Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has really been on a roll these past few episodes, and “The Only Light in the Darkness” was no exception. It was an episode that I had been looking forward to for awhile thanks to the inclusion of Coulson’s mysterious cellist, but after last week’s development, I was also super curious to see what would happen now that Ward had rejoined the team with his Hydra cover intact.
Our introduction to this week’s villain came via an unsuspecting fisherman. After getting off a boat, Marcus Daniels (a.k.a. Blackout) asks the guy for a ride to Portland but the fisherman (not so smartly) refuses. Bad move, random man. Daniels pretty much disposes of him before driving off — but before he does so, he takes the time to switch the station from all that boring S.H.I.E.L.D. news talk to classical music. We’ll later put it together that this is because of Audrey the cellist, but anyway, who doesn’t like a little classical music in their Whedonesque show while bad things are happening?
On the Bus, Simmons is patching up Ward, who — red alert! — is shirtless and, well, looking pretty damn good. I know, you’re all judging me right now, but in the spirit of dearly departed Eric Koenig, I would be lying to say that I didn’t mind staring at my screen for a bit. Ward tells his story: By the time he got to the Fridge, it was already overrun by Hydra. They were after everything (weapons, alien tech, you name it) and Quinn was out. As for Garrett? Ward convincingly tells them that he put two in his head, one for him and one in honor of Trip. You know, before Garrett gave him two cracked ribs and a hairline fracture (which, damn, that’s a lot of work they went through to make this whole thing believable.) Anyway, the best lies are the ones that are also mostly true, and suffice to say that Ward gets away with his story and the team has pretty much no suspicion whatsoever.
Ward tries to convince Skye that she should access the hard drive. Coulson, on the other hand, demands that he come with her for an assessment of the prisoners who were let out of the Fridge (and as it turns out, Skye couldn’t have gotten into the hard drive, anyway — she says that not only is the drive protected, it’s location based. So smart!)
Skye’s fixated on the fact that Quinn is on the loose because, you know, he shot her and all. Personally, I don’t blame her for being a little on edge. But Coulson has more worrisome matters on his mind, namely, the person we saw at the beginning of the episode. According to Coulson, Marcus Daniels worked as an assistant at a physics lab where they were trying to harness the electrical power of something called the “dark force.” Daniels was exposed to this powerful energy which is how he became “Blackout” and his powers remain unstable. It’s not that easy to kill him, though, because he absorbs the power of most conventional weapons, which makes him pretty much unstoppable and deadly. The last time they were able to subdue him, it was by overloading his system with pure light.
Coulson suggests splitting up the team so that he can go after Daniels with FitzSimmons and Trip, while Ward stays on the Bus with Skye and May. Skye is a little concerned, because what if this distraction is Hydra’s plan all along? (Remember Garrett’s line in last week’s episode as he let out the criminals: “this should keep Coulson busy for awhile.”) The cuts to Ward’s face here are kind of amazing now that we know his true agenda, which makes it fun to pick up on all the small things that this show is throwing us in terms of his interactions with the group. Koenig shares this sentiment, and oh my, is it wonderful to see Patton Oswalt back for a second week in a row. There’s something to be said about perfect casting, and I love dynamic he adds to the show. “What part of secret base don’t you get?” he asks Coulson, who isn’t backing down from his decision, even going so far as to give a rather moving speech as part of his defense. Koenig finally relents — kind of — but tells him that no one can leave without going through “orientation.” For awhile, I wondered if I had stumbled into LOST territory (come on…underground hidden bunker, orientation, a man who’s been serving a secret organization.) But “orientation” in S.H.I.E.L.D. terms doesn’t mean a reel of confusing DHARMA information, it means going through a lie detector. A fancy-schmancy, psycho-analytical questions lie detector. A lie detector designed by Director Fury himself, with 96 variables in all, a lie detector so tough even Romanov wouldn’t be able to beat it.
(Sidenote: I’m beginning to think maybe Scarlett Johansson is picking up royalties for every time her name is mentioned on this show, which has been at least 3-4 times, and definitely more than any other Avenger — even Tony Stark. Not that I mind. In fact, every time it happens, it gives me joy, like the same type of joy Eric probably gets from playing his video games. But I digress.)
In a nice little montage, each of the team members (minus Coulson) goes through the lie detector. It brings up some pretty interesting tidbits that, given the nature of this show, we should probably file away for future reference. Let’s run through them:
May: Married once. Has met Alexander Pierce, but has never heard of Project Insight.
Trip: The grandson of one of Cap’s Howling Commandos. Now, that’s interesting. I do hope that if the show gets a second season, they keep B.J. Britt on so we can learn more back story, because I’m definitely interested in this new piece of information. He’s also never heard of Project Insight, but he does admit that Garrett would get calls from Pierce once in awhile.
Fitz: No dad or siblings, just him and his mom. And if he found a random box on the beach, Simmons would be inside (awww.)
Simmons: All you guys who predicted that Simmons would say Fitz for that box answer, you’re dead wrong. It would be The Tardis, because apparently she’s a huge Who fan. (But the more important question is, who is her favorite doctor? Things we need to know!)
Skye: Is not her real name, but she has no last name. Has never heard of Project Insight. And she’s staying with S.H.I.E.L.D. because it’s the only home she’s ever known.
The result? Congratulations, Skye! As someone who was once thought to be the most untrustworthy person in this whole mess, you get a lanyard! (What do these lanyards get you, I wonder? A 4-day pass to Comic Con? Starbucks? Free food? Are they just a really shiny symbol?)
And then there’s Ward. We’re not exactly sure what’s going to happen with Ward, because we know that he’s a pretty good liar, but also that he’s going up against something that even Romanov would have issues with (I’m apparently name dropping into my own recap.) Ward shoots down knowledge of Project Insight and Pierce, and it’s actually all going pretty well, until Koenig gets suspicious. He asks if Ward’s associated with Hydra. Ward says yes, but they all are, aren’t they? (Again with the best lies being shrouded in absolute truth.) Koenig continues to press him, clearly suspicious, but Ward is really, really good. He says he’s loyal to Coulson and his team, that his “other agenda” was coming back for Skye. We know something big is going down tonight and we think for awhile that maybe, this is where it’s all going to happen. But then I guess love (or lust, rather) is enough, and he passes and…hey, what do you know? Ward gets a lanyard, too!
After procuring his fancy new hardware, he accidentally runs into Fitz, who is in kind of a state because of all his jealousy and hatred towards Trip. Playing on the bromance they’ve built up, Ward tries to tell Fitz that he should just be honest with Simmons. May, meanwhile, is more than a little upset she’s not being invited along on this mission. The polygraph cleared her, which means that she’s clean. Not so much — she may be clean, but Coulson’s still smarting from the fact that she knew about the Tahiti project and never told her. They have a heated argument in which Clark Gregg breaks my heart with his acting and at the same time, basically tells her that she can either follow his orders, or leave. Yeah, this looks bad.
On the way to find Daniels, Coulson tells FitzSimmons about Daniels’ obsession with a woman in Portland that he called “his only light in the darkness,” who was also the reason that they were able to track him the first time around. The name of that woman? Audrey Nathan (Whedonverse’s Amy Acker), the famous cellist that we first had hints of Coulson pining for in The Avengers. The whole conversation is a nice introduction to Audrey, who we see going for a nightly run, complete with a PDX Philharmonic sweatshirt. She doesn’t get very far before Daniels shows up and tries to attack her, though thankfully, Simmons & co. pull up just in the nick of time and get her into the car by telling her they’re from the CIA, while Coulson and Fitz incapacitate Daniels thanks to some drones that produce a light wavelength. But Daniels reveals that his time in the Fridge has actually made his powers stronger, not weaker, and he breaks free and disappears.
Back at the bunker, Skye catches Koenig paying really close attention to his tablet and realizes that the lanyards they’re wearing aren’t so much a cool decoration as they are tracking devices. Skye wants to hack the NSA satellites, because it would help them get footage of the Fridge and track where some of the escaped inmates went. Naturally, Koenig thinks is insane, while Ward’s backs her idea up, even though we know that if Skye were to succeed in her hacking, it would pretty much incriminate him. At any rate, he tries again to get her to access the hard drive, but fails in his efforts for a second time.
In Portland, Simmons and Trip have taken Audrey to a building where they can talk to her, while Fitz and Coulson do surveillance nearby. Audrey doesn’t buy that they’re CIA and calls them out for being S.H.I.E.L.D., because she remembers when they saved her life like this before. She goes on to talk about how Daniels first started to terrorize her by stalking her concerts, and then how Coulson showed up and saved her when Daniels tried to abduct her. Score another point for amazing casting — Amy Acker’s face when she was talking about Coulson made me realize how damn sad it is that she really, truly believes he’s dead.
Fitz is surprised that Coulson isn’t taking the opportunity to tell Audrey he’s alive, but Coulson is firm about the fact that she should rebuild her life and be safe without him, since it’s not like he can stay and protect her, anyway. Fitz does at least have an idea of how to stop Daniels: use Audrey to draw him out. Coulson’s not exactly happy with this, but Fitz convinces him anyway. Back on the Bus, Ward finds May on her way out for real. She wants to stay, but she also knows that it’s a lost cause with Coulson, since he can’t see past her lying and never will. Ward commiserates over the whole “you get orders, you follow them” thing before May admits that she knows Coulson just doesn’t want her here anymore. The team is falling apart, y’all, and with so few episodes left before the finale, I can’t help but wonder how this is all going to come to a head.
