Tread carefully, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans: Here be monsters.
I like giving credit where credit is due, and I can safely say that, as someone who has been a fan and viewer since season 1, tonight’s game-changing reveal was on par with the great “Ward is Hydra” turn of 2014. I didn’t see it coming, and maybe I’m alone in that. But when a show can blindside me completely with a narrative that is interesting and unsuspecting, I have to give it props.
Before we get to those big moments, though, let’s start with something important: Andrew Garner is alive. Not only that, he’s alive enough to talk and give May and Coulson the rundown on what happened when Werner von Strucker tried to kill him. He tells them about the men who followed him, who Coulson correctly calls out as being Hydra. Turns out that Coulson had his own S.H.I.E.L.D. agents tailing Garner, which is how he got lucky: The agents gave him time to find cover, but just barely. (The way this scene was shot, with May watching the medics work on her husband, was incredibly reminiscent of Black Widow, Cap, and Maria Hill watching a dying Nick Fury in Winter Solider…at least for me.)
May’s still pissed at Hunter for putting Garner’s life in danger, and her anger’s not unwarranted. Unsurprisingly, Coulson pulls Hunter off the assignment while May puts herself on, because now she’s going after Ward, hell or high water. At least there’s one positive thing that comes out of Garner’s near-death experience: May’s back. I mean, really back. She’s got the Hunter “out for blood” thing going and takes it to the next level by “recruiting” Bobbi to help her in the way only S.H.I.E.L.D. agents can: by forcing her into a sparring session. As much as I enjoyed Scientist Bobbi Morse, I cannot express how happy I am to see my favorite character back in the field, kicking butt, and being an active part of the team again. (And those fight scenes in this week’s episode just proved that. Give me an entire episode of Bobbi and May undercover, please.)
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Meanwhile, there’s a lot of frustration and anger happening on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Ward is trying to figure out what happened to his protégé, and he’s pissed at Kebo for letting S.H.I.E.L.D. find him. Kebo, in turn, is pissed at Ward for letting Werner take on such an intense job because, if he’s alive, he’s now most likely on the run with dangerous information, which makes him a liability. Skye is pissed because of Lash’s recent attack and has realized that his shapeshifting alter ego is definitely someone working within the ATCU. Oh, and she’s also pissed because Coulson is getting a little too cozy with Rosalind. The two are off on their own for most of the episode, with the intention of exploring Rosalind’s home base (even though Coulson still won’t tell her where S.H.I.E.L.D.’s home base is), but their day is interrupted by an emergency. Coulson calls her out for her hypocritical views on secrecy and refuses to leave, so Rosalind takes him home to her apartment, which they find out has been broken into. He does his obligatory spying (a lot of art posters, brand new furniture, and a LOT of biographies of Margaret Thatcher) before Rosalind tries to appeal to him by offering burgers from his favorite restaurant. The gesture has the opposite effect: Coulson believes she staged a break-in, and Rosalind accuses Coulson of using his own guys to do the job. So many trust issues! Fed up, Rosalind finally relents, bringing Coulson to the facility.
NEXT: My name is Lance Hunter, and I have anger issues
With Hunter off the Ward case and Bobbi off with May, the guy attempts to make himself useful. He tries to buddy up with Fitz, who is helping his friends with their undercover op in between doing portal work. They get into a talk about Fitz helping Will, which Hunter is not okay with for all the reasons that most people probably wouldn’t be. Fitz won’t budge, though. Will helped Simmons, and Fitz believes he owes him. So competition be damned, Will deserves his help. Fitz is such a good person, you guys. It hurts.
When Fitz all but pushes him away, Hunter attaches himself to Daisy and Mack instead. Mack has pegged Rosalind’s right-hand man, Luther Banks, as Lash, thanks to Daisy’s ATCU theory. And it turns out that Banks, who was part of an elite anti-alien task force after New York, is someone you probably don’t want to cross. The perfect candidate to be an angry, killing Inhuman! The three decide to stake him out on their own mission, despite the fact Daisy and Mack are still angry about Garner. Bless this partnership: Daisy and Mack soon realize that they have no idea how to really track this guy, other than waiting to see if he randomly shapeshifts. While Mack and Daisy want to be stealthy (especially with Coulson currently embedded in the ATCU), stealth has never been Hunter’s way of doing things. He takes matters into his own hands and runs out of the van and ices the guy. (“Come on!” Daisy yells, and I laugh because I would have yelled the exact same thing.) No one thinks shooting Rosalind’s No. 2 is a particularly good idea, but Hunter’s actually being smart for once: Inhumans have markers in their DNA, so if they test Banks’ blood, they’ll know whether or not he’s Lash. Even Daisy admits that’s kind of smart, though she almost takes the compliment back after Hunter punches Banks in order to get the blood sample. (No, Hunter does not want to talk about his anger issues, thank you very much. He’s just FINE.) I have to admit, I kind of like Hunter because he’s increasingly unapologetic. Sure, his methods are a little violent and unorthodox, but that doesn’t mean he’s heartless. (Okay, maybe he could use a little more empathy.) He’s just trained to be tactical, and he does his jobs the way he’s used to — and as long as he’s successful, he doesn’t care whether that fits protocol or not. Which is why he’s not backing down about the decision to shoot Ward, even though everyone else would’ve probably thought first and acted second.
