In this week's episode of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the team must neutralize a rogue agent.
The big conflict of the new series is secrecy versus openness. In episode 1, we saw the team try to maintain the secret identity of fledgling superhero, Mike Henderson. In episode 2, we saw how a lack of secrecy about the location of a dangerous HYDRA artifact led to a near-global crisis. Episode 3 brought the theme home, with Skye torn between a billionaire who promotes transparency to exploit scientific advances for financial gain and a spy organization that uses secrecy to harbor major weapons for unknown purposes.
But in episode 4, we see that S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't hold all of the secrets. There's another secret organization in town, and this one is capable of controlling kidnapped S.H.I.E.L.D. agents by using super creepy, super advanced technology.
Agent Coulson thought Agent Akela Amador was dead. Years ago, she failed to complete a mission because she "didn't trust her team" — a mistake Coulson never forgot. But Akela didn't die that day. She was kidnapped and, after four years in isolation, her mysterious captors equipped her with a bionic eye that can communicate with her and will kill her if she doesn't follow it's every command.
Most recently, Akela has been commanded to steal $30 million worth of diamonds. This caper is how she pops up on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s radar. Coulson fights with Agent May over reporting the situation to headquarters while May assesses Akela as a lethal loose cannon. Coulson reminds May that she could have easily wound up in the same situation. May goes to confront Akela and we get another epic Agent May fight scene.
While Fitzsimmons works on disabling Akela's bionic eye, Ward and Skye embark on Akela's final mission. Ward is able to impersonate Akela by wearing a pair of glasses with a hijacked connection to the video feed from Akela's eye.
(Let's just take a moment to reflect on Agent Ward in Clark Kent hipster glasses. Sigh.)
Homoerotic tension ensues as Akela/Ward is commanded to seduce a guard to complete the mission. Ward fails at even bromancing the fella and resorts to knocking him out. He ends up in a room with cryptic alien code written on the walls, at which point the bionic command says his mission is complete. Looks like the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. just put something nasty in the hands of this new big bad.
In the end, Akela's bionic eye is safely removed and she is returned by the agents to S.H.I.E.L.D. custody. Coulson may have saved his fallen comrade, but at what cost? I predict this nefarious secret organization will develop into this season's villain.
Easter Eggs: In this episode, Agent May noted that there is no proof of mind control. This creates some canonical dilemmas, considering the importance of telekentic powers to many of the X-Men characters. It has been confirmed that the Scarlet Witch will have a role in the second Avengers film, and her traditional origin story is that she is the daughter of Magneto, a mutant with the ability to mentally control metals. Will Whedon change that backstory the way he plans to change Ultron’s origin story (sorry Ant-Man fans)? Or perhaps Agent May doesn’t have the clearance level to know about the X-Men? While Whedon has confirmed that a cross-studio X-Men/Avengers event film is not in the cards, it’s hard to ignore such an important part of the Marvel universe.
What Works: Akela perceives something different about Agent Coulson, and it isn't just because she has a high-tech eyeball (though that's +1 in the "Coulson's a robot" column). I'm intrigued by Coulson's origins. In Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and The Avengers, Coulson was a mid-level bureaucrat. On S.H.I.E.L.D., we’ve learned Coulson led an army, romanced foreign combatants, and was a total hard-ass to new agents like Akela before his “near death.”
Did Coulson risk helping this new evil organization because he's seeking redemption for his past actions, or has something more changed about the man?
What Doesn't Work: Skye needs to learn a thing or two about consent. As many rightly pointed out on Twitter, the after-credits scene wouldn’t have made it to primetime if the genders were reversed. Consent is important, Marvel (and sexy).
Some are claiming that S.H.I.E.L.D. has finally hit it's stride. The assertion is laughable. We're only four episodes in, and most of the characters have barely been developed. As Alyssa Rosenberg at Think Progress points out, the show has a ton of wonderful ideas that it seems to be losing each episode for the sake of the procedural drama format. I, for one, hope that we're underestimating Whedon's potential to develop a formulaic drama with deep arcs (as he did with Buffy, Angel, and Firefly).
While this episode saw the team working cohesively for the first time, there are bound to be some big changes before the show finds it's footing. You can see them brewing in next week's preview: