Before we get on to my thoughts on “End Of The Beginning”, I have to talk about Captain America: The Winter Soldier a little bit.
As anyone who has seen the film will know, things happen in it that simply have to have a large-scale effect on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. For the benefits of anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, the following section will be SPOILER MARKED.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
So, The Winter Soldier reveals that HYDRA had initiated and completed a wide scale infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D, and American society in general, since the end of World War Two. By the conclusion of the film, the destruction of these insidious cells basically leads to the destruction of S.H.I.E.L.D itself, or at least whatever S.H.I.E.L.D used to be.
This episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D takes place just before The Winter Soldier, evidenced by Sitwell’s departure to get on the boat where he appears as a hostage at the start of that film. The likes of the Rising Tide and the Clairvoyant could yet turn out to have some kind of HYDRA connection and there’s definite hinting of that with the latter in this episode. You’d imagine that there will have to be some kind of connection between the two things at any rate, since the audiences are bound to crossover.
More than that though, there is some potential here for a real swerve, if it were to turn out that one of the crew is a HYDRA agent as so many, like Jasper Sitwell, turned out to be. The obvious money would be May, who’s been acting fairly shady recently, or maybe even Ward, who’s so dry that it wouldn’t be too hard to pull. But there is an even better option: Coulson.
Think about that. How about Coulson finds out that he’s a HYDRA agent…or rather, he was. When Nick Fury pulled his resurrection act on Coulson and programmed his mind, he also wiped the parts of him that were once with HYDRA, since The Winter Soldier indicates Fury knew about HYDRA agents within S.H.I.E.L.D. Then we get to see Coulson try and deal with that, with the fact that he was once opposed to S.H.I.E.L.D and has seen that part of him wiped rather than redeemed. Is he the same man? Is this the ultimate betrayal or the ultimate salvation?
However, I doubt that the people behind Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D would ever be so ambitious, and it is fair to say that they’ve focused on creating their own enemies rather than relying on pre-existing ones from the canon. But what they will have to address is the destruction of S.H.I.E.L.D. It will be reborn of course – this show isn’t becoming Agents Of ???? or Agents Of Unemployment – and there’s a big opportunity for a partial reset there. Maybe the team gets grounded. Maybe they have to go on the run. Maybe they turn to combating HYDRA cells. Maybe Coulson becomes the new director of a new S.H.I.E.L.D (just in time for the build-up to his inevitable appearance in Age Of Ultron).
It’ll be interesting to see how far they’ll go in including the events of The Winter Soldier, apparently next week. Anyway, enough of that for the moment.
So, thoughts on “End Of The Beginning”:
-Just before I start, what the hell has happened with the Rising Tide anyway? “Pilot” made them sound like the big bad of the season, but we’ve barely heard a peep about them in the last while.
-Deathlok shows up in a brief opener attacking the returning Garrett and Triplett. Can’t say I’m mad about the costume, which looks like a cross between a Transformer, a Megazord from Power Rangers and those suits from the Dead Space series.
-It’s surprising to me, considering all of the crazy things that they’ve seen and put up with, that S.H.I.E.L.D’s official stance is that psychics can’t and don’t exist.
-What does Skye bring to the team, and S.H.I.E.L.D? Well, she can do data analysis really well. I don’t know, that sounds like a fairly weak justification for her employment to me. In the course of this episode she doesn’t seem to do much other than read some files and draw conclusions anyone could have.
-“Who are you and what have you done with Skye?” asks Fitz when she insists on following rules. It’s indicative of the way the Skye character has changed in the last five or so episodes.
-And she’s welcomed into the S.H.I.E.L.D fold officially. It was an OK scene, just felt a little stunted to me. I thought this would be the kind of thing that you would include late on in the final episode of the season.
-Sitwell’s off to the Indian Ocean. In a single line, The Winter Soldier is a decent adventure/conspiracy film that has some serious suspension of disbelief problems, but is worth seeing.
-At this point in the episode, I was torn between who the Clairvoyant would be. I put my money on Garrett before, but a few glances from Skye and the established amorality of Hand (from the comics anyway) had me thinking it could turn out to be either of them.
-I was really stunned to see Fitz and Simmons planning on ignoring Skye’s requests about her blood sample. Medical ethics, anyone? Seemed especially odd for those two characters.
