It’s kind of amazing that a throwaway line meant to make Agent Coulson more sympathetic before his death in The Avengers is being used as a catalyst for a major plot point two years later in Agents of SHIELD, but here we are, the introduction of “the Cellist” as played by fan favorite Joss Whedon alum, Amy Acker. Joss Whedon wouldn’t Joss Whedon Amy Acker twice would he?—I’m still getting over what happened to Acker’s Fred in Angel.
Whatever the case, let’s take a moment to give a little state of the union on Agents of SHIELD. The word epic is greatly overused in this day and age, and I can’t use that descriptor with confidence in regards to Marvel’s inaugural show, but these past three post-Winter Soldier episodes have been damn close. It’s just a different show, a tight narrative with deep characters and an anything goes feel. I guess the pre-Winter Soldier era was used to establish the agents, so fans would care about them in this dangerous new world of HYDRA driven uncertainty, but now that these three episodes have aired, the past seems a bit like amateur hour and the present seems like the show Marvel fans were hoping Agents of SHIELD would be.
So, on to this week: we start off the episode by introducing Blackout to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. All I remember about the character from the comics was that he was unstable, a bit creepy, and I really liked to trace his entry from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe when I was a kid. Just thought I’d share that.
The opening establishes Blackout and his powers are indeed creepy and cool. The vibe surrounding the character, at least early on, is a refreshing change from the contrived Smallville like origins of both Graviton and Blizzard, who were generic and uninspired when compared to their comic counterparts. Connecting Coulson with Blackout is a great move since it gives the villain some significance beyond just the “freak of the week” trope. It also gives Coulson a past by establishing that he has had run-ins with super-powered beings beyond the events of the films.
It goes without saying that Patton Oswalt’s Agent Koenig is awesome. He has a bit of a surprise for the agents in the form of a powerful lie detector. Before any of the agents are allowed to leave, they must endure this machine that “even Romanov couldn’t beat.” This leads to one of the most entertaining sequences in show history as each of the agents must answer Koenig’s questions, and some of the answers reveal some fascinating tidbits.
For example, May reveals she was once married and that Skye gave herself the name Skye because the orphanage dubbed her Mary Sue Poots. Man, is that going to be a popular screen name. Koenig asks each agent if they were connected to Alexander Pierce and asks about Project Insight. Most intriguing of all, Agent Triplett is questioned about his grandfather, and Koenig reveals that Triplett was part of a “legacy” stretching back to a hero from World War II. I suppose that could be super soldier Isaiah Bradley or maybe Gabe Jones, the Howling Commando introduced in Captain America: The First Avenger. Whatever the case, that little tease of a reveal has put Triplett on the top of my intrigue list. And in the most unexpected reference of all, we find out that Simmons is a Doctor Who fan. I knew I loved that gal for a reason.
Finally, after years of speculation that she was Scarlet Witch or Mockingbird, we have a name for the cellist, Audrey Nathan. Daniels stalks Audrey but is stopped by Fitz’s doodad robots. Despite the lack of costume, Blackout is Blackout and not some watered down television-friendly version of the villain. His darkness powers make for a great visual, and there is a sense of danger about his every twitchy move. Coulson gives us some exposition on the darkforce and the history of Blackout. The villain is as unstable here as he was in the comics and the introduction of the darkforce opens the door for such characters as Cloak & Dagger and the Shroud. Actually, the Shroud, a hero that goes undercover as a villain, would make a killer centerpiece for a future show. I think 1981 me just peed a little at that thought.
There’s a whole bit with Skye getting to flex her muscles by attempting to hack into NSA satellites to keep track of the escaped villains, but it’s all quickly forgotten in lieu of, you know, cool stuff, as Acker lays out some expertly delivered exposition regarding her and Coulson’s past. What the Cellist’s story does is show how Coulson’s feigned death has affected the life of others close to him and gives fans a clearer idea of what Coulson has sacrificed in the name of duty. The Cellist’s tale gives Coulson a quiet dignity, a sense of the classic Marvel sacrifice motif. It’s good character development for Coulson and a story we all have wanted to hear since Avengers brought it to light.
May has some conflicts of her own because she believes she has no place within SHIELD anymore, and she leaves. There is a great sense of danger as May exits and now there is no one who is a physical match for Ward. This is driven home as Ward slowly closes the door to Koenig’s office. Goodbye Patton, hope you return to Justified next season.
While all hell is about to break loose on the Bus, the agents decide, much to Coulson’s chagrin, to dangle Audrey for Daniels. They have a light weapon designed by Bruce Banner that they believe could take down Blackout. Coulson questions the wisdom of using Banner tech, and we’re with you, Phil.
The show ends with a dual sequence of Ward getting all Jack Torrance by intimidating Skye into boarding the Bus, while the agents take down Blackout. An awesome little sequence follows when Coulson saves his beloved only to disappear before the addled Cellist can see him. This gives Coulson an angelic quality, a heroic magnanimity that makes him the selfless protector of a woman he can never again be with. Coulson wins the day for his squad, but things don’t go as well for Skye. Koenig is dead, and she is being hand delivered to HYDRA by an increasingly unstable Ward, a character whose past is obscured by the darkness and violence of his actions.
The show needed a villain, and by god, does Ward fit the bill perfectly.
The sweeper gives us another intriguing character who may have some connections to days past. May is picked up by a woman who seems to be her mother, a woman with ties to another agency and able to get in contact with an agent who can help the Team Coulson gain the upper hands on HYDRA. Maria Hill.
– Banner Tech
– Triplett’s legacy.
– Blackout first appeared in Nova #19 (May 1978) and was created by Marv Wolfman, Carmine Infantino, and Tom Palmer (Jeez, how’s that for a creative legacy?). He was pretty much the same character in the comics as he was in this episode. He has been a member of the Masters of Evil, the Thunderbolts, and a part of the Hood’s gang of super-villains.