Last week, I struggled to diagnose the problems Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been having since returning from hiatus. “One Door Closes” presents the show’s best effort since it’s returned, with explosive duel narratives focusing on the back stories of Mockingbird and Mack (the maybe traitorous M&M’s) as we witness in flashbacks, how the “real” S.H.I.E.L.D. was born. Still, I can’t shake that this whole thing is being mishandled.
Mack and several fellow agents are battered, bloodied and under hostage. It’s the day S.H.I.E.L.D. fell, a glimpse into scenes that might have made it into a Director’s Cut, Extended Edition DVD of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, if that movie was directed by Peter Jackson. It also provides an emotional cameo involving Mackenzie Astin, yes, Sean Astin’s younger brother, as Tim, an Agent who dies lying to save Mack. Or was Mack lying to save him? Whatever it is, the Hydra agent wanted to murder the chief engineer, and filled Tim with all kinds of bullets. Poor Tim.
It’s looking like they’ll all meet the same fate until Bobbi bursts in and saves them all in quick succession, the first of about four times where Adrianne Palicki is all kinds of badass in this episode. More than perhaps anyone else, she’s practically begging for a role in Avengers. But guess who’s also back? Izzy Hartley, Lucy Lawless’ mentor character who died in the season premiere, announcing her welcome presence by throwing a knife into the back of a Hydra agent’s skull. She’s “saving bullets for the real fight,” she remarks. Like the Crocodile Hunter, big knives are clearly her thing. Bobbi has orders directly from Fury “to save SHIELD.” Oh, is that all? What kind of a “mission” is that? “Clean up my mess, Bobbi.” Screw you Fury.
In the present day, Bobbi bikes back onto the Bus, putting bugs into tech, nobody bothering to stop her. Coulson, meanwhile, is giving Mack a chance to look under the hood of Lola. We know Coulson’s finally onto Mack as the two practice some great double talk. As well as some not-very-subtle dialogue: “The path we’ve chosen doesn’t leave a lot of room for trust, does it?”
After this explosive beginning, we cut to Skye…who’s playing solitaire and chatting with Simmons, who urges her to put on the prototype gloves, that they’ll help her. It’s pretty awful that Simmons isn’t being straight with Skye. Aside from Fitz and Skye, as far as I’m concerned, everybody’s guilty of something right now, but Simmons’ power-Nazi routine is arguably the worst.
Back on the Bus, Coulson stops pussyfooting around and calls Mack on his treachery. What are you after? Who are you working for? Mack is steadfast in his response, even as several armed gunmen round on him: SHIELD.
May catches onto Bobbi as well, disappointed that she was wrong about her. May, of course, doesn’t like to be wrong (and rarely is). Bobbi’s singing the same tune as Mack: “I work for SHIELD. You don’t.” “Try again,” May responds, quick on the trigger finger. But Morse does an awesome backflip through a glass wall and escapes, May hot on her heels. Then we get the fight we’ve all wanted to see The Calvary vs. Mockingbird, and for the most part, it’s a stand still, but in the end, May has the upper hand, until Mockingbird activates an EMP and the base goes black. Bobbi escapes, with Fury’s Toolbox in tow. Mack also uses the distraction to get away from his captors/friends.
Going back in the wayback machine, Izzy, Bobbi and Mack locate Commander Gonzales (Edward James Olmos), who’s been axed in the knee. “It’s been a bastard of a day,” he grumbles in the world’s greatest voice.
Amid all the excitement we cut back to Skye…who’s looking at the gloves and tending to the fire. Riveting stuff. She eventually puts the gloves on, and it makes her woozy. She’s lost connection to the base, so she tries calling Simmons, and leaves her a worried message (“WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ME?!” is what she should’ve said). Skye also uncovers something interesting about the base: the cozy log cabin is lined by massive shiny steel walls. She finds a massive fist print in the wall. We’ll learn the identity of those fists later, but suffice to say, you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.
All the while, Skye’s getting spooked, as she hears things around the cabin. She activates the security, complaining aloud about Fitz showing her Paranormal Activity, until someone knocks. And hooray, Gordon (Jamie Harris), the eye-less teleporting wonder, has arrived. He quickly offers help and it’s hard not to believe that Skye would be better if she goes with him. Gordon remarks that he knew he was special from an early age and he was still a mess after the Mists changed him, and he had a guide who embraced him after. “What was the first thing SHIELD did to you?” I mean, technically it was give her medical attention, and Fitz gave her plenty of hugs.