-The enlarged gang split up into three duos. First stop is Milton Keynes, England, which had me chuckling because I remembered Bill Bailey: “Milton Keynes, Satan’s lay-by!”
-First up is Ward and Triplett, who still have this weird rivalry, seemingly for no other reason than they’re basically the same character. Their conversation is just to reinforce how much the Clairvoyant is hated and Ward’s feelings for Skye.
-May and Blake is a bit better. Blake gets to be just a bit flirty and talks about astrology. It’s like they’re setting him up for something…
-Coulson and Garrett get to be the old pros arguing about past glories, which is perfect for them. But then, ambush!
-But the actual Deathlok attack comes at the retirement home. It was a very simple action sequence, designed to show Deathlok as a slightly more substantial threat than as he appeared in the opening, inaccurate missiles notwithstanding. Poor Blake gets smushed, but survives.
-I actually noticed the bullet thing when it happened – Blake firing a few times and then reloading too early – but just put it down to a not uncommon continuity error. It’s nice when that stuff turns out to have a purpose.
-Simmons gets split off from the group. It wasn’t clear, in plot terms, why this was so, but the stuff for next week’s episode means she’ll be the odd one out, on the ground, while the rest of the drama is going on. Plus, she gets to make the googly eyes at Triplett.
-Skye narrows down some info on Thomas Nash and mentioned he was once part of a “Department H-type program”. Department H being the Canadian-specific version of S.H.I.E.L.D. Interesting namedrop. Might be something they’ll come back to.
-“You ringing the bell, or knocking?” “Knocking, of course.” I do love lines like that.
-I enjoyed the hunt through the “abandoned” racetrack building, it was a new kind of set. X-Ray Peterson looks remarkably scary and there was a nice feel of building dread.
-So, they discover the Clairvoyant, played by none other than Brad “Wormtongue” Dourif, in what is probably the easiest role he’s ever had to fulfil. He looked (and sounded) creepy and unnerving, but there was something off about this “reveal” right from the start.
-Ward shooting him was a total shock. It really doesn’t seem like the kind of conscious choice that character would make – They haven’t really done enough to show him as that besotted with Skye, that he’d murder someone who threatens her – so was he controlled to do it? Since the vegetable turned out to be a pawn, which would make Ward’s action too reprehensible really, I’m gonna say probably.
-Time for some answers from Nick Fury! Wait, a more important Marvel property is intervening. Nick Fury is one of the better parts of The Winter Soldier, if you’re interested.
-A nice sense of rising tension is created onboard the plane as Fitz discovers some lines have been tapped and Coulson confronts an unashamed Ward. A real feeling of circling the drain.
-Skye and Coulson finally come to the conclusion that a portion of the audience (including me!) came to a while ago: the Clairvoyant must be a S.H.I.E.L.D agent. No psychic powers, just the right access. It’s still, for me, either Garrett, Skye, Hand, or Ward, in that order.
-May’s own little espionage angle gets found out. I liked how it was one of the slightly lesser players who did so, and De Caestecker was great at selling his mounting fear of what he was discovering.
-One of the best visual moments of the series so far comes when May shoots Fitz, cracking the glass he’s behind at chest and forehead level. It was a really chilling way of showing how committed May was to her deception and to eliminating Fitz as a threat, even if it was a stun gun.
-The final showdown of the episode occurs. May being a spy for the Clairvoyant is a bit too easy a solution. More likely she’s answering to Fury directly about Coulson.
-Hand orders the plane brought down and the inhabitants – bar Coulson – eliminated. Why the sudden order? Either she’s the Clairvoyant or she thinks…well you’ll just have to go and watch The Winter Soldier.
-The promo for next week’s “Turn, Turn, Turn” makes it seem extremely action heavy, with “a battle for S.H.I.E.L.D’s soul”. Sounds like a tie-in for The Winter Soldier to me. Should be very interesting.
A good episode, showcasing the series’ overall rise in quality since mid-season. Things are progressing nicely and headed for even better climes. Overall rating shave dropped again, though the Nielson numbers are steady at least. Only six episodes to go.
To read my thoughts on other episodes of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D, click here to go to the index.