To catch up on the last season’s events and how they relate to the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe, check this recap out.
So, after a first season full of bumps, magnificent peaks and really low valleys, it seems Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has taken off its training wheels. The premiere of its sophomore season looks to be exactly hitting all the right notes we all hoped it would from the beginning, wisely heading the sometimes harsh criticism the fans threw at it.
The episode begins with a flashback to 1945, to a HYDRA facility with leader Dr. Daniel Whitehall (the comicbook villain Kraken) moving after the Red Skull’s defeat in Captain America: The First Avenger. He makes sure they are extra careful with one artifact, apparently called the Obelisk, that he has very interesting plans for. Just at that moment, the facility is raided by the remaining Howling Commandos, Agent Peggy Carter, Dum Dum Dugan, and Jim Morita, ready to seize the contents of the facility for the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SRS), S.H.I.E.L.D.’s predecessor championed by Peggy and Howard Stark. They take everything into custody, and it seems Peggy knows more than everyone else, especially about the Obelisk, as it is sealed with a familiar moniker, an 0-8-4. Its nice to see Peggy and the Commandos in action again, maybe this early scene is almost a backdoor sneak peak at how her mini-series will play and interact with AoS, as this scene alone was enough to make me excited for its possibilities.
After this, we return to see Skye and May scoping out an intelligence sale, which we then see is between some mercenaries and a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. They are selling the location of the 1945 0-8-4 we saw earlier, when a giant of a man breaks it up. They empty their shells into him, doing nothing, and May and Skye back them up. The man is completely unfazed by their attack by the way, and runs out with the intel. We are then introduced to the merc team, Lance Hunter (Nick Blood awesome name), Alphonso ‘Mac’ Mackenzie (Henry Simmons) and (former Xena actress Lucy Lawless ) as Isabelle “Izzy” Hartly. We are then shown that these mercs were working for Director Coulson, and have been recruited from the small pool of still loyal former S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. He then recognizes that “The Obelisk” is not only a deadly super-object wanted by this “unregistered gifted” (or supervillian really), it’s THE original 0-8-4, which leads him to decide finding the object is priority over finding more allies. We also see the mysterious bulletproof man getting a call from a HYDRA agent (which says “Hail Hydra”, and the man shrugs it off, “Yeah, yeah”). The man is rewarded for getting the intel with an incredibly rare diamond, which he then absorbs, and his entire arm becomes that diamond structure which shows us that the man is Carl “Crusher” Creel, The Absorbing Man (Awesome first villain for the season, and shout out to the VFX department for making his transformations believable). This is concurrently confirmed by the team at the Playground (Koenig’s base from last season where they have set up shop), as a metal shard that blasted off of Creel returns to its natural fleshy state, and confirms his identity. They learn he was an associate of John Garrett, which means Ward may know something about him, and Coulson pays a seemingly-now-rare visit to Skye, who has been trying to decode the alien blueprints Coulson and Garrett were obsessed with drawing after exposure to GH 325, to tell her she needs to talk to the imprisoned traitor.
She isn’t excited about it, but complies and begrudgingly begins to interrogate Ward. He is excited to see her, and tries to ask her all about her life and connect with her again, which Skye will have no part of (good to see she is still as disgusted with his betrayal as she should be). She plays hardball to get the information she wants from him, and he lets her know he has had a rough time, trying everything from a pants button, to paper, to running into walls to commit suicide trying to avoid detainment (she says “you shouldv’e run harder”, rough…). He tells her how to find HYDRA piggybacking off old S.H.I.E.L.D. communications channels, and hopes she will continue to come back when she finds the info is true, which she doesn’t even entertain (though he begins to say he has information about her father before she cuts him off, more to see there for sure). Skye makes a jab that she is going to have to return to him many times after they find he is exactly right (meta-commentary from the writers maybe?), and they find that their old “friend” General Talbot is being targeted next by Creel. He has been the government’s attack dog in hunting down S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA, but these backchannels show that he has only really pushed HYDRA underground, which only makes things worse, and Creel intends to attack him for it.
Coulson then contacts Talbot, who denies his help and prepares his own security detail when Creel attacks (armed with his comic book iconic Ball and Chain). May and Skye are there to protect him, taking Creel down with Night-Night darts and capturing Talbot at the same time. Him and Coulson have a snarky back and forth, both admitting they are worthy adversaries but Talbot refusing to help in any way. Coulson riles Talbot up who grabs his restraining chair’s arm rests, and they are smart enough to get a fingerprint scan from it. But obviously, Talbot isn’t the brightest crayon in the box, so he hasn’t figured out that Creel was trying to get captured, as he knew they would take him to Talbot’s highly publicized holding facility where they take all captured S.H.I.E.L.D. items and fugitives, including the 0-8-4. We then see Creel was locked in a plexi-glass cell at the facility, and escaped by absorbing the clear material so he appeared transparent, attacking his guards as they panicked trying to find him.
