiles warmly at Skye, happy to see her recovering. Skye immediately responds to his presence like a girl in front of her crush, complaining that she doesn’t look her best. He dismisses her concerns, and they talk about Michael Peterson/Deathlok. Ward is quite angry that Peterson could have saved Skye, but didn’t help – he blames him more than Skye herself for her asinine solo assault on Quinn’s fortress. Skye responds by saying she wants to train harder. This interaction is by-the-numbers, with a subordinate who screwed up trying to show her eagerness to learn when faced with her superior. Her intent is honorable, even if the motivation is potentially self-serving.
In the lab, Simmons brings Skye’s blood sample in, and complains to Fitz that Skye is on to her. She’s trying to isolate the GH-325, hoping to identify the miracle drug so that it can help others. She’s frustrated, however, as Coulson has ordered her to keep any of her findings in-house for the moment.
We jump to Coulson, who is having a flashback. He revisits his conversation with Dr. Streiten, then sees Skye reacting to the GH-325, and finally sees a glimpse of the blue alien that was producing the miracle cure. He snaps out of it as Agent Sitwell, last seen in Episode 107 “Hub” shows up. Coulson wants to know where Director Fury is, but Sitwell has no idea – and he points out that Coulson himself went off the grid at one point, and that Sitwell never revealed what he knew at that point – he wouldn’t reveal anything about Fury even if he knew it. He parts with Coulson, asking “How was Tahiti?” Coulson replies, “It sucked.” They drive off.
Back on the Bus, May is addressing the rest of the crew as the senior agent on-board. Coulson has been taking “personal time” for two days, and they have to deal with an energy fluctuation in New Mexico that looks a helluva lot like an Asgardian intrusion. We cut to May and Ward driving together along a highway in the desert, as Fitz gives them updates on the energy anomaly. As it suddenly intensifies, a dust storm suddenly swirls down and hits the road in front of them. The dust clears as May’s vehicle, and several other S.H.I.E.L.D. SUVs, all screech to a stop. In the middle of the road, standing in the middle of a huge runic ring, stands the Lady Sif [Jaimie Alexander], familiar to viewers of Thor and Thor: The Dark World. Fitz uses facial recognition to identify her as an Asgardian who is on their side, and the team stands down. The Lady Sif looks at them, and says, “I am Lady Sif of Asgard. Your world is in grave danger.”
They head back to the Bus, Sif in tow, and who is waiting for them but Coulson, back from his time off. He tells the team that he knows who Sif is, and trusts her. May takes him aside and expresses her concern at his recent absence. She tells him, “Whatever’s bothering you, I’m here.” She seems genuine – much more so than she did last week, when she expressed her desire to help Skye. Here, we get a sense of the weight between them, of the history that defines their relationship. Sif begins to give the team some background on the threat they face. She tells them about Lorelei, and how she ensorcells men – through a combination of her voice and touch. May notes immediately the focus on men, and Sif confirms her suspicion: she says that “men have an inherent weakness we don’t share.” May nods knowingly – she recognizes immediately the potential for difficulty working in a team full that’s half made up of men. She also shows the team an Asgardian collar she has brought – it previously kept Lorelei trapped and unable to use her voice for 600 years.
Lorelei, meanwhile, is presented with a duffel bag full of cash. She yells at Rooster – she wants gold, not paper – but he explains how money works. His language is a bit off here – in the first breath he explains that the paper is “currency,” and in the next tells her that who she refers to as the “ugly woman” on the paper – Ben Franklin – was once president. So the guy who doesn’t know his basic American history refers to the money in terms he’s unlikely to use – he’s a gang leader and a thief. I’d think he’d use something like cash or money; showing him to have an understanding of Lorelei’s category error smacks of the writers miss-hitting on his voice. Small error, but gave me a little bump out of the continuity. However, if this is the kind of error I’m focusing on, then this episode is already doing way better than last week’s in the writing department. As he’s explaining money to Lorelei, another woman comes into the bar, fuming. “Dwayne!” she says when she sees Rooster, and comes right up to them, getting even angrier when she realizes that Lorelei is wearing her clothes. She reminds Rooster/Dwayne that this is her bar, and she tells everyone to get out. Rooster ignores her, and explains to Lorelei that this is his wife. Lorelei is displeased by all the noise she’s making, so she tells Rooster to stop the noise, and he apologizes to his wife as he grips her throat. Before we can see if he kills her, we cut back to the Bus.
Sif and Coulson are using the Bus’s database and computer system to try to track down any unusual criminal activity around the area they suspect Lorelei is holed up. He tries to explain the interface, but she just steps in and takes over, showing an instant familiarity – she tells Coulson that she’s experienced innumerable systems made by innumerable races over the millenia. Coulson gets a thoughtful look on his face, then asks if she’s ever met any blue alien races. She tells him that of course she has, and she names off about a half dozen, including the Kree that we discussed last week. She finds two recent crime reports – a bank heist, and a gun shop robbery, both local to a known biker gang hideout. Down in the lab, Fitz is proudly displaying a whole new line of improved night-night guns to May and Ward – although now, he tells them, they’re called “Icers: Incapacitating, Cartridge Emitting.” He’s tripled their stopping power, and now they come in all shapes and sizes, including shotguns. Coulson and Sif arrive, and tell them that they’ve found Lorelei’s likely location.
We cut to the bar, where Coulson and the team arrive just after the local constabulary. Coulson sees a local officer, and asks him if Lorelei is inside. The cop replies, “Yes, and she’s beautiful,” as he fires his shotgun at the S.H.I.E.L.D. team. The agents and their backup crouch behind their cars, while inside the bar Lorelei is disappointed – she wants Rooster to be fighting for her. In the parking lot, Coulson asks Sif if she can give them cover – she’s been holding back, deflecting bullets with her shield. She leaps into action, sliding a huge Airstream trailer between the mesmerized cops and the S.H.I.E.L.D. team. She then uses the distraction to get inside the bar, and confronts Lorelei. They banter a bit about who beat who over the centuries, while the bikers slowly surround Sif. Lorelei reminds Sif that she has “bested her before,” and then tells her men to “Tear her apart.” They open fire. The first shot hits the collar Sif is carrying, breaking it, but she is quickly able to subdue all of her attackers; however, Lorelei has used the distraction to exit the building. Outside, Ward is carefully coming around the back of the building – the team has managed to take out the cops using the new Icers. Rooster surprises him, knocking Ward’s gun out of his hands with a chain, and the two grapple. Rooster is strong, and had the element of surprise, but Ward quickly turns the tables on him, putting him down. Above, Lorelei is watching. She jumps down, and Ward trains his retrieved gun on her. Here is a pretty low point of the episode – instead of dealing with her as the dangerous enemy she is, Ward allows her to approach close enough that she can touch him, and this after he’s already been told exactly how Lorelei enchants her victims. Ward is immediately under her spell, and together they steal a motorcycle and head away from the bar.
On the bus, Sif is distraught at the collar being broken, as the only way to break her spell is to collar her and take away her voice. Coulson tells her not to worry, asking Fitz to fix it. He follows, and speaks with Fitz, Simmons, and Skye in her medical pod. Skye asks what she can do to help – he asks her to focus on following the electronic trail; Ward has drops and safe houses everywhere that he can access, but he’ll show up on the grid, and that’s what Coulson wants Skye to look for. As Coulson leaves, Simmons follows, and asks to be able to send some of Skye’s blood to S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ. He orders her not to, and she is clearly frustrated. She explains that she is personally loyal to Coulson, but that she is also loyal to HQ, and more importantly, wants to make certain that the GH-325 is analyzed so that it can be made available to others, if it is truly the miracle drug that the evidence is pointing toward.
