Love in the Time of Hydra – Following Andrew’s recommendations, Coulson moves Skye away from Shield for her own good. Agents Ward and 33 appear back on the grid with their own agenda and Hunter is introduced into the rival “New Shield” organisation that Mack and Bobbi have been secretly working for.
In last week’s disappointing villain team up episode, the problem was quantity over quality. There was a lot of action and developments, but much of it was poor. This week, it’s quite the opposite in that little actually happens but what we do get is rather good. This is caused by an oversaturation of introductions and re-introductions. The two biggest elements of the episode are the beginnings of new story arcs. Even though they feature many familiar characters, they’re acting in a whole next context and both have a very “week zero” feeling to their scenes. They’re actually both great opening chapters but featuring them together in the same episode (especially when one could have easily fitted into last week) is a less strategic and intelligent move from the writers. These are the new adventures/sexcapades of Ward & Agent 33 and following Mack’s reveal of last week; the introduction of the new “Real Shield” organisation.
Starting with the two Hydra runways, Ward and 33 stumble on explaining their time off screen with Ward’s recovery, but mere seconds later, deliver on screen with their Pulp Fiction-esque opening scene. This was actually filmed in the very same diner from Tarantino’s 1994 film (as was last week’s villain lunch scene). As their scenes progress the relationship between the two get ever more interesting as 33 wants a more intimate working arrangement if only out of gratitude, but Ward is cautious about getting involved. From any other male, this could be taken at face value but when we remember that he sexploited many a Shield lady last year to hold his cover, we can’t help feel he might be running a similar reluctant play on her. At a couple points, we know he’s lying, such as omitting the murder of his father. Does he have a different play in mind for 33? Or is genuinely grateful to her for saving his life? She’s certainly become a much more useful ally this week as her tech face mask gets back in the game with a copycat upgrade. Immediately this is used as both a fun and balanced tool for their spy games. In changing only her face, not her full physical appearance, it’s far from foolproof or overpowered yet still effect when skilfully used. The real secret weapon though is Ming-Na Wen, who takes her alternative character from just being “Evil May” to whole new dimension of vulnerability and dependency. She’s so good there are moments you actually forget it’s the same actress to our regular Cavalry. Although their story doesn’t travel beyond a mini-adventure to establish them as a duo, their final scene is a very curious implication at where the pair will be heading. Not to mention that delightfully twisted little moment of 33 mimicking Skye to seduce Ward.
Similarly, the New Shield scenes are all about the big Ws. Who they are, who’s in charge, why they’re against the actually real Shield? Basically like reading out their Wikipedia entry to a highly unimpressed Hunter. However, this organisation's intro does come with rather a more unexpected label on it. Already, if this will extend into season 3, it looks like a precursor to 2016's Captain America: Civil War cinematic outing. Now that’s not just because its two rival Shield agencies engaging in their own civil dispute, but by the specific founding principles stated by the New Shield leadership that reflect directly to the core values of the Civil War comic arc. That is the argument of government regulation and personal accountability vs. the need for secrecy and freedom of action in superheroes. New Shield specifically states they were founded on transparency, accountability, and even mention that “Nick Fury kept too many secrets”. Right from the blocks, this draws the line in the sand marking New Shield in the Tony Stark pro-registration corner and Coulson’s Shield backing Captain America’s (like Coulson would side against him) anti-registration resistance. If this is developed well over the next 12 months it could add a fantastic extra layer of depth to the coming and film and hopefully allow for a TV/film crossover. Yet as with Ward & 33, for now all we get is an idea of this new story. A damn good one but still just a starting point. The incorporation of the troubled Hunter/Bobbi relationship into the mix fairs less well. Despite how great they have been together, Bobbi’s conflict of loyalties and Hunter’s feelings of betrayal don’t carry the weight they should.
Coulson and May’s Hydra-sense tingling over Bobbi and Mack’s new activities is a good development, but little else among the Shield base regulars delivers this week. Skye’s story feels a less extensive re-tread of last week. Even through the new quarantine makes a great Cabin in the Woods reference, and Coulson’s Lola origin story entertains the rest fails to inspire. Fitz and Simmons get a brief gem of Avengers comparisons but feel too wooden in their continued fall out compared the last week’s great parlay over May/Andrew gossiping. Even in these smaller scenes, we need to see such likeable characters utilised better.
While a considerable improvement of last week’s fumble of the season (and the best episode title ever), Love in the tome of Hydra still has plenty of room for improvement that the show needs to address. After doing such good work in the first half of the season, it’s in danger of becoming inconsistent again. Especially when it’s other comic show rivals are really stepping up their game. It’s almost absence of action may really not suit some but there’s still plenty of good character building work to enjoy. This might not be an episode to love, but it certainly isn’t one to hate.