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Episode: 20 (S01E20)
Airdate: April 29, 2014

Under the category of “better late than never,” I’m getting up my reviews of the two episodes of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that I missed reviewing while on my family vacation. These reviews will be abbreviated versions of my normal, longer reviews, with more focus on what we learn, what worked, and what didn’t, as opposed to a complete synopsis with commentary. Click through after the break to get my take on “Nothing Personal,” the twentieth and third-to-last of the opening season.

<<Spoiler Alert: This review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S01E20 – “Nothing Personal” – 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 begins with Agent Maria Hill [Cobie Smulders] walking through DC on the phone. She’s checking out several very obvious observers, and as she talks we find out she’s now working for Stark Enterprises. When she notices that all of the spies are suddenly incapacitated, we’re not terribly surprised to see Agent May waiting for her. They chat a bit, May trying to get her to come back to help Coulson, Hill trying to convince May to come join Stark – after all, S.H.I.E.L.D. is dead. She tells May briefly about the turning of Alexander Pierce, a long-time S.H.I.E.L.D. operative and friend of Director Fury, who turns out to have been a major part of the Hydra infiltration. As FBI agents show up, May disappears.

Back at Providence, Coulson and team is trying find out where everyone else went. They figure out that May left on her own – and Coulson realizes it’s due to his own mistrust. It’s a very good sign that Coulson is still showing the ability to learn and develop; if Agents is going to last more than a couple of seasons, it will need to show growth in each of its characters, and Coulson is the most popular character of the bunch. As much as he is a mentor, he is still shown on occasion to be fallible, and his ability to make mistakes makes him that much more endearing.

While Coulson and Trip check out CCTV footage, Fitz and Simmons go off to make comfort food – pancakes. Now, having British friends, I have to say that this particular scene must have been written by an American, as pancakes are not generally seen as edible in the UK – rather, they’re viewed as filler, a somewhat questionable North American addition to an otherwise good breakfast. Not saying I agree with the analysis, but it was funny to see Simmons so intent on making them. In their quest to take the team’s mind off of their problems, the two run into evidence that things are a whole lot more serious than they thought: Fitz finds a message scrawled by Skye on one of the panoramas, saying “Ward is Hydra,” and Simmons finds Koenig’s body in the storage room. Cat’s out of the bag.

Coulson et al get on tracking Skye. We see her and Ward on the Bus, and he’s feeding her a line about talking with Coulson on the phone. If anything, her blind acceptance of everything he’s saying (in service of hiding the fact that she’s on to him) should be screaming warning signals at him, loud and clear. Is Ward so blinded by his own confidence at this point that he can’t see that Skye is trying to dupe him? They go to the diner from Episode 101, where she initially met with Mike Peterson in the pilot. She is stalling, and has actually notified the police that Ward is there. She almost gets away but as she drives off, Deathlok shows up and takes her in. Ward, naturally, finds the local cops no match for his skillset, incapacitating them and joining Skye and Deathlok. He’s angry that Deathlok intervened – the tension between the two of them is growing stronger, Ward getting a little jealous of Peterson’s special status with his surrogate daddy, Garrett. Plus, Ward now knows that Skye is on to him.

We get a whole bunch of Angry-Fitz in the episode. He simply can’t believe that Ward is Hydra. Remember, the two of them really bonded in Episode 107 “The Hub,” and Fitz won’t accept that Ward isn’t some kind of double or triple agent. This mirrors Simmons unreasonable bonding with Skye. Realistically, they’ve known Ward no longer than they’ve known Skye, so Fitz’s strange defense of Ward isn’t without precedent, and acts as the male counterpart to Simmons’s girl-crush.

Providence base is raided by Colonel Talbot and his men, which poses the interesting question of where are the Canadian forces here? After all, the base is in the Canadian north, and you’d expect at least an observer to be present (thanks to R. for pointing that out to me!). To add insult to injury, they’re there because Agent Hill showed them the way, but Coulson is able to get her support when he explains his mission. For someone that wants to move into the civilian sector, Hill sure shows a willingness to put her future liberty on the line, as she actively takes out several of Talbot’s soldiers to enable Coulson’s team to leave.

May, meanwhile, is trying to get the information that Coulson wants regarding his resurrection. She digs in Coulson’s grave, finding a flash drive – it’s a Level 10 encoded device. What could possibly be on it?

Ward, back on the Bus, gets a taste of exactly how valuable he really is to Garrett, as Deathlok – on Garrett’s orders – stops his heart in an effort to force Skye to decode the Bus’s hard drive. She does so, showing that somewhere she either has feelings for Ward, or that she’s just got a lot of compassion within her. Hill and co show up in a transport as Ward is running up the Bus. He insults her, telling her that she was just eye candy, but that Romanov would have been better. She plays along – all she’s really doing is stalling for time, so that Coulson can climb up into a wheel-well and infiltrate the Bus.

The escape scene from the Bus, where Coulson and Skye hop into Lola and narrowly miss one of Deathlok’s missiles, is very well done, and I especially like the response of the unobservant parking valet when they landed. It was a shame to see Lola all shot up, and I expected Coulson to be angrier – but right now, he’s very very focused on the mission at hand.

The episode ends with Ward and Deathlok, barely tolerating each other, heading back to meet Garrett. Meanwhile, Coulson and the team are recuperating at a motel. The stinger has Coulson enter the motel room, only to find May waiting for him. She shows him the data stick she dug up, and Coulson is in for a bit of a shock: he was the head of Project T.A.H.I.T.I. It’s a video of him telling Fury to shut the project down, that it leads to death and psychosis, and that memory replacement may be the only way to get it to work. Interesting stuff.

Questions that were answered and story-lines ended:

– We now know that Coulson was the head of Project T.A.H.I.T.I., and was in a sense the author of his own situation

– Skye’s subterfuge with Ward only lasted an episode, but she was able to slow down Hydra’s plans a little

– Coulson now knows who the “wolf in the herd” is

– Maria Hill doesn’t know that Fury is still alive – apparently, no one alive except for Coulson does, seeing as she was effectively S.H.I.E.L.D.’s number two agent

– Did Skye leave a message for the rest of the team – yes, in one of Koenig’s random scenery generators

Questions unanswered, both old and new:

– Why would Simmons consider pancakes a comfort food?

– How long before Ward realizes that he’s outlived his usefulness to Garrett?

– Why is it that whenever we see military in the Marvel Universe, they’re almost always incompetent?

– Who was Koenig, really?

Best Lines:

“We’ve had a wolf in the herd the whole time” – Coulson to Trip when they’re trying to figure out where the rest of the team went

“Trust me, I’m going to have a major freak out later” – Coulson, after he’s found out Ward is Hydra

“It must be hard, living a double life like that” – Skye to Ward, as she’s laying it on thick before revealing that she knows he’s Hydra

“I was on a mission. It wasn’t personal” – Ward to Skye, as he tries once more to get her to decode the hard drive

“That’ll be twenty bucks” – parking attendant to Coulson after he’s crash landed Lola in a near free fall from the Bus

“Live a little” – Coulson to Trip when they’re regrouping at the motel

Funniest Moment:

The look on Coulson’s face when Skye asks him how he got past Deathlok, not previously realizing that the super-powered Hydra tool is on the Bus

Other things we learned tonight:

– Deathlok does what he has to out of necessity – he is not afraid to show his disgust for his masters at every turn

Steve’s Grade: B+
A solid outing that continues moving the series along at a good pace, heading into the last two episodes of the season. The action sequences, especially Lola’s last flight, were well done, and the big reveals helped to up the ante. Will Coulson’s increasing self-awareness lead to an existential crisis?

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