It’s not often you see a television series juggle genres as deftly as this week’s episode of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD did. It felt like some kind of metafictional tour of the length and breadth of the Marvel Universe but it was all wrapped up in the same story arc. That’s some impressive stuff right there.
Which is not to say this week’s installment of SHIELD did not have its wrinkles, it was strangely paced, relied a bit too much on the viewer caring about some pretty flat, newly introduced characters, and kept covering the same ground, but man did the good outweigh the bad by a wide margin.
Let’s start with the giant teleporting bulldog in the room. The hidden city. At the conclusion of “The Writing on the Wall,” Coulson discovered that the mysterious writing he has been compelled to create since meeting up with Garrett last season is not a map, or an alien text, but a blueprint of an unknown city. This all was revealed through the hunt of a murderer, a brainwashed SHIELD Agent who underwent the same Tahiti process as Coulson who was murdering his fellow Tahitites to find the secret of the writing. This mystery left me a bit flat as it was a toothless procedural, but the background involved and the pay off made the tediousness of the hunt worth it.
First, the payoff. Yes, the mysterious writing is the layout of a hidden city, and I am going to indulge in some informed speculation here so bear with me, one has to assume that the city is none other than the refuge of the Inhumans, Attilan. A little Marvel 101 for the uninformed. The Inhumans are an experiment in evolution conducted by the Kree Empire. Now, the blood of the alien that is in Skye and Coulson is presumably Kree, so it can be inferred that the alien was on Earth to begin the Inhumans experiment and Coulson and the rest now have residual memories of the dead alien’s mission. If all this is true, the result is the coming of the Inhumans.
When Kevin Feige and Marvel announced their Phase 3 movie slate, the Marvel brain trust promised we would see hints of the Inhumans sooner than we think. It seems the first hint dropped this week. If I’m wrong, I just wasted a few paragraphs on fan wank speculation, but if that ain’t Attilan, what is it? Could one of the Royal Family be introduced in the weeks to come just to ease fans into the world of the Inhumans before the film hits in 2018? That’s some cross media synergy right there.
So with the Tahiti and the alien blood stuff and the brainwashing machine things definitely had a nice sci-fi flavor. When Coulson allowed himself to be placed into the brain machine, it had a very distinct Fringe vibe. In fact, the whole sci-fi, extraterrestrial flavor of the episode had this great old-school X-Files, mass conspiracy vibe that really set this episode apart. It was scarier than fans of the show are used to, but it really worked as Coulson had this edge of frayed control, trying to keep it together so he could get to the bottom of the writing and his own delicate grip on reality.
Last season, the series did an episode that supposedly revealed the secret of Coulson’s resurrection. It was a dud and a half. This episode built on that stinker, showing that the SHIELD brainwashing was only done to erase the compulsion brought about by the alien writing. Not every episode of a series makes an old, subpar episode better, but “The Writing on the Wall” did just that. Now, the earlier revelation becomes a puzzle piece and the truth of Coulson’s return becomes part of this cool alien conspiracy thriller. Cool stuff, and a reward for the loyal fan’s patience that endured some of the less than stellar episodes of last year.
So that’s the sci-fi part of our dual genre episode, now on to the deft espionage tale also told this week. The Agents not involved with helping Coulson find the secrets of the writing were busy hunting down the escaped Agent Ward. One by one, Ward won a game of spy vs. spy with Agents May, Morse, Hunter, and Tripp. It was a reminder of just how capable agent Ward is and what a dangerous enemy he can be now that he is in the world. Ward, never predictable, actually helped SHIELD this week by delivering HYDRA Agent Bakshi right to their door, taking down a major enemy operative.
It’s just shocking how far Ward has evolved as a character. He started out as bland as vanilla yogurt, but now he is the most multi-layered, fearsome character on the show, and might be the most complex character in all of the cinematic Marvel Universe (other than Groot of course). It seems the evolution of Ward will be the focal point of the series now that the mystery of the alien writing has entered the next phase, and I for one, couldn’t be happier. I still want to see him die horribly at the hands of May, but now, I want to see Ward get his for all the right reasons, because Marvel has made this once generic soldier boy a villain for the ages.
What’s that? One of Skye’s hacker pals is named Micro and he is obsessed with crime scenes? Ladies and gentleman, we just had our first hint of the Punisher in the cinematic Marvel Universe. Micro was one of the Punisher’s oldest allies, a brilliant hacker, weapon smith, and tactician that helped Frank Castle in many a comic story.
A mention of Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker, head of HYDRA and one of the villains that will feature strongly in Avengers: Age of Ultron. I guess Whitehall is dealing with the Western Hemisphere branch of HYDRA while Strucker is overseas overseeing the coming of the Age of Miracles, perhaps?