Agents of SHIELD Season 2 Recap, Episode 19: ‘The Dirty Half Dozen’
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: It's Age-of-Ultronts of SHIELD, as the show tries to convince us that it's best buddies with that Avengers movie, its pen-pal from Canada who is really cool you guys. Is Phil Coulson a secret Ultron? Let's find out together! Also in this episode: the most important member of the original team gets hella blown to pieces. 'The Dirty Half Dozen' was directed by Kevin Tancharoen and written by Brent Fletcher & Drew Z. Greenberg.
Last week HYDRA snatched two soopers and took them to its Arctic Circle lab base; Mike the cyber-agent (J. August Richards) and Lincoln the electro-descendant (Luke Mitchell). "How innnteresting," says Bakshi (Simon Kassianides), "One of them is artifiically enhanced, and the other is a mutan-- uh... is mutate... um... was born this way." (I'm paraphrasing.)
The loss of a sometime-agent means that Coulson, now in NuSHIELD custody, wants to put together a small team to raid the HYDRA base. How small? The numbers will fit comfortably inside the show's budget, but the contrivances will be enormous. Hunter (Nick Blood) has been shot, Morse (Adrianne Palicki) is ordered to stay home by Gonzalez (Edward James Olmos), and Mack (Henry Simmons) is maybe a hallucination I keep having, so it's going to be just original crew-members May (Ming-Na Wen), Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Fitz (Iain DeCaestecker).
Oh, and murderous traitor Ward (Brett Dalton) gets to come, because Bakshi is his hypnotized puppet and he's their entree to HYDRAbase. But Agent 33 (Maya Stojan) can't come, because Ward wants SHIELD to fix her broken head. It's the sort of true love that only a psychopath with a proven track record of obsession and manipulation can offer. Skye (Chloe Bennett) gets to come, to help save Lincoln, but the rest of the Descendants do not get to come, because Jiaying doesn't want to place them in danger. And Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) gets to come because she's a doctor, and also a wannabe murderer. We'll get to that.
And thus we have our original six, reunited once again, no matter how many highly competent agents and Inhumans they have to conspicuously sideline to arrive at this implausible collection of defectors, traitors, and untested field agents, whose only real commonality is that they were all in episode one. It's cheesy as hell. But it's the right kind of cheesy. Contrive away, Agents of SHIELD. This is finest grade-'A' nonsense.
The Original Cast Member Six (to give them the snappy superhero team name they deserve) fly the wingycarrier to the Arctic Circle and let HYDRA blow it out of the sky. But they're actually all on an invisible quinjet, which they land under cover of the wingycarrier's debris. Farewell, SHIELD wingycarrier. You and your awkward bed bunks will be missed.
Bakshi lets the OCM6 into the facility, where they proceed to shoot all the goons. Mike is found in his cell, minus one robot leg, but Lincoln has been taken off for vivisection, so Skye goes solo to quake and shoot her way through the assembled forces of HYDRA, and uses a micro-quake to restart Linc's heart.
Elsewhere, Simmons attempts to exact cold-blooded revenge on Ward with one of the Grey Gargoyle grenades (I have suddenly decided to start calling them that), but Bakshi takes the hit and dies. This is great news, as I no longer need to try and fail to keep track of Bakshi.
Ward takes the opportunity to slip away into the night (which lasts several months in the Arctic Circle, so he has plenty of time), and the rest of the OCM6 return to base with Mike and Linc, and without the Wingycarrier.
Then Avengers: Age of Ultron happens.
I'm having a hard time extracting the highs from the lows this week, so let's just take it all together. But for what it's worth, I thought this was a much better than average episode.
On paper, bringing the original six back together again is the worst idea, because it harkens back to when this show was at its nadir (which, unfortunately for its ratings, was during its first fifteen episodes). It also means the return of Ward to the fold, however fleetingly, and nothing about this show could make me less happy than that.
And yet, for one episode (and really just for one scene in the middle of the episode) it works. As the six assemble around the briefing table, it's a chance for the people most injured by Ward (apart from all the people he's killed, I guess) to stare him down and call him a douchebro. Ward gives a hateful, horrible speech about how sad he is that he misses the good times, back when he was merely lying to everyone, back before he tried to kill them. He also suggests that nothing he's done is really his fault because he had a tough childhood. It's a lucky thing that the plane didn't just eyeroll out of the sky.
But the others aren't buying it, and I really hope this is the last time we see the original six together. The show has a more interesting cast now. It can move past the idea that these six people are especially important, and maybe go ahead and kill off half of them. (Hi boys.)
You can always tell a Kevin Tancharoen-directed episode of Agents of SHIELD, because they're where the show's best action set-pieces appear. This time around it's Skye who gets to embrace her training and take down a small army by flipping over tables and popping fools. Does she use a night-night gun? It doesn't matter; Gonzalez blew up the building after SHIELD left, so they're all dead now.
An unquestionable highlight of the episode, worthy of a shout-out to writers Fletcher and Greenberg, was the side-conversations that took place, first between Hunter and Mack, and then between Morse and 33. For the boys it was simply a case of talking though that time Mack choked Hunter out and locked him in a bathroom. Bygones. For the girls, Bobbi takes a real interest in 33's recovery, though 33 clearly won't find it easy to move on from Ward. If this show has just one redemption arc in its quiver, I hope it uses it on 33.
The lowest lowlight was probably the moment Coulson calls Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and the pair share a derisive snort at the idea of democracy. What even are these people?
Another highlight: Everyone has a tactical turtleneck.
Lowlight: Coulson looks terrible in a tactical turtleneck.
Highlowlight: Simmons is now a murderer! Congrats! (I believe if you pre-meditatedly try to kill one guy and end up killing another guy, that's quite murdery.) Morally I am opposed to this development, but it sure as heck gives Elizabeth Henstridge something interesting to work with. Can the Scourge of the Underworld hat and coat be far away from her now?
It's time for another Agents of SHIELD tie-in episode! Last year, Captain America: The Winter Soldier essentially gutted the show's premise by eliminating SHIELD, and in interviews I've read it seems the showrunners are glad that they don't have to deal with a similar shake-up coming out of Age of Ultron. Of course, the events of Winter Soldier were the best thing that ever happened to the show, giving it direction and momentum for the first time in its run. But I can well understand if the showrunners don't always want to be pinballing around in someone else's story, even if doing a SHIELD show set in a shared Marvel Universe makes that tough to avoid. (Perhaps my dream of a Damage Control show should never come to pass.)
For Age of Ultron, the tie-in is sort of brilliantly insubstantial, but with the appearance of substance. There's HYDRA's Dr List (Henry Goodman); a mention of the twins, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, as test subjects similar to Mike and Linc (and held in a similar facility in Sekovia/Segovia/Sokovia/Something); references to Loki's scepter in both recovered HYDRA intel and Raina's visions; Maria Hill; and Raina's warning to Jaiying about an army of metal men who will tear cities apart.
All of these are things that acknowledge the existence of Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron without affecting them, which is of course all the show could do, but I appreciate how brazenly the showrunners pulled that off and managed to convince people that they were helping. Coulson's HYDRA intel is an answer to a question no-one was going to ask, so the show didn't really set up anything; it looked at the set-up and said, "which bits can we claim?" They're on the beach with the Marvel cinematic universe, pointing to the footsteps in the sand and saying, "that is when I carried you," but actually that is when the Marvel cinematic universe was having a swim.
Almost every non-dead recurring character was in this episode. Some of them even Skyped in! So there was absolutely no time to meet anyone new. I haven't even had a chance to mention Kyle MacLachlan in this recap, and there he was, chewing up scenery, outing his daughter to the other Descendants, and generally being Kyle MacLachlan!
Why wasn't Ward in handcuffs literally all the time? Or even some of the time? Or injected with a tracking device?
Is Gonzalez evil? I feel like I've asked this before. At the end of the episode we learn that Gonzalez is collecting powered people, which is the very thing he claimed he was mad at Coulson for doing, but which Coulson seemingly was in fact doing. Does this hypocrisy make him the bad guy, even though they're both doing it and both lying about it? (We also know via Coulson and Fury's black box that Gonzalez is hiding something in his ship. Does he have a Hulk?)
What have the Avengers been up to all this time? No-one ever really talks about them as an active concern. Oh, is there a movie this week? OK, I'll watch that and find out.
Where will Deathlok get a new leg? HYDRA took his robot leg; FitzSimmons know of a place where he can get a new one. Where is that place? Is there a friendly cyborg-builder somewhere in this universe that they've been withholding from us this whole time?
Man's inhumanity to inhu-man.
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