Agents of Shield finally came together by the end of Season 1 and we were treated to a rousing conclusion that served to bring us into the Coulson era. So, how has this all been going over the intervening months? The opening episode of season does fill us in, but not before offering another tantalizing preview of the eagerly anticipated Agent Carter.
We start the episode the Agent Carter era: 1945. You know what that means: Nazi’s! We get to meet a coolly evil Nazi commander polishing his granny glasses and noting that a mysterious and twisty foot long metal object, he refers to as the ‘Obelisk’, that might offer fantastic power (remains of its dead calcified victims suggest research is still ongoing, however). Moments later we are reminded of how awesome Captain America: The First Avenger was, as Agent Carter, Dum-Dum Dugan and Morita arrive on the scene to take over and offer up some decent quips before they secure this ‘Obelisk’ in a box stenciled S.S.R. Item# 084. We also catch a glimpse of a certain blue skinned cadaver, that, as you may remember, will be put to questionable use in a few decades later.
The episode then shifts to the present; a negotiation over Shield related intelligence sets the ball rolling in the scramble to recover this episode’s macguffin; you guessed it, a certain Item # 084, the very first one. We are introduced to a trio of new Shield faces, Hartley (Lucy Lawless in good form), and mercenaries Idaho and Hunter (techie Mac is introduced later at the Playground). Hartley leads the negotiating B Team that is surprised by a bald assassin who easily absorbs gunfire, kills the seller and leaps out a third story window with the file. Not even A Team – May, Trip and Skye – can help in time. Is this the introduction of a classic Marvel villain… I think so.
Later at the Playground, despite Fitz’s difficulties in communicating (coupled with a few weirdly awkward scenes of helpful and supportive dialogue between him and Simmons), a piece of evidence Skye picked up reveals the bald man is a ‘gifted’ ex-boxer by the name Carl ‘Crusher’ Creel (AKA the Absorbing Man), supposedly terminated by Garret. This then leads to Skye getting to uncomfortably play ‘Clarisse Starling’ to Grant Ward’s now disturbingly honest ‘Hannibal Lecter’ for info on HYDRA. He readily provides communication intel that bounces the show into the next act: playing with the obstinate and obvious comic relief, General Glen Talbot.
You see, Creel’s next target is supposedly the General’s family. We do get to be treated to the Absorbing Man in full ball and chain swinging action, kudos for that. This is the most fun part of the episode, but it also serves to show how easily HYDRA can get ahead of Coulson’s team. For instance, Creel gets conveniently imprisoned in the same facility where the army is keeping the Obelisk.
I’m not certain how Talbot keeps his job after he’s so easily tricked into providing the military codes necessary for Shield agents to get into the facility in order to grab the Obelisk before Creel can. And, as it turns out our agents actually end up leading Creel right to it (there is a reason I often nickname them Agents of S.C.H.M.U.C.K). Then, in a WTF?! moment because… plot complication, Hartley decides impulsively to pick up the Obelisk with her bare hand and we get an idea how those Nazis back in ’45 died… painfully/horribly. Her now stone cold hand can’t even put the thing down. This inspires Hunter to break with the mission to get her to a hospital, because he may be a money hungry merc, but he does have a heart.
Coulson then decides to take advantage of the chaos and orders Team A to go for the other part of the plan instead of aborting. It’s a good tactical decision, and a full Colonel Fury level of getting what’s needed done, regardless of the consequences. They secure the cloakable Quinnjet, but lose Team B and the Obelisk, because… season arc. Creel, who somehow manages to get ahead of Hartley’s trio in their SUV, turns to asphalt and flips it over, killing Idaho and Hartley. Not the brightest of ‘gifted’ people though, he walks off with the obelisk in a rubber hand instead of the arm Hartley had quickly and badassedly had amputated by Hunter before the calcification killed her.
Coulson does offer a solid mission statement to Koenig and Mac to justify his decision. It was well written and well delivered. It’s a win, and a much needed one, because they now have the cloaking tech needed to work from the Shadows. During the monologue montage we also learn why the Fitz and Simmons exchanges were so weird. Fitz is suffering from a sort of ‘comic book’ brain damage and has been hallucinating her as a mental crutch, to help him finish thoughts and reassure him, since she has left (although we don’t know yet why or to where). Finally, to neatly bookend the episode we learn that our modern top HYDRA guy is the same Nazi commander from the Agent Carter bit, now going by the name Daniel Whitehall, appearing exactly the same as he did 1945, and still affecting those old black rimmed granny glasses. Presenting: this years Uber-villain!
Shadows is a much stronger episode than last year’s series premiere and is far more effective in introducing the new characters, the current situation, and character evolution, often economically through one liners or quick scenes, while hitting all the right notes necessary to boost us into the new season. Not a line of dialogue is wasted, and there’s not an ounce of fat to speak of in the script. The Absorbing Man is introduced just about perfectly, right down to his getting high on turning to diamond and getting in touch with his inner Groot. The only sour note is how Fitz appears to have been abandoned to handle his rehabilitation alone. I can see thematically why their doing it, but it seems to me unlikely the team would have given up on him so readily.