Skye describes her powers as the pain of 1,000 bees being bottled upside in her, always there, always wanting to get out. She can’t stop it. “Why would you stop it?” Gordon asks. “Because it hurts everything around me.” Gordon then reveals insight into her powers: she can tap into the vibrations of objects, which makes her abilities seem limitless in their scope. Gordon invites her to come with him, to be safe with people like them. Skye asks how many there are, but of course Gordon doesn’t say. Skye’s hesitant, but Gordon doesn’t push. In fact, he quickly teleports away, with a final message: “When you’re ready, I’ll find you.” We know Skye will be ready by the end of this episode.
At the Bus, Bobbi comes to Simmons, who appears to be stupidly out of the loop that Bobbi’s a spy. But it’s an act, as Simmons ups her Simmons-y antics and ends up knocking Bobbi out with some fun gizmos from her bag. Even Bobbi had no chance seeing that coming. Fitz gets approached from the darkness by Mack, asking his buddy to trust him, assuring our favorite Scot that he’d never hurt him. Fitz isn’t so sure, because Fitz only gets hurt.
Back in time, they snap Gonzales’ knee into place, because apparently that’s what the ax did to his leg. Bobbi gives a Franny Saloon’s coin to Izzy to give to Hunter; she has a secondary mission: to sink the ship and its precious cargo. Of course, we’re never given any insight as to what it is, because the tantalizing mystery of what powerful objects are onboard is far more exciting than the reality of some bogusly named macguffin. But she has to do it, and she might have to go down with the ship. She insists on doing it alone, but that’s clearly not happening: Gonzales, the two nameless SHIELD agents and Mack are going with her. After all, Gonzales is “still the Commander of this ship.” You don’t argue with Adama.
For a little while, I considered the possibility that this real SHIELD might actually be the preferable outfit, mostly because I’d follow Edward James Olmos anywhere and I refuse to believe Bobbi Morse is misinformed about anything (I’m in love). But that lingering idea exploded along with SHIELD’s walls. The blast almost kills Mack and Fitz, and might’ve done Fitz in if Mack hadn’t dived on top of him, a literal SHIELD from the shrapnel. Gonzales and Agent Calderon (Is Kirk Acevedo ever not douchey?) stroll onto the base wearing gas masks, almost cavalierly noting that Mack needs medical. Yeah, fuck these guys.
Meanwhile back in Flashback Land, we find out just how much we’re missing with Izzy being dead in the present, as Lucy Lawless just destroys Hydra agents in awesome fashion. How cool is Lucy Lawless? SHIELD is fighting back, and may yet take the ship. Gonzales isn’t optimistic: they’re still outnumbered 3 to 1 (how on Earth does he know that?) and there are several decks that haven’t been cleared. Mack wants to fight on, not to give up and blow up the ship, but that’s against Morse’s mission.
As Gonzalez and his SHIELD take over the Bus, the grizzled Commander comments to Morse about Coulson, “if he’s as good a man as you say, he’ll understand.” I’m not so sure. They also clearly have a not-so-happy agenda for Skye, and have tracked her down to “The Retreat,” or “The House That Banner Built.” Gonzales sends agents to extract her, which strikes Bobbi as excessive, but she’s going with. The only Agent they haven’t captured, is of course May, who’s listening on.
Sometimes it takes a pile of shit to bring people back together, and we get a flicker of that FitzSimmons magic, with the pair holding hands in the face of the most recent double cross. Agent Weaver (Christine Adams) approaches them, and it took me until right then to realize she was at the SHIELD Academy and the trio have a history. Then there’s like the 7th moment where both parties exasperatingly ask, “You work for them?” and we wonder if the answer to that question ever had meaning. “Phil Coulson had no right to call this SHIELD,” she huffs and puffs. Oh stuff it, lady. Also: who cares?
Gonzales and Coulson finally have their showdown. Coulson delivers some exposition and backstory on Gonzales, that she quit SHIELD following the death of his wife but returned to the fold with a vengeance, becoming one of the best agents SHIELD has ever seen, commanding the Iliad. Coulson apparently searched for him for months following the fall of SHIELD. Gonzales isn’t so complimentary, ashamed of what Coulson has become after his resurrection and the whole alien blood thang. “You don’t know me then, and you don’t know me now,” Coulson counters. There’s also a blessed and brief moment where Coulson’s wit returns, that he didn’t ask to come back to life, but he’s learned to be thankful. Gonzales is done with pleasantries however. Fury has hidden dangerous objects around the globe, and he wants to find them, and wants Coulson to tell him how to open the Toolbox.
At The Retreat, Skye takes her inhibitor sleeves off and has some fun in the sink, manipulating the water into Slinky-like spirals. She’s apprehensive, happy and amazed, and it’s some of the most subtle acting we’ve seen from Chloe Bennet on the show, who hasn’t exactly been playing a subtle character.
May gives Skye the most cryptic and unhelpful heads up call ever, telling her that SHIELD is coming literally seconds before they arrive. Skye’s rightly confused. As they arrive, Bobbi advises “icers” only, because Skye is a SHIELD agent after all, but Acevado cocks a very normal/real looking gun, not that I know what the fuck an icer looks like.
TO THE ILIAD! Mack wonders why the hell Bobbi and Gonzales would go forward with blowing up a ship with hundreds of SHIELD agents on it, still fighting. Gonzales urges Bobbi to follow her orders, but Bobbi finally has her epiphany. “We’re taking back this damn ship whether you like it or not.” It’s a triumphant moment, even if it takes too long and is followed by a silly slo-mo action sequence. It cuts back into Gonzales and Coulson’s rendezvous.
Gonzales admits that he was wrong that day, that they saved hundreds of lives, that the time for blindly following orders and keeping secrets is over. Coulson wonders how they operate. Gonzales doesn’t want to be the Director; neither did Coulson, he points out. “He [Fury] made you. You’re literally his creation.” This is disturbingly true, especially since I don’t think I’m alone in questioning Coulson’s leadership and decision making this season, but Gonzales and this “real SHIELD” are the biggest hypocrites in the world. They want transparency, yet they send in spies and attack their base? Coulson believes that Hydra topples SHIELD, not secrets. Gonzales isn’t so sure.
But neither are right; they’re both fighting a losing battle, and I hope AOS lands on that in the episodes ahead. This is the question that needs answering: Is S.H.I.E.L.D. even worth saving? It’s an organization with shifting acronyms that symbolize its ever-shifting motives and biases. It’s an organization most notable for its disorganization and penchant for infiltration and double agents. One obsessed with lanyards and “levels” of security, a mind-numbing bureaucratic structure that should give even the most right winged members of the population pause. Given a chance to rebuild and start fresh, Coulson was following in Fury’s footsteps, ones that shouldn’t necessarily be followed, by perpetuating lies and keeping new secrets.
Gonzales and company have the right idea, but are operating like nefarious super-villains. How do Bobbi and Mack, unless they aren’t what we’ve seen them to be, see how laughably ridiculous the idea is that their real SHIELD is any different or better than Coulson’s? You can help protect the world without committing to an outdated notion. I like the idea that SHIELD, in a way, is this season’s Big Bad, but the way it was handled, I find it hard to believe that they couldn’t have just talked it out. It’s a very comic-book like shoot first-ask questions later way of handling things that could very well show up again in Civil War if it follows the almost offensive comic book origins of that storyline. It’s also glaringly obvious that if ABC could afford Samuel L. Jackson or Cobie Smulders, things would be a lot different.
But it’s not hitting the brakes any time soon. Instead, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s very own Civil War is only getting crazier. May shoots three agents including Gonzales (and it doesn’t sound or look like icers to me) and sends Coulson off to find Skye. May is going to take care of everything else, because she’s the biggest badass on the show.
As Bobbi, Calderon and company head to get Skye, Calderon references Agent Weaver going head to toe with an “Enhanced” that Hydra unleashed, a “monster.” Again, this sounds cooler than most anything we actually get to see.
First it was Bobbi, then it was May, then it was Izzy, and finally, Skye gets her moment to kick ass this week, taking down several agents. Despite orders to the contrary, Calderon shoots Skye. Bobbi even gets the “Nooo!” in there. But it doesn’t matter: Skye stops the bullet and blows a tree in the forest to smithereens, sending Morse and Calderon flying. Calderon gets some karma, a big ole branch jutting from his chest. Hopefully that’s the last we see of him. Kirk Acevedo is like a C-grade Sean Bean, except we’re always happy to see Acevedo go.
This is all too much for Skye, trembling at what she’s done (which as far as I can tell, is defend herself), and she whispers, “Gordon help.” Lickety split, Gordon arrives, gives her the embrace he referenced earlier, and Nightcrawler’s her away to the land o’ the Inhumans, where her Daddy and surely exciting developments await.
We end in the tropics, Coulson on the run sipping on a tropical drink with way too many umbrellas in it. Hunter sidles up to him, ordering the same, signing a napkin contract to help out. “What’s the plan, boss?”
Does anyone have a plan? Are we really going forward with an entirely avoidable heroes vs. heroes war? While this was a great episode thanks to some delightful action, these questions hound me and my enjoyment of the series.