Agents of SHIELD: Ragtag review

The penultimate episode of Agents of SHIELD is full of shocks and surprises. Here's our review...

Agents Of SHIELD got a choice writer this week in Jeffrey Bell, a former writer and producer of Angel (including one of my personal favorite episodes “The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco”), Alias, and Spartacus: War of the Damned. Bell crafted a nuanced story enhanced by flashbacks detailing the history of the relationship between Agents Garrett and Ward to keep up the post Captain America: Winter Soldier winning streak Agents of SHIELD is currently enjoying.

The episode effectively bounces off flashbacks of young Ward being trained by the cruel Garrett to be a stone cold killer. The flashbacks have a particular resonance, because linearly, other than Captain America’s first film of course, these are the earliest moments we have seen of the Marvel Cinematic Universe since Garrett trains Ward in a pre-Iron Man world.  As Ward must make choices in the present, his perspective is skewed by the hell Garrett put him through. In the flashbacks, we are privy to some hardcore training. Inciting incidents include Garrett abandoning Ward in the woods for months with only a dog to keep him company. Garrett hardens Ward through shame: shame of his weakness, shame of his past, and most of all, shame in himself. This causes some tension between Garrett and Ward in the present.

Okay, one mystery that would have bothered me all summer is revealed, the mystery of the identity of Agent Triplett’s grandfather. Many fans guessed it, and presumably, it’s none other than Gabe Jones of the Howling Commandoes. Tripp comes complete with a suitcase full of Kirby/Steranko tech to help Coulson and company raid Cybertek HQ so Skye can plant a flash drive in their system to learn HYDRA’s whereabouts and plans. So, the last remnants of SHIELD must defeat HYDRA with the archaic tech of the original SHIELD agents. Pretty cool circular storytelling there and a nice nod to Coulson’s love of the classic spy game. Triplett has gone from an ancillary character to an agent with much more weight in the history of the Marvel Universe. Fun stuff.

Coulson disguises himself in glasses and a cardigan sweater, and takes the identity of Dr. Theo Tittle while May disguised herself with glasses, a ponytail, and a smile to become Dr. Rom. With the help of Fitz and Simmons feeding them technical jargon, Coulson and May are able to gain entry to Cybertek’s file room where, big, big revelation alert, Coulson and May discover that Project Deathlok stretches back to 1990, and that the first Deathlok was none other than (wait for it)…Garrett. That’s one Astonishing Tale right there. Ironically, Triplett’s gear, which is low-tech, good old-fashioned infiltration equipment, reveals Garrett’s greatest secret. The ramifications of multiple Deathloks are stunning. Think about it, Michael Collins could exist, or, if the Deathlok tech is an established part of the Marvel Universe, then in the future Luther Manning can exist.

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We are also treated to some neat little character work with the Girl in Flower Dress, Raina, who reveals she is with HYDRA to be at the forefront of the superhuman evolution. She reveals that she and Skye have something in common, now what can that be? The mystery of Skye has gone from ponderous to legit intriguing the past few weeks. Who woulda thunk it?

But right now, our focus is on the first Deathlok and Garrett needs the alien blood that healed Skye and Coulson for himself in order to keep his tortured anatomy from rotting away. Since Garrett is part machine, Fitz brings up the idea that Garrett could have been programmed to be a scumbag and in turn, Ward may not be responsible for his actions. The fact that Garrett is being kept alive by machines changes the Ward/Garrett dynamic since Ward now sees a weakness in a man who, according to the flashbacks, has always accused Ward of being weak.

As Garrett and Ward are having trouble getting on the same page, sometime adversaries Skye and May have a nice exchange about emotions. May admits she has intense emotions but uses them to complete her mission. Skye admires the taciturn May as their relationship continues to evolve.

Ward and Garrett continue to grow as villains as Ian Quinn makes his return, a key part of Garrett’s plan, and still displaying absolutely no charisma. So glad he has been trumped in the villain department by the much more interesting Ward and Garrett. You and your perfect hair suck, Quinn, and I hope May does something very nasty to your boring person. Quinn may be dull, but Raina gets more interesting with every scene she is in. The beauty of the flower dress is that she’s lost faith in Garrett, because he is not interested in discovering the true nature super powered beings. She loses faith in him, because he is just a man who is scared to die.

She confides in Ward a bit of Skye’s history that she shares DNA with a baby in China whose family transformed into monsters and tore about a village to protect their child. Time to drag out some back issues to figure out what that’s all about.

There are so many revelations, and we haven’t even hit the climax yet. The agents arrive in Cuba, and Fitz and Simmons find the Bus. Only trouble is, the plane is about to take off. Before the lovable duo can act, they are made by Ward, a man who Fitz still believes in. I can’t help but believe Fitz’s loyalty is about to be tested in the worst way possible. Fitz uses Tripps’ grandfather’s EMP joy buzzer to take out all electronics on the Bus, including Garrett. A relic from SHIELD’s past takes down their greatest known modern day enemy. Gabe, Dum Dum, and the rest of the Howlers would be proud.

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In the past, Garrett warns Ward not to become attached to anyone within SHIELD. Garrett warns Ward in the final flashback of the episode that attachment is weakness and orders young Ward to kill his canine companion. Unexpectedly, Garrett does not kill his dog; the tension of the flashback extends to the presents as Fitz and Simmons, two good people as innocent as the dog, are now in Ward’s crosshairs. This time Ward does not show mercy and jettisons the beloved duo off the Bus. As the lovable pair hit the water in their ejected lab we have to ask, did we just witness the death of Fitz and Simmons? Did Ward just do the unthinkable? Unless we get a much unexpected Sub-Mariner rescue, we may have to face the fact that Fitz and Simmons have joined Buffy’s Tara and Firefly’s Wash in the Whedon graveyard.

We end with the birth of a super-villain as Raina mixes the alien blood with the Extremis in Garrett’s system, and Garrett smiles his terrible, suddenly ultra-powered smile. As a new threat is born, the agents are surrounded by a horde of Deathloks.

Between that and the peril of Fitz and Simmons, it’s going to be a long week till the season finale.

Marvel Moments

-Dr. Rom, huh? Well played.

-Cybertek was the corporation used in the first two Deathlok series as the creator of the cyborgs. It’s nice to see Agents of SHIELD using elements of the original Deathlok comics.

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-Presumably, Tripp’s grandpa is none other than Gabe Jones. Jones first appeared in Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #1 (May 1963) and was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Jones has the distinction of being the first African American hero in the Marvel Universe. That’s one heck of a legacy for Tripp.

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3.5 out of 5