Still on the bike, we see Ward and Lorelei driving down the Strip in Las Vegas. She asked to be taken to a palace, so he does: Caesar’s Palace. She tells him about how powerful he is, comparing him to a Berserker, and tells him that he shall present her with an army, and she shall give him a gift. Cut to a room in the hotel, and the nature of her gift is quickly evident, as the two practically tear each others’ clothes off, embracing passionately and kissing with a ferocity that is almost violent. After, Lorelei is standing looking out the window, wearing a sheet draped about her, as Ward gets dressed on the bed. They talk about love, and Ward tells her there’s someone he had feelings for, but now he sees more clearly – his love for Lorelei is unparalleled. She now plays the sympathy card, complaining that Sif is after her, and that she’ll force her back into exile. Ward calmly tells her that they’ll eliminate the threat.
In the Cage on the Bus, Sif is sharpening her double sword when May walks in. She asks if she can hold the sword, and Sif hands it over. May makes a couple of sweeps through the air, ending in a combat stance, and Sif compliments her. May warns Sif that Ward, though human, is one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s most capable agents. The Asgardian detects a certain note in May’s voice, and correctly guesses that she is having a relationship with Ward. She begins to commiserate, saying that Lorelei once stole one of her loves, but May denies being in love. In any case, Sif warns her that Ward won’t hesitate to kill her if Lorelei demands it. Coulson enters: they’ve found Ward and Lorelei. He says if she’s looking for money and men, “she just hit the jackpot.”
They break into the hotel room, only to find Ward and Lorelei have left. Coulson approaches May, and reminds her that he doesn’t want her relationship with Ward to endanger the team – she reassures him that it won’t. He tries to sympathize with her, but she doesn’t want any soothing at the moment. They head back to the Bus, where Fitz meets them, telling them that they still haven’t found where Ward and Lorelei are hiding, but that in better news, he’s fixed the collar. He takes Sif to the Cage to see the collar, and he tells her that he’s very good, as he closes and locks the door behind him. He’s been charmed, and is no longer working for the team. Apparently, the Cage is strong enough to hold even an Asgardian, as her pounding against the door has little effect. May and Coulson are discussing where Ward would go – May tells him that if it were her, she’d take out her main threat. They hear the pounding, and give each other a knowing look, just as the jets roar to life and the Bus starts to roll.
We cut to the cockpit, where Ward is lifting off, Lorelei sitting in May’s usual seat, both literally and figuratively. Down in the lab, Skye and Simmons hear the banging Sif is making above, and they go to leave – only to find that they’ve been locked in and can’t get out. Outside, Coulson comes running, nearly knocking over Fitz. Coulson starts to give Fitz an order, but quickly realizes what’s happened as Fitz tells him proudly of locking the women in. Fitz waxes poetic about Lorelei, and Coulson fakes it, agreeing that she’s just the best thing ever. Approaching the cockpit, May confronts Lorelei. She tries to fight her, but the Asgardian sends her flying with a single hit; May lies on the floor, groaning. In the cockpit, Ward hits a button; in the Cage, the ceiling suddenly starts folding back, opening it to the rushing wind outside. The collar nearly flies out, but Sif grabs it; however, she’s sucked out moments later, disappearing through the hole. May recovers and stands again. Lorelei has been joined by Ward, and May tried to reach him, telling him that she understands what he’s feeling, but that she knows he’s a good agent. Realization lights up Lorelei’s face, as she asks Ward if this is the lover with a heart of ice of whom he spoke. She smiles, walks up to May, and says, “He told me who he desired before me, but my dear, it wasn’t you.” She leaves the two to fight, as she goes to retrieve Lady Sif’s sword.
