After a boisterous second season premiere that built off of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s end of season revival, I ranked AOS #1 in the debut column for the weekly TV Superhero Showdown. My perhaps over-excited rating was justified by “Heavy is the Head,” an episode that picks up immediately after the events of “Shadows.”
Lance Hunter (Nick Blood) is the only survivor of a collision with Absorbing Man (Brian Patrick Wade), but he’s stuck. Literally, metaphorically, figuratively, all of the ly’s. He can’t get out of the car and Brigadier General Talbot (Adrian Pasdar) is closing in on him. Melinda May arrives, but at Hunter’s insistence, goes after Creel before losing him. While Hunter manages to get out of the smashed SUV, Hunter never truly escapes in this episode: Talbot’s men surround him. Talbot is a lot more friendly to Hunter than we’ve seen thus far, but it’s a facade, and likely short-lived; he just wants Hunter to lead his men to Coulson, who he labels a vigilante, the all-encompassing bad word governments traditionally use to describe mercurial superheroes. Talbot offers him $2 million and a proper burial for Isabelle Hartley in exchange for Coulson’s location.
Let’s pause and talk about Hartley a bit. Lucy Lawless’ addition to the cast was one of the most lauded moves of the off-season, but it proves it was misdirection, a hiring used expressly to engender a bigger and surprising death in “Shadows.” I think we all hate deaths manufactured solely for shock value; Hartley’s seemed to make a point that AOS isn’t screwing around in the second season. There are better methods, surely. In the comics, Isabelle Hartley is a long-time SHIELD agent, who also had a romantic liaison with fan-favorite Victoria Hand. Hand, of course, met an untimely demise at the hand of Agent Ward in the famed episode that announced his Hydra allegiance and cemented AOS’ turnaround.
Hartley nor Hand’s sexuality were ever a focus on the show, and in fact, based on Hunter’s obsession with vengeance and tenderness toward his former boss, the implication is that Hunter and Hartley had a more than friendly relationship. But it’s still annoying/unsettling/potentially disturbing that two notable lesbians in SHIELD lore also happen to be the only two notable characters that have been killed, with the exception of Bill Paxton’s Agent Garrett, who got a lot more run as the Big Bad of Season 1. That’s why I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Hartley, or maybe even of Victoria Hand (though that would retroactively lessen the impact of Ward’s betrayal). Before Hartley was decompressed violently by the Absorbing Man, she touched the Obelisk, season 2’s macguffin that could very well “solve death.” Hartley’s one of those characters branded “important,” with a back-story, yet was killed before we knew it… maybe we’ll learn it in flashback form, or when we find out more about the Obelisk.
As Hunter’s kidnapped and Skye and Triplett bring the Quinjet back to the Playground, Melinda May is the only agent in the field left to go after Crusher Creel. It shows how much has changed for the spy organization, yet because it’s Melinda May, I don’t exactly feel bad for them. She barely listens to Director Coulson’s orders to back down, but she relents, to see if they can find out who he works for. She tracks Creel down to a prototypical diner in the middle of nowhere. Turns out, that despite absorbing the properties of rubber before touching the Obelisk, that the Obelisk has left a permanent mark on Creel; he’s been infected. When a waitress accidentally touches Creel…she dies a horribly painful death. It makes you almost feel bad for Creel (and the waitress). Of course, I don’t feel too bad. Why is everybody touching this super-secret-alien-0-8-4 object willy nilly? GLOVES, people (I understand why Creel wouldn’t…but come on Izzy).
Creel, panicked, calls Bakshi (Simon Kassianides), the middleman between Daniel Whitehall/the character we want to see, who exists to save this show money. Hydra promises that they’ll take care of Creel…which isn’t exactly reassuring. Then the episode becomes awesome, because Reina (the silky, vivacious Ruth Negga) manifests from the shadows, confessing herself to be a “great admirer” of Creel’s. She offers him Carbine (a substance stronger than diamond that can also store energy) for the Obelisk. Creel steals the Carbine and bails, precisely what Reina wanted him to do: the Carbine has a tracking device on it. Reina calls Coulson: she doesn’t want Hydra to have the Obelisk, unleashing the best line of the episode: “World domination is so 1945.” Reina is a free agent (or was), no longer tied to Hydra following Garrett’s death; she was only tantalized by his visionary powers granted by the alien drug. The same one that Coulson has coursing through his veins…one that has Reina practically shivering with ecstasy just mentioning to Coulson over the phone. Reina’s the best.
