Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 Recap, Episode 20: ‘Nothing Personal’
If we regard the last six episodes of Agents of SHIELD's first season as a single story, we're now two-thirds of the way to done -- and I'm pleased to say I can't guess which way the last two episodes will take us.
There are certainly some predictable paths available, at least one of which would be incredibly exasperating. That's the path marked "Ward's redemption". The events of this episode seem to steer us in the other path, but you can never be sure with redemption arcs. Audiences will forgive a guy anything if they think there's a love story involved. Spoilers ahead for this week's Agents of SHIELD, and if you haven't seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier yet, it's officially too late. You suck.
At the end of last week's episode, HYDRA traitor Ward (Brett Dalton) took Skye (Chloe Bennett) up in the wingycarrier to unlock the geo-locked doohickey full of secrets. It's complicated and contrived; you had to be there. Skye knows Ward is HYDRA; Ward doesn't know she knows. With Koenig dead and May (Ming-Na Wen) gone, the other agents come home to an empty bunker.
This week's episode opens in Washington D.C., where a sharp-suited Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) has been answering questions about SHIELD's implosion. Questions like, "What's a Man-Thing?" While Maria complains on the phone to Pepper Potts about all the obvious tails placed on her, those tails get picked off -- and Agent May gets Maria alone in an alleyway. May asks Hill to help Coulson, because she's afraid that HYDRA leader Alexander Pierce was the man behind the TAHITI program that brought Coulson back to life.
It's a very slick scene that makes good use of the characters and the richness of the world. My only reservation is that I'm confused about the timeline. Apparently Hill is already working for Tony Stark, but it feels like it's only been a couple of days at most since the events of Winter Soldier. Does Hill know that Hand is dead? If she's answering questions about the Fridge, does she know that the Fridge was taken by HYDRA? If she does know these things, wouldn't Koenig have known them too?
Not that it matters what Koenig knew anymore. In the Providence bunker, the agents find Koenig's body and Skye's message, "Ward is HYDRA". Fitz (Iain DeCaestecker) seems to take this especially hard. Evidently everyone on the wingycarrier was in love with Ward. Coulson locates the plane just as unidentified forces swarm on the bunker and open the doors. Coulson expects HYDRA, but it's US special forces led by Colonel Glenn Talbot (Adrian Pasdar and a mustache), accompanied by Hill.
Talbot threatens prison for Coulson's team, but we all know that can't happen. Coulson gives Hill the bad news about Ward, and that's enough to convince her that the team needs to go rogue again... or... still. The two of them take down Talbot, Talbot's men, and even Talbot's mustache.
In a brief aside, May goes to a graveyard to dig up Coulson's coffin. Inside is a USB key, but it's encrypted to level 10.
Speaking of encryption; Skye has led Ward to "Ruthie's Skillet," the cafe in Los Angeles where she met with Mike Peterson (J. August Richards) in the pilot. Skye claims this is the location the doohickey is locked to. It isn't. She chances to buy time by getting some brutal digs in at Ward, calling Garrett (and thus Ward) a disgusting back-stabbing traitor who deserves to rot in hell.
Poor dopey Ward doesn't twig that he's been played. Ward is a wanted fugitive and Skye gave the cops his location. It's a nice move, and it almost works -- but Ward takes down the cops and Skye's escape is cut short by the arrival of Deathlok/Peterson.
Skye is taken prisoner on the wingycarrier, where she finally gets to put Ward on blast for his betrayal -- and take a few swings. There is a hilarious conversation in which Skye calls Ward a Nazi, and he seems offended, and she points out that, no, he is literally a Nazi. HYDRA are Nazis. "That has nothing to do with today," says Ward, pathetically. He's not a Nazi! He's a nice-zi.
Ward says his feelings for Skye are real and always have been. I'm already writing the words "I'm going to throw up" when Skye says, "I'm going to throw up." Finally, Skye and I have found our wavelength.