In the lab, Coulson frees Skye and Simmons, but before he can assure him of his own freedom from Lorelei’s grip, Simmons tries to bean him with a fire extinguisher. Fortunately, he deflects it, and he fills them in on what’s happening. Simmons tells him that the Cage ceiling door was opened, and that Sif must have been sucked out. He reminds her that she’s an Asgardian, and that she’s still outside – he orders her to open the door so that Sif can come back in. We cut to an outside shot, and sure enough, Sif is gripping onto the top of the Bus, making her way back to the door to the Cage.
Just as Lorelei takes Sif’s sword, Sif herself arrives. Lorelei holds the sword up in a defensive posture, asking that Sif let her go – she promises to only wreak havoc on this world, and leave the rest alone, if only Sif will allow her her freedom. Yet somehow, Lorelei, whose gift is her voice, is unable to keep it quiet long enough to serve her own purposes. Not only did she give May extra fodder in her impending fight with Ward by bringing up the fact that he cares for another, she also begins to taunt Sif, bringing up the fact that she ensorcelled Thor away from her in the past. My advice: if you’re going to get into a fight with an Asgardian, try not to piss them off even more than they already are. It doesn’t make Sif a worse fighter, it just makes her more fierce. They clinch, Lorelei trying to hit her with the sword, but Sif sidestepping and managing to break off half of it. Both armed, they fight, but it is never an even match – Lorelei is not a warrior, she is an enchantress.
While they fight, Fitz sees Simmons, who quickly ducks away. He’s upset, and chases her, only to run right into Coulson’s fist, which knocks him out cold. Meanwhile, Ward is distracted by the sounds of fighting, allowing May to knock the gun he is carrying out of his hands. They fight, both getting the upper hand momentarily, only to lose it again. They crash through the large tactical screen, glass flying everywhere. They roll on the ground, and he grabs the gun, pointing it at May’s face – she’s rolled right beside him. He apologizes. We cut back to the Asgardian fight. Lorelei has been beaten back, and is now on the ground. Sif holds her sword tip at Lorelei’s throat. Lorelei begs not to be taken back to Asgard, and when that doesn’t work, she tries taunting Sif into killing her. Instead, Sif locks the collar around Lorelei’s throat, suddenly muting her voice mid-sentence. She makes a quip: “What’s that?” – who says Asgardian’s don’t have a sense of humor? Back outside the room, Ward (presumably just before the collar is locked on, as he is still charmed) pulls the trigger – but it comes down on an empty chamber. May smiles and holds up the clip. Suddenly, Ward drops the gun, and starts telling her to stop fighting, that he’s back. Sif comes around the corner with Lorelei, and May sees the collar on her. Sif tells her, “He speaks the truth,” but she pops him a good one right on the nose anyway. Frankly, after Lorelei’s little revelation earlier, she should have hit him a whole lot harder.
The denouement sees Sif apologizing to Coulson for damaging his “flying boat.” She explains that, although Lorelei is very dangerous, her orders from Odin are to bring her back alive, leaving her little choice. We next see Coulson alone, with May approaching him. She asks him if he’s okay, and he tells her he’s fine, but she’s having none of it. She tells him that she’s there if he needs to talk, holding his arms as she does so. She then adds, “if not with me, then with Skye.” She recognizes his special relationship with the young agent-in-training. She goes to the cockpit, where Ward apologizes for the information that Lorelei revealed. May puts on her stoic face, saying “There was never a risk with me, I told you that.” I don’t believe it for a moment. She’s shutting down, putting up the defenses, but finding out that Ward is in love with someone else has obviously hurt May on a fundamental level. She continues, telling him, “If what Lorelei said was true, you were more honest with her than you are with yourself.” Ward gets all thoughtful, and not a little uncomfortable looking.
Downstairs, Fitz forgives Coulson for punching him, although this is done in typical awkward Fitz fashion. He does look chagrined at his earlier actions. Coulson asks for everyone to leave except for Skye. He tells her about what he saw, about where the GH-325 came from: “Its source…it was alien.” He apologizes for allowing her to be injected, worried that they have no idea what the long-term consequences might be. She tells him not to worry, saying, “So what? We are alive…At least you’re not sprouting a pointy tail or anything. So, bonus there.” Coulson actually gets angry at her, the first time we’ve seen this side of him since Episode 107, “The Hub.” He tells her, “I know nothing phases you, but this should phase you.” He reminds her that this is a huge secret, that two men died to protect if from his team. He makes a declaration: “To hell with any protocols or any code I used to be bound by. We have a long list of questions we need answers for, and we are going after them ourselves.” He warns Skye that they need to protect the team from this information, as either the info itself, or the actions that Coulson is proposing they take, could end up taking them all down. She agrees, and she asks where they should start. Coulson tells her it’s with “The person responsible for this. And make him pay.”
The stinger tonight was a pretty huge reveal. Stingers in past episodes have been largely played for comic effect, to set up the next episode, or the one time in order to give Director Fury a cameo. Tonight, it reveals a huge unforeseen plot point that changes everything about what we know about the team and their mission. We see Coulson and Skye talking, the conversation that we already saw moments before. However, the camera focuses in on the back wall, on a small, almost hidden device – someone is listening in. It’s Agent May, and she’s recording every word of the private conversation. Once it’s over, she picks up a phone – a voice tells her it’s encrypted, and she says, “He knows. I repeat, Coulson knows.”
Wow! So the way I see it, there are two possibilities here: the most likely is that May has been tasked by someone, likely Director Fury himself, to keep a close eye on Coulson in order to protect him; the second, less likely, is that she’s working for some other faction within S.H.I.E.L.D., likely with an unsympathetic senior agent such as Hand (who, in the comics, has a role in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s division, something which hasn’t happened in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), of which Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is part of the continuity). I believe it is the former, but even there, Coulson will most definitely not take kindly to being spied upon, even if it is done in his best interest.
The Asgardian tie-in worked very well tonight, and was a much stronger showing than the previous Asgard-themed episode, Episode 108, “The Well.” By bringing in Lady Sif from the movies, it added a dimension that previous attempts to make the cinematic connection have lacked. In addition, the action sequences tonight were intense, with lots of fights, lots of variety, and some very good inter-cuts when multiple threads were happening simultaneously. This is the direction that S.H.I.E.L.D. should be going in, where each character is given a chance to shine in his or her area, where there is discontent and tension between teammates, and where there is at least the appearance of real danger. Depending on how it plays out, May’s apparent betrayal of Coulson’s trust could also turn out to be a very good thing for the series as a whole, although it would be a mistake to do anything that removes May as a regular – Ming-Na Wen and Clark Gregg are definitely the series’ best actors.
Skye – she was understated, used just a little, and overall had a good episode. Even if it ruffled a bit to see Coulson take her in as a confident, it made sense given the circumstances of them being the only two (that we know of) to have been injected with GH-325. I enjoyed both Fitz and Simmons tonight as well. Fitz plays the lovelorn puppy very well, and Simmons showed unusual strength when standing up to Coulson regarding procedure. Ward was calmly efficient, and seeing him deal with a secret he’s even been keeping from himself was interesting. I suspect that the relationship with May is officially over now. Speaking of May, she had a very strong episode. Watching her tightly controlled emotions playing over her face as she took great care to conceal them was masterful, and her dismissal of Ward was exactly how she needed to act. Her new role, revealed in the stinger, should add yet another dimension to her complex character. Coulson also had a strong episode, showing that he is more and more willing to break the rules in order to gain the knowledge he seeks, while still trying to protect his team. His intensity in the final conversation with Skye was well done, and showed again that Clark Gregg has some chops. Overall, a whole lot more to like about this episode than last.
Steve’s Grade: A-
For my money, the best episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. so far, one week after arguably the worst. If they can stop with the uneven storytelling, and do more episodes like tonight’s, this could still become an excellent series.