Airdate: September 30, 2014
Directed by: Jesse Bochco
Showrunner: Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen
Written by: Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen
Tonight’s episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. slows down the breakneck pace of last week a little, allowing us to get to know the new guy (Lance Hunter – no, I’m not making that name up), and giving the team a chance to figure out what they’re going to do with the triple-pronged threat of Creel, Talbot, and HYDRA. Unlike the majority of early episodes last year, this one is clearly a direct follow-up from last week, thus showing an intent to have at least some continuity, and perhaps fewer one-off episodes like we’ve seen in the past. This should be to the good, as the clear seven-episode arc that ended last season was clearly the highlight of the first year run. Click through to read my full review of tonight’s episode, “Heavy is the Head.”
<<Spoiler Alert: This review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S02E02 – “Heavy is the Head” – will discuss plot points and events in the episode. Read at your own risk!>>
We start out literally right where we ended. Hunter is struggling to get out of the SUV that has him pinned, beside the dead bodies of Isabelle Hartley and his other partner Idaho. May shows up and tries to help him, but he tells her to get Creel. This begins a theme that is consistent throughout the episode. Hunter (and others, as I’ll discuss below) is very resistant to any kind of help, and yet somehow finds he needs it. His goal is clear – get Creel and avenge Hartley (with whom it turns out he was in a relationship).
May, too, wants Creel, and although she has a clear shot at him, Coulson refuses to allow her to take it – he wants to know who he’s dealing with, who is Creel’s HYDRA contact. She instead follows Creel to a diner, where there is a commotion: Creel, his arm affected by the obelisk, is accidentally touched by a waitress, who quickly turns to stone and dies.
What follows is something of a cat and mouse game: Talbot pursuing Coulson through Hunter, Hunter pursuing Creel through Coulson, and Coulson pursuing Creel – while trying to neutralize Talbot as an active enemy – through whomever he is able to utilize. Outside of S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra, and Talbot, a fourth player enters the fray: Raina, the girl in the flower dress, reappears, first making advances on Creel, and then seeking an alliance of convenience with Coulson – you know, enemy of my enemy and all that. She does give some rather intriguing information at one point: she tells Coulson that the etchings on the outside of the obelisk match those we’ve seen earlier, the sort of alien-looking diagrams, and that Garrett knew exactly what they were after being injected with the GH-325 – suggesting that Coulson must therefore know what they are as well (and by association, Skye should too). Coulson denies any knowledge, but as we see later in the episode, this is a bluff.
Ultimately, Raina becomes a major player. She plants a homing device on Creel (by giving him a rare isotope of Carbon called “carbine” which she claims is three times tougher than diamond, which contains the homing device), and then informs Coulson of its frequency. Hunter talks Coulson into letting him go on the field mission to stop the hand-off of the obelisk, but proceeds to use the ICE gun (aka the night-night gun) to take out May, Skye, and Trip, with the intention of killing Creel himself. Turns out he was in love with Hartley, and he takes her death very personally.
Unfortunately for him, Creel’s abilities are quick as thought, and as Creel fires a high velocity shell at his head, Creel turns to steel, deflecting the bullet. Creel’s HYDRA contact hits the ground, Creel chases Hunter, and a flash of a flower print dress goes by, carrying a package that looks distinctly like the one Creel had been carrying.
Just as Creel is about to kill Hunter, he’s hit in the back – it’s Coulson, and he has a device put together by Fitz and Mack, which he jams into Creel’s back. Creel starts to cycle through several different materials, unable to control his transformations, finally settling into a stone form, down on his knees.
In the aftermath, Coulson asks Hunter to come work with S.H.I.E.L.D. Hunter is highly suspicious, especially after betraying the team, but Coulson points out that not many can get the drop on Agent May – although that might come back to haunt him at some future time, as she tends to do a “slow smolder” according to Coulson. Hunter agrees, and Coulson tells him, “Oh, I just need you to do one thing. Sell me out.” This plays out in the episode’s stinger, when Coulson, apparently alone, waits beside an unmarked white van as Talbot and his men charge up in three black SUVs. He has Creel inside, and gives him to Talbot as a peace offering. Talbot laughs – he tells Coulson that he must have “a couple of big brass ones” to be out there all alone, thinking he has the artillery to back up his position. Coulson signals, and the Bus, now with cloaking, uncloaks right over the SUVs, it’s automated defense gun out and tracking. Coulson then walks up the ramp of the uncloaking jumpjet Skye and Trip stole from the Air Force last week, telling Talbot that he has plenty of artillery.
There is one more scene near the very end – Raina, in a dark room with Skye’s father [played by the always creepy Kyle McClachlan]. He tells her to grasp the obelisk, which she does after some hesitation. It lights up, the alien scrollwork highlighted in golden beams. “It worked,” she says, but he shakes his head: “No, it let you live. There’s a difference.” She asks him to show her, and he agrees to – but only after she brings him her daughter, so he can show both of them.
There are several concurrent storylines, all of which come together nicely by the end of the episode, and each of which focuses on the theme of helping one another.