Mack, Daisy and Hunter go through Banks’ things. (No selfies, but he does shop at Costco!) His phone goes off with a message about a place called Endotech Lab in Gaithersburg, and the three decide to go check it out. It’s heavily guarded, so Daisy uses a new drone from Fitz to get inside. It’s so new it even has stealth mode! (See, we can be stealth after all.) Daisy gets a call from Simmons saying Banks has no Inhuman markers — i.e. he’s not Lash. Dejected and in anattempt to save the day from being a total failure, they continue to monitor what Banks was supposed to be here for: a delivery. Daisy catches people unboxing cartons that look they’re holding humans and realizes this must be where the ATCU is storing its Inhumans. When they spy further, they see Coulson and Rosalind standing around together…and Daisy is not happy. Yeah, there’s no way she’s working with the ATCU after this, so good luck, Coulson.
But all is not what it seems, and this is part of why Rosalind didn’t want to tell Coulson about what they were doing. Rosalind and the ATCU are treating the Inhuman gene like an illness, one that they’re trying to find a cure for, so people can live their lives in peace. Plot twist! Turns out this all comes from a personal place: Rosalind’s own husband died of cancer a few years ago, and this a way to try to help others when she couldn’t help him. Coulson is unexpectedly touched by this show of humanity, and I think it’s interesting to see the two leaders displaying different sides of the coin when it comes to how to survive in this industry. Rosalind is doing anything she can not to cut herself off because she believes it’s important to have feelings, while Coulson thinks the only way to get the job done is to stop feeling entirely. (Oh, and Rosalind does want Coulson to like her. Although we’re obviously building towards an ATCU-versus-S.H.I.E.L.D.-versus-Coulson-versus-Rosalind-versus-Daisy showdown, I really, really hope we don’t go the love-interest route here. It’s so much more interesting without it.)
NEXT: I hear the Grand Cayman Islands are beautiful this time of year
While May and Bobbi prepare for their mission, they figure out that transfer student “Alex” is actually von Strucker’s son. He’s alive and on the run, having cleaned out a recent Hydra bank account, and May correctly thinks that if they find him, they can find a link to Ward. Turns out Werner is actually hiding out in a penthouse in Portugal with Gideon Malick (Powers Boothe), a powerful Hydra menace who once worked with his father. (Although he never left his hologram, Powers Boothe played one of the original World Security Council members in The Avengers. Notably, the one who was adamant about launching a missile into Manhattan.) The poor kid doesn’t know where to turn, but don’t worry — Malick will handle everything. (P.S.: Werner thinks Ward is scary? Clearly, he’s never met someone like Red Skull. Or Zola. Or Alexander Pierce, for that matter.) True to his word, Malick calls up Ward, who isn’t at all intimidated by Malick’s Hydra past. Malick offers him a chance at redemption, a chance to fix the mistakes he’s made in the game by involving unprepared people like von Strucker’s son. A confident Ward rejects Malick’s proposal, even when Malick says he knows where he can find the kid, who S.H.I.E.L.D. is also conveniently looking for. “Sometimes,” he tells the budding Hydra leader, “you sacrifice a player to play the game.”