Ward has a little tantrum about how Skye doesn't appreciate how hard being a duplicitous murdering a-hole is on him. This is basically the "it hurts me to hurt you, but you keep making me hurt you" speech that many an abuser has given before, and Skye is smart enough not to take it. She calls him a serial killer (there's not a lot of places to go after "Nazi"), and makes it plain that she does not like the "real" him.
This is good strong stuff. It's great to see Skye pushing back against Ward like this. She's a better character if she's not the romantic ingénue.
Unfortunately the moment is a little under-cut by what happens next. Deathlok switches to plan B; he stops Ward's heart with a doodad and uses his life as leverage against Skye. Deathlok implies she'll be a murderer if she doesn't give up the location for the drive.
There have been some sloppy murders on this show, but this would not be one of them. I wish the new, tougher, smarter Skye had called his bluff (or the writers had never put her in a position to be diluted again so quickly). Sadly she's sappy enough to want Ward alive, and that leaves a teensy chink of a possibility that he's still headed for redemption territory, even after she called the guy a Nazi serial killer. Without resorting to hyperbole.
Skye reveals the hard drive is locked to altitude, so Deathlok tells Ward to get the plane in the air -- but Maria Hill and Trip arrive and try to hold them on the runway. Ward says some sexist crap about Hill being hired as eye-candy -- he was already a Nazi, but now he's pissed off Tumblr -- and claims Hill won't take them out with Skye on board. He's right -- but the confrontation was a ruse to smuggle Coulson on board the wingycarrier.
Coulson finds Skye and plans to take down Ward -- but he doesn't know about Deathlok's presence. That necessitates a new plan; running away. Skye and Coulson retreat to Lola and, under fire from Ward and Deathlok, drop out of the sky and plummet towards LA. Lola's thrusters inevitably kick in at the last second. Sure, it's an obvious moment, but the promise of that flying car has been hanging over the show all season and I'm glad they finally got to use it.
Ward and Deathlok head off towards Evil, and the good guys rally at a motel. Hill tells Coulson that if he pursues Ward and Garrett it's not a black op but a vendetta. There is no SHIELD and it's not coming back.
In the kicker, May drops in with the TAHITI file. Hooray, the gang's all here! Coulson unlocks the file and finds a video of... himself. VideoCoulson warns that the experimental life-saving TAHITI program, intended to save the life of a mortally wounded Avenger, results in the mental degradation of its subjects. The only workaround is to erase the subject's memories of the program. VideoCoulson recommends shutting down the program.
So now we know; Coulson was in charge of the program that saved his life, and he doesn't remember because... it was used to save his life. And I'm not sure where that storyline goes from here. The guy with the answers that Coulson's been trying to find was Coulson this whole time. I'm pretty sure he doesn't have those answers. Uh... ?
After last week's decision to sandwich a case-of-the-week into the episode and focus on Coulson's sad love life, it's a relief to see the show give all its energy to the HYDRA storyline again this week. That's where the momentum is, and it's where the strength of the show is. If you gave up watching this show when it was at its worst, I can't in good conscience tell you to catch up, but I am relieved to see that the show has strengths. These final few episodes may even stand up as a sort of mini-series.
That will very much depend on how satisfying the last two episodes are, of course. It's hard to imagine the show arriving at a resolution for SHIELD as an organization, but hopefully it will address its own mysteries and find a smart place to leave its characters.
Credit where it's due:
'Nothing Personal' was directed by Billy Gierhart and written by Paul Zbyszewski and DJ Doyle.
SHIELD, Nick Fury, The Avengers, and HYDRA, were created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Iron Man was created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby. Black Widow was created by Stan Lee, Don Rico and Don Heck. Pepper Potts was created by Stan Lee and Don Heck. Red Skull was created by Joe Simon, Jack Kirby and France Herron. Deathlok was created by Doug Moench and Rich Buckler. Man-Thing was created by Stan lee, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway and Gray Morrow.
Eric Koenig was created by Stan Lee and Dick Ayers. John Garrett was created by Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz. Maria Hill was created by Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch. Alexander Pierce was created by Bob Harras and Paul Neary. Victoria Hand was created by Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Deodato. The Triskelion was created by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch. Phil Coulson was created by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway.