Agents has been building to a crescendo over the past few episodes, as the Uprising story arc gets into full swing. A crossover with Captain America: The Winter Soldier has been in the works, and tonight, we see the result of that connection. The episode title, “Turn, Turn, Turn” is as descriptive as they come, covering exactly how this episode goes down over the course of its 42 some-odd minutes. We ended last week with Coulson and Skye holding guns on May, and the Bus making a sudden aerial 180 as someone else took control of the plane. Who can Coulson trust when the cards get laid on the table?
<<Spoiler Alert: This review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S01E17 – “Turn, Turn, Turn” – will discuss major plot points and events in the episode, as well as spoilers that apply to events in the recently released movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier; read at your own risk!>>
The episode opens to the strains of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” as we see one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s high-speed transports flying just above a cloud layer. We go inside, and see Agent Garrett sitting in the cockpit, reading a report. Back outside, two UAVs rise up out of the clouds, flanking him. His proximity alarms sound, and he tries to contact S.H.I.E.L.D. to ask what’s going, just as they fire on him. He takes control away from the auto-pilot, and turns the plane into a steep dive, making evasive maneuvers and barely avoiding the missiles. One comes up beside his cockpit, and when he looks out, he sees that they have S.H.I.E.L.D. markings.
We cut to the Bus, and Coulson is ordering May to put down her weapon. She does so, but denies causing the Bus to suddenly switch directions. She tells Coulson and Skye that HQ can override the avionics on the plane in an emergency, and she suspects that’s what’s happened. Coulson grills her about her encrypted line – she tells him it’s a direct line to Director Fury, but can’t tell him more than that. Instead, she tries to deflect, pointing out that Fitz was setting up exactly the same sort of thing. Coulson does give him a glare, and asks him who he was trying to talk to. This is a little disingenuous – Coulson knows full-well how close Fitz and Simmons are, and is obviously aware that Simmons is at the Hub; he knows who Fitz wants to talk to. The question should be why, which he gets to quickly enough, and more importantly – who at the Hub is Simmons talking to? Coulson continues to hold the gun on May, and orders Fitz to open the door to the lab, which he does reluctantly. He tells Skye to hack S.H.I.E.L.D. communications to see if they can find out who is controlling the Bus.
At the Hub, Simmons is working on blood samples, sounds of chaos dimly heard in the background – but here, she is in the oasis of her lab. Trip comes in, and confronts her over her secretiveness. She closes the door to the lab, and tries to explain without giving too much away. She tells Trip that with all of the weird stuff that’s been going on, and the inability to really trust anyone outside the team, they’ve been trying to keep much of their research private, so that information doesn’t get into the wrong hands. Trip confirms that she’s a Level 5, and then points out that he’s a Level 6, and has access to better encryption than she does – he says he’s going to help her.
On the Bus, Skye tells Coulson that there’s noise across all S.H.I.E.L.D. com channels, and when he asks for clarification, she says it’s just that: noise. She fine-tunes her receiver, and they hear a voice – it’s Garrett, and he tells them he’s under attack by S.H.I.E.L.D. drones. He’s heading toward them, and he hopes they have weapons on the Bus. Coulson, using a night-night/Icer gun shoots May, and orders Fitz to set up a hardline to the weapons control, so they can bypass whatever external controller is interfering with the Bus. Skye and Fitz are a little taken aback at Coulson’s actions, but we next see Fitz rolling out a large gauge wire, while May is placed in cuffs in holding along with Ward. We cut to the weapon control room, Coulson sitting in the chair. On the top of the Bus, two machine gun turrets rise up out of the skin of the plane, turning toward where Garrett’s plane is approaching, the two drones tight on his tail. It reminded me a lot of the scene in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (or just plain Star Wars to old geeks like me), when Luke and Han get into the turbolaser chairs to take out Tie-Fighters after their escape from the Death Star. On the first pass, Coulson takes out on of the drones, but the second evades and is still on Garrett’s tail. Garrett comes around behind the Bus, and he and Coulson plan a move. Coulson shoots right at him, Garrett twisting the plane sideways as the two shots sail past and take out the second drone.
We jump to the Hub, where Agent Hand and a few other agents are watching the events unfold on a large tactical screen. One agent points out that the drones are down, and another suggests they simply shoot the Bus down. Hand refuses, saying that she wants to save the assets, and that while she had originally written off Garrett’s transport, now they’ll be able to get both planes, and still get Garrett along with Coulson’s team when the Bus arrives. She says, “We swore loyalty to each other, and today that loyalty will be tested. If you waver, you die.”
We see Garrett docking, and he quickly joins Coulson, Skye, and Fitz in the briefing room. Skye is trying to decode the electronic noise jamming all the channels. Coulson tells Garrett his theory – the Clairvoyant is not only a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, it’s Agent Hand. Garrett disagrees – why would she expose herself now, when she’s stayed in the shadows for so long? As they’re speaking, Skye gets their attention. She’s decoding the noise – it’s a message. Across the tactical screen, the words spell out: OUT OF THE SHADOWS, INTO THE LIGHT. There’s a pause, and then one more word: HYDRA. Fitz is confused – he asks how it could be Hydra if it was defeated at the end of World War II? Garrett tells him, “Hydra always comes back,” and Coulson continues, “Cut off the head, two more will take its place.” Garrett and Coulson argue over heads and limbs for a moment, but Coulson insists – and then Skye interrupts their banter again, to point out that the message originated inside of S.H.I.E.L.D., and thus this suggests that it is, in her words, “an activation signal to Hydra members within S.H.I.E.L.D.” This is a bit of a leap of logic for her, but the fact that Garrett’s already told them he was being attacked by S.H.I.E.L.D. UAVs suggests that she has all the pieces to make the connection. Garrett suggests they use chutes and jump out of the Bus before it arrives at the Hub, but the team refuses: Simmons is there, and they need to get her.
Meanwhile, Hand is informed that Simmons and Trip are unaccounted for in the roundup of agents at the HUB. She warns her men that Coulson’s team is resourceful and dangerous, and instructs them to wrap up this loose end. In the lab, Simmons is able to open a holographic link through to Agent Weaver at the academy, whom she is hoping will help her with Skye’s blood work; however, Weaver tells her that the Academy is under attack, besieged by Hydra forces, and that Simmons needs to get somewhere safe and lock the door. She cuts out after saying this. Behind Simmons, Trip walks over to the door and locks it – she asks him what he’s doing, but he tells her he’s just following Weaver’s instructions. Simmons is nervous, and Trip pulls a knife. He approaches, then turns the blade, and hands it to Simmons – he tells her that if she attacks him, he knows he can’t trust her. Simmons, visibly relieved, tells him she wants to contact the Bus.
In containment, May wakes. She’s cuffed, and Ward is sitting over her. He asks her what’s going on, why she was in contact with Fury, but she tells him she’s under orders not to say. She turns it around on him, bringing up Nash’s murder. She tells him, “It was to protect her, which would be okay, if you hadn’t shot the wrong guy.” Coulson opens the door – he tells them that May’s hardline is repaired, and now’s the time to make things right. The Bus has arrived at the Hub and is landing, when Coulson takes the still cuffed May into the cockpit. She tells him that she’s under orders not to make a call when anyone else is present, but Coulson just gives her a cold, hard look, and she thumbs the pad. Back in the briefing room, Ward, who has also left containment, asks Garrett what’s happening – he tells Ward that Agent Hand is the Clairvoyant. This jars a bit, as not fifteen minutes earlier, he was listing all the reasons she isn’t the Clairvoyant to Coulson. In the cockpit, May holds the phone. She repeats “Emergency Protocol 1” two times, and a voice says, “Hello.” She asks where Fury is, as this is his direct line. The voice replies that Director Fury is dead. Suddenly, shots ring out, and May is hit in the arm as soldiers outside the Bus open fire.
The team rushes to the small arms locker. Garrett points out that Fury has been in plenty of sticky situations, and doesn’t believe that he’s dead. In the lab, Coulson removes the bullet from May’s arm, being none too gentle as he does so. He keeps her in cuffs. He asks her how much she knew, did she know about Tahiti – she replies that she did, but that she did everything to protect Coulson, not for any nefarious reasons. She tells him that he “means a lot” to her, pausing as she says it – does she secretly love him? – but he isn’t buying any of her excuses just yet. She further tells him that his team wasn’t really put together by him. She, at the behest of Director Fury, made a list of the necessary team members, which she forwarded to Fury, who forwarded them to Coulson. They needed someone who could heal Coulson (Simmons), someone who could fix him if there was a technical issue (Fitz), and someone who could help take him down if things went wrong (Ward). Skye is, presumably, the wildcard in all of this. She reiterates that she did all of this to protect Coulson, not to harm him. They head to the briefing room, where Ward makes a pretty valid point: they have a ton of very sensitive information on the Bus’s computers, information on 0-8-4s, Asgardian artifacts, Graviton, the works – everything we’ve seen them encounter this season – and he suggests they need to wipe the computers, lest Hydra get the information. Coulson agrees, and Skye makes a backup of all their files on a portable hard drive (which has got to have a huge amount of storage – I want me one of those!).
Things start to escalate. In the Hub lab, the door is broken open, and Simmons and Trip are taken into custody. On the Bus, special forces troops blast open the hanger door, only to be themselves blasted as they trip an explosive. More troops follow, spreading out through the Bus, but no team members are to be seen; the camera focuses down on a grate on the floor: they’ve sneaked out through a belly hatch. As they walk into the complex, Skye hands Ward the hard drive – he hasn’t taught her how to resist torture yet, although he assures her the training is fun.
Simmons and Trip are brought before Hand. She tells them that times are changing, and that if they want to die like Director Fury, then they can resist these changes. She tells them that Hydra’s taking over, and that to live, they must pledge allegiance to the organization. They both refuse, preferring death. Trip makes a sudden move, taking the firearm from one agent, and grabbing a second in a chokehold, the gun to his temple. Hand smiles, and in one of the many “Turns” referred to in the title, tells him, “Good. That brings to seven the number of agents I trust.” She isn’t working for Hydra at all – she’s trying to weed them out. However, she has one more big revelation: she tells them that she believes they aren’t Hydra, but “Your friend Coulson, he is.”
Down in the bowels of the Hub, the team pretends that Coulson and May have been captured, while Garrett and Fitz use disguises to pretend they are regular S.H.I.E.L.D. security. They get into a secure area, and then knock out the guards.
Back upstairs, Hand delineates all of Coulson’s actions over the past several months – breaking rules, hiding information from S.H.I.E.L.D., disobeying orders, even bringing in Ward’s shooting of the apparent Clairvoyant – all of which point to him working outside of S.H.I.E.L.D. Her natural inclination is that he must, therefore, be working for Hydra. Simmons and Trip don’t believe her, and tell her so, but she’s adamant.
In another part of the Hub, Skye and Ward are hiding in a closet, getting ready to try to blow up the communications center, thus allowing them to regain control of the Bus and get out. They overhear an order, “Shoot to kill.” Ward expresses guilt over his shooting of Nash, and then admits to something else – he has feelings for Skye. He’s awkward, and frankly the timing could be better – by broaching this topic now, it breaks the narrative flow of an otherwise exciting moment in the episode. We don’t really need cutesy dialogue at this point. In any case, he asks her if she’ll go for a drink with him, if he survives. He’s going to go make a path for Skye – there are twelve guards outside, but he likes his chances. Before he can leave, she grabs him and kisses him – she points out that he might not survive, so why not? This would have been enough to establish emotion – we didn’t need the one minute of awkward dialogue stalling the flow.
Ward comes out shooting (he’s using two Night-night/Icers), taking out six soldiers before they even know what’s hit them. He gets two more, and has quite an acrobatic fight. He gets knocked down, and the four remaining pounce on him. He sees a knife on the floor, and reaches for it. We cut to inside the closet, where Skye is listening. Suddenly, the door opens: it’s Ward, bruised and battered, but victorious.
In security, Garrett seems to have come fully into Coulson’s way of seeing, but rather than arresting Hand, he wants them to put a couple of bullets in her head. He starts to list all of the things that Centipede and the Clairvoyant have done to Coulson and his team, trying to convince them that it’s the right thing to do. As he’s listing, he mentions something about Raina – that she was brainwashed by the Clairvoyant in the same machine used on Coulson. Coulson gets a look of wonder on his face. “I never said that,” he says, “I never told anyone.” “Maybe I read it in a report,” Garrett replies, but Coulson doesn’t bite. “I never said, Raina had been inside the machine,” Coulson continues. Garrett starts to say something, but then his face falls. “Dammit,” he says, realizing the game is up. Just then, the door bursts open, seven or eight soldiers running in with weapons drawn. Coulson tells them to arrest Garrett, that he’s Hydra. Garrett smiles and says, “I know Agent Sitwell was in charge of filling your ranks, so at least some of you know what to do in this situation.” There’s a pause. “Anytime,” Garrett says, and three of the soldiers at the back open fire, killing the others in front of them. “Hail Hydra,” Garrett says, which is repeated in unison by the three soldiers.
