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‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Season 1 Recap, Episode 16: ‘End of the Beginning’

Last episode: Sif. Two episodes ago: John Garrett. Three episodes ago: Deathlok. Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD has embraced the “Marvel” part of its name the past few weeks, but the ABC television series still hasn’t been able to match the quality or excitement of Marvel’s other live-action productions.

In this week’s episode there are no new Marvel faces, but several familiar ones crop up, and perhaps more excitingly we see some welcome advances in the plot. Yes, there’s a plot! Buckle in, true believer.

A few of those familiar faces reappear right out of the gate, as agents John Garrett (Bill Paxton) and Antoine Triplett (B.J. Britt) are attacked in their safe house by Deathlok/Mike Peterson (J. August Richards). They almost take Deathlok down, but he flees by blasting a cartoonishly round circle in the ceiling.

Garrett and Triplett later join fellow agents Victoria Hand (Saffron Burrows), Felix Blake (Titus Welliver) and Jasper Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernandez) on the wingycarrier. It’s an all-star line-up!

Coulson (Clark Gregg) called the meeting on his plane because he hopes being in the air will put them beyond the Clairvoyant’s reach. They don’t believe in psychics, but they have theories about how their powers work! Coulson believes Garrett and Triplett were attacked because they got too close to the Clairvoyant as they worked through a list of “gifted” rejects; people who SHIELD studied and dismissed as possible psychics.

Skye (Chloe Bennett) is brought in to the meeting to officially receive her SHIELD agent badge. No, she hasn’t been to the academy, but she took all the exams on a correspondence course or something. It’s fine. A wizard did it. Everyone hugs.

Garrett tells Skye that he sees how she’s changed Ward (Brett Dalton); she’s given him something to fight for. This is important, because later in the episode this will provide the fig leaf of justification for the worst thing this show has ever done.

 

 

But we’ll get to that! First, a classic superhero set-up; the agents are put into pairs to track down more Clairvoyant candidates from the list. The teams are randomly assigned and each given half the information about their target so that the Clairvoyant can’t glean that information from any one mind. A real clairvoyant could probably stretch to reading two minds, but, sure, let’s pretend this is a plan.

The alpha males, Ward and Triplett, go after a prisoner in the UK and find a strangely abandoned front desk at the prison. The old dudes, Coulson and Garrett, go to Indiana in pursuit of a gifted student with Yakuza ties, and run into a suspicious detour.

Both these threads are red herrings. The real story is with the serious, scowly agents, May  (Ming-Na Wen) and Blake, who have been sent to a care home in Macon, Georgia, on the trail of a comatose patient, Thomas Nash, who used to have a gift for predicting behavior. But Nash isn’t really there, and a newly upgraded Deathlok attacks. He insists that he’s no longer the man he once was, and proves it by putting Blake in the hospital and almost blowing up May.

And… that’s the end of the classic superhero set-up. It turns out the show is not doing the odd-couples-multiple-narrative classic. A shame, because I like both Agent Triplett and Agent Blake a good deal more than I like any of the regulars. Triplett’s smile alone has more charisma than the current cast. The show would leap several grades if it replaced Ward and Coulson with these two.

 

 

Back on the plane, Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) packs her bags to go to headquarters to brief SHIELD on Deathlok, and Coulson realizes that Agent Blake managed to tag Deathlok with a tracker before he got pulped. That leads them to an abandoned racetrack in Pensecola, Florida.

It turns out that this spy game is just that easy. Sure enough, Deathlok is at the racetrack, and in what may be the first real geek thrill this show has ever given me, a multi-spectrum camera reveals an x-ray view of Deathlok that looks… a lot like the comic book character Deathlok! It’s actually pretty cool.

Sadly the show’s version of Deathlok doesn’t normally look like this, and his Power Rangers armor is basic-grade dork, but maybe the show is ever-so-slowly pushing the character towards the classic look.

Coulson and Garrett track Deathlok to a basement, but instead of finding their cyborg, they find a creepy paralysed dude on life support, surrounded by TV screens.

This is Thomas Nash, played by the awesome Brad Dourif, and he is… the Clairvoyant!

 

 

Speaking through the TVs, the Clairvoyant surrenders into SHIELD custody. As the other agents flood in to the room, the Clairvoyant/Nash takes the opportunity to goad Coulson about nearly killing Skye, and warns him that something terrible is coming for him and Skye. He says that Skye will die giving the bad guys what they want.

So Ward shoots Nash in the heart.

Yeah.

This is a problem.

One of the heroes executed a paralyzed man who was in SHIELD custody. This is an unambiguously monstrous act. Game of Thrones’ Walder Frey would see this and say, “Woah guy, too far.” Two things heroes probably shouldn’t do; murder prisoners and murder helpless people. Read some superhero comics, Marvel! This is not how good guys behave! Ward just became the show’s supervillain!

The worst part is that Ward didn’t even have proof that this guy was the Clairvoyant, or that he’d committed any crimes – though this would still be a monstrous act if he were the Clairvoyant. The guy didn’t move or speak, and as Coulson later points out, all his dialogue was delivered by a television. For anyone knows, Ward executed a completely innocent man. This is why we establish guilt before we punish people!

No-one acts like what Ward did was monstrous. Shocking, yes, but not monstrous. Agent Hand even delivers a Schwarzennegger-esque zinger, “Bet the Clairvoyant didn’t see that coming.”

 

 

Ward does get thrown in the cell on the plane, but we all know SHIELD uses that room as a spare bedroom half the time. Coulson says Ward will go before a “review board,” and Garrett tells him to “go easy on the kid.” Here’s an idea; how about you skip the review board and put him before a jury of his peers? He’s a murderer!

OK, maybe he’s not. It’s a superhero universe. Maybe this is a ruse or a bluff. Maybe Ward was mind-controlled. But in any of those circumstances, I would still expect the other characters to react a little more emphatically. If this was a ruse, they didn’t sell it as one.

Of course, there is one other major crime in this episode. The show hired Brad Dourif and asked him to sit in a chair and do very little for the entirety of his one scene. I have to hope he’ll be back somehow (though that wouldn’t exonerate Ward), because this was a waste of is talents. If this really was the Clairvoyant, Brad Dourif is the right calibre of actor to play the role, and he’s sufficiently creepy to create a great supervillan.

Ward justifies his actions to Skye by saying he “got angry” and the Clairvoyant “pushed all the right buttons,” which is not what one expects from one of SHIELD’s best-trained agents. He also says he has no regrets. Full supervillain. Full monster.

Because Ward says the Clairvoyant knew which buttons to push, Skye and Coulson realize (a little late) that everything the Clairvoyant knows is information a SHIELD agent could have access to. Ergo, the Clairvoyant is a SHIELD agent.

In which case he’s not Brad Dourif and Ward definitely executed an innocent man. Is this worth dwelling on at all? No? OK, moving on…

 

 

Despite arriving at this “Agent Clairvoyant theory” precisely because the Clairvoyant knew how to provoke Ward, Coulson decides that the “Agent Clairvoyant theory” means that Ward is in league with the Clairvoyant, and so decides to interrogate him. Logic is only available to agents at level 10 or higher.

Meanwhile, Fitz discovers that Agent May installed her own secure line on the plane. He disables it, and May grabs a gun and comes after him. Coulson and Skye draw their own weapons on her. May insists that they don’t understand what’s happening, but she can’t explain, because, reasons, guys, reasons. It’s a cliffhanger, OK?

The wingycarrier then turns itself around. Cut to headquarters, where Agent Hand says she wants everyone on that plane taken out except Coulson. “He’s mine.” She does not cackle. The cackle is implied.

In the kicker; a scene from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In theaters Friday!

Thus ends perhaps the most uneven episode of Agents of SHIELD to date. There were some parts of it that I really enjoyed, like the use of the other agents, the very brief appearance of Comics Deathlok, and actual developments on the villain front.

Yet the show still doesn’t know how to sew a story together, and the big reveal that May could be a villain (again) (but not really) is especially unsatisfying in an episode where an agent actually became a villain and no-one took it appropriately seriously.

Given the extraordinary events that happened in at least five other shows in the past month, Agents of SHIELD needs to pull off something amazing next week if it hopes to match the hype of its promos. Remember, this isn’t just an event, this is a maximum event.

Credit where it’s due:

“End of the Beginning” was directed by Bobby Roth and written by Paul Zbyszewski. SHIELD, Nick Fury, and Jasper Sitwell were created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Marvel’s Asgardians were created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby. Captain America, Bucky, and the super-soldiers were created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

Deathlok was created by Doug Moench and Rich Buckler. The Triskelion was created by Bryan Hitch and Mark Millar. Victoria Hand was created by Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Deodato. John Garrett was created by Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz. Winter Soldier was created by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting. Felix Blake was created by Eric Pearson. Phil Coulson was created by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway.

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