I’m honestly not even sure where to begin with this latest episode of Agents of SHIELD, but I’ll kick things off with a “wow.” I’ve been preaching for weeks that the first season of the Marvel franchise is finally starting to find its footing and hold its own, and “The End of the Beginning” lives up to the billing.
It’s a fitting title, as the inaugural season draws to a close with the so-called in-show “Uprising” event that lets the multi-episode series play out more like a big-screen superhero flick than the small screen standalone serial that dominated the first half of the season. I find I’ve been looking forward to each episode in sort of the same way I’d anticipate a theatrical blockbuster, as SHIELD ramps up the action and adds characters that are well-known within the Marvel universe.
This time around, it’s the return of Mike Peterson, now known as Deathlok, the latest incarnation of the comic book hero/villain — a dead human reanimated with cybernetic technology as part of Cybertek’s Project Deathlok, powered by the Centipede supersoldier serum and controlled by the Clairvoyant through an exploding camera-equipped eyeball. Got all that? It’s why I’m a Marvel guy and not a DC guy.
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Who is the Clairvoyant?
So much happens in this episode without anything really happening. It’s action-packed and gripping, even if we’re not that much closer to knowing anything tangible than when we started. It’s mostly exposition and buildup designed to leave the team in distrustful disarray so that we can put them back together again like Humpy Dumpty’s SHIELD. And boy does it set the stage for the next few weeks.
The search continues to identify the elusive Clairvoyant, with Clairvoyant-frontrunner Agent John Garrett (Bill Paxton) conveniently leading the investigation. Now that I suspect him, I can’t take anything he does on the level, which hopefully means it’s too glaringly obvious for it to actually be him. (FYI, I’m not convinced that the reveal at the end means what it suggests.)
Garrett and Simmons-love-interest Agent Antoine Triplett are holing up in a safehouse while they look into SHIELD-documented superhero rejects to narrow down the list of possible candidates. But Deathlok is waiting for them, and their bullets do nothing to stop the part-human/part-cyborg who escapes through a self-created hole in the roof. Why he would flee instead of killing both of them seems strange, though, doesn’t it?
Back at his own safehouse, Deathlok gets a handy dandy new bracelet that allows him to shoot missiles out of his arm, along with a message that it’s finally time to meet the Clairvoyant in person.
Get Coulson and “Agent” Skye on the Case
With the list narrowed down to the 13 potential Clairvoyants, Coulson and Garrett meet with top SHIELD brass (Hand, Sitwell, Blake, etc.) to come up with a plan that will both investigate the suspects and not give anyone so much information that it compromises the mission. Coulson suggests that Skye be the only one to know all the details and that they split up into teams of two, but in order to have that kind of clearance, she needs to be an actual agent. So welcome aboard, Agent Skye. It only took you 16 episodes. I believe I was an agent of SHIELD as a child, and all it took was $5 and a Marvel order form. I miss alter-ego Nightstalker.
Skye suggests they double blind things for safety, so one team member will get the coordinates and the other the identity of the suspect. Not that it really matters, because if the guy actually is clairvoyant, he can just read Skye’s mind anyway. Or supply her with the list of suspects to narrow down in the first place…
Meanwhile, Fitz has developed new bullets that are actually tracking devices, and Simmons continues her attempt to analyze Skye’s blood to better understand the GH325. May, fresh off her conversation on the secret SatPhone line, tells them that if either Coulson or Skye start to show any strange symptoms, let her know first. Coulson orders Skye to look into everyone’s psych evaluations for further clues.
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Who’s Getting Ambushed?
Ward and Triplett head to the UK to search for jailed convict Elijah Fordham, May and Blake are off to an assisted living facility in Georgia to track down Thomas Nash, and Coulson and Garrett share war stories on a drive to Ball State University to look for a female student with ties to the Yakuza. Hand and Sitwell tell the gym teacher they have their periods and get out of the mission.
All three searches, however, are ruses set up by the Clairvoyant. The prison is empty, the path to Ball State is riddled with construction detours and Deathlok is waiting at the old folks home. He shoots explosives at May and nearly kills Blake, who manages to fire off a few Fitz bullets that lead the team to a shuttered racetrack in Florida.