First up is Hunter. As I’ve said, he’s out for vengeance, and he’s willing to turn to whomever is handy to get it. He brokers a deal with Talbot: two-million dollars and an honorable burial for Hartley, in exchange for turning in Coulson. Then, he turns to Coulson, and asks for his help to get Creel – after all, as he tells the Director, he could have led Talbot directly there. He talks Coulson into letting him on the field team that will monitor Creel, and takes advantage of this trust to try to get what he wants, which is not necessarily what anyone else on the team wants. However, even when he tries to go all lone-wolf, Hunter, a trained SAS veteran, still needs Coulson’s help in order to survive his own mistakes.
Second is Fitz, who continues to struggle with his brain injury, trying to recall the words and even the research he has done before. When new addition Mac tries to help him with his work, he’s at least willing to speak with the man. His hallucinatory Simmons even tells Fitz that she likes the new addition, that he’s honest. “Blunt” is what Fitz calls it, and Mack tells him that he tells it like it is. Mack is focused on the cloaking technology they’ve been working on for some time, but Fitz is on to something else: a destabilizer that will prevent Creel from controlling his abilities. For both Fitz and Mack, it is only when they help each other that they find success in the lab. Mack takes on an almost guardian-like role, telling the other lab techs to give Fitz space, and cajoling out the difficult words and concepts. So far, I like the chemistry between them – it isn’t Fitz-Simmons, but it’s a different kind of relationship, full of respect and challenges.
Lastly is Coulson himself. He’s struggling; not with his new responsibilities, which he seems to take on quite naturally, but with his interpersonal relationships with the team. He’s showing signs of stress, and being that he’s such a laid back guy most of the time, it’s starting to show. Skye talks to May, and asks her if she knows anything about what is going on with him. May denies any knowledge of what might be causing his stress, but we cut to her in Coulson’s office, reminding him that it’s been eighteen days since his last “episode.” He admits that he’s been putting it off, but she tells him that that is why she is there. He loosens tie, and with May there to watch over him, allows himself to have one of these “episodes.” He unclasps a knife, and proceeds to carve alien symbolism into a wall in his office, May filming all the while. It’s obvious that he’s in some sort of trance as he does it, and he ends up covering the entire ten foot wide wall section by the time he’s done.
There were a few quibbles tonight, the primary one being how easily Coulson agrees/decides to bring Hunter onto the team. Yes, S.H.I.E.L.D. is desperate right now, but this just felt far too contrived. At another point, Creel is having a hard time controlling the obelisk’s material’s effect on his body, and his HYDRA contact is able to get him to relax, which seems to do the job. There’s no further explanation given, and it doesn’t make any sense – wouldn’t Creel have a far better idea of how to control his powers than a HYDRA agent? Lastly, Raina’s grab of the package depended on too many variables for it to have gone so smoothly. She had no way of knowing that Hunter was going to neutralize the rest of his team, meaning that she would have had to fight her way through May, Trip, Hunter, and an increasingly dangerous Skye to get away. Too convenient.
I did, however, enjoy the episode. The sense of teamwork, and the need for help, were themes that tied the several stories together, and made for a nicely consistent episode. There wasn’t too much Skye, and while there was no Agent Koenig, there was also no Ward, so that kind of balanced out. I do think that Ward can be an interesting character, and I’m pretty sure that he’s going to be redeemed at some point this season, but removing those side stories made for a tighter episode.
- Watching May powering down the highway, running in and out of traffic while tracking Creel down on her Harley. Ming-Na Wen looks great in bike leathers!
- Mack’s sudden look of exhilaration as he realizes that Fitz’s aphasia is forcing him to speak in code, and that he has understood exactly what Fitz is trying to tell him
- Coulson’s “episode” indicating that some sort of knowledge was passed to him by the GH-325, just as Raina suggested
- Coulson’s bluff – but does Talbot really buy that S.H.I.E.L.D. is as effective as Coulson indicates?
- Finally getting to see Skye’s dad in the flesh – now the question is: is her mother still alive, and is she angry?
- Skye discussing Creel with Coulson, a lascivious look on her face: “He can turn any body part into any material.” Coulson: “Yeah, I didn’t need to hear that.”
- Trip to Skye: “No need to think the worst until it shakes your hand and says hello.”
- Coulson’s response to Talbot when he asks where Hunter is: “Watching <i>Cake Boss</i> I believe.”
- Skye, trying to get Coulson to relax: “Try yoga or something.” Coulson: “I tried it, but, I’m not flexible.”
- Coulson regarding the current state of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s resources: “We’re lucky we still have our George Foreman Grill.”
- Coulson to Raina, when she tells Coulson she’s no longer with HYDRA: “Why the breakup? Bad dental plan?”
- Fitz to Mack: “I didn’t figure this out today,” trying to get Mack to realize he’s already invented something they can use, but lacking the words to express the sentiment.
Steve’s Grade: B+
A solid follow-up to last week’s episode, with a bit more focus and direction. The stinger at the end of the episode opens up plenty of questions moving forward.