Um holy $#*!, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Normally I don’t bother with the pretentious/annoying Marvel prefix, but this show has earned it. After a week off, AOS returns with what might be the best episode of the season, in a season full of candidates. I’ve been unable to keep up with most of my shows of late, but I somehow missed Coulson and his merry band after just one week off; I can’t say that about any other show going right now. That’s equal parts high praise and a statement on the moribund landscape of fall TV (aside from Parenthood and the CW tights duo, nothing forces me to watch it weekly right now).
SOOO much happens in “Things We Bury,” and there’s so many things buried that come out in the open, with the episode split between four main narrative thrusts: a psychotic camping trip between the Brothers Ward; Coulson, Trip, Skye and Fitz on a globe trotting mission to map the mystical city; May, Simmons, Morse and Hunter interrogating Bakshi and trying to figure out what’s so special about Daniel Whitehall; and the life story of Daniel Whitehall himself, including flashbacks to 1945, and another time hiccup in 1989. All of it flows so beautifully together, giving us the most we’ve seen of Reed Diamond and Kyle MacLaughlan yet on the show. This is a good thing.
Austria, 1945: Werner Reinhardt (Whitehall’s German accented war persona) interrogates a man into touching the obelisk, who quickly turns to stone and dies. Gender, age, race, there’s no pattern to the object in Reinhardt’s eyes, but that doesn’t stop him from experimenting, and he forces another villager into making contact with the Diviner. This time, the woman doesn’t die. At all. It certainly helps that this woman is played by Dollhouse‘s Dichen Lachman, giving Whedon’s most underappreciated show a mini-reunion between Lachman and Diamond, one that’s not on the nicest of terms. Reinhardt’s villainy is interrupted when word travels that the Red Skull has fallen, and the Allies are coming.
In the present, Whitehall is finally willing to hear what the Doctor has to say about the obelisk, which means we as an audience get to learn a lot this week. This episode dollops on the revelations (this episode could just as well be called “Things We Uncover”). The obelisk is not just a weapon (it protects itself from those it doesn’t deem worthy), which is a “small-minded” take, it’s a key that will do “something much, much cooler” (in technological terms, the Doctor jests) if brought to the aforementioned mystical city.
While Coulson has half the team doing what seem like silly spy errands in Hawaii (take this button here, take this watch here, keep busy Fitz; it doesn’t matter, Clark Gregg makes it so entertaining), Bobbi Morse interrogates Bakshi back at base. She mostly wonders aloud: “how do you work for someone so…boring?” Hunter is relieved not to get the interrogation treatment himself for once, but it’s not as simple as that. There’s a tiny moment where Mac expresses his doubts about Coulson, stemming from his insane acts in “The Writings on the Wall.” His misgivings are interrupted by Simmons, but it’s clear that Perfect Friend And Most Genial Dude Ever Mac is going to have something to say about the lies and craziness happening in SHIELD upcoming. I hope it doesn’t break my heart.
Senator Ward lies to his wife to get himself an open weekend with his mistress. His philandering is gratefully interrupted by buzzcut baddie Ward, who beats the crap out of his guards and drags him into the woods for some brothers therapy. Christian (Tim DeKay) tries to argue that Ward is free because of him, that he didn’t have him transferred for his public trial and execution. He only assigned four guards after all, which seemed bone-headed to me at the time. Ward pushes right back, knows that he’s manipulating him, lying, twisting his words. We have no idea who’s telling the truth (if anyone). Ward takes responsibility for the evil he’s done, but wants Christian to do the same. He’s brought a shovel and wants Christian to dig up the all-important well, the origin story for Ward’s psychosis (in Ward’s words, Christian forced him to torture and almost kill his younger brother Thomas). This scene is fantastic, as we really don’t know who’s pulling the strings, or who’s the more deranged one of the two. This is impressive, because we know Ward is seriously deranged. When the well is dug up, Ward threatens to drop Christian down there, probably forever, until Christian admits that he forced Ward to hurt Thomas, that Thomas was the only one their Mother didn’t torture, and it pisses him off. Christian breaks down, apologizes, and Ward takes his hand and hugs him; “it’s time we went home.” Ruh roh.
Bobbi’s interrogation with Bakshi has her wondering why Whitehall is so important, why Bakshi is so beholden to him. This spurs May to reveal that they have an awesome, super helpful secret SSR vault put together by THE Peggy Carter. CUT TO…Peggy Carter, visiting a now captured Daniel Whitehall. He wants a deal, but instead, Carter is intent on burying him in the underground prison, where his radical ideas will be forgotten. We also learn that there’s a fable involving “the blue angels bearing a gift for mankind,” one that Whitehall believes, except that the fable is misquoted: the blue angels came to conquer, not save. These blue angels are certainly not referring to the patriotic blue jets everyone adores, but KREE. Or at least, that’s the most likely guess right now, until Marvel pulls the rug and reveals that this is all a Smurf crossover, which would be totally Smurfed.
Back in the present, the Doctor clears up some more misconceptions about the Diviner. It’s a device set “to end mankind,” sparing a chosen few: those that can touch it and survive to bring the obelisk to the temple in the city. But don’t worry Daniel, the Doctor can get you there. Whitehall wonders what he wants, why his participation is all so good to be true: the Doctor claims he has nothing to lose and wants to see the people killed who took it all away from him, to be reunited with his family…in the afterlife. That line works at face value for an insane person, which the Doctor clearly is (whether Calvin Zabo AKA Mr. Hyde or not), but also probably holds some insight into what he and Skye are.
This week for Trip, everyone’s favorite underused SHIELD agent: He brown noses Coulson BIG TIME (“O Captain, My Captain”) and then gets shot, in danger of bleeding out, when Coulson’s wacky mission turns into an ambush. Coulson’s team traveled to Australia to hack a satellite that could map the city and find it (after their Hawaiian vacation laid the groundwork). Obviously, the Doctor had the same (confusing/maybe nonsensical) idea, and shows up (“I can help. I’m a Doctor.”), offering his services to save Triplett’s life. I’m glad Trip’s around for collateral, at least. It’s a great scene even if I begrudge Triplett’s fate, as it’s clear that the Doctor isn’t completely married to his work with Whitehall, and that he hopes to make a good impression on Skye (“THAT’S NOT HER NAME!”), glad that she’s not there now (their communications are conveniently down). He fixes up Trip just enough before giving Coulson a task that he has to accomplish before he bleeds out, allowing his escape.
Back at base, SHIELD’s home team finally realizes that Werner Reinhardt and Daniel Whitehall are the same person, that he’s somehow found the fountain of youth, not aging a day since 1945. This isn’t cleared up by an aging montage where we see Reinhardt play chess against himself and read a lot of books in his cell for 44 years. In 1989, he’s freed, thanks to budget cuts and leniency from Pierce (as in Alexander Pierce, big-time Hydra baddie played by Robert Redford in Captain America: The Winter Soldier). One of the SHIELD agents who releases Whitehall is Hydra, and wheels him to Austria, where we meet the same woman from before…only she’s the same age. “Discovery requires experimentation,” he smirks, Reinhardt’s over-the-top villainy aging like a fine wine.
With this newfound knowledge of his leader, Bobbi springs their Whitehall discovery on Bakshi, thanking him for his (unwitting) cooperation, hoping to break him. It backfires; Bakshi chews on a cyanide capsule that was embedded in his cheek bone. They manage to save his life before he dies, but this sets off Hunter, who thinks Bobbi baited him into it on purpose, because Bakshi threatened to reveal some of her Hydra tinted dirty laundry. It’s interesting that Hunter doesn’t trust Bobbi, that he thinks she’s up to something (“angles never end with you”), particularly in light of potential misdeeds she did while undercover at Hydra. Hunter is the antihero mercenary and Bobbi is Mockingbird, an Avenger in the comic books, yet Hunter seems to think he has the moral high ground. It’s a mirror of the relationship between Ward and his older brother, except the latter subplot doesn’t end with the pair copulating in a SHIELD vehicle. No, instead it ends with Ward burning his brother and parents to death and scheduling a meeting with Daniel Whitehall.
Whitehall apparently gave Bakshi a second chance, and seems willing to proffer one to Ward. The Doctor waltzes in (travel time on AOS is minuscule), forming the triumvirate of crazy that our boys must fight off. What’s amazing is that we don’t really know the endgame of any of them, or where their true allegiances lie, except probably Whitehall, who’s all Hydra-y forever. Yet he’s no less interesting, thanks to Reed Diamond’s performance. These three guys have the potential to find themselves next in line after Loki for best Marvel villains in the MCU, which is impressive for the TV show, and kind of sad for Marvel’s lack of success in developing interesting villains outside of the great and powerful Tom Hiddleston.
We do get some insight into the Doctor’s backstory and head space in the show’s final moments. Twenty five years ago, the Doctor comes upon the body of his mangled, experimented upon dead wife, the woman who touched the obelisk and lived, and one in which Whitehall sucked the life force from, absorbing her gifts and ability not to age. This is another semi-convenient explanation, but I’m fine with it, because of its ramifications. Clearly Whitehall is the Doctor’s ultimate nemesis; the man killed and tortured his wife, who also happens to be Skye’s mother. And because that mother is played by Dichen Lachman, I sincerely hope we get to see more of her, be it in AOS flashbacks, on Agent Carter somehow, or in her own spinoff called Young Woman, her character name on IMDB.
And lest ye forget, SHIELD has also found the ancient city of the Blue Angels/Aliens…which means next week is going to be another doozy, especially since they ain’t sitting on this knowledge. The episode title? “Ye Who Enter Here.” Hell yes.