I love Agent Triplett, but I don’t think he has a line that isn’t “black” in this episode. He even says, “Awww hell no” at one point. It’s a testament to B.J. Britt that he makes all of this seem natural and wonderful and funny, and not painfully obvious that the show is trying to fit some sort of urban quotient that Anthony Anderson would be spouting off about on Black-ish.
Instead of being the audience’s object of scorn, Skye is now successfully the audience’s stand-in. Skye’s getting tired of Director Coulson. He’s changed, he’s hiding something from her. Let’s just call a spade a spade here: he’s a bit of a dick now.
New S.H.I.E.L.D. MVP? Alphonso “Mack” Mackenzie (NYPD Blue‘s Henry Simmons), a gentle giant softie who is the nicest human. He’s been picking up the slack for Fitz, because Fitz can barely speak to the point where it’s painful to watch. Instead of Mack being a rival, or replacing Fitz, he goes out of his way to become Fitz’s friend in this episode, and it’s one of the most touching moments the show has had. Since Simmons left, Fitz hasn’t had anyone to talk to, to the point where he’s inventing conversations with his long-lost bestie. Mack teams up with Fitz to take down Creel with some of his gadgets. I’m sensing a love triangle whenever Simmons returns (next week, it appears). I kid (kinda), but I’d be completely okay if Mack turns out to be Fitz’s new love interest.
Hunter returns to base: he wants to get revenge on Creel and thinks that Coulson’s team is more capable of doing that than General Talbot, which says all you need to know about the military in the MCU. Even a fractured, newborn SHIELD with 5 members is better. Despite his questionable loyalty, mercenary past and Talbot’s offer on the table, Coulson needs Hunter, and ushers him into the fold to take down Creel. Hunter, of course, betrays SHIELD, taking out May, Skye and Trip in quick fashion, and stupidly taking Creel on his own. All he manages to do is to provide enough of a distraction for Reina to run off with the Obelisk. Thankfully, Coulson’s there to take out Creel with the destabilizer, a convenient gadget that Pre-Brain Damaged Fitz concocted.
Once done away with the episode’s central conceit, “Heavy is the Head,” gets even better. We learn that May knows all about Coulson’s change, that he’s been having “episodes,” and that it’s been 18 days since his last one. When Coulson starts carving alien symbols into the wall, she films and photographs it, like a weird voyeur.
We also finally see Reina’s new boss, Skye’s father…Kyle MacLaughlan. He orders Reina to touch the obelisk, in order “to find out.” Instead of dying, the obelisk lights up with those familiar symbols (the “Words of Creation”), and Reina is unaffected. Reina wants him to activate the object…but he refuses to show them until Reina has gotten her daughter. I wonder how long it’ll take for that to happen.
Lastly, Coulson offers Talbot a deal: he’ll round up the various “gifted” individuals (supers of the week!) and send them Talbot his way, for a little breathing room. Talbot refuses, because that’s what Talbot does. With Absorbing Man, Hydra/Daniel Whitehall and Skye’s father around to be villains, Talbot will likely prove to be the most annoying, consistent thorn on Coulson’s side through season 2.
Agents of S.P.O.I.L.E.R.S.
- When Talbot has Hunter in his custody, he references a few of his most famous ops when he was with the government. One stood out: Operation Panther’s Claw. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was spelled Klaw, for this guy, arguably Black Panther’s arch-nemesis. Any reference to Black Panther, no matter how oblique, is promising and awesome. It’s high time we see T’Challa in the Marvel Universe.
- In the comics, Lance Hunter was the director of S.T.R.I.K.E., basically British’s SHIELD and another excuse to use a “clever” acronym. He also went by Commodore Hunter, because British. I wonder if we’ll ever get Union Jack, Pete Wisdom or Captain Britain. It’s highly unlikely, but fun to speculate.
- Who is Skye’s father? Is he human? Inhuman? Skrull? Kree? Deviant? The Kree connections have been much ballyhooed, the blue body, the GH-325, etc., and considering the Words of Creation and the extreme intelligence that Garrett touted as the Clairvoyant, it’s hard not to consider the Supreme Intelligence‘s involvement. All of the possibilities with the Obelisk, Kree body (Mar-Vell?) and such seem way too big for AOS but maybe that’s precisely the point. The most likely scenario, is a la the Clairvoyant, where Skye’s father will be an all-new creation. It worked out rather well the first time around.