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'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' react: making 'T.R.A.C.K.S.'

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Marvel Agents Of Shield
Justin Lubin/ABC

Fancy a train ride? The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. team sure did…and got much more then they bargained for when what was supposed to be a simple undercover op went horribly wrong. The show is finally upping its stakes with the action, humor, risk-taking (Skye?!) and hey! Was that Deathlok’s introduction? So much to talk about! But before we get into all that, let’s backtrack (see what I did there?)

Coulson gathers his team and tells them they’ve found Ian Quinn, or at least, they think they know how they can find him. By tracking down some expensive purchase, he ascertains that Quinn hired a private security team named Cybertek to transport his package. This transport is conveniently taking place on a train heading through the Italian countryside. The solution? An undercover mission that has Coulson playing dad to Simmons, Fitz and Skye in a pretend relationship, and May and Ward taking charge. The team is to attempt to track the package so they can find Quinn’s location and also hopefully figure out what he’s transporting. “I hate undercover,” May grumbles as Coulson gives his orders. Hey, at least she gets to wear one of those S.H.I.E.L.D.-issued catsuits. (Ward certainly isn’t complaining.) Meanwhile, Skye wants to know how Coulson got Russo to give up his op. “I asked nicely,” he deadpans, which I’m sure no one on The Bus actually believes for a second. (Translation: “I threatened nicely, because I am Agent Phil Coulson, and my version of threatening involves telling people I’ll tase them and then make them watch Supernanny.”)

When they get a moment alone on the train, Ward presses May about both Skye and Coulson. He wants to know why Coulson has got Skye more or less on a war path as if it’s personal, to which May tells him it is. “The Clairvoyant had him tortured,” she adds coldly, and the whole exchange basically reminded me why Melinda May runs this show. The best part? May casually throws out that she’s already told Coulson they were having sex, right before she vaults out the window. Finally, this show is playing to the strengths of its characters and relationships!

Skye and Fitz, posing as a couple on their anniversary trip, chat up a train operator while Skye steals his keys. Meanwhile, Simmons is taking her undercover duties far too seriously, bombarding her boss with tales of her sad history and her dead mother, becoming hysterical and grabbing the attention of other passengers.

And here we get Stan Lee’s cameo. The comic legend teased to EW that his role was a little more meaty than the usual cameo we see in Marvel films, and he was right — not only was there a fun moment of Lee’s character sympathizing Skye while chewing out Coulson, but the commotion caused Simmons to make a show of spilling her mother’s “ashes” — which in turn caused the entire chain of next events to be set in motion. As May tries to communicate from atop the train like the bad ass she is, the group suddenly realizes their communication system is down. Coulson tells Simmons to get to the luggage compartment and goes to find Ward, who’s fleeing from his own mercenaries, and as a strange blue grenade is thrown at them, both narrowly escape by jumping from the train.

(Sidenote: I’d like May’s awesome X-ray vision glasses, please. Stark Tech?)

Confusion abounds! Upon recovering, Ward and Coulson believe the train vanished, possibly due to the grenade which opened up a blue portal, or perhaps acted as a cloaking mechanism (hey, remember the last time we saw a blue portal? That didn’t work out quite so well for Coulson.) The episode takes us back around for the first time jump of the evening, showing us the same chain of events, but this time from Ward’s point of view. We see him covering for May while a woman kindly asks for help with her bag. I’d like to think Ward isn’t that stupid and knows what’s coming, but to be fair, he’s kind of in a tight spot with either blowing his cover or keeping it. He ends up helping her and she ends up holding a gun to his head, and Ward eventually takes her and another attacker down before fleeing to meet up with Coulson. Look, the guy may be a little lost in the women department, but he can certainly hold his own in combat, so I’m going to cut him a bit of slack.

Back in the present time, Coulson and Ward try to figure out how Cybertek obviously knew they were coming, with Coulson believing the Clairvoyant had something to do with it. Just as they find May’s glasses in the field, they’re approached by armed men in trucks and only manage to escape through some dumb luck and the discovery of a car that’s mysteriously (and conveniently) already hot-wired. The two manage to get back to The Bus, where Coulson immediately contacts Russo. He wants to know if he has any idea what happened to the train, but Russo’s seemingly as clueless as they are, instead telling him he has a lock on their location and is coming to them for help.

With most of their team gone and work to be done, Coulson gives Ward the job of figuring out what the grenade is, which results in a rather hysterical moment of both Ward and Coulson trying to figure out the holo table and how to use it. (Psst, Ward. Just call JARVIS.) Clearly, this means that Ward needs to spend a little more time with the genius billionaire playboy philanthropist that is Tony Stark. And Coulson? Seriously, he’s been around enough. He should just know better.

Then again, Ward should know better than to try to bring up the May situation while the two are technically in the middle of a mission with half their team missing. Coulson puts Ward in his place, threatening him with promises of reassigning him to guard Blonsky’s cryo-cell in Alaska. (Marvel shoutout! Emil Blonsky, last seen in The Incredible Hulk, was injected with the famed super soldier serum and then given Bruce Banner’s blood, thus causing his transformation into the Abomination. Fans, you’re welcome for this digression, non fans, sorry that I probably just bored you.)

