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- Airdate: 4/22/2014
- Director: Vincent Misiano (Blacklist, Gossip Girl, previously directed SHIELD‘s “FZZT” & “Turn, Turn, Turn”)
- Writer: Monica Owusu-Breen (Revolution, Fringe, Brothers & Sisters, previously wrote SHIELD‘s “The Well” and co-wrote “Seeds”)
Ward is back, bruised, battered, and quick to describe how he barely made it out of the Hydra-controlled Fridge alive despite managing to kill Garrett (No you didn’t, you big liar, Ward). Since everyone in the Fridge was SHIELD’s responsibility Coulson decides they should set about re-capturing the escapees, though to then detain them where exactly is unclear. He’s particularly interested in Marcus Daniels, a scientist of some sort who absorbed something called the darkforce and became obsessed with a cello player in Portland. Cello. Portland. Wait a second. Isn’t that where Coulson’s ex-girlfriend…
Yeah, but shut up about that. No one else knows about her yet. Coulson decides to split the two, and take a splinter unit to go protect the cello player since Daniels is bound to show up for her. Not before Patton Oswalt (okay, he has a character name, but I’m just going to persist in referring to him as Patton Oswalt) makes them all take lie-detector tests, though. He’s not letting anyone leave until he can trust they won’t betray the location of the super secret base.
Everyone passes the test, although Ward comes dang close to failing. The squigly lines on the machine go squigglier and the colors turns to red. So, Oswalt pulls a gun on him, and asks him to again answer why he is there to which Ward succeeds in not lying by admitting he is only there because of Skye (not technically lying).
That bit of business out of the way, Coulson, FitzSimmons, and Triplett head up to Portland while May, Ward, and Skye stay behind. May quickly gets to steppin’ though, reasoning she was only ever there for Coulson and if he can’t forgive her then she’s no good to them anymore. Ward gets to seducing May, but ends up having to kill poor Oswalt while Skye’s in another part of the base because her hacking efforts to use NSA satellites to recover footage from the Fridge will prove his story was all a lie. Later, Ward and Skye are about to head to bonetown when he has to leave to wash blood off his face, explaining one of his wounds opened up when in fact after shooting Oswalt point black (off screen) he clearly forgot to wash the blood splatter from behind his ears. On her own, Skye seeks out Oswalt, using his own tablet which tracks the lanyards on the base, only to find him dead in a closet. She instantly figures out Ward is Hydra, and freaks the f out before pulling it together and attempting to seduce Ward into some kind of trap. Acting tempted, Ward claims Simmons has called in need of their help. They need to leave on the bus immediately, and once in the air he needs her to direct him to the location where they can decrypt the hard drive Hydra wants.
Coulson and Pals return to all of his having no idea where their bus is or where the rest of the team is. Prior to that point, their adventure mostly entailed stopping the bad guy from hurting the girl (Amy Acker), learning that she is Coulson’s ex-girlfriend who still believes him to be dead, using her as bait to lure the bad guy out, and ultimately defeating him after an initial setback. Coulson only reveals himself to the girl when she’s been briefly injured, but once her well-being is assured he recedes back to the shadows, leaving her still unaware by episode’s end that her beloved still lives. Fitz looks at this example, and almost uses it as inspiration to tell Simmons how he feels about her before changing his mind, leaving her unaware that her kind-of brother is being so dickish to Triplett not because he hates change but because he’s been moved to blinding jealousy (and doesn’t think of her as a sister type anymore, or never did in the first place).
Here we have it: Agents of SHIELD‘s new and improved version of a standalone episode. Granted, this isn’t technically a standalone episode, picking up almost exactly where “Providence” left off and devoting half of its time to Ward attempting to complete the mission assigned to him by Garrett. However, this is the most typical SHIELD episode to air since Winter Soldier hit domestic theaters. The shit hit the fan and the foundation upon which the show was based crumbled in “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and our characters were on the run in search of some kind of purpose or direction in “Providence.” “The Only Light in the Darkness,” on the other hand, sends the team off to another far-flung location to combat a villain-of-the-week based upon a third-tier Marvel comic book character. That’s SHIELD‘s bread-and-butter, though early on they weren’t even allowed (or chose not) to use third-tier Marvel characters, just making up their own.
Now SHIELD is able to give us far more of a personal reason for why the good guys are fighting this new bad guy. They can’t have every single villain turn out to have some personal connection to one of our characters, but this is the type of stuff they should have been doing more often earlier in the season, using their villains to somehow reflect and/or comment upon the regular characters. It may be a tad clunky, but Marcus “Blackout” Daniels’ proclamation that Coulson’s ex-girlfriend, played delightfully by Clark Gregg’s Much Ado About Nothing co-star Amy Acker, is “the only light in the darkness” manages to directly mirror the episode’s primary character pairings. Coulson and Fitz’ clearly view Acker’s character and Simmons as the light in their respective darkness. Plus, since we don’t know how much we should assume everything Ward says is a lie it’s quite possible that while he is following orders with ruthless efficiency his expressions of affection for Skye might be genuine. She may in fact actually be the only light in his darkness for all we know.
Of course, this being SHIELD there’s progress but still room for improvement. While they managed to make their villain’s tale of woe somewhat more emotionally resonative they still showed they can’t quite pull of villains-of-the-week to a satisfactory level. Marcus “Blackout” Daniels is not really a character, but instead a mere plot device. He is the reason the characters go from A to B, and through him we learn that at least some of the prisoners in the Fridge were being experimented upon to become stronger thus establishing Coulson & Pals should only expect the unexpected with such fugitives in the future.
