Agents of SHIELD TV Reviews

TV Review: Agents of SHIELD, “Providence” (S1/EP18) – Pausing to Take a Breath

To read our other Agents of SHIELD episode reviews please go here.

agents-of-shield-captain-america-e1393809368554

  • Airdate: 4/15/2014
  • Director: Milan Cheylov (Bones, Rizzoli & Isles, Once Upon a Time, 24,  previously directed SHIELD‘s “Asset”)
  • Writer: Brent Fletcher (Spartacus: War of the Damned, previously wrote SHIELD‘s Raina-heavy episodes “The Girl in the Flower Dress” and “The Magical Place”)

THE RECAP

Coulson & Pals –

Coulson has now assumed leadership of the Hub, but when a US Army General (Adrian Pasdar) instructs him via video chat to await his arrival on a “peace-keeping operation” Coulson gets to stepping.  So what if the Bus has a leaking gas line, insufficient food supply, no ability to cloak, and an internet no longer connected to SHIELD.  It’s better than staying around to get arrested by the General in connection to all of SHIELD’s secrets Natasha Romanoff uploaded to the internet in Winter Soldier.  So, they run, taking Triplett with them, though only after Simmons vouches for him.  Once in the air, they have nowhere to go until Coulson’s badge lights up with longitude/latitude coordinates to somewhere in the middle of Canada.  A Hydra trap?  No, a secret message from a still-alive Nick Fury!  Duh.  Or so Coulson thinks, even though Triplett disagrees and May tries to take his gun away, convinced Hydra is manipulating him.

Triplett - Ladies, you're welcome
Triplett – You’re welcome, ladies

But they’re all soldiers, and Coulson’s their leader.  So, they fall in line, dredging through snowy Canada only to find absolutely nothing at the coordinates.  Coulson has a bit of a breakdown, realizing he’s stranded them in the middle of nowhere and the Bus is out of gas.  No need to fret, though – of course there’s actually a secret facility there, a doomsday emergency bunker manned by a sole agent (Patton Oswalt) since the Chautari invasion.  They just hadn’t found the door yet.  Once inside, Coulson learns in private that Nick Fury is still alive, but he is not allowed to tell anyone (hardly anyone knows outside of Maria Hill and Captain America ).  Later, after learning of a Hydra attack on the Fridge, Skye contacts Ward to ensure he’s okay, providing him coordinates to rendezvous with them.  He shows up, looking worse for the wear.  I wonder why…

Raina and the Not-So Clairvoyant Hydra Gang

Raina sits alone in her tiny prison cell, making an origami flower out of paper she somehow got a hold of when Ward shows up to break her out.  As a peace offering, he presents her with a flower-patterned dress (her fixation on flowers will have some big dramatic pay off at some point, right?).  

Ward Shield
How we do know he’s evil Ward now?  He’s slightly un-shaven.

Raina is slightly crushed when she meets Agent Garrett only to discover the Clairvoyant was a charade.  As Stan Lee would say, Raina was a true believer, but she’s also a survivor, going along with Garrett’s new request that she assist in identifying the exact compound SHIELD used to save Coulson and Skye.  She’s also unsure what to make of Ward, surprised he’d turn on Coulson, a man she claims to find admirable.  Ward’s response essentially amounts to, “Yeah, well, shut up.  He’s no Garrett, to whom I owe everything.”

SHIELD Raina

While Raina sees to her task, Garrett and Ward infiltrate the Fridge, with an assist from a perfectly timed helicopter, to steal and stockpile dangerous weapons.  Ward is seen re-connecting with his ole beserker staff, and uses his knowledge from Coulson to help steal stuff from the bottom level of the Fridge, a level not even Garrett knew about.  Upon returning to their Hydra base, they discover the data they had Raina attempt to decrypt can only actually be decrypted by Skye, super hacker extraordinaire.  So, it’s time for Ward to re-join Coulson & Pals, though only after allowing Garrett to rough him up to better sell whatever story he’ll tell them about what happened at the Fridge.   He only has 24 hours to get the information he needs out of Skye before Garrett moves in.

