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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 3, Episode 8 - "Many Heads, One Tale"

Daniel Rasmus

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s season three hits its "tipping point" as all the narrative puzzle pieces fall into place.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Airtime: Tuesdays, 9pm
Cast: Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Brett Dalton, Chloe Bennet, Iain De Caestecker, Elizabeth Henstridge, Nick Blood, Adrianne Palicki, Henry Simmons, Luke Mitchell
Subtitle: Season 3, Episode 8 - "Many Heads, One Tale"
Network: ABC
Air date: 2015-11-17

Sometimes football fans smell a loss and head for the exit to avoid the collective letdown and the inevitable traffic. They can also hold on to a few moments of thrill before the big loss. However, sometimes they’re shocked by a comeback, and try to get back in to see the final moments as those moments unfold. Those who left after the first big moment on this week’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. may have had that feeling if they missed the epic unveiling of so many parts falling into place.

Let’s get the big moment out of the way first: the Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) and Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) kiss. Many of us have been in the situation when one of the partners tries too hard to be “the nice one” after the other one has hurt them. When that situation explodes, from near-fawning acquiescence to confrontational acknowledgement, things get a little weird. It’s either the beginning of the end or the first checkpoint in the road to make-up sex. Simmons and Fitz are the most authentic love interests on S.H.I.E.L.D. While there is baggage, including big, extraterrestrial baggage, these two character remain completely and indelible human, which is why I think Twitter was all abuzz about Fitz finally asserting his love and initiating the big kiss.

If you thought that was the week’s big moment and you left for the refrigerator, then you missed the really big moment.

It turns out that Simmons and Fitz, at least for this week, were a side story -- kind of like a kicker setting a field goal record when a running back/receiver is setting a combined yards record. Really interesting, but not critical to this week’s win, and most people won’t be talking about it the next day. This week’s core plot focused on Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) plan -- Operation Spotlight -- designed to infiltrate the ATCU and figure out what Price (Constance Zimmer) was hiding.

Let me cut to the chase. Price, it turns out, isn’t really a bad person (probably). She wasn’t really playing Coulson, although he seems to have been playing her. What she was really hiding was her own ignorance of ATCU operations and her misguided, though understandable, trust in recruiter and mentor, Gideon Malick (Powers Boothe). Price, it turns out, didn’t know what was happening because Malick appointed himself head of the ATCU’s science division after designing the organization. The science levels at ACTU headquarters are conveniently off-limits to Price and her team, and she operates from reports made by Malick, rather than from first-hand knowledge.

Meanwhile Ward (Brett Dalton) isn’t inferring this story as Coulson and Price do, but getting it straight, so to speak, from the Hydra’s mouth. He confronts Malick, who ends his conversation leaving Ward in the capable hands of Hydra killers. Ward though, proves to have even more capable hands. In one of the coolest and creepiest scenes of the entire series, Ward ends up on a plane that will fly over the Hydra vault he wants to penetrate. While in flight, he asks for a couple of drinks and flirts with the flight attendant (Astrea Campbell-Cobb). "You ever find yourself completely out of control?" Ward asks her. She invites him to see how controlled she is during her day off in Russia, but he whispers something in her ear, causing flirtation to turn to fear, and makes a PA announcement telling passengers to return to their seats just as he ejects himself from one of the plane’s doors. He breaks into the Vault just as, by some miracle of theatrical physics, Malick has also recently arrived ahead of him.

Coulson and Price figure out that Malick is likely Hydra, that they’ve both been played, and that the ATCU isn’t what either of them thought it was. This realization is interspersed with Malick and Ward in the Hydra vault, with Malick giving Ward a history lesson that goes thousands of years before Red Skull or sacrifices in old castles. He tells of an Inhuman born to rule Earth, sent through the portal to the same Planet X world where Simmons was trapped. Hydra sends people through the portal to serve the creature. We don’t yet discover who the creature is or its various names. What we do learn is that Hydra was created for the purpose of bringing this Inhuman creature back to earth; the ATCU, as turns out, was designed to have an army ready on Earth to serve this powerful Inhuman upon its return.

We now have the set-up for a hot war of weapons and other technology between S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra, a war with the fate of humankind in the balance between Inhuman rule, if the creature returns from Planet X, or perpetuating the relative chaos of the Marvel Cinematic Universe by keeping it from coming through. Of course, there is always a third alternative, which is that S.H.I.E.L.D. fails to stop it from coming through and defeats it on the other side. I’m betting on the third option.

S.H.I.E.L.D., and Fitz and Simmons in particular, will play a crucial role for both sides, as they are the only people who have coordinated efforts, as well as the only ones in history, it seems, who managed to decode the cosmic symphony of the distant solar system enough to bring someone back through the portal.

Malcolm Gladwell might call this revelation of the narrative puzzle’s assembly a tipping point. I call it the play of the week, expertly crafted to coalesce just before the fall finale and the extra teaser on the end. Anybody who left early will be sorry. Thank God for DVRs, on-demand, and the rewind button.


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