Last season Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (to be hereafter referred to Agents) left us with a shattered intelligence agency, injured team members, and more traitors than allies. Most of the first season wound up feeling more killing time than action packed story-telling–probably because the production crew knew that Captain America: Winter Soldier would bring S.H.I.E.L.D. to the ground–something with which Agents would have to cope. The last few episodes of the season, Coulson’s team had to contend with the collapse, with traitors in their midst, and then stop Agent Garrett. The team saved the day, but not without losses.
Season 2 picks up a few months after last season’s close. Throughout the episode we’re given little updates on our main team. For starters, Skye is doing field work with Trip and Mae. Agent Barkley (Lucy Lawless’s character) is a new face on the show, but she’s an undercover operative with a team of mercenaries. Coulson isn’t around. He’s been looking for agents, out recruiting and having to meet with people face to face in order to ‘get a read on them.’ Fitz and Simmons are working in the lab on cloaking technology and identifying metal for their most recent mission.
All on the surface looks slightly problematic. Scratch the surface and the raw pain comes through.
The first symptoms of the pain? Fitz. The beginning of his scene shows him withdrawn, but that’s a bit of a false start. He communicates, but sometimes he pauses to search for the right word. When the metal they brought back begins to bleed, Fitz asks Mae, “Can you see that?” The relief that comes over him when she does is palpable, suggesting that in the interim months, Fitz has seen many things that others haven’t.
More pain follows. We finally see Ward. He’s locked up in the new base’s basement and demanding that if he’s going to talk, it’s going to be to Skye. When she’s finally forced to face him for the first time in months, she notices the self-inflicted injuries. Ward went through a ‘dark patch’ (I think those were his words), and the way he flinches when Skye references his murders suggests that he might not be through yet.
Skye is hurting, too. She doesn’t want to talk to Ward, but she does. She follows orders without question in this episode. We see the way the rest of her team, but Skye’s pain comes through with Chloe Bennet’s performance more than any actions and lines. Overall, though, she’s calmer and interjects less thoughts.
Then there’s the plot–We find out that Talbot has only sent Hydra off into the dark. Agent Berkley commands one of her subordinates to cut off her arm in order to save her life. Meanwhile Mae, Trip, and Skye continue on towards their other prize of the mission, even though they’re pinned down. We’re led to believe that not everyone makes it out of this encounter alive–with Agent Berkley’s SUV flipping and most likely killing her and one of her subordinates.
At the climactic moment, Coulson reveals even more. That while we knew SHIELD would have to downplay their existence, that SHIELD needs to ‘disappear’ and ‘operate from the shadows.’ In that speech, we learn that Simmons has been gone and that Fitz is deteriorating. He’s gotten worse.
Darkness isn’t only in play with the plot and character development. The warehouse for the undercover job, the new base, Ward’s cell, the base they break into, all feature dark rooms with only just enough lighting to see. Added on top of that, everyone’s favoring dark clothing, making the bright blue uniform Trip and General Talbot wear a fantastic pop of color.
Word choice hints at the darkness, too. Hydra has ‘slithered,’ SHIELD has to ‘fight from the shadows,’ a focus on stealth technology, the cell wall becomes ‘opaque,’ the command for an abort mission is to ‘Go dark.’ While out of context the choices are obvious, they repeat the motif in the episode.
We are given one shining moment of hope, though. Skye, Trip, and Mae are successful at stealing their objective. Coulson gives a rally idea in his speech–that SHIELD will fight on to honor those they’ve lost. While it isn’t much, it’s what SHIELD has to hold onto.
Honor and duty–if those remain SHIELD’s first two stones in its reconstruction, there may be hope for them yet.