A journey into General Hale's past highlights the lingering legacy of Hydra
This arc now gets its own backstory episode, à la the “what was Fitz doing this whole time?” one-off from the Lighthouse arc. This time, the focus is on General Hale, which is very welcome because she’s remained an enigma until now, despite taking on the role of Big Bad.
It’s been teased, and now finally confirmed: Hale is a tried-and-true Hydra agent (“Hale” “Hydra” … get it?) who was brought up in a special private school in an underground facility for Hydra youth. In addition to teenage Hale, this flashback also gives us a look at teenage Jasper Sitwell (nice callback!) and a young Wolfgang Von Strucker (already acting like he’s running the place). The biggest cameo of all comes from our old season 2 villain Daniel Whitehall, who in his younger days gave Hale’s Hydra class a guest lecture about particle fusion technology. When he asks who has a good idea for a substance that could be fused with humans, only Hale has an interesting answer: She suggests going to outer space, the source of the Tesseract, for any powerful new substances that could give them the upper hand in their struggle against S.H.I.E.L.D.
Whitehall is impressed, but Hale’s ambition and smarts don’t sit well with everybody. Strucker manipulates some of his lackeys into fighting her in a weight room because it sure seems like Hydra School had the same rough hierarchy as Slytherin House. Hale holds her own in the fight, but her punishment is a less-than-ideal agent placement upon graduation — even after she kills her dog, Kingsman-style! While Sitwell is sent to S.H.I.E.L.D., Hale is assigned to infiltrate the Air Force. That holds the tantalizing possibility of possibly becoming an astronaut one day. That reality never materialized, but Hale finds a way to get to space anyway.
Years later, it’s Ruby’s turn to go through the same Hydra training as her mother. It’s unclear exactly how Ruby came to life, but it’s implied she was genetically designed by Whitehall to be the perfect vessel for the particle fusion machine, and that she was carried and birthed by Hale. Ruby comes of age in a world where Hydra is flagging. Its various S.H.I.E.L.D. infiltrations have collapsed, its leaders are dead, and its resources are depleted. So Ruby feels validated arguing against the demand that she kill her dog. When her teacher grabs her furiously in response, Hale shoots him — proving that she does have some kind of maternal instinct. When you cut off one head of the Hydra, two more rise to take its place. Now, Hale and Ruby are the only two heads left.
This entire episode, you may have realized by now, is premised on various people waking up in the underground Hydra bunker and the different ways they approach it. Hale and Ruby were there as students, but the recovering General Talbot is there as a prisoner. After Talbot’s brain damage causes him to yell belligerently at his young son, Hale convinces his family to let her take him to her own facility.
We get another flashback, this time to a meeting between Hale and her Hydra superior in the Air Force, General Fisher. In this meeting, which took place shortly after the Battle of New York, Fisher informs Hale that, among the Chitauri wreckage, Hydra found a way to contact an alliance of several alien races calling themselves the Confederacy. He’s not able to tell her much more before Talbot bursts in to arrest him. Fisher swallows a cyanide pill, and Hale takes his place, with no one the wiser to her true loyalties.
In the here and now, however, Hale isn’t quite as loyal to Hydra. She thinks the existence of an alien threat to Earth demands that Hydra and S.H.I.E.L.D. put aside their old differences and present a united front for the sake of Earth. Talbot doesn’t like that, though, which brings Hale to her current prisoner: Coulson.
This episode really served to remind me how much I love Coulson. After spending the majority of the runtime with exposition and minor characters, Coulson really brings some personality to the events. He’s unfazed by Ruby’s intimidation, and his first response to the alien machine Hale uses to contact the Confederacy is simply: “Bad idea.” Nevertheless, Hale takes him along to meet the Confederacy’s representative, who tells them of a coming threat to Earth and shows them a vision of an alien battleship that could only belong to Thanos. If this really is an Infinity War tie-in, it’s happening a lot more organically than I expected!
Hale wants to use Whitehall’s particle fusion machine to make either Ruby or Daisy powerful enough to repel the aliens and demonstrate Earth’s strength. This is when Coulson realizes what’s happening: This is the plan that will lead to Daisy destroying Earth! Unfortunately, Hale doesn’t believe his story about the Lighthouse and keeps him in a cell; Ruby, for her part, is determined to take Daisy out so she can be the Destroyer of Worlds.
And then we end on a really nice note! While attaching Yo-Yo’s prosthetic arms, Simmons is told by Mack that the speedster now believes herself invincible after seeing how far she survives into the future. Simmons realizes that this same principle applies to her and Fitz. Though Fitz is still struggling with his actions as the Doctor, Simmons demonstrates (by showing him that Deke possesses a handed-down version of one of Fitz’s tools) that they are invincible. God, I love FitzSimmons.
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