reads, "While seeking out the Clairvoyant, the team boards a train that appears to be heading toward doom," and I'll admit, I got a little excited about the possible wordplay significance.
After all, capturing industrialist Ian Quinn is the main mission objective, and he bears a striking resemblance to one Victor Von Doom. A character of such magnitude would be a huge add to the series, though some explanations would obviously be necessary.
Alas, "T.R.A.C.K.S." does not fulfill such lofty aspirations. But what it
do is deliver on an entirely different plane that far exceeded expectations.
The plot is simple enough, with the same story being told from multiple perspectives, but the fact that there's ample time among all the fast-paced action to work in effortless humor that doesn't detract from the seriousness of the events is a huge sign that the series is finally hitting its stride. The first 10 minutes alone are worthy of praise and could reel back in anyone who had been swimming astray, complete with our first Stan Lee appearance (which makes it all "real").
And the gravity of what happens at the end (even though deep down, we know Skye can't die) will be enough to lighten the weight of the post-Olympic hangover as we can finally explore the wide open expanse that is the future of this franchise. It will be a nice change of pace from figure skating.
Stop That Train, I Wanna Get Off
First of all, yes, that's a Vanilla Ice reference.
"T.R.A.C.K.S." (because Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. looooves its periods) opens up with the news that Ian Quinn has made a big purchase from Cybertek and is shuttling the package with complete security detail across the Italian countryside via train.
Quinn recently revealed his business association with the Clairvoyant after trying to buy Donnie "Don't Call Me Blizzard" Gill's freeze machine, which created a giant superstorm over the SHIELD academy that everyone seems to have forgotten about. I'd still like to know the damage it caused, but my needs aren't important. So logic follows: track the package to Quinn and track Quinn to the Clairvoyant.
Coulson makes a deal with the Italian authorities for his team to go undercover on the train, but the guy he's dealing with is Carlo Rota's Luca Russo. And if a guy is wiling to stab Jack Bauer in the back, SHIELD doesn't stand a chance.
Humor and Complications
The multi-perspective storytelling is exciting, if not a little confusing, as each new story fills in the gaps of the last, but here's the sum of the parts. Everyone realizes about the same time that they've been made, right around when their communications are cut.
Ward, who is dressed as a train attendant, gets jumped by a hot chick asking for help with her bag and her Cybertek security friend. He fights them off and runs to Coulson, and the pair jump off the back of the train as an airborne night-night bomb explodes, leaving them in a foggy haze.
May is on top of the train when someone starts shooting at her, so she pulls her ripcord and parachutes off the train to find Ward and Coulson in their catatonic state. She is hot-wiring a truck to get them all out of dodge when Russo takes her prisoner.
Skye and Fitz are tracking the package in the luggage car when a Cybertek dude busts in and starts shooting up all their computer screens. They fight back, admirably to boot, when the gunman pulls out another night-night bomb and initiates its detonation. But Simmons shows up and jumps on it like a live grenade, bear-hugging the guy until they're both unconscious.
Clearing Up the Confusion
Coulson and Ward wake up and think the train disappeared, so they hop in the already-running hot-wired truck (suspicious? Or fortuitous? Thanks, May!) and head back to the Bus. Russo tells May that he and Cybertek have a mutually-beneficial trafficking deal in play before stabbing her and twisting the knife, which is all she needs to kill everyone in the room. She tails Russo back to the Bus, ending him with a knife toss before he can shoot Coulson.
The trio head back to the train, which stops in the Italian countryside to offload the cargo. They find Simmons, but Skye and Fitz are nowhere to be seen. That's because they shadowed the device back to an Italian villa, where they run into Quinn. Skye goes inside while Fitz activates a tracker and disables the getaway vehicles.
Let's Get Dangerous
As if all this wasn't enough, now the action gets really fast and furious. Skye heads to the basement where she finds both the device and a hyperbaric chamber containing Mike Peterson, who is now under the control of Centipede and the Clairvoyant (complete with deadly exploding eyeball).
Quinn takes advantage of her surprise by swooping in with a gun, and after asking Mike if he'd kill Skye (he won't, because those aren't his orders), he shoots her twice himself because he has his own orders.
The Clairvoyant is pissed because Cybertek led SHIELD right to them, so he reneges on the deal and has Mike kill everyone, with strict orders not to engage Coulson, et al, who arrive on the scene at the same time. Quinn is captured, and a nearly-dead Skye starts breathing again after Simmons puts her in the hyberbaric chamber and cools her bullet-ridden body down to 40 degrees.
Everyone is sad, and Skye's fragility makes them all appreciate their relationships more. May and Ward hold hands, FitzSimmons hug and Coulson hovers over the chamber while Quinn sits in a holding cell. I'm a little confused about what Ward is implying when he says Skye never should've been in the house, but he's not blaming himself. That's either directed at Coulson or May, with leanings towards the former.
The epilogue shows Mike asking the Clairvoyant via paper scratch if he can see his son. He then crumbles the paper and drops it, presumed request rejected.
Reading the Subtext
The real humor in this episode comes before and during the intense action, which is a huge credit to the writing. The best moments are Simmons' extravagant backstory regarding the ashes in her urn and Coulson's prostitutes (plural) and Ward and Coulson trying to figure out how to make the holotable work. It's like teaching your grandmother how to use an iPad.
Ward and May also have some development regarding their sexual relationship, which may or may not be more emotionally involved than that. Ward is stripping off his clothes when May lets him know she told Coulson, and he addresses the topic later while awkwardly avoiding the word "sex." But like I said, they end up holding hands.
Skye also pries into her past a teensie bit, asking Fitz if he's ever heard of a 0-8-4 being a person. He has not, and he "wouldn't want to meet that guy." It was also a big, if not subtle, moment when Simmons is once again willing to sacrifice her life for the team without hesitation. That chick deserves a medal.
It almost seems cruel to bring it back for just one week only to leave us hanging for another month, but "T.R.A.C.K.S." exemplifies everything we want out of Agents of SHIELD. This one feels a lot more like a TV version of the movies that are repeatedly blockbusters. It's episodes like this one that leave us craving more and hopeful for the full potential the expansive Marvel Universe can offer.
What did you think? Is your Marvel fervor suitably replenished or rejuvenated? What possibilities do you dream of, and where do you think the series is headed?
We'll see you back on March 4 at 8pm on ABC for the next new episode of Agents of SHIELD, and USA! USA!