Garrett, no longer masked, tries to convince Coulson that joining Hydra is the best option. He tells him that it goes to the very top of S.H.I.E.L.D., so there’s no point in resisting. Coulson tells him, “I would rather die before serving Hydra, you sick son of a bitch.” Garrett replies, “I hate to tell you, but you’ve been serving Hydra all along.” They argue a bit more, Garrett trying to play the friend card, but Coulson has nothing but disgust on his face. He brings up the torture he underwent for three days at the Clairvoyant/Garrett’s bidding, but Garrett tells him he didn’t like it – he says, “Phil, this is me, being honest.” “No John,” Coulson replies, “this is you being a psychopath.” Garrett realizes he isn’t going to turn Coulson, and recognizes that May will go as Coulson does, such is her loyalty (and I really hope Coulson is paying attention to what’s being said – May was going behind his back, yes, but for noble reasons). He orders his men to shoot them, but to only shoot Fitz in the knee – he wants his expertise put to work for Hydra. Suddenly, there’s the sound of a concussion, and the lights flicker as the room shakes.
We jump briefly to Skye and Ward, who are standing in a hallway. Skye asks, “Is that all of them?” and Ward starts to reply that he didn’t think the explosion was big enough, when apparently the rest of the explosive go off, sending them back into cover.
In security, Coulson has May’s cuffs in his hands – he’s release her, and he uses the cuffs to strike Garrett. They grapple, and Garrett quickly begins to get the upper hand. May, meanwhile, takes on the soldiers, knocking them back, and doing spinning scissor kicks and the like. One of the guns she kicks out of a hand lands near Fitz, who is hiding under a desk. He tentatively reaches out for it, a good choice when another of the soldiers stands and is about to shoot May. Fitz shoots him, then drops the gun – he’s not cut out for action, but has what it takes in the moment. Coulson is on the floor, Garrett bringing a knife up to his face. Fitz calls out, and slides a Night-night grenade to him. May hits the ground as Coulson activates it, shooting it up about three feet off the ground and detonating, knocking Garrett out. The door bursts open – it’s Hand and her people, along with Simmons who runs right into Fitz’s arms. They order everyone to drop their weapons, and Coulson says, “I’m not Hydra.” Hand replies, “We know. We heard everything.” Another of her agents retrieves a microphone/walkie talkie from where it was hidden behind a pipe. Coulson asks her, “How deep does it go?” She doesn’t reply, but looks grim.
We cut to a hallway, where we see soldiers leading away groups of people in cuffs. Most look like office workers and functionaries, and none look too happy. Somber music is playing, and the movements are in slow-motion, emphasizing the gravity of the situation. Garrett comes by, and Trip sees him, yelling something at his former SO (Senior Officer). Ward looks confused, and we see Coulson take him aside – he’s explaining who Garrett really is, and Ward looks devastated.
We cut to the Hub tactical room, where Coulson and Hand are making plans. She’s looking at a the big map, and says, “Captain America has defeated the Helicarriers at the Trisklion, but his status is unknown.” Coulson continues for her: “And S.H.I.E.L.D. has fallen.” Hand tells him she’s going to head to the Fridge, which is secure, taking Garrett and putting him in a deep hole. Ward asks if he can go as well – he wants to see Garrett suffer. Hand agrees to take him, recognizing that she may have need of his skills. This struck me as a little too easy – with all the betrayals and confusion, why would she trust Ward in this situation? His eagerness should be a strike against his coming, but she doesn’t even question it – she’s been portrayed as far too smart not to question his motivations here.
We do, however, see Hand and Ward along with two of Hand’s agents escorting Garrett into the Hub hanger. We go to Skye, who is looking at her recently awarded agent badge. “It’s all gone,” she says, voice tinged with regret, as Fitz and Simmons look melancholy. Coulson comes into the room, and snaps them out of their reverie – he wants Skye to get their firmware up and running, while Fitz gets a team together to patch up the Bus. May asks him if he still wants her on-board. He tells her, “[You’re] not a friend, but I do believe you’re an ally”. I guess he was listening when Garrett spoke, but he hasn’t forgiven May for going behind his back. “What are we planning to do next,” she asks. “Survive,” he answers.
We go to the transport plane. Garrett is in cuffs, sitting between Hand’s two agents. Ward sits across from them, and Hand is standing near the end of the room. She suggests that the Fridge isn’t a deep enough hole for Garrett. She says, “I’m thinking the Ice Box in the Fridge is a little too comfortable. Maybe we should put you a little deeper underground.” She asks Ward if he’d “care to shoot the right” Clairvoyant. He gets up, chambers a bullet, and then shoots the two agents to either side of Garrett in the head, then turns the gun on a shocked Hand, shooting her in the stomach. As she falls, he shoots her twice more. Garrett smiles at him, but Ward just stands there, his face devoid of emotion, simply nodding once. We cut to commercial, a Hydra symbol filling the screen rather than the usual S.H.I.E.L.D. sigil.
In the stinger (as though we need one tonight!), we see a close-up of Hand’s hair draped over her right hand, blood flowing down onto the floor grating. In the background, Garrett is going into one of his anecdotes, but Ward isn’t listening. He’s staring at Hand, a stunned look on his face, sitting still. Garrett’s voice begins to fade and turn into a blurred background sound, the camera tightening on Ward’s face. As Garrett fades to silence, Ward suddenly looks up – he’s intense, and obviously has something planned that Garrett doesn’t know about.
This was an excellent follow-up to last week’s episode, and continues the breakneck pace of the “Uprising” arc. There were plenty of “turns” in the episode: May’s betrayal, Hand’s revelation as a S.H.I.E.L.D. loyalist, Garrett being unmasked as the Clairvoyant (and possibly the head of Hydra, though I’m taking nothing for granted at this point), and Ward’s apparent turn to the dark side at the very end of the episode. I don’t for a second believe that Ward is truly a Hydra agent. In fact, Garrett’s surprise would seem to indicate this as well. However, he does shoot two agents in the head, and it’s at least suggested that Hand is dead (although she may not be – she is bleeding, yes, but we don’t see where the second and third bullets hit). Here are my thoughts:
Hand and Ward have arranged this. The two agents with them on the plane were Hydra, making them liabilities. Hand is not dead – either he shot her in a non-lethal spot, or they have some sort of bloodpack set and ready to go, making it look like she’s been hit, combined with bullet-proof armor under her suit. After all, he shoots the first two agents in the head – why not Hand as well? Their purpose? To get Ward on the inside as a trusted savior of Garrett, so that he can find out exactly how high the conspiracy goes, and try to end it. This is a bit of a stretch, I admit, but I just don’t see the showrunners setting up and developing Ward’s character throughout the season only to sacrifice him as a Hydra operative at this point. Of course, I could just as easily be wrong. Ward may be acting on his own, figuring that the sacrifice of three agents is a price he’s willing to pay to get to the top of Hydra and dismantle it; or he may, in fact, have been a Hydra agent all along. In any case, we’ll be finding out over the next several episodes as “Uprising” continues.
May has come mostly clean with Coulson, and now that they believe Fury is dead, perhaps they can work on repairing their damaged relationship. I believe that we’re going to see Trip become a regular – if they do decide to permanently turn Ward into a Hydra operative, I could see Trip becoming a long-term member of the team. This will play nicely with the whole Simmons/Fitz duality, as he definitely brings something to the table that attracts Simmons, and will cause tension. Skye is going to be a little adrift, likely relying even more than usual on Coulson. Look for May to fill some of the void left by Ward, and perhaps acting as Skye’s new SO/mentor.
Events in the S.H.I.E.L.D. universe are highly volatile. The Hub is secured, the Fridge is still under their control, and Captain America has dealt with the insurgency at the Triskelion, but many of their bases and agents worldwide have been compromised. They’ll be seen and treated as a rogue organization moving forward, making their every move that much more fraught with danger. And as a friend of mine asked me after the episode aired: who’s going to pay to gas up the Bus now?
Steve’s Grade: A-
Another excellent episode that keeps the stakes high, suggesting layer upon layer of betrayal and lies undermining all of our expectations. The series has, as Clark Gregg and others suggested a couple of months ago, shown connections that weren’t immediately visible as early episodes aired, creating tension and a grander storyline than most of us first imagined was the direction this show was heading in. And I like this new direction a lot. In fact, this episode had me thinking so much before heading to bed last night, that I actually had an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. dream, a first for this series.