THE REVIEW

What it means to be an Agent of SHIELD when SHIELD has been destroyed by Captain America and company is a question which, though not voluntarily entered into considering that Winter Soldier forced it on them, will define this last batch of episodes of the first (and potentially only) season of Agents of SHIELD.  Last week’s “Turn, Turn, Turn” was all about the adrenaline rush and surprising reveals (Garrett is the Clairvoyant?  Ward is part of Hydra?).  The characters are still quite literally rushed, but “Providence” was more about taking a breath and letting us see how thoroughly unnerved Coulson has been by everything that has gone down.  As Clark Gregg put it in a recent episode of the online-exclusive SHIELD companion series Declassified, “Coulson’s a company man who had a close call but believes in what he does, and this is what he has dedicated his life to, to the exclusion of real relationships.  Then to see that everything he believed in and everyone in the very small circle that he thought he could trust is not what he thought it is…everything that’s coming is as much of a shifting sands as anything possible on a deep existential level.”

So, “Providence” gives us a surprisingly hostile Coulson, who has no problem leaving behind all the innocent SHIELD officers without a leader at the Hub to save his own ass as well as those of the very few he still kind of trusts (Skye, Fitz, Simmons) or needs (May).  It’s all about survival, right?  However, SHIELD does all of this with Coulson while also giving us hints of the Coulson we know and love.  Telling the General that his announced visit sounds fine and then not missing a beat in turning straight around and admitting it most definitely does not sound fine is vintage Coulson.  As is his Firefly-esque tour of the Bus where he learns at every stop that literally the only good news is the Bus is still least just as capable as a WiFi-friendly cafe-they still have the internet!  His quick comment about lowering his expectations a bit too much for what qualifies as “good news” was spot-on and hilarious.  It is when the story throws something at Coulson that he really should in no way trust but does because he desperately needs something to believe in to keep functioning that we see how close he is to falling apart.

The interesting aspect is how this trickles down to the rest of the team, with May keeping face in front of the others while making valid arguments in private, Simmons questioning why they’re even persisting with this charade of being Agents of SHIELD any longer (why should she just follow Coulson’s orders now?), and Fitz desperately wanting things to stay the way they were.  In classic Joss Whedon show fashion, the true voice of dissension in the team dynamic comes from the new guy (Triplett) who has no history with the leader (and I doubt Coulson’s speech about what it means to be an Agent of SHIELD really answered Triplett’s concern, “Yeah, but what if this is a trap?”).

Because this is a show if not centered around Coulson then definitely sold on his appeal we watch “Providence” knowing he will end up being right.  In fact, ABC’s promos kind of screwed SHIELD over by giving that away and making the Patton Oswalt portion of “Providence” seem like a huge part of the episode even though it doesn’t show up until around 3/4 of the way through.  So, for anyone who had the misfortune of seeing those promos the result of Coulson’s wild goose chase was never in doubt, but it ended up being surprising just how much “Providence” wanted to play around with, “What if he’s wrong?  What if Hydra is somehow controlling him?”  Actually, those might have resulted in more interesting conclusions than an emergency bunker Fury established after The Avengers, but there’s only so far you can tear down your main character.   

Don't worry - my turtle knecks will have a dramatic pay-off at some point
Don’t worry – my turtle knecks will have a dramatic pay-off at some point

Of courseafter “Turn, Turn, Turn”‘s big cliffhanger ending we might be a tad more interested to see how Ward is reacting.  Coulson is more “Yep, dude’s barely holding it together” whereas Ward remains “So, why’d you do it?”  The answer provided by “Providence” is minimal and indicates the show’s unwillingness to completely turn Ward dark side.  Yes, he has casually murdered 5 SHIELD officers across 2 episodes now, but he also acknowledges Raina’s positive appraisal of Coulson’s character and admonishes Garrett for attempting to kill Skye.  Plus, we have still yet to hear Ward even say the word Hydra, unless I missed it.  There is every indication he could care less about Hydra but instead pledges allegiance to Garrett, who also seems to not particularly care about Hydra on any ethical grounds.

Looking down the road, one wonders how this is all meant to play out.  SHIELD likes to walk its character right up to the line of moral complication, but then pull them back, e.g., revealing Skye and May’s respective treachery to have been in service to sympathetic goals.  They’ve gone further than ever before with Ward, but we are early enough in this new Hydra portion of the show that we’re still seriously lacking any kind of explanation of Hydra’s goal.  Alexander Pearce (Robert Redford) did that for them in Winter Soldier, and SHIELD assumes we’ve all seen that.  So, they are taking it to a more micro-level in presenting Garrett as an opportunist with some mysterious physical ailment motivating his actions and Ward a messed up kid with daddy issues who found a surrogate but negative dad in Garrett.  With Ward not clearly aligned with any specific ideology, then, they’re keeping it open for his potential redemption as his betrayal of Coulson & Pals is due to misplaced faith instead of deep held beliefs.

With all due respect to Clark Gregg and Brett Dalton, though, the most interesting permutation of this idea in “Providence” probably came from Ruth Negga’s Raina who said so much with so few actual words, particularly her restrained but clearly crushed reaction to learning the truth about the Clairvoyant.  This is a woman who had put her faith in the Clairvoyant, and now that it’s gone and she’s not exactly chipper about what she sees of Hydra she’s a potential wild card.    

THE BOTTOM LINE

SHIELD is entering into a new highly serialized stretch, which makes for better episodes and more engaging viewing but also more difficult to analyze on an episode-by-episode basis.  Even ABC realized these new batch of episodes are better viewed in binge-fashion, airing “Turn, Turn, Turn” and “Providence” together in a 2-hour event.  As such, “Providence” is an incomplete part of a larger whole.  However, it managed to keep up the momentum, give Coulson time to react to his world being shattered, and moved some of the puzzle pieces around, getting the main characters to a new location where some fightin’ will commence next week.  It also gathered together its spare parts in aligning the representatives of Centipede (Raina and Ian Quinn) with what they are now officially allowed to call Hydra (Garrett, Ward) providing our team of good guys with an opposing team of bad guys, Ward acting as fulcrum.  Now let’s see how it pays off.

THE NOTES 

1. Have you seen the ratings lately? – According to THR, “ABC, which has opened Tuesday nights with Agents of SHIELD all season, experimented by moving the night’s original to 9 p.m. With an average 2.0 rating among adults 18-49, the show was up just a tenth.”  Translation?  At least the ratings went up, however minimally.  Last week’s episode set a series low in the key 18-49 demographic, at least in overnight ratings.

Shield Patton

2. It’s kind of the law at this point that Patton Oswalt will guest star in any kind of geek-leaning (Parks & Recreation, Dollhouse), cultishly adored (Sons of Anarchy) TV show.  Here, they have him basically playing a mini version of Coulson, the two bonding over Call of Duty.  I liked it.  

SHIELD grunt
You are so on your own, nameless, background SHIELD girl

3. Coulson turns and runs for fear of being arrested in connection to the SHIELD details Natasha Romanoff leaked to the internet.  However, what happens to all the SHIELD officers he leaves behind at the Hub?  Were they ordered to evacuate as well?  Did he figure that since they were all lower-ranking grunts they wouldn’t be legally liable the same way he would?  Did he even tell them he was leaving?   

4. Skye tells Coulson he was right, and having SHIELD exposed doesn’t make things better but instead leaves “us” less protected.  This is a call-back to the pilot when Skye was all about exposing SHIELD to the world.  Is it bad that I barely even remember that was ever Skye’s supposed end goal?

5. Fitz being bitchy is their new go-to mode for using him as comedic relief.  I’m not a fan. However, his bitchiness this week came from an honest and relatable place of not wanting things to change, and beyond being a romantic foil in a presumptive love triangle Triplett represents change.  If Fitz was as dull as Brick (Steve Carrell) from Anchorman he might look at Triplett and wonder aloud, “You’re not Ward.” 

6. Since I first saw Winter Soldier 12 days ago at this point, prior to watching “Providence” I kind of forgot that the people on the show didn’t know Nick Fury is still alive. 

7. Is it wrong that I barely noticed the difference between “fake Ward” and real Ward those times when he had to get back into good guy character this episode?  Oh, there’s a difference, but, to me, not a big one.

Well, I’ve said enough.  What about you?  Join in the conversation in the comments section to let us know what you thought of this episode.

Second Opinions

 

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