However, none of that bothered me while watching the episode. Instead, I enjoyed the character moments Daniels’ presence alotted everyone, and while as a Fred-loving Angel-fanatic I would have loved to have seen more of Amy Acker they did just enough with her to make a return appearance something to genuinely hope for.
At this point in the post-Winter Soldier run, it just made sense for SHIELD to pause a moment to establish what exactly everyone is fighting for, and most everyone on SHIELD seems to be fighting for each other, except for Simmons who is gradually headed down disillusioned avenue. Much of this was covered in what I regarded as the thoroughly entertaining and brilliantly edited lie detector sequence, which, though perhaps a bit bluntly, literally asked each character save Coulson why they are still here. They also used this as an information dump, giving us more of Triplett’s back story (which had been pretty much non-existent), as well as some meta-textual humor, Skye speaking directly to her internet haters and revealing her orphan name was Mary Sue Poots (head here if you didn’t understand the reference).
Of course, the main thing “Only Light in the Darkness” had going for it was the disconnect between what we know about Ward and what everyone else thinks they know. A lot of what he tells Skye (having grown up made to beat up his younger brother, thinking of himself as a not good person, doesn’t really care at all if Fitz takes his advice about Simmons) seems true, even if only shared in service to a greater goal. With his whole spiel about understanding May’s deception because like her he is as soldier trained to follow orders he is likely telling Skye exactly why he has betrayed them; she just doesn’t realize it until much later in the episode. While it may have been a tad rushed for Skye to instantly deduce Ward killed Oswalt’s character, at the same time who else was a possible suspect? They’re the only ones there. Her freakout was brilliantly played by the oft-maligned Chloe Bennett, and I was positive we were headed for a Shining, “Billy” episode of Angel situation where Ward was going to have to stalk Skye throughout the compound. What they did was actually way more interesting, having her attempt to turn the tables on him before being whisked away and quietly plotting her next move. Will this turn into a Friends-esque “They don’t know that we know that they know?” game of who knows what about whom exactly? Probably not, but that must be one awkward cockpit right now with Skye and evil-Ward.
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. “Only Light in the Darkness” was their most episodic story since Captain America blew up their world via Winter Soldier, but it is still an incomplete part of a larger whole. There was some weakness on the Coulson side of the plot, as what exact danger the villain presents to the girl isn’t actually clear (does he really just want to listen to her play music, and not hurt her?), and Coulson’s reasoning for splitting the team in half is a kind of phoned in to simply isolate bad guy Ward with a couple of the good guys. However, the Ward portion of the plot was thoroughly entertaining, delivering probably the weakest episode since around the timeWinter Soldier came out but still among the better SHIELD episodes to date.
1. Comic Book 101 – Marcus “Blackout” Daniels
- First Appearance: 1978
He’s just your standard scientist gone bad due to unruly experiment, really, except he was only the assistant to the scientist in charge of the experiment. As in “The Only Light in the Darkness,” Daniels was involved in an experiment devoted to somehow converting energies from alternate dimensions when an accident occurred, resulting in him absorbing an exponential amount of inter-dimensional energy from the Darkforce. This left him with the ability to fly, create inter-dimensional portals, shoot energy blasts, etc. The lead scientist on the experiment tried to help him contain his energy, but Blackout became convinced the scientist had purposefully exposed him to the darkforce. So, yeah, he ended up killing that dude along with his new assistant, and from that point forward sort of floated in and out supervillain teams and pairings, as befits such an expendable, C-squad comic book villain.
2. Last episode, Oswalt’s character came off as a mini version of Coulson, and was more comedic relief than anything else. It was nice to see him show his Agent of SHIELD bonafides this week as although he was ultimately fooled by Ward he didn’t do so without some hesitation, pulling a gun on a defenseless Ward during the interrogation. I’m going to miss him.
3. Upon learning that Triplett’s grandpa was one of the Howling Commandos, my first reaction was, “Wait, was one of the Commandos in First Avenger black, or is this just some hypothetical Commando we’d never seen before?” Well, if they are trying to say Triplett is grandson to a character we have actually seen before then his grandpa was probably Gabe Jones, played by Derek Luke in First Avenger, aka, the only black guy in the movie (that I recall at least).
4. I’ve adjusted to Ward as Hydra, and I’m loving it. However, I don’t think I’m 100% used to it because when he reached for his gun to clearly kill May before she surprisingly left on her own my first thought was, “Ward wouldn’t kill May, would he?” Yeah, it looked like he totally would have.
5. Of course Skye can hack into NSA satellites in one hour.
6. Elsewhere on the internet, I’ve seen others speculating about what to make of May’s reveal that she had been married. Funny thing: I must hot have been paying close enough attention because I completely missed that reveal in the episode. Oops. Oh, and yes, that was Tsai Chin playing her mother at the end, the two having previously starred together in The Joy Luck Club, though Tsai Chin did not play her mother there.
7. Have you seen the ratings lately? According to THR, “Over on ABC, Agents of SHIELD (1.8 adults) did not match its special 9 p.m. showing from last week, off a tenth of a point from its last rating in its regular time slot.”
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.
- Review: Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, “The Only Light in the Darkness” Grade: B- (avclub.com)
- Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, Episode 19: “The Only Light in the Darkness” Review (sidekickreviews.wordpress.com)
- Review: Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, “The Only Light in the Darkness” (livingthegeeklife.wordpress.com)