After May leaves, Ward goes to find Koenig, who is both delighted and impressed that Skye managed to succeed in her hacking. Unfortunately for Koenig, we start to realize this can’t be a good development, especially after Ward gets that really evil Hydra look on his face. As I’m trying to get over my sadness that Patton Oswalt is most likely a goner, we flash to Portland, where Coulson and Fitz are using a technology created by Bruce Banner to attempt to take Daniels down. Audrey is understandably nervous about her rendezvous with a villain, and Simmons, meanwhile, is doing a really good job of convincing her there are more than two agents watching out for her. (Maybe she’s getting better at lying after all. Then again, Fitz is really smart, so maybe he counts for two people.)
Skye comes looking for Koenig, but finds Ward instead. Ward tells her about May’s departure, and Skye plays into the thinking May didn’t care about them at all, being more concerned with her own agenda. And then the two finally have that long overdue drink along with a heart-to-heart…which, really, would be a whole lot sweeter if we knew Ward wasn’t evil. “There are things about me that you wouldn’t like if you knew,” Ward admits. When Skye asks him if he thinks he’s the only one carrying around skeletons, Ward insists that his situation is different, and oh is it ever. The whole conversation actually ends up pretty genuine, and one that puts me on the train of Ward’s feelings for Skye being legitimate despite his Hydra loyalties. There’s a kiss, and it’s really passionate, and then Skye comes away with blood on her hands from touching him, and uh, what? Cue Ward bolting, while Skye gets suspicious.
In a really awesome montage set to the classical music of Audrey’s cello, Daniels makes his approach while Skye notices Eric on the surveillance screen. After a bit of searching, she finds him dead in a storage room and while she freaks out and puts two and two together about Ward, the team uses their Banner-developed light technology to try to take down Daniels. It backfires, because Daniels is stronger than they realize, and Audrey is sufficiently freaked, passing out in all the commotion. Just as things are about to get bad, Coulson shows up and saves his lady love’s life (with a little help from Trip.) And then he promptly disappears like any good superhero after telling her unconscious form that she’s safe. Audrey wakes up to Simmons, confused because she swore she saw the man that she knew to be dead.
In the bunker, Skye is having a major breakdown over her “Ward is Evil” revelation, but manages to pull herself together and play her own game. She manages to find Ward without giving him any indication that she knows about Koenig or Hydra, and admits that she ran off before because he scared her with her feelings. (Well, that’s kind of true.) They share another kiss that Skye initiates before Ward tells her that he got word from Fitz, and that the team is in trouble which means they have to move the Bus to Portland. Like, now. It’s a smart move: Coulson, Simmons, Trip and Fitz are away, May is now gone and Koeing is dead which leaves just Skye and Ward — and who is the only one with access to the hard drive? Yep. They take off in the plane and it’s all a nice peaceful sunset ride until Skye realizes exactly what Ward doing and why he’s taking her away. Oh, Skye. Buckle up, because I don’t think your minimal S.H.I.E.L.D. training prepared you for what’s to come.
On the plane ride back, Fitz wants to know why Coulson didn’t just tell Audrey the truth. Coulson says that he will, someday, and I really hope we get that story line (Loeb and Bell, are you listening?!) But seeing Audrey has revitalized something in Coulson, who insists that when they get back, he needs to make things right with May. Whoops. Talk about too little too late. Fitz finally gets a moment alone with Simmons, who calls him out for the way he’s acting towards Trip, and Fitz tells her he hates change. But really, that’s the least of everyone’s problems…because when the team gets back, they find their plane gone.
Meanwhile, in Ontario…May is walking alone when she gets picked up by a car with an older woman who I called out almost immediately as being her mom — because who else would share those same deadpan facial expressions and responses? What does May actually want with her mom? Information on a certain someone. “You’re not the only one looking, you know,” her mom says, handing over a file. Mom then asks if she’s going to take “her” out, but May insists that she just wants to talk. Which is good, because apparently May’s mother has always liked Maria Hill.
And with that, we have Cobie Smulders’ introduction to our show next week, which I’m really excited for. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet — what did you think of the episode? Was Audrey all you hoped she would be? What are your feelings about Blackout? And what would you do for a really cool lanyard?
Line of the night: “Let’s see if being sneaky pays off.” Talk about a double meaning.