Hello there! How did everyone fare on their week away from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? Hopefully you returned refreshed and well-rested, because this week’s episode is not easing back into things. But before we dive in, a point of order: Thanks to AoS’s tightly packed plotting as of late, we’re going to break down tonight’s episodes into discrete chunks—otherwise we’d be hopping back and forth between scenes every other sentence, and that’s not fun to read. Besides, there’s some pretty big revelations and implications from this episode, so it’ll be good to talk about them as they come up, as opposed to the end. Sound good? Let’s do it.
The Coulsonundrum (Shout out to commenter Selinker for winning our first unofficial comments contest and giving us a better name for “The Coulson Mystery.” Please accept this digital No-Prize and the admiration of your peers.)
So tonight we get the big payoff to the show’s longest-running plot thread. It’s really quite impressive how the AoS creative team has managed to spin the flimsiest bit of intrigue—how is Coulson alive after The Avengers—into something with genuinely exciting implications for both the future of the show and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And they pulled it off with one of the shows darkest and most intense plots yet.
It kicks off with the hunt for the mysterious tattooed man we saw in the previous stinger—he murders a woman after carving the glyphs into her. He says it’ll “help her remember.”
Coulson and Skye find out about this in the middle of a fruitless brainstorm about what sort of map the glyphs could be—what’s more, upon seeing her image, Coulson swears that the victim was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. In order to find out more, the pair sneak into the crime scene and find in a back room a whole mess of paintings—they’re the glyphs. One of them is even inscribed “a magical place” (which I always found really hokey and annoying in season 1, but I’ll begrudgingly admit that it works here). After arranging them all out, Coulson says that she almost had the full picture—she even had some pieces that he was missing, and Skye figures out that she was, in fact, an agent: Rebecca Stevens, five years deceased from cancer.
Through the magic of television, Coulson and the Agents are able to obtain the body for Simmons to autopsy—which of course leaves her with lots of questions about GH-323 and project TAHITI that she shouldn’t know—and that Coulson can’t answer. Everything that he once knew that can help them find the killer is wrapped up in the part of his brain that was tampered with when Fury gave him the GH-323 to bring him back to life. So he makes an extremely uncomfortable decision—they use the mind machine.
In what’s probably the darkest sequence the show’s attempted so far, Coulson plunges deep into his memories to recall the first six TAHITI subjects—agents with terminal diagnoses of some sort saved by the GH-323 developed from the preserved alien body. They all recover, thanks to the serum—but then they start to lose it. A S.H.I.E.L.D. doctor thinks that this is the alien—she calls it “the host”— is projecting some kind of psychic message to the subjects: the glyphs.
But there’s no way to stabilize them, and they’re getting worse—so, against Coulson’s wishes, it’s decided that the test subjects are to be preserved. Their memories are wiped; they’re given new identities and sent out into the world none the wiser, no longer troubled by the Host’s psychic affliction. But one patient did not take too kindly to this—our tattooed man. Named Sebastian Derrick (or Derek; TV characters really should start spelling their names when they introduce themselves to one another), he’s been hunting down his fellow subjects—and there’s only one left, Hank Thompson.
Hank Thompson, as it turns out, is now a humble welder, who’s really fond of building a huge city to run model trains around with his son. This totally won’t be important later.
NEXT: The Coulsonundrum concludes!