Agents of SHIELD: Providence review

The tables have turned on Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, and HYDRA could be anywhere...and anybody. Here's our review.

It’s a whole new ballgame for our favorite super spies, as there is barely a SHIELD to be agents of. “Providence” promises some interesting developments as some old comic book favorites enter the picture and Agent Ward continues to “Hail HYDRA!” The rat.

We begin with the Girl in the Flower Dress, Raina, making an origami flower in her cell. It’s been awhile for Raina, the character that came closest to being a recurring villain before Garrett and Ward. Ward brings her a flowered dress before springing her from the hoosegow. You have to admire her for sticking to her gimmick so tenaciously. Man, if this was a DC show the fan certainty that she was really Poison Ivy would be deafening. Well, she can’t be Plant Man, so she remains the mysterious Girl in the Flower Dress and she’s back.

The episode proper begins with Coulson and Skye watching a news report that is delivering all sorts of Captain America: The Winter Soldier spoilers. Coulson is determined to take down HYDRA which is a welcome change from the doubt and twitchiness we had to endure for oodles of episodes. He is now the Coulson fans were certain he would be coming out of his death in The Avengers. Coulson is every inch the SHIELD Agent and is really the torchbearer for SHIELD, an organization in ruins.

SHIELD is trying to rebuild…but so is Hydra. In a nice call back to some classic comic moments with a profane twist, Ward brings Raina to meet Garrett in a barber shop. Remember the thousands of classic comics with the trick barber chair that lowers into SHIELD HQ? Yeah, that happens, but the show twists it into a HYDRA gimmick. As for Raina, she is shocked and somewhat disappointed that Garrett is a double agent running a con and not a true clairvoyant. See what happens when there are concrete villains in the show? Things become more interesting. Thank god the gimmick villain of the week thing is in the past and we can sink our teeth into fully realized bad guys like Raina, Ward, and Garrett.

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Welcome to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Glenn Talbot. The long time Hulk foil (and his mustache) makes his debut as he contacts Coulson and expresses the concern of the U.S. military over the recent fall of SHIELD. Coulson knows Talbot’s rep, as does every old school Hulk fan, and is concerned that this could lead to a bunker buster.

The new status quo seems to be that the team is now the “Agents of Nothing,” as Skye calls them. Skye is concerned about Ward, who is no doubt kicking a puppy or putting Game of Thrones spoilers on the internet as we speak. Skye plays right into Ward’s hands as she calls him on an unsecured line and lays out all of Coulson’s plans. About as black-ops savvy as Barney Rubble this Skye of ours. Ward seems to be vacillating as he is having second thoughts about bringing down the Agents because of his feelings for Skye.

As Skye is bonding with Ward and giving away just about everything of import, Coulson reveals some of his past as he gives up his badge. Now, he must be Coulson the man, not Coulson the agent. When Tony Stark quipped “I thought your first name was agent” in Avengers, it was more than just a joke, as Coulson’s etire identity is wrapped up with being an Agent of SHIELD. How would he live just being Phil, Agent of Nothing?

Thankfully, he won’t have to find out, as a mysterious set of coordinates appears on his badge which Coulson knows had to come from Nick Fury. Coulson’s loyalty to Fury is his defining trait and he is rewarded for that loyalty. May thinks Coulson is cuckoo for believing Fury is alive…and she has a point as Coulson could have been compromised by the operation that brought him back to life. The idea that Coulson could be a HYDRA sleeper brings some nice super spy paranoia vibes as Coulson cannot even fully trust himself.

Ward has the same loyalty to Garrett as Coulson does to Fury. Ward reveals that all his brave acts, all his acts of bravery were designed to make the Agents trust him. Sleeping with May was designed to throw her off the track of his true nature, so all that time Ward seemed like a one-dimensional pretty boy was intentional to throw viewers off about Ward’s hidden villainy. 

Ward and Garrett infiltrate the Fridge and sucker the most gullible SHIELD agents in creation to let them in. A solid action sequence follows as Ward kills both guards in cold blood. There won’t be any redemption for Ward at the end of this. Garrett and Ward bust into the Fridge’s toy closet, and now HYDRA has control of major supervillain tech. I wonder if Porcupine’s suit is in there?

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When the Agents get to the coordinates, there is nothing waiting. Coulson must undergo a crisis of faith as he is greeted with an empty landscape. If he can’t serve SHIELD, what is he? If those coordinates are a dead end, what purpose does the world hold for his? When Coulson gives up and tosses his badge in rage, he is awarded by a turret gun blowing it away. Coulson bravely steps in front of the turret and the door opens. Sometimes, faith pays off, at least when it’s faith in Nick Fury.

Skye continues to screw everything up by talking to Ward but it turns out, she made a great play by encoding all the info on the hard drive Ward stole and now HYDRA can’t have access to the secret of the alien blood. This is where Raina comes in as she must find that secret before SHIELD.

Coulson and company enter the hidden base which is run by Patton Oswalt’s Agent Eric Koenig, boy; he must be in his glory doing this show…and he doesn’t even have to play MODOK. An awesome little back and forth between Koenig and Coulson follows and it s revealed that Coulson plays Call of Duty…awesome! Koenig reveals that Fury is alive and Coulson’s team can’t know.

In case you’re keeping score, the people who know Fury is alive are Captain America, Black Widow, Sam Wilson, Koenig, Maria Hill, and, as Koenig says a few others, which I’m thinking means Hawkeye and maybe Tony Stark.

With this going on, of course, Skye reveals all there is to reveal about the secret base to Ward. Boy, she’s just the espionage equivalent of a leaky faucet isn’t she? Ward shows up at the base beaten and bloody to improve his cover and he is welcome inside. Uh-oh.

Man, the character of Ward is 10,000 times more interesting as a dick.

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All in all, Agents of SHIELD has hit its creative peak. I guess those mediocre episodes in the middle were Marvel buying their time until Captain America: Winter Soldier hit so the show could become what it was meant to be. Now the whole thing feels like a SHIELD show and not a loose collection of procedural vignettes set in a super-hero universe.

Marvel Moments:

– Garrett commenting that Ward’s heroic cover was as convincing as anything Agent Romanoff could have pulled off.

– An unexpected mention of Johnny Horton, also known as the Griffin, a villain who was genetically manipulated into a flying lion with razor sharp talons. The Griffin first appeared in Amazing Adventures #15 (1972) and fought the Beast in his initial appearance. It comforts me in a very odd sort of way that the Griffin exists in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Don’t judge me.

– Eric Koenig first appeared in Sgt Fury and his Howling Commandos #27 (1966). He actually was a former member of Nazi Luftwaffe but became disenchanted with Hitler’s ideology after the attack on Poland. Koenig served as a Howling Commando for many years and became a modern day SHIELD agent. He recently died battling HYDRA in the pages of Secret Warriors. Clearly, Patton Oswalt’s Koenig is a very different version of that character.

– Major Glenn Talbot was a thorn in Hulk’s side for years. He was General “Thunderbolt” Ross’ right hand man, a direction that Agents of SHIELD could totally go with the character.

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3.5 out of 5