Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2 Recap, Episode 8: ‘The Things We Bury’
Last week's Agents of SHIELD was a mixed bag, presenting the second season at its weakest as it revisited those malingering season one plot threads, but with the promise of something a lot stronger in our first (holographic) look at the Inhuman city of Attilan (maybe). This week, we find out if the show intends to grab hold of that exciting new 'secret city' storyline with both hands, or if it's just going stick it in a drawer for the rest of the season while Skye moans about her dad.
'The Things We Bury' is directed by Milan Cheylov and written by DJ Doyle, and it features at least one welcome return cameo, and a villainpalooza thanks to Reed Diamond, Kyle MacLachlan, and Tim DeKay. So let's break it all down in our unique 'SHLEID' recap format.
This was a complicated and very uneven episode, and I'm not even sure which one of this week's plot was the 'A' plot.
Let's start with the most interesting thread. The episode opens in Austria, 1945, where Nazi scientist 'Daniel Whtiehall' aka Reinhardt (Reed Diamond) tests the alien doorstop on various prisoners from the Chinese village where they found it. Most have apparently turned to stone. One prisoner, a woman we will call Obviously Skye's Mom (Dichen Lachman), makes the doorstop sparkle.
Sadly for Reinhardt, and happily for Obviously Skye's Mom and Western Civilization, the war ends and Reinhardt is captured and interrogated by Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell, back again to sell her forthcoming show, Agents Of SHIELD Rises). Reinhart tells Peg a tale of blue aliens coming to save or maybe conquer the planet (or maybe destroy it, according to Kyle MacLachlan later in the episode), and offers to trade his freedom for everything he knows.
Peg don't play like that. She locks Reinhardt away in a prison called The Rat (was "the Raft" taken?), where he can grow old and be forgotten -- until HYDRA agent Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford, not present) arranges his release.
Restored to his Austrian castle, Reinhardt discovers that Obviously Skye's Mom is still alive and hasn't aged, so he chops her up and steals her youth to make himself young again, and reinvents himself as Daniel Whitehall. Achievement unlocked: Origin story!
Elsewhere in the plots; Kyle MacLachlan (Kyle MacLachlan) explains to Whitehall that the doorstop "chooses" worthy people, and that these people will be able to enter into a temple in the Mystery City, at which point the doorstop will do something extraordinary. No need to explain further! That's more than enough plot for now! La la la!
At good guy (ish) headquarters, the team goes digging through Peggy Carter's files and learns that Whitehall and Reinhardt are the same person. Morse (Adrianne Palicki) interrogates captured HYDRA henchman Bakshi (Simon Kassianides), and she interrogates him so hard that he takes cyanide. Yes, they checked for cyanide, but he had extra cyanide. Morse and Hunter (Nick Blood) then argue about this so hard that they have ex sex.
Coulson (Clark Gregg) takes the other half of the team on a convoluted mission to hack a satellite so that they can map the planet and find the lost city. HYDRA has the same idea at the same time and shows up in the same place, naturally, and in the ensuing firefight, Tripp (B.J. Britt) is shot.
Thankfully Kyle MacLachlan is on hand to save/endanger his life, and uses the opportunity to have a fun-but-gratuitous villain/hero face-to-face with Coulson in which MacLachlan asserts his parental rights and gets super cray cray when Coulson calls Skye "Skye.'
Agent Trip survives, and Coulson successfully maps the planet and gets a match on the city that I'm trying very hard not to just call 'Attilan'.
In addition to all these inter-connected threads, there's also the matter of boring ol' Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) abducting his brother, Senator Christian Ward (Tim DeKay) at their old family home so he can force Christian to admit that he was the one who manipulated Grant into almost killing their youngest brother Tommy (not shown) in a well. Christian confesses, and apologizes, and says he wanted Tommy dead because their mother loved him the most.
Later, Grant offers his services to Whitehall, and Whitehall commends Grant for arranging the death of Christian and the Ward parents in an apparent murder-suicide-fire. Bye Tim DeKay! Hope you had fun!
In the kicker, Kyle MacLachlan returns to HYDRA HQ to take his place in the new Whitehall-Ward-MacLachlan triumvirate of evil.
But a flashback reveals that a much younger Kyle MacLachlan long ago swore revenge on Whitehall for killing Obviously Skye's Mom, whom, it turns out... may have been Skye's mom.
Hooray hooray for Peggy Carter! OK, she doesn't get to do much in her flashbacks this episode, but Hayley Atwell is a pleasure and a treasure, and I love her poise and grit, and I'm very excited for her show.
Walk with me here; do the characters based on the comics feel stronger to me because I expect them to, or is it that better actors are cast in those roles, or are those actors bringing something different because they feel they have a license to go big? I admit to an established love for Bobbi Morse, but Peggy Carter wasn't all that well-rounded in the comics before Atwell, so I don't think it's solely that I'm projecting my comics love onto the screen.
One character who manages to be big even though we have no idea if he's based on the comics is Kyle MacLachlan, who seems to be having a grand old time hamming it up as an erratic villain. The scene where he uses Trip's life as leverage to have a pissing contest with Coulson was one of the better set pieces this show has delivered, and gave us this delightful exchange about the true power of the doorstop:
Coulson: "Tesseract level power?"
MacLachlan: "Sure. ... I don't know what that is."
I take this to mean that the doorstop is not an Infinity Stone.
There were a few good lines in this episode. Simmons' boastful observation that Agent Carter "happens to be British" was great, and Morse and Hunter's argument was snappy and plausible on both sides.
More important than good lines; I was relieved to see this episode make good progress. The show really is moving this Attilan story forward! That's a very welcome change of pace.
Like I said, this episode was uneven, and I have quite a few quibbles. Let's start with the big one.
There are fans who are willing to overlook all of Grant Ward's psycho behavior because they want to see him make out with Skye again, and I live in fear that any of the writing staff on this show might be among their number.
If the distracting Ward Bros plot in this episode was meant to establish sympathy for Grant as the victim of his big brother's manipulations, it had the opposite effect. Grant feels very much like a natural sadist whose own impulses were exploited. He kills seven people in this episode, for heaven's sake! Three of them are his immediate family -- but he has no excuse for the other four!
The vivisection of Obviously Skye's Mom seemed gratuitously gruesome, and while I will accept the weird science that says stealing an Inhuman's spleen or whatever can make a person magically young, I have trouble with the idea that Reinhardt intuitively expected this to work.
Morse describes Whitehall as the "milquetoasty middle management type" of villain, which he actually is, and if the show knows he's a milquetoasty middle management type, maybe it should stop trying to pass him off as a scary villain.
And as much as I love Palicki's Morse, her interrogation of Bakshi reminded me of the Black Widow/Loki scene from the Avengers movie, in which the dialog isn't quite as smart or nuanced as the actions and reactions of the characters suggests they think it is.
PS. Mack (Henry Simmons) was, as ever, simultaneously present and absent. Given how little he ever gets to contribute, maybe he's Black Bolt?
Last week I said I didn't think this show would still be on the air when the Inhumans movie rolls around, and a friend asked me why I believed that. I'm not an expert on how TV networks run their business, but I understand that a show needs 81 episodes minimum to get a syndication deal, and ideally at least 88.
Agents of SHIELD will hit that number by the end of its fourth season, at the current rate of production -- which means it's quite likely to get a fourth season. Likely, but not guaranteed; ABC has a lot of successful hour-long dramas, and Agents of SHIELD is probably quite expensive, so if its ratings continue to slide, it's a likely candidate to get chopped so that the network can free up the time slot to try something else.
The Inhumans move hits theaters November 2nd 2018. Four years from now. That would place it during Agents of SHIELD's sixth season.
I'm sure Marvel wants six seasons, or more. I'm sure, given the ambitious way the studio plans ahead, it even has plans for six seasons -- and maybe that's why it feeds its plot lines out so slowly. I don't think ABC is going to have the patience to give Agents of SHIELD six seasons. Not when it can ask Shonda Rhimes to keep making hits.
And if Shonda Rhimes wants to take over Agents of SHIELD and replace whiny Phil Coulson with a strong black woman, I am here for that. Monica Rambeau & The Agents of SHIELD. Bring it on.
Everyone welcome to the cast -- and wish a fond farewell to -- Dichen Lachman as Obviously Skye's Mom!
We know she's Obviously Skye's Mom, but could she also be playing a character from the comics? Let's take a look at Marvel's rich tradition of non-X-Men women with an Asian or mixed Asian background!
Could she be Mantis?
Could she be Colleen Wing?
Could she be... uh...
Oh dear, Marvel. Oh dear.
Is Senator Christian Ward really dead? In comics no-one is dead until you see the body, and then you know they're definitely not dead because why would they show you the body unless they really, really want to trick you? This show usually only kills lesbians (nope, not over it), so Senator Ward could come back, or he could be a lesbian.
Where's Tommy Ward? The youngest Ward brother is conspicuous by his absence. Given how awful his brothers are, he might want to keep his distance.
Is Obviously Skye's Mom really dead? I'm sure we'll see Dichen Lachman again in flashbacks; she seems like too good an actor to waste on this mute and minor role. Surviving Whitehall's vivisection seems like a longshot, but it also seems like an irresistible twist.
Which villain is going to betray the other villains first? And how can Raina manipulate this situation to come out on top of all of them? I'm pulling for you, Raina. I believe in you.
Can we please have another episode of that stealth Mockingbird TV show? I miss that show.