A further examination of Nash’s file reveals that he came up short when trying to control human behavior, but he sometimes had a knack for predicting it. He fell off the map after he was left in a catatonic state following an accident, but that might have just been a lie.
While the assault is planned, Simmons is ordered to stay at the Hub as an expert on the Deathlok technology, which will give her the perfect opportunity to examine Skye’s blood with advanced lab equipment. Triplett is also staying back at HQ, wink wink.
Losing It All at the Track
The raid leads to several run-ins with Deathlok, who keeps running away and apparently escapes through the sewer system. But this was also staged by the Clairvoyant to lead the team to a wheelchair-bound man with a tube taped in his mouth who Stephen Hawkingses his surrender.
The computer voice identifies him as Thomas Nash, and “The Clairvoyant” was just a silly name Poe gave to him. This meeting was destiny, and the reason he couldn’t see Coulson after his resurrection is because he is just a shell of a sad, broken man who didn’t even realize he was sad and broken. A force beyond his comprehension is coming for him and Skye, because she has something they want, and she’ll die giving it to them. As the voice goes on and on about how they’ll never stop until Skye is dead, Ward pumps two bullets into him.
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Here’s where things get crazy and happen very, very quickly. Coulson and the team set off to escort Ward to the Hub, while Garrett goes off to control chase Deathlok. Also, May says that Nick Fury is back and will finally meet with Coulson.
Ward is in a holding cell, and Skye pays a visit to inquire into why he shot the poor man in the wheelchair. He points out all the evil the Clairvoyant was responsible for and says the computer voice knew all the right buttons to push. He did it to keep her safe despite the consequences, reiterating a point made by Garrett earlier that Ward is now fighting for something instead of against it.
Fitz contacts Simmons and stumbles upon May’s tap into the hardline. He loses the connection with Simmons, who says something is going on at HQ and everyone is scrambling into the situation room. He traces the tap back to May’s quarters, where she catches and chases him out.
Skye and Coulson, worrying that Nash was just a prop to throw them off scent, realize that the Clairvoyant is using all of the things in their SHIELD profiles against them, like the death of Coulson’s father and his love affair with the orchestra musician. They finally put it together that the Clairvoyant doesn’t have psychic abilities, he just has security clearance.
Who Can You Trust?
Coulson confronts Ward, asking him if he acted of his own accord or if he was ordered to kill Nash. He denies he was being controlled. Fitz informs Skye about May’s secure line, and she tells him to cut the wire. He does just as May is about to call out, and she cocks her gun and gives chase, even opening fire into the bullet-resistant glass. She would have hit him right in the face.
Coulson and Skye both pull guns on May, who is apparently just using icers, and demand answers. She says she has them, but, you know, she can’t exactly divulge anything right now. While he shouts accusations of her working with and informing the Clairvoyant, the plane suddenly grinds to a halt, changes direction and flies off on a new course.
As the team tries to figure out what’s going on, Agent Hand is seen at a monitor changing the flight coordinates. She orders that when the plane lands, everyone but Coulson dies. Dun dun DUNNNNNNN.
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So I don’t know about you, but I’m not convinced that this was the big reveal that Hand is the Clairvoyant. She could be, and it’d be nice that it wasn’t Garrett, but I’m not completely sold on it.
Also, I’m assuming that she is not at the Hub, because that’s where the Bus was headed anyway, so a course change wouldn’t be necessary. Perhaps that’s what Simmons was talking about when she said something was going on in the war room. Maybe SHIELD realized it had a rogue agent(s), or maybe Hand realized that SHIELD was corrupted and moved to her own pad thinking Ward and May to be villains. Or maybe it’s a silly continuity error that only I would pick up on.
Either way, we (and Coulson) have no idea who we can trust. Everyone on the team is probably cleared in the end, because they’ve been the good guys all season, but you never know what they could throw at us at this point. All the characters are likable, but the series could certainly survive without one or some of them. And all the SHIELD agents are suspect.
For me, I’m still reluctantly pinning this on Garrett. What about you?
You can watch Agents of SHIELD every Tuesday at 8pm on ABC.
(Image courtesy of ABC)