Coulson sends they merc team to the holding facility, with Triplett disguised as a general going to meet Talbot and Skye has hacks into their system to allow them through (Coulson hams it up with a voice changer as Talbot to stall the guard while they figure out the hack, it’s hilarious). They use Talbot’s prints lifted earlier to get in and spread out, trying to find The Obelisk. Izzy finds the 0-8-4 quickly, opening the box to confirm it, when Creel takes advantage of her legwork, attacking. Without much defense to his superpower, Izzy grabs The Obelisk to try to hopefully get a leg up, unfortunately it begins to convert the organic matter in her hand to a stone-like material (similar to its victims at the HYDRA facility). Creel is freaked out by it and flees, while Coulson orders the mission to continue so May and Skye can finish their ulterior motives, Lance decides to ignore him and abandon the mission to help Izzy anyway.
This cold, calculating move is pretty uncharacteristic of Coulson, but it seems like his new role and the experience of learning how to come back to life has really taken its toll. It turns out May and Skye go all out to steal a confiscated Quinjet, so they can use its cloaking technology to hide The Bus and use it again. Why go through such extremes to steal cloaking tech when they have two super scientists in their ranks, well.. it seems Coulson has no confidence in Fitz’s engineering ability anymore after his accidents.. and well he cant ask for Simmon’s help because she isn’t there, Fitz has been talking to himself this whole time and hasn’t been able to build anything since. Wow.. this is really harsh and terrible, Fitz is a shell of his former self which is terrible since he was one of the best characters on the show. Simmons seemingly leaving since she thought her presence was making Fitz’s recovery worse, I hope we don’t only see her in Fitz’s head, and the real Simmons has been doing something else in the meantime.
So on their way to a hospital, Izzy asks Lance to CUT HER ARM OFF since she knows The Obelisk is going to kill her, and she smartly surmises that Robotics technology has come far enough that losing a hand won’t be a big deal. We here a monologue by Coulson explaining how the field has changed for the team, how they will need to be a “Black-Ops” team from now on (which is what they shouldv’e been form the beginning honestly). Izzy’s arm is actually cut off, but it doesn’t matter since Creel catches up with them and turns himself into an asphault road block, destroying the car and apparently killing everyone in the car except Lance (sad to apparently see Lucy Lawless’ character go so soon, or did she?) Creel turns his hand into rubber to be able to carry the artifact, and he makes off with Izzy’s solidified arm. In the end teaser, we see the HYDRA agent giving Creel orders before was actually reporting to Dr. Daniel Whitehall , looking exactly as he did in 1945 (there is definitely something interesting going on there, but we know he will be the big bad for the season so we will see more of him).
The premiere presented a much more mature team, looking more than capable of fending off any challenge they come across, and definitely missing the doe-eyed new car smell they carried in the beginning of their tenure, a smart change that helps us feel like they are prepared for the difficult road that lies ahead. Coulson is now fully committed to his role as director, seeming to adopt the more mysterious tendencies of his predecessor, only speaking to agents when they are in need of direct information and not even speaking to May for a month. Skye and May’s relationship seems perfectly in tune now as student and sensei, and the new recruits Coulson has managed to scrounge up seem to bump up their experience quota nicely, something that was sorely needed. Fitz appropriately seems to be experiencing serious complications from his heroic efforts last season, in that he can’t properly complete sentences, forgetting words and being extremely frustrated by it, though it seems that Fitz is not working up to full capacity like he used to. The Simmons twist was rough, but expertly done, leading me to believe there will be plenty of new twists in the rest of the season. Tripplett remains on the team, and brings a great lighthearted nature which is nice to see as his inclusion after last season was one of the writers best decisions. Koening also returns, though at this point its Billy, replacing his previous “brother” and apparently he has many more that are essentially also “twins”, lending more credence that the character will be the first confirmation that the MCU uses LMDs, but only time will tell.
Overall, this episode was expertly balanced, and there was a more grounded and gritty cinematography that helped create a a better atmosphere. The Obelisk seems like nothing in the comic book Marvel U, but it seems like it fits with the effects seen when handling the Infinity Stones, so I could see it being another stone, and it being in the hands of HYDRA now could be a serious twist. This season is off to a fantastic start, and I’m looking forward to how Guardians of the Galaxy and the Agent Carter show will tie in.