The episode opens with a painfully cheesy flashback sequence showing Whitehall in the golden days of Hydra, around the time that Red Skull is defeated in Captain America: The First Avenger. It’s a good way to open the door for the upcoming Agent Carter, as Haley Atwell makes an appearance in this episode, but hopefully the directors of that show will do a more convincing job with the period piece than this episode of S.H.I.E.L.D. does.
The Obelisk story line is coming to a head, with the return of Kyle MacLachlan’s “Doctor” character bringing further details about the alien artifact. While educating Whitehall on the nature of the object, he refers to it as The Diviner. The reason why some people die when they touch it and others do not, is because the Obelisk is choosing who is worthy, like some sort of murderous Mjolnir. The Doctor’s goal seems to be getting someone who can hold the Obelisk to take it to a temple in the secret alien city. The “blue angels bearing gifts”, (or the Kree as Marvel fans know them) did not come to save the planet, but to conquer it. The Obelisk is meant to end mankind and allow a select superior few to survive. The only thing we can imagine on the horizon now is that once the Obelisk reaches the Temple, it will release a catastrophic event similar to what happens when the wrong person touches it, but on a wide scale. However, it could also be a more positive effect. With the Inhumans story line on the horizon, it’s possible that the item inside the Obelisk the Doctor refers to is a Terrigen crystal, which could be used to create a gene-altering Terrigen bomb. After the mid-season break, we could be looking at one or more of Coulson’s team developing special abilities along with others across the globe. I say it’s about time someone with superpowers joins the team!
Meanwhile, Coulson and his team are trying to figure out Ward’s gift to them: Bakshi. He’s works directly with Hydra’s leader Daniel Whitehall, and Bobbi Morse is tasked with Bakshi’s interrogation. She goes full Black Widow on him, and now we can see why Hunter’s relationship with her could go wrong if he becomes too paranoid. Bobbi and Hunter come face to face with their relationship as she disproves those exact paranoid thoughts, claiming she never lied to him and she didn’t recommend him to Coulson’s team as a part of some mind-game, but because she truly vouches for him. Then they hook up. Cool. Not as cool, Morse pushes Bakshi too hard and he cracks his face into the table, releasing a cyanide capsule and proving his loyalty in death. Morse luckily gained enough information to piece together the mystery of Whitehall’s age: Whitehall had a direct connection to Red Skull, meaning he was alive in the 40s. This episode finally solves that mystery.
Whitehall was imprisoned by Agent Carter’s S.S.R. and stayed in prison up until Captain America: The Winter Soldier when he’s released from prison. Back in the Hydra fold, he’s presented with a woman he met back in the 40s because she was able to touch the Obelisk, and she hasn’t aged at all. He cuts up her body in a grisly surgery scene and takes this ability for himself, reversing his own old age. The woman dies, and who do we see mourning her loss? The Doctor. Knowing that the Doctor is Skye’s father, this means we’ve just seen the death of her mother, confirming Skye’s connection to a gifted class of human, but still leaving the Doctor’s own past shrouded in mystery. At least now we know that the Doctor is not truly aligned with Hydra, but is merging his plans for vengeance against Whitehall with his plans for vengeance against Coulson.
When the Doctor finally comes face to face with Coulson, it’s not as explosive as we may have expected. Coulson launches a mission to hack into government satellite systems and locate anything on planet Earth that matches the blueprints for the alien city. It goes just a little bit wrong when Trip gets shot. Now, one of the failures of this season so far is its total waste of Trip as a character. He has no existing story arc and has been treated as an auxiliary character, finally being harvested as canon fodder by having his life put on the line. The mission succeeds despite this, so the only interesting development from Trip’s injury is an insight into another layer of the Doctor’s complex villainy. He arrives on the scene to tell Coulson he’s a doctor and can help him. However, he severs an important artery and then uses that crisis to escape after revealing to Coulson his true identity as Skye’s father. He puts Trip’s life in further danger, but then instructs Coulson on how to help Trip. While Coulson is busy saving Trip, the Doctor makes his escape. This leads me to believe the Doctor’s character is not about evil, even for as mentally unstable as he seems. He’s got a higher plan, and it all seems focused on the Obelisk, the city, and Skye.
The highlight of this episode for me, however, was Ward confronting his brother Christian. We’ve been presented with two versions of Ward’s childhood: Christian forced Ward to kill their younger brother Thomas, or, Ward killed Thomas and then blamed it on Christian. Both actors Tim DeKay and Brent Dalton perform beautifully, making it so hard to determine who might be telling the truth. It’s impossible to trust either of them, but when Ward makes Christian dig up the old well and threaten to throw him into it, Christian confesses to his sins. He claims that Thomas was the favorite and he hated him for it. Ward seems satisfied that Christian finally admitted to it, and they walk away with arms over each other. We later learn that Ward then killed Christian, and both their parents in a house fire. Um… what?
I understand that the ambiguity of Ward’s motivations is what the writers are going for. NOT showing the murder of his family is an easy way to distance the audience from Ward’s monstrous actions. We’re still left to wonder if Christian was just saving his own skin, or genuinely confessing, and now we’re likely never to know for sure, because Ward’s entire family is dead. It’s such a waste. The writers are playing this dancing game where they don’t want to commit one way or the other on the topic of Ward’s morality. Is he a good guy? Is he a bad guy? They want to paint him as an unaligned agent of chaos, but in doing so they sacrificed what could have been a moment more shocking than Ward’s initial betrayal last year. If we had gotten to know more of Ward’s family and seen their interactions, and then actually witnessing him killing them in cold blood, it could have been a monumental confirmation of Ward’s moral depravity. Yet, we’re simply left to assume that Ward was only a product of his environment, and we can view Ward as insane instead of evil.
The episode leaves off with Whitehall having a meeting with both the Doctor, and Ward. Whitehall can’t possibly know he’s dealing with two wild cards, but we do, and that raises the stakes for the mid-season finale by several bars.