As we finally get to see S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Hub, we are introduced to Victoria Hand (Saffron Burrows), and even get to see Jasper Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernández) from the Marvel shorts again, but more importantly, we get to see how Coulson’s team fits into the mix of S.H.I.E.L.D as a whole. As Agent Fitz and Agent Ward a drafted into a Clearance Level 8 mission, to destroy some sort of… thing, the rest of the team is left in the darkness of secrecy that surrounds S.H.I.E.L.D.
Again, we get a very character centric episode, which was a welcomed experience after last week’s solid showing. The characters and their interactions with one another are finally getting the right amount of focus, and are just about the only thing that makes this show interesting at all. Unfortunately, it turns out, a show about the people behind the scenes of S.H.I.E.L.D. is roughly as boring as it sounds, but these characters have the capability to save it. The main storyline of the episode, as well as one of the juiciest little bits we’ve gotten from the show yet, is Fitz and Ward on their mission. As I’ve already mention, I’m still not even really sure what the hell their mission was, but I didn’t really need to, as these two playing off of each other was much more entertaining and worthwhile. They could have been teaming up to unclog a toilet, and it would have been equally enjoyable, and I mean that in a good way. Actually, I’d like to see them tackle the plumbing aboard Coulson’s plane next– make it happen, Whedon!
Agent Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) plays the “hopeless loser” to a T. He’s not your typical secret agent, and when he gets his cart stuck in the automatic door, you really get a sense of how unlucky, and physically talented this guy isn’t, which is a stark contrast to Coulson’s second in command, Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton). While they are two parts of a highly specialized team, this scenario highlights the already obvious difference in the skillsets of Fitz and Ward. Right off the bat, it’s clear that the severely underequipped Fitz would come to save Ward in the end (I wrote this halfway through the episode and I’m just curious to see if I’m right or not. (I was.)), it doesn’t make the time that we spend with these two any less valuable; they have great chemistry. When Fitz calls out Ward on his desperate need to save the day, and busts out the line “Now, you’ve destroyed the world’s most dangerous sandwich, congratulations!” I nearly lost my shit.
I can’t stress enough how much I enjoy Iain De Caestecker portrayal of Fitz, and it honestly is what motivates me to still watch this show. On a serious, on a comedic level, and on an emotional level, De Caestecker seems to just leave the rest of the cast behind. Maybe this is because of how little he’s been on screen thus far, but I think tonight disproved that idea, as he blew it away yet again, and made me happy that I watched. Ward’s normal badassery of course makes an appearance, and while it may be overshadowed by his story with Fitz and their growing friendship, it had its place and was appreciated, but it’s something that we’re getting used to. What I found most interesting, though, is how these two developed a deeper respect for one another with the thought that they will most likely be competing for Skye’s affection somewhere down the road. It seems inevitable, and while it’s nowhere near a concrete story thread, it’s heavily hinted that both men are harboring some pretty serious feelings for their teammate, and that’s got me excited. What will it mean for Fitz-Simmons when Fitz is pining after Skye, when Simmons is clearly wanting more than just friendship from him? That’s an interesting road to take, and I see them working toward it more and more each week.
Another plot point is the episode is that, even though two people from the group have been granted Level 8 clearances, the rest of the group is left to sit helplessly, wondering just what they might be getting shielded from (see what I did there?). Like Fitz and Ward, we get more of the same in contrasting personalities, albeit in much less entertaining form, from Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) and Skye (Chloe Bennet). You don’t realize how little we’ve seen these characters interact in these set pairs until tonight’s episode, but it was nice to see them mix it up from the usual Fitz-Simmons, Skye-Ward, and even Fitz-Skye. The girls don’t get to do a whole lot, other than digging into what S.H.I.E.L.D. is hiding, and getting into some major trouble with Agent Coulson in the process. Of course, Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) continues in her predictable role as the by-the-book veteran, and while her scenes with Coulson can be fun, it’s strictly because of Coulson and his questioning of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s MO. There’s a little hint at the end of the episode that we may be seeing a bit more of who she is, other than Coulson’s moral compass, so maybe she’ll develop into a character that’s more relatable than the dull crap we are getting now. Am I the only person who can’t stand her?
An interesting facet of this episode that we hadn’t yet seen before is that there is a different line of command when the team enters The Hub. The buck doesn’t stop with Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) like we’re used to seeing on the show; we see what there is a lot that’s outside of his control. Throughout the episode, he’s in a constant competition with Victoria Hand, and unlike what we’re used to seeing, he doesn’t have the final say here. Unlike his off-the-books team, the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D. seems like a nightmare of restricted intel, red tape, and constant politicking. Coulson himself has grown to like the freedom of the system that they have on his plane—a system where everyone is on the same page, and there isn’t all of the red tape that comes with being an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Aside from that thread, we’re also let in on what some of the other higher-ups in the organization think about Coulson getting his own little team, and the apparent favoritism that Nick Fury shows Coulson. For the most part, it doesn’t seem like anyone else likes it, especially Ms. Hand, which should surely lead to some butting of heads in the future.
All in all, tonight’s show was fun; it wasn’t as complex or engaging as I’d like, but the characters saved it this week, yet again. In fact, it’s getting to the point that I’m worried about next week’s episode, which will center on the aftermath of Thor: The Dark World, because they’ll be focused heavily on the story. I can only hope that they don’t let the connection to the movie carry the episode, and that they stick to what they’ve built with the team, and the natural chemistry that they’ve got going for them. Truth is, it seems like the show does a lot better when they make the story secondary, and focus instead developing the characters; there’s a reason these stories aren’t featured in a movie, and it’s because no one would care. It’s behind-the-scenes because it should be. Their story, whether they know it or not, is in Coulson and his crew. Yes, they’re that good.