May and Bobbi show up at the bank under the guise of wanting to open Ms. Wong (May’s) safe deposit box. (The two most important things about this scene: Bobbi’s undercover glasses, and May and Bobbi trading conversations in Mandarin.) But when Bobbi uses one of Fitz’s devices to find the actual safe deposit box belonging to Hydra, they trigger an alarm that has the bank manager and the guards cornering them in the vault. May’s first instinct is to fight, but Bobbi takes the opposite route: Using information Fitz is feeding her through her glasses, she sweet talks them long enough to almost get out of trouble. When May sees a guard going for his gun, though, the channel gets changed to the Melinda May Badass Hour. Later on, May corners Bobbi about why she chose the safe route rather than the attack route back at the bank. She assesses that Bobbi is hiding behind her medical tests and holding back because she doesn’t think she’s strong enough to fight anymore. May rallies her confidence by telling her about how she scouted her at the Academy before she became an agent (and I really need THAT backstory now) and shares her own Bahrain experiences. She knows what it feels like to regress due to a personal loss. And she’s not going to let Bobbi go there.
Thanks to Malick, Ward has gotten to Werner first, but May and Bobbi easily interrupt the love fest that is Hydra beating the crap out of the kid and gloriously disarm all the agents in a sequence that reminds me why I love these ladies so much. Bobbi finally gets her due, taking on Kebo in a duel that shows us why no one should ever underestimate the BAMF that is Barbara “Bobbi” Morse. And for all her fighting skills, it’s experience and smarts that help Bobbi succeed — she uses her batons to electrocute Kebo in the pool. May, meanwhile, is trying desperately to get Werner to tell her about Ward before he either passes out or dies. (I don’t think they’ll let him die, though… Based on Malick’s conversation earlier, it’s clear that they have plans to keep him alive for a greater purpose.) Werner tries to apologize for what happened, telling May, “I didn’t know he changed into that thing.” And as we watch May’s horrified face, we get the actual story of what happened the day that Garner was attacked and the reason behind why he ultimately survived a little too well.
Garner. Is. Lash.
Like I said: credit where credit is due. While I’ve mulled over the fact Garner may be an Inhuman, I never would have pegged him for Lash, and this reveal caught me off guard. Obviously, now everything makes sense: the fact that he hasn’t yet killed Daisy (something Daisy asks him about point blank, along with asking about his shapeshifting skills) and also the fact that he’s so interested in finding Lincoln. (That last scene, where we see Daisy willing to offer up Lincoln’s whereabouts because, as Garner notes, “he’d be safer here,” made me cringe. Don’t do it, Daisy!) Much like when we learned Ward was Hydra, looking back at all the interactions and choices Garner has made in light of this new knowledge suddenly adds a different perspective to our stories. How will this affect his relationship with May? What about the fact that he and Simmons have been bonding over therapy and PhDs? Is Garner really, truly evil inside, or is just Lash that’s the problem? (We’ve already done the Jekyll and Hyde thing, so I’m guessing we’re not going to go there twice.) Moreover, if Garner has been vetting Inhumans since the beginning, how many has he actually killed or put on a list when he realizes they’re not “worthy” enough? Do we even want to know?
- This was our first real good look at Lash, and I have to say, it’s pretty spot on from the comics.
- I feel like there should be a theory about Coulson having more secrets than he let on — and that he actually does know about Garner/Lash. Was it coincidence that he had two agents tailing him that day? Did Coulson just buy his story about that because of the situation? I don’t think based on everything we’ve seen so far Coulson would be that cruel, since people he cares about have been in danger because of this thing, but you never know. (Personally, I’m all about dark turns, if the show ever wanted to take Coulson into the bad-guy area.)
- For now, the background of Gideon Malick is being kept in the dark. What we do know is he’s a shadowy figure of Hydra who has ties to Baron von Strucker, and whose loyalties definitely lie somewhere evil. But how deep and involved he is remains to be seen.
- Poor May. First, she has the most terrible guilt thinking that everything that happened with Garner was her fault. Now, she has to try to figure out how to deal with the fact that her husband is the monster that’s been killing people. Does this mean we’re getting some kind of Garner backstory soon? May obviously doesn’t know, and they were married, and I’d be interested to know exactly how Garner came into being an Inhuman and what his life was like before he met her. (Or did he get his powers while they were together?)
- According to Fitz, there’s been little progress on the portal simulations and nothing so far as worked. Simmons is disappointed, but Fitz assures her the monolith was just one option. They’re not giving up. I love everything about this scene until we find out Hunter’s earlier talk has obviously affected Fitz, who is doing his own research on Will in his down time. I’m all for Fitz taking this in a protective way — researching to make sure he has no bad blood in his background so that Simmons doesn’t get hurt. But if we’re going the jealousy route, I’m hoping there’s going to be more to it than simply Fitz thinking he can’t compete with Space Boyfriend. This pair has been through far too much for that, and in my opinion, that plotline would be a disservice to both their characters.