The semi stand-off is interrupted by Russo, who arrives and tells him they’ve found his team before May shows up and promptly takes him out. From Coulson and Ward’s shocked faces, we get May’s POV from the train escapade – attempting to contact Ward as communication goes out, being shot at, and escaping by deploying her parachute and doing some cool bad ass agent landing (sorry, after all those Winter Soldier trailers, I’ve become kind of obsessed with picking up on awesome combat landings.) Turns out it was May who found Coulson and Ward, who didn’t necessarily escape the effects of the grenade, which acted as some kind of advanced stun gun. She finds and hot-wires the car but before she can go back and help them, Russo’s men attack her and take her hostage. Intending to kill her, Russo attempts to goad her into thinking this is all Coulson’s fault and tries to convince her to join up with our season’s “Big Bad,” the Centipede. May, however, one-ups him and attacks Russo, killing most of his men before we catch back up to the present day.

While May tries to bandage her own wounds, Coulson comes to her rescue and May tells them Russo sold them out to Quinn’s men. There’s a nice (albeit awkward) moment when Ward walks in on the two of them and, well…I like love triangles as much as the next person, so I’ll just leave it at that. (I’m also personally not really on board the May/Ward train. Give me May and Coulson!)

We learn that the train stopped suddenly in the middle of nowhere, and that it also switched tracks as soon as May, Coulson and Ward were thrown off. The grenade apparently released some kind of toxin that made those affected believe no time had passed, which is why Coulson and Ward thought it had disappeared entirely (hooray for no blue portals!) Attempting to find the rest of their team, the group heads to where the train is stranded, but only find Simmons, who is apparently confused and doesn’t know where Fitz and Skye are.

Backtrack! (See what I did there again?)

Skye and Ward are in the luggage compartment talking about 0-8-4’s. Interestingly enough, when Skye asks Fitz if he’s ever heard of an “0-8-4” being a person, Fitz seems confused. His response? “I suppose it’s possible. Hate to meet the guy.” Yep, that should bode real well for Skye, though I’d love to know where we’re going with this. I was sure based on the conversation that this was going to be a set-up for something later on in the episode. Alas, I was wrong, but it was nice to at least drop that little hint of mythology to serve as a reminder of last episode’s revelation, and show continuity in the storytelling since I’m sure Skye’s past is going to be a huge part of the series going forward.

The pair get attacked by Cybertek agents, and Skye does some really awesome fight moves, and in the midst of all this, Simmons shows up. She takes the full blow of the toxin grenade to the face, forcing herself out of commission, thus leaving Skye and Fitz as the only two people left to finish the operation. They get Simmons hidden safely and then figure out that Fitz has an extra tracker, so they follow the remaining Cybertek agents to their destination. Upon seeing the Cybertek team greet Quinn, Skye realizes that she can’t let him get away again – Coulson wouldn’t want that. Fitz arms her with his extra tranq gun and works on disabling the cars, while Skye bravely gets herself inside and makes her move, discovering that the package is downstairs, which leads her to the basement.

And who does she find? Mike Peterson (J. August Richards) in a cryogenic chamber pod. Before she can get her wits about her, Quinn shows up and catches her. “The Clairvoyant told me to expect you,” he says before pulling Mike out of the capsule. Skye’s clearly shocked that Mike is alive, though he’s unresponsive, badly burned, one-legged, and most definitely brainwashed. Skye attempts to plead with him to no avail, and after receiving “the package” — a robotic cyber leg, which attaches itself all on his own — Peterson seemingly falls under the control of the Clairvoyant. Quinn tests this theory by asking him to kill Skye, which he refuses to do — so naturally, Quinn does it himself.

And here’s where Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. finally proved they had a bit of gusto — Skye is shot not only once, but twice, and is seemingly left to bleed out while looking entirely beyond the point of no return. She attempts to escape with whatever strength she has left but fails, and has pretty much actually died by the time Coulson’s team (who have discovered the location and taken over) find her. Meanwhile, Peterson is having it out with Quinn and the Cybertek people. Mike is told not to kill the agents, but the Cybertek team? Not so lucky. “The Clairvoyant is not happy you led S.H.I.E.L.D. right to us,” he says before he dispatches them, while Coulson and his team attack and manage to capture Quinn in the process.

For the moment, Quinn is set aside as the group tries to figure out how to save Skye. I have to hand it to all of the actors, who really gave some of their best performances and really sold their characters and relationships during the last few minutes of this episode — from Simmons’ breakdown and Fitz’s reaction, to Coulson’s heartbreaking face when he realizes that Skye has possibly died for his cause — it was all pretty intense and it made me believe for the first time that this team really is a family.

Simmons’ quick thinking leads her to realize they can put Skye into Peterson’s chamber, where they manage to regulate the temperature enough to save her life — for now. Back aboard The Bus, with Skye in a hyberbaric chamber and barely stable, the group — visibly shaken — attempts to figure out their next move. Simmons tells them that she needs a medical facility in the next few hours, or she’ll die for real. She breaks down, while Ward goes off to feel sorry for himself. When May tries to talk to him, he tartly tells her that it’s not himself he’s blaming. And May’s face? Ouch.

As the episode winds down, we find Mike watching a playground, looking more than a little wistful. He writes something down on a pad and holds it in front of his face: Can I see my son? The message that comes across on his vision screen simply reads not yet, and Mike despairingly crumples the note in his hand. The camera then pans down to the details on his new robotic leg, where we clearly see the words “Deathlok” – and voila! There’s our official introduction to the iconic Marvel character. In the comics, Deathlok was a cyborg assassin from the future, so it’s going to be interesting to see what road the show takes with Peterson.

What did you think of Deathlok’s reveal? How did you like the episode? And what’s your theory on Skye? (For awhile, I was convinced that her 0-8-4 would mean she could heal magically, or have some powers that allowed her to come back to life. But that would probably be too easy, right?)