One of the things I find most interesting about MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. is the way episodes hinge on decisions that Agent Coulson has to make, as opposed to a shoot-out or some other action set piece. Whether it’s choosing to let Skye tag along with his team from the pilot or a life-or-death decision about the person his team was chasing. And he makes these choices on the spot, and rather coldly and without sentiment. I like that he takes his job seriously and is willing to make the tough calls.
Those of you keeping score at home know Coulson sometimes gives the prey the benefit of the doubt — Skye and Akela — but sometimes doesn’t — just ask Dr. Franklin. I find that the most interesting aspect of this show, which isn’t always all that interesting. After all the action and chases and hand-to-hand combat, Coulson usually has a split-second to weigh the life of a bad or dangerous person against the lives of his team (or the safety of the world), and he doesn’t let sentimentality get in the way. (Or would Akela disagree, even though she benefitted from it?)
In Hong Kong, a mysterious flower dress-wearing woman named Raina (Ruth Negga) watches busker Chan Ho Yin (Louis Ozawa Changchien) perform street magic and fire tricks for an unimpressed crowd. After confirming that Chan’s power over fire is real, she has two thugs in flame-retardant uniforms kidnap him. When Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) gets wind of Chan’s capture he reveals that SHIELD knew about him but told the guy to keep his light under a bushel, as it were. The investigation reveals the kidnappers were prepared for Chan’s fire powers, so they must have had inside information, intel which could only have come from Rising Tide — via Skye (Chloe Bennet) hacking SHIELD files! She pleads innocent and Agent Ward (Brett Dalton) argues she should be given a chance to clear her name. So she traces the real hack to its source in Austin, Texas, and hacker Miles Lydon (Austin Nichols).
Skye joins the snatch team going after Lydon, but they lose him. Skye, however, is waiting at Lydon’s house, because she knows him! In fact, he’s her lover/mentor. Skye scolds him for hacking SHIELD while she’s safely on the inside, almost blowing her cover. Then they get reacquainted in the bedroom. And then May (Ming-Na Wen) appears. Busted! Both hackers are taken into custody. Skye tries to explain that she met Lydon when they were both messed up and they just “look after each other,” but Coulson isn’t convinced Lydon is harmless. He takes the handcuffed hackers to Hong Kong.
Chan wakes up in a facility he assumes is SHIELD, but it’s not. Raina says she wants to run tests to help him boost his powers and make him a hero. She even gives him (dumb) superhero code name: Scorch. Raina has technicians give Chan an injection she says will temporarily boost his powers, and it does — incredibly. Raina tells scientist Debbie (Shannon Lucio) that the instability in the Extremis formula has been neutralized by Chan’s fireproof blood platelets. Debbie orders Chan drained. When he wakes up and tries to use his flames, he is burned by his own powers.
On the bus, Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) find evidence against Lydon. Ward tells Skye that Lydon accepted $1 million for doing the hack for a girl in a flower dress. Skye was outraged that Lydon had chosen money over idealism. He claims he thought he was helping an environmental group study centipedes! The Centipede group from the pilot? That cinches it! SHIELD is goin’ in! May and Coulson infiltrate the base, but it goes into lockdown, so Ward escorts Skye in to override the security protocols so they can get back out. When Coulson finds Chan, he doesn’t want to leave. Without the platelets in his blood to contain the Extremis, Chan goes nuts, injects himself with the rest of the Extremis, and sets off on a fiery rampage.
The night-night gun doesn’t work on Chan, leaving Coulson and May helpless, but Chan takes off and finds Dr. Debbie, who has been abandoned by Raina. She pleads with him, but Chan burns her alive, proving he’s a lost cause. Coulson appears and distracts Chan so May can spring out of nowhere and inject him in the back with a drug that paralyzes Chan while Coulson and May leg it. Then Chan overloads and explodes. Dead.
Back on the bus, Coulson gives Lydon a silver bracelet that will prevent him from using electronics and drops him in the middle of Hong Kong. Then he summons Skye to his office and demands that she comes clean. She reaches into her bra and pulls out — the chip, explaining it contains all her research into herself. She became a hacker and joined Rising Tide in order to find info on her parents, but the only thing she came up with was a redacted SHIELD file. Coulson suggests maybe he can help, and gives her a silver electronics-jamming bracelet. Meanwhile, Raina visits a mysterious man in prison and reports that they should soon have a stable of… er, stable supersoldiers, but she wants to consult with “The Clairvoyant” before moving forward.
Hmmm, where have we seen that redheaded scientist lady before? Oh, yeah, in the pilot! She was pretty cold back then, not caring in the least about the fate of her test subjects beyond the data she could gather before they exploded, so her death was pure poetic justice. Shakespearean, even, since she was hoist on her own petard.
Seems like this is the episode wherein the pigeons of the pilot come home to roost, because we also found out about that chip in Skye’s bra. The explanation was a bit disappointing because she’s supposed to be this hacker and her kung fu is supposed to be strong, so why could she only uncover one document? And, since it’s unreadable thanks to the SHIELD redaction, why is she carrying it around like it’s the nuclear launch codes?
At first it seemed a little odd that after championing Akela against murder charges last week, Coulson was so cold to Skye, but as Akela’s S.O., he had a long time to get to know her, whereas Skye is still a stranger and still far from trusted. And Skye really is not helping her case by… well, by lying. Especially when she doesn’t have to. Coulson and the others have every right to be suspicious of her because she is very suspicious. This is twice now that she has appeared to switch sides in the blink of an eye only to dismiss it as a tactical move. She really is untrustworthy.
Once again, Coulson went into a field op in a coat and tie, without any body armor. Does the guy not sweat? Does he think he’s bulletproof? Ooooohh, right, he’s a robot… .
SHIELD keeps a list — called The Index — of “people and objects with power,” and Chan was on it. But who and what else? Well, doubtless Thor’s hammer and the Casket of Ancient Winters (or, as I am sure it will become known, the Cosmic Cube). And surely the Avengers.
What’s up with Rising Tide? After the pilot I thought it was a one-woman operation, but now is it a one-woman, one-man operation? The group is not an effective threat because it doesn’t appear to have any goals and the writers are counting on us to draw parallels to the real-life Anonymous.
May was conversing in Cantonese with Chan and Kwan (Tzi Ma).
Speaking of Kwan, the visual effect that put a burning hole through his torso was pretty impressive on a TV budget.
Since Ward and Skye were playing the old-school, non-electronic version of Battleship, I think we can assume it came from Coulson’s stock of “old stuff.” I thought he doesn’t like people touching his stuff, but there he was, just watching them play…
“We could go a few rounds, like the old days.” — May, to Coulson
“You’re a hacker, not SEAL Team Six.” — Lydon, to Skye