In which we discover the history of Daniel Whitehall, and the Ward Brothers settle some unfinished business.

By Joshua Rivera
Updated November 19, 2014 at 05:34 AM EST
Kelsey McNeal/ABC

Hey, did you know that there’s only one more episode to go before Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. goes away until March? Crazy, right? While that seems like kind of a crazy long break, we’ll have Agent Carter to tide us over—and what’s more, the big-picture structure of this season is kind of really working so far. These first nine episodes of season 2 seem to function as a prelude of sorts to the 13 that’ll come in the spring—kind of like two seasons in one. And if next week’s episode sticks the landing, it could set things up to leave us in a very interesting place with the show.

I’m pretty hopeful—it’s really quite impressive at how good AoS has gotten about not wasting any time. Everything is continuing to move at a brisk and effective pace, which really helps the whole thing snap together in a way that’s quite pleasing. So what if you can see some of tonight’s plot twists coming—it’s not like the episode is really holding them over your head or anything.

That said, there are some pretty great twists and turns, some more telegraphed than others. There’s a lot happening in this episode, so let’s break it all down, one plot thread at a time.

The secret origin of Daniel Whitehall. A pleasant surprise about this episode is one we get right at the very beginning—a big part of this episode has to do with stuff that went down in 1945, which means more Peggy Carter! (I am very stoked for Agent Carter this January. I hope you are, too. But boy, do I hate the voice-over line in that ad.) As it turns out, much of this episode is concerned with the origin of Daniel Whitehall—which is interesting because I had forgotten that Coulson and the gang don’t actually know what we do—that he’s somehow the same age as he was during WWII and has been pursuing the Diviner for all this time.

This plot thread plays out like a horror story from the perspective of the monster. Whitehall—then Werner Reinhardt—has the Diviner in his possession and is taking captured villagers to his lab in Austria and forcibly exposing them to it. This kills most of them, but one woman doesn’t die—in fact, she causes the Diviner to light up. Reinhardt gleefully wants her to be dissected and cut apart to find out what makes her different—but then word comes in that The Red Skull has been defeated, and Hydra is on the move—it’s all for naught, though. Reinhardt is captured.

He then spends 44 years in captivity, finally set free as an old man by the machinations of a Senator Alexander Pierce (the Cap references are coming hard and fast), because the embedded Hydra agents have discovered something that he should see. So they take him to his old lab back in Austria, and they show him the woman from the very beginning of the episode (The 100‘s Dichen Lachman). She hasn’t aged a day.

So Reinhardt decides to finally make good on his promise—he cuts her to pieces, until he finds what made her young, and after essentially scrapping her body for parts, he uses what he’s found to make himself younger again.

Shit’s getting dark.

The Brothers Ward. Meanwhile, Christian Ward is going about the idyllic life of a United States Senator when his secret agent lethal weapon little brother bashes the window of his SUV in so he can take him on a little walk through the woods. Grant wants to take him somewhere particularly poignant—the well that he claims Christian made him throw their youngest brother in.

Thus far, both Ward brothers have given off serious damaged goods vibes, and AoS has been coy about which one is the lying snake and which is telling the truth. Today, Grant just really wants Christian to admit his version of the story is the right one, and Christian wants Grant to take responsibility for the horrible things he’s done and stop disassociating.

Anyway, this drags out for a little bit—Grant forces Christian to dig up the long-buried well, and threatens to throw him down if he doesn’t confess that he made Grant throw Tommy Ward down the well. Which Christian, fearing for his life, does. He says that he hated Tommy because their mother didn’t torture him they way she tortured them, that he resented him for that and that he wanted her to feel the pain she made them feel, but he didn’t have the courage to do it himself.

With that, Grant helps his brother up, gives him a hug, and tells them they’re good. Then they walk back home together.

The Ward family is next-level dysfunctional.

NEXT: A-hunting we will go

Secret city. Isn’t it crazy how we’ve already covered so much crazy stuff and we haven’t even gotten to the S.H.I.E.L.D. team yet? Once again, the agents are divided into two main teams—May, Simmons, Mac, Hunter, and Morse are at HQ, either digging up paperwork to piece together Whitehall’s story or interrogating his Euro Lackey (his name is Bakshi, and I guess I’ll finally use it because he’s kind of important this week).

The rest of the crew is with Coulson, as they go on a number of quick missions in Hawaii and Australia in order to prep for a big operation in the episode’s climax where they try and beat Hydra to a satellite array that will lead them to where the secret city is (it’s got to be Attilan, guys). However, this goes wrong—somehow, Hydra knows they’re coming, and takes the array personnel hostage by ambushing them. The Agents fight them off, but not before Trip takes a bullet, and one of the hostages says he’s a doctor and offers to help patch Trip up. It’s Skye’s father.

In what’s probably the best scene in the episode—and a showcase for how great Kyle MacLachlan is an absolutely perfect choice for this role—Skye’s father kneels inches from Coulson and starts to patch Trip up, but then severs an artery and clamps it shut with forceps, effectively using Trip as a bargaining chip (a bargaining Trip?) to gain leverage over Coulson. He wants to get to the city, too, and although he’s working with Whitehall, there’s a limit to his trust.

See, in the beginning of the episode, Skye’s father told Whitehall a lot about The Diviner—while Whitehall knew of its origins (we find out in the 1945 flashback that he described it as coming from “blue angels”)—he was mistaken. Whitehall believed that the aliens came to conquer Earth—but Skye’s father (he’s credited on IMDb as “The Doctor,” so I guess we can call him that) says that he’s mistaken. They came to end earth, except for a chose few—those selected by The Diviner.

What The Doctor didn’t tell Whitehall, and what he tells Coulson, is that there’s something immensely powerful hidden inside the city, something huge. He then tells Coulson how to save Trip, and uses the fact that they have to race to save Trip’s life to his advantage, making his escape.

Nonetheless, the botched job is still a success—the agents now know where the hidden city is.

Morse code. This is the episode where the Agents finally figure out what the audience has known about Whitehall from the beginning, and it’s accomplished by two things—Bobbi Morse’s interrogation of Bakshi, and the home team’s digging through Peggy Carter’s SSR records that are locked away in HQ. It’s done in a way that really ties everything together, which makes mentioning the specifics kind of redundant, but hey Bobbi and Lance—the only source of real sexual tension this show has—finally jump each other’s bones. Update your brackets accordingly.

Those dark turns get darker. So did you think the Brothers Ward were really going to get along happily ever after? Ha.

The episode ends with Whitehall talking to someone about second chances: Grant Ward. He turns on a news report, and we learn that Christian Ward and his parents died in a fire earlier that day, with a “confession” from Christian that’s really just a recording of what Grant made him say at the well. It’s a chilling scene.

At the same time, we also find out what The Doctor really wants. That woman, Whitehall butchered and used to stay young? That was The Doctor’s wife. Skye’s mother. And The Doctor isn’t going to rest until he can return the favor.

Some thoughts:

–AoS is getting really edgy of late, yeah? That scene where Skye’s mother was dissected was really graphic, and the evil guys are really evil, and no one is going out of their way to talk about how their weapons are nonlethal. This isn’t really a criticism, it’s just an observation. Do you like this darker tone?

–With each passing week, I’m more and more convinced that AoS season 2 is all about the origin of the Inhumans. That secret, powerful thing hidden in the city? That’s gotta be the Terrigen Mists, which will be the catalyst for introducing superpowers into the world. I’m really, really excited to see where this goes.

–The stinger this week is strange in that it’s pretty much an extension of what’s already happening—not a tease for what will happen. I folded it into the recap, with one exception: The Doctor is introduced by Whitehall to Grant Ward.

NEXT TIME: Agents is taking another week off before coming back for it’s midseason finale. The promo doesn’t say much, but it shows some kind of Evil May? Smart money says it’s just a coy teaser. Since the team now knows where the city is, there’s little reason for it to center around anything else. Think we’re actually going to hear someone say the word “Attilan?” I hope so. But in the meantime, check out our spoiler-heavy episode debrief with the show’s producers and speculate some more.

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