High-stakes spy games, dancing on the edge of evil, and musical montage cheeriness. Jemma Simmons is back and better than ever. I left off last week wondering if the whole Hydra defection was a red herring, and sure enough, Simmons is working an undercover assignment for Coulson. We’ve gone two episodes without the real Simmons, and there was no better way to reacquaint us with her than by following along with her morning routine as Stuart Murdoch’s (of Belle and Sebastian) “God Help the Girl” breezes her right into the belly of the beast. Simmons left Fitz and the rest of the team to work in a lowly Hydra laboratory, climbing her way up through the ranks of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s rival organization.
Her perspective behind enemy lines leads right in to the episode’s subject matter: a familiar face from season one, Donnie Gill. Last season, we saw him being carted off to the Sandbox prison with newly acquired freezing powers, and we learn that he’s been a Hydra target ever since. S.H.I.E.L.D. gets the tip from Simmons that he’s on Hydra’s to-do list and they race to get him first. Coulson even authorizes use of lethal force if they fail to win. If May and Skye can’t take Gill in, they have to take him out. It raises the question of whether or not S.H.I.E.L.D. is any better than Hydra when it comes to dealing with the “gifted.” Both organizations employ that protocol – acquire or destroy. Ultimately, Skye ends up pulling the trigger on Gill, though his final fate is left ambiguous as he sinks to the ocean floor while his body turns to ice. Could we see him again?
The highlight of the episode is undoubtedly Fitz coming face-to-face with Ward for the first time since his betrayal. Ward claims that what he did was an effort to save Fitz, and in response, Fitz lowers the oxygen in Ward’s chamber in a terrifying act of retribution. Fitz shows Ward what he had done to him, first-hand. Had this been done coldly, as an act of pure revenge, the scene wouldn’t have been as important. However, Fitz was teetering on the edge of a full-blown panic attack, obviously dealing with real pain. Despite all of the team’s efforts to strike back at Ward, he keeps offering his help. Ward was loyal to Garrett, and now that he’s dead, Ward has no allegiance to Hyrdra. That also means he has no allegiance to anyone at all, which makes him a total wild card in the event of his escape or release – however it goes down.
By the end of the episode, we see Simmons being drawn deeper into Hydra and being tested in the field. It’s Simmons as we’ve never seen her before, separated from Fitz and playing her own game. Frankly, it’s just really awesome. Skye says she’s a terrible liar, but Simmons has obviously come into her own as a double agent. Telling Hydra leader Bakshi straight-up that her loyalties are with science was a bad-ass move, and didn’t involve any lying. Likewise, Fitz develops as his own character, banishing the Simmons hallucination just before his confrontation with Ward. There’s this overlapping sense of independence between every character. Ward is imprisoned, Simmons is undercover, Fitz is isolated and somewhat incapacitated, and Coulson is shouldering the responsibilities of Director. When Skye confesses to May, “It reminds me of before” while on board the old Bus, it resonates with us. Things have changed, the team isn’t what it used to be.
I say, keep the changes coming. It’s only the third episode of the season and we’ve seen tons of new characters, awesome superpowers, and small-screen baddies who are actually on par with Marvel’s big screen villains. The preview for next week’s episode: Coulson and May dancing the tango? Seems like the show might backpedal a bit and abandon gritty intensity in favor of the old first season hi-jinks. Can’t wait!