Last week's Agents of SHIELD saw some major changes for the characters, and a major change for the viewers -- it was actually a decent episode!

As the ramifications of Captain America: The Winter Soldier continue to unfold on the small screen, the question we have to ask is, can the show keep up the quality? We're all pulling for you, Agents of SHIELD!

Please note that this episode recap once again contains spoilers not only for Agents of SHIELD, but also for the movie Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Previously on SHIELD, the agents -- whisper it -- hailed HYDRA.

Well, not all of them. Just Ward and Garrett.

So this week's episode is all about moving pieces into place for the last few episodes of the season.

First order of business: Ward (Brett Dalton) breaks Centipede villain Raina (Ruth Negga) out of prison. He brings her a new flower dress, and takes her to Cuba to meet the Clairvoyant, now confirmed to be John Garrett (Bill Paxton). Poor evil Raina is clearly heartbroken to learn that the Clairvoyant was not clairvoyant. She was a true believer. She's also a little taken aback to now be part of HYDRA. I like the idea of a villain who finds the HYDRA deception a tough sell and, of course, I especially like Raina as a villain.

Despite Raina's personal feelings of dejection, she's happy to have some new toys to play with -- a bunch of Kree blood samples that Garrett stole from the Guest House facility that he and Coulson blew up in a past episode. None of the samples appear to be the serum that saved Skye and Coulson, but Raina is asked to investigate further.



While Ward is jaunting off to prisons and to Cuba and what have you, Coulson and the rest of the team are back at the Hub, trying to lock down assets and hold the organization together. USAF Colonel Glenn Talbot (Adrian Pasdar and a dodgy-looking mustache) makes a video call to tell Coulson he's sending in a peacekeeping team to assess the situation.

Coulson suspects this means he'll end up with his hands tied at best and blown off the map at worst. In order to continue the fight against HYDRA he has Skye erase all records of the team and orders the wingycarrier into the air. New status quo: Activated. To my great relief, Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) vouches for Triplett (B.J. Britt) to come with them.

In a nicely played scene, Skye (Chloe Bennett) puts in a call to Ward to update him on the situation -- none of our heroes yet know that Ward is HYDRA. Ward plays at being the nice guy again, and it's simultaneously sweet and sinister. Somehow Brett Dalton is more convincing as a bad guy pretending to be good than he ever was as an actual good guy. Villainy continues to sit well on his shoulders.

The phone call leads in to the first of two conversations about Ward's deep cover identity, with Garrett referring to it as "the straight version of you." Don't get excited; he's not saying that Grant Ward is gay and is only play-acting his romances and entanglements with Skye and May (Ming-Na Wen). That would add a whole new level of awful to the already problematic way the villain Lorelei controlled him in a past episode.



Ward is still clearly hung up on Skye, and mad at Garrett for almost killing her -- but his loyalty to Garrett comes first. So far. I don't think we're heading for a Ward redemption story, but keeping the Skye/Ward romance on the table ensures that drama is turned to maximum.

The second conversation about Ward's past life is between Ward and Raina, and serves largely to answer any questions about his behavior in the last 17 episodes and to reaffirm his commitment to Garrett over Coulson.

Ward and Garrett stage a fake HYDRA attack on the Fridge (the SHIELD lock-up) to cover their actual assault on the Fridge. Once inside, Garrett locates the particle beam from the awful Peru episode and uses it to raid the vaults. The SHIELD slingshot that hurled dangerous objects into the sun is revealed to be a fraud; SHIELD kept everything.

Garrett also releases all the prisoners, and conspicuously tells one tall blond chap, "Don't forget to follow your dreams." I glanced at the credits on IMDB, and it seems we'll be seeing more of this fella next week, and yes, he is an existing (and previously announced) Marvel character.

Sadly not among the prisoners; one Johnny Horton, a villain Garrett put in there who apparently gave himself "lion hands." This is a reference to Griffin, a colorful villain even by Marvel standards; he not only had lion's paws, but also a tail, wings, and a lion-like face. I suspect we're never actually going to see Griffin on the screen, and maybe that's for the best, but I would forgive this show a lot if it could ever pull it off.



Back on the wingycarrier, glowing coordinates appear on Coulson's badge, and Coulson is sure they came from Nick Fury, who everyone believes is dead.

The coordinates lead to a dead end in a snowy forest. Coulson gives an impassioned St Crispin's Day speech about how they have to keep fighting, but he's not really a rousing speeches kind of guy. Still, he does say, "We're not Agents of Nothing," and this recap certainly agrees on that score. You're totally agents of SOMETHING, guys.

The dead end turns out to be the location of a secret SHIELD base hidden behind a comically fake rock face. This is Providence, an off-the-grid base overseen by Agent Eric Koenig (Patton Oswalt), a bureaucratic middle-manager who was stashed here after the Chitauri invasion. Koenig takes Coulson aside to tell him that Fury is alive, but no-one is to know.

Over at HYDRA's Cuban barber shop basement HQ, Raina reveals that she can't access the harddrive containing the data on Skye's blood tests. They need Skye to unlock it.

Fortunately Skye is only too happy to give Ward the location of the top-top hyper-secret back-up base, so he flies on in to Providence for some inept flirting and some dark villainy glowering. And that's the cliffhanger. Next week: Ward vs the Agents of SHIELD.

In the kicker, annoying industrialist Ian Quinn (David Conrad) is brought in to the HYDRA circle of trust and reunited with his precious gravitonium, the anti-gravity element from the show's awful no-Graviton episode. The man who would be Graviton is of course still inside there somewhere.



So this show puts at least two supervillains in the agents' path -- Graviton and the prison escapee -- plus Evil Ward himself, and Glenn Talbot as an antagonist. That gives the show plenty to do in the final four episodes of the first season.

This episode itself was all about housekeeping, but it was a fairly well executed example of its type, with a decent share of good lines and strong performances, even from actors I'd just about given up on. While it's too late at this point for Agents of SHIELD to have more good episodes than bad, it may at least end on a high if it can keep up this level of quality for the rest of the run.

As a final aside, it does seem that I was optimistic in hoping that Victoria Hand might miraculously survive. That's a great shame; she died before it could ever be established if the on-screen version is a lesbian, like her comics counterpart, which means the Marvel Cinematic Universe still doesn't have an LGBT character.

But the episode did finally confirm that Garrett has some metal parts, like his comics counterpart. So there are now more cyborgs in the MCU than gay people. Cyborg pride!

Credit where it's due:

'Providence' was directed by Milan Cheylov and written by Brent Fletcher.

SHIELD, Nick Fury, HYDRA, and the Tesseract/Cosmic Cube were created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Black Widow was created by Stan Lee, Don Rico and Don Heck. Glenn Talbot was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Eric Koenig was created by Stan Lee and Dick Ayers.

The Griffin was created by Steve Englehart and Tom Sutton. Graviton was created by Jim Shooter and Sal Buscema. John Garrett was created by Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz. The prisoner in the breakout was created by Marv Wolfman and Carmine Infantino.

The Chitauri were created by Bryan Hitch and Mark Millar, based on the Skrulls created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Maria Hill was created by Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch. The Triskelion was created by Bryan Hitch and Mark Millar. Victoria Hand was created by Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Deodato. Phil Coulson was created by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway.