After a stutter but not a stumble last week I was hoping to find this episode return Shield to its high octane ways. The episode begins with a painting surviving a fire that has etched on the back this alien writing that Coulson and Garret kept carving. On hearing this Coulson and Mae attend a charity event containing the painting to steal it. Coulson bumps into Talbot at the party and discovers Talbot already seized the painting that morning. Coulson and Mae escape but then Talbot suggests they share the paintings knowledge later at his hotel. Coulson agrees but sends Mae to check it out.
Mae finds Talbot and finds out that he is the high level Hydra agent Bakshi in an elaborate cyber mask that disguises him. Agent 33 is also there and between them they capture Mae. Agents 33 then disguises herself with Mae’s voice and face to draw Coulson into Bakshi and also plant a virus on the ‘Bus’ that will cause it to crash and kill Coulson’s team.
Fitz stops the virus in time to save the plane and everyone on it which is nice as a series still needs is characters. Bakshi is torturing Mae as Agent 33 accompanies Coulson to the same room. Coulson Sherlock’s the heck out of Agent 33’s act and they fight just as Mae escapes Bakshi. Bakshi runs and is chased by Coulson who stuns him and takes the painting while Mae fights her doppelganger. They escape with the painting and hide it from the real Talbot. Whitehall finds the living, drying paint equivalent that is boring Reina, and demands that she return the obelisk from the first episode.
It’s nice to see the alien writing progressing at good pace as endless teasers with no substance are like kryptonite to geeks. We viewers tend to have the patience of a child on Christmas Eve sat staring at a playstation shaped present, and this storyline needs to keep us invested. The writers and actors seem to have a lot of fun at the start as Mae and Coulson attempt to blend in at the party with various set pieces and strategic breaking of cover for comedy effect. They also reminisce of their early missions, although at quite high volume and while twirling around armed guards they so carefully scoped out.
The story is ok and refreshingly low key as they fight over a painting which doesn’t end up holding much information, this is just Hydra, Shield and the Army in a power struggle. Bakshi is not my favourite character but his reveal as the Talbot doppleganger is well done as it explains why he acted so strange around Coulson at the event without screaming it at you. It’s never mentioned afterwards in a patronising way but Balisk as Talbot doesn’t react when he sees Coulson, Coulson thanks him for not alerting the guards and they even agree to work together. Balisk even pretends to be drunk as Talbot to explain the behaviour which is good writing in its subtlety.
The cyber mask is another example of potentially ridiculous technology for convenience sake. I hope this isn’t popped out in every episode like a plot parachute every time a story gets complex and it looked a bit silly….silly being a technical term. Where was the mouth piece? Some of it even went over her hair! The science is basically typical Marvel science where they throw buzz words at us until we beg them to stop and we will just believe them. Soon they will just tell us it’s “routed through the polarising shrinkydink” and we will just accept it.
Fitz struggles with feeling like part of the group and is isolated very well as the others discomfort around him is palpable and every word is forced. The story of the virus is far too convenient a way to bring his value back and is more convoluted that the alibi of a crumb covered 4 year old with his hand in the cookie jar. His interaction with inner Simmons is still heart-achingly sweet as he dispels her away with logic and knowing she’s unreal, while simultaneously clinging onto her in every social tempest.
The cast are clicking very well though and the script is fairly tight without trying to hard. Mack is still totally unexplained but fast becoming a favourite as he banters with other but is also constantly shown to be developing new systems to help Fitz. Macy’s attempts to help Fitz communicate and unpatronising and heartfelt which endears him more. Triplett still swaggers around aimlessly, maybe he’s looking for his lines that got lost from the script? Coulson and Mae have great chemistry and ooze years of comradery, the repetitive talk of a backup plan is also a great edge to their friendship and reminder of darker times ahead. Coulson tries to convince Mae that she must be ready to kill him if her goes all Garret-like as she nimble avoids his logic like she would avoid a uppercut in a fight.
Speaking of fight! In a fanboy’s, poetic dream that would make psychologist scribble on their pads furiously, Mae fights herself as Agent 33 wears a mask of her face. This should be a cheap hit of geek sugar to the viewers like a visual tic-tac but it is actually a well choreographed scene! The fight is brutal but flowing and the torture scene also keeps this show feeling grown up as Mae sports multiple burns. Of scourge she’s fully recovered in the next scene but realism is welcome In Marvel-land for too long, I’m surprised it even made it through customs for a few scenes!
The story itself is small and well managed with a satisfying conclusion. The painting only tells them that the writing is recent so there’s another alien induced, graffiti artist around. The small rewards in these episodes give our team a sense of desperation against a great threat and help the story feel like a journey. Agent 33 placing the virus was unnecessary and very forced to give Fitz his hero moment like some kind of technical Braveheart, but hey the guy deserves a beak I suppose.
The verdict: The show maintains its steady pace and fun but grown up feel with an ever evolving story thread. The ambitious plate spinning of all these characters is sprawling but strong, as you can’t help but invest in this lower key but seemingly important chapter in Marvel lore.