The follow-up episode to last week’s season premiere did little to disappoint. Picking up right from the cliffhanger, we learn the fates of the car crash victims and jump right on the trail of Crusher Creel. It felt like the second half of a natural two-parter, and this one was much more exciting and climactic.
The ensemble dynamics associated with Joss Whedon’s projects always amaze me. It feels like there shouldn’t be enough time for the amount of attention each character gets. True, some take the front stage more than others in certain episodes, but it there’s systematic shifting. In this episode, it’s regrettable that so much time was spent on newcomer Lance Hunter, who seems to be even more generic than early Ward – just British. The twists in his story arc weren’t exactly shocking either, and were easy to figure out just seconds after they happened. As a device to give Coulson new recruits in this bare-boned version of S.H.I.E.L.D., then yeah, he works. But there hasn’t been much done to make us care about him, especially when we didn’t get enough time with Lucy Lawless’ character whose death he mourns so intensely.
Hunter aside, we get good chunks of Coulson, Fitz, and Mack. Mack is a new character that I’m welcoming more warmly than Hunter, because he’s a good guy who’s making an honest effort to connect with an increasingly troubled Fitz. Some may think he’s replacing Simmons in the way that Hunter could be replacing Ward, but there’s a definite difference in the way Mack and Fitz interact, beyond being tech buddies. While Fitz’ teammates and friends avoid him, Mack is drawn to him not out of pity, but because he recognizes Fitz still has a lot to offer to their cause. If it wasn’t for Mack’s faith in Fitz, the team wouldn’t have been able to take down Creel in the climax. Coulson is still dealing with his leadership role while trying to keep his cool together. We find out at the end that he and May are trying to manage his peculiar condition: compulsively carving alien symbols onto the wall, or bending paperclips into geometric shapes when he’s stressed. This is very, very important. Half of the attention the show was getting in the beginning was Coulson’s sudden resurrection into the MCU. Creating repercussions for that keeps his storyline engaging. With one mystery about Coulson’s renewed life gone, another is introduced. It’s an important necessity to keep the show going.
This episode did a lot for the antagonists too. Not only did we get to see more of Creel and the show’s vastly improved visual effects (check out that slow-mo bullet angle!) but we see the return of Talbot, a surprise appearance from Raina, and the introduction of Kyle MacLachlan’s new character, which I could not be more excited about. It’s been nice to see Talbot in these episodes because we don’t get enough crossovers with the Hulk franchise, and Adrian Pasdar’s been a favorite of mine ever since his role on NBC’s Heroes. Raina is a welcome return with her mystique and moral ambiguity. Her reintroduction promises some answers to all of the show’s cosmic teasing. Now with Kyle MacLachlan appearing as a man behind the curtains, someone who could only be Skye’s father, we could be close to seeing a lot of dangling threads from season 1 start to tie up. We know Skye is related to the Obelisk, the original 084 Kree body, and Coulson’s madness. We just don’t know how yet.
The show seems to have a stronger sense of what it is. It’s moved on from the week-to-week missions to embark on an epic struggle against multiple foes – Hydra, the government, ex-SHIELD, old enemies, dangerous superpowers, and whatever cosmic threat lurks behind the scenes. Out of chaos comes beauty, as every element connects together and builds a bigger, more intricate web each week. Next week’s previews show the return of real Simmons, not hallucination Simmons, as a Hydra agent. Which is completely out of the blue, and really confusing, but I have a feeling it’s not what it seems. Guess we’ll have to wait and see!