Welcome back to the ComicsAlliance post-show analysis for Agents of SHIELD, the spy show set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is where we break down each episode using our unique S.H.L.E.I.D. recap system — recapping the show, looking at highlights and lowlights, and exploring the show’s relationship to both the comics and the wider Marvel movie world.

This week, Lance meets the more transparent, more secret New SHIELD; Ward and 33 have some supervillain hijinx; and Coulson sends Skye to go live on a farm. ‘Love In The Time of HYDRA’ was directed by Jesse Bochco and written by Brent Fletcher.

  • S is for STORY

    Bad news, everyone. Ward (Brett Dalton) is back, and gets a full third of the episode as he and Agent 33 (Ming-Na Wen, Maya Stojan, various) pull off a Pulp Fiction reenactment in a diner, and then a military heist that I think is inspired by Cats And Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore.

    The second third of the episode introduces Lance (Nick Blood) to the leaders of All-New All-Different SHIELD, including Robert Gonzalez (Edward James Olmos) and our old pal from the Acdemy, Agent Weaver (Christine Adams).

    These folks formed their own splinter faction of SHIELD after the break-up, and they don't think Fury's appointed successor Coulson (Clark Gregg) is the right man to deal with a world of ever-increasing superhuman dangers, what with his long periods of being a mind-controlled puppet for aliens, and the fact that he's really objectively terrible at his job. (Any time Coulson has a binary choice between 'good decision' and 'invest more time in Skye', he'll run off and get Skye a blanket and a cocoa and probably a gun.)

    Case in point, this week Coulson decides to take Skye to a cabin in the woods to adjust to her powers. Here she will have (a) no protection and (b) no medical support. This is the worst of all available options, otherwise known as 'Coulson's Plan A'. I bet the cabin is on a fault line, or on top of a volcano.

    Because sentiment is the most important discipline in the military, Lance rejects this new face of SHIELD and does a runner. By submarine. It turns out that New SHIELD is on a... it's like a helicarrier, but it's in the sea. You know, it's a... an aqua-helicarrier.

    While all this is going on, Agent 33 gets her groove back, first by having an abducted SHYIELDRA tech fix her skin-bonded camouflage mask, then by offering to have sex with Ward while disguised as Skye (even he acknowledges that this is gross, and he does not have a moral compass), and then by abducting old HYDRA pal Bakshi (Simon Kassianides) from under the nose of Maj. Gen. Talbot (Adrian Pasdar) so that she and Ward can hypnotize him with the screensaver on their hotel room TV.

    These are the three standard stages of dealing with personal trauma; tech upgrades, sexual supplication, and abducting and brainwashing your old boss. So 33 ends the episode able to once again look at her real scarred face. Oh the places you'll go.

  • H is for HIGHLIGHTS

    The best of the three strands in this week's episode was definitely Lance Hunter, first because he called the new SHIELD "Hufflepuff" (though they're definitely Ravenclaw), and then because he made the frankly ridiculous decision to break out of the facility he was being held in by just punching everyone until he reached a door. And it worked!

    That's it for highlights.

  • L is for LOWLIGHTS

    Hey look, the new SHIELD is just as boring as the old SHIELD. Hurroo. The chairs are bluer, I guess?

    I suppose the vibe the show is going for here is that New SHIELD represents a sort of stodgy jobsworthian conformity, but... so does the Old SHIELD. Neither one of them is the punky pretender. They're a couple of stiff old uncles grumbling about who has the more prestigious alma mater.

    Perhaps the new SHIELD is so nondescript to prevent us easily filing it away as a force for good or evil; it does have Bobbi Morse on its side, which makes me immediately like it best. But the last thing this show needs is an even more boring spy org than the last two iterations.

    Also of dire note this week; a lot of "comedy" business with Talbot yelling at his wife and his female officers because they might be spies. It wasn't funny, it was just mean and uncomfortable.

    Fitz/Simmons Update: Fitz and Simmons have yo-yoed back to antipathy this week, so let's settle in for several more weeks of this.

    Worst line; "This isn't Bahrain." Oh do shut up about Bahrain.

  • E is for EQUAL RIGHTS FOR VILLAINESSES

    Agent 33's story feels like Raina all over again. Agents of SHIELD has not been great at setting up its own dynamically interesting villains; in fact it tends to take villains that were interesting in the comics and boil all the opera out of them.

    The two exceptions to the rule are Raina and Agent 33, two examples of original show mythology that worked pretty well. These were distinctive characters with the potential to build to something great. Raina had an original philosophy and a trademark style. 33 had a legitimate grudge and a useful superpower.

    Both of them have been reduced to the role of henchwomen who hang off the arm of whichever man scoops them up after each defeat. Neither character masters their own destiny; neither character gets to be the lead villain. They follow the same pattern of neediness, exemplified here by 33 offering Ward sex to demonstrate her usefulness.

    These villains need to get some self-respect, because I'd much rather see characters like Raina and 33 try to take down SHIELD than beige alpha dinks like John Garrett and Daniel Whitehall. (At least Kyle MacLachlan gnaws the scenery.)

    Someone on this show better turn out to be Madame Masque or Madame Hydra, you know?

  • I is for INTRODUCTIONS

    Edward James Olmos' Robert Gonzalez is not a comic book character. You can tell because he's dull. In fact none of this crew appear to be comic book characters. This whole development is a bitter disappointment.

  • D is for DUMB QUESTIONS

    Who is paying for all these SHIELDS? Did the show ever establish who is paying Coulson's team? Not so long ago they were stealing planes to keep themselves in business. Is there an enormous slush fund that keeps their lights on and pays their jet fuel bills? And now this other SHIELD has come along, and it has a whole entire boatycarrier! Whose earmarks are paying for all this? Shouldn't those funds be funneled towards Damage Control for the continued reconstruction of New York after the Chitauri attack?

    What makes one SHIELD real and another SHIELD not? Is New SHIELD sanctioned? Even if they were covertly sanctioned, you'd think word would leak out to Coulson and pals one way or another. Like, at some point a graphic artist was commissioned to design the new logo. This is not a watertight op.

    Where are we going and are we nearly there yet? Because Agents of SHIELD is part of a shared universe, and because Old SHIELD was officially dissolved in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I can't quite get my head around what the destination is here. Is New SHIELD going to be part of Age of Ultron? Civil War? Or just a three-episode blip that no-one ever talks about again? Is Coulson's team going to be re-absorbed into a Season One status quo, or become renegades? Is the show still Agents of SHIELD if none of the characters are agents of SHIELD?