Leading into a holiday hiatus for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., ABC and Marvel have unleashed the show’s sole episode with a cliffhanger ending. But with at least a month before new episodes air, the Marvel team hit hard (and where it counts) for one of this inaugural season’s best episodes, “The Bridge.” As that title might suggest, this is where the many single-episode arcs came together, and the show finally rewards long-term watchers with their loyalty. Maybe we’ve had Thor tie-ins, superhero name-dropping and Nick Fury sightings, but make no mistake—the long arcs are where S.H.I.E.L.D. is at its best.
The action hits early with the return of J. August Richards’ Mike Peterson, a character we were first introduced to as a villain in the pilot. Peterson, who has been training at a S.H.I.E.L.D. base since his pilot episode takedown, is called on to assist against a few super-muscly, Extremis-fueled baddies. Immediately, it’s clear that Peterson fits well with the team after absorbing a not-so-harmless ribbing from Ward, who is discussing his city-wide rampage as Peterson makes his entrance into a briefing room. This isn’t the loose cannon we saw in the pilot anymore. Like the many heroes Peterson’s own son looks up to (the ones he’s possibly trying to model himself after for this very reason), he’s morphed into a humble, chiseled, defender of the innocent. And he’s got a way with Simmons, too, who’s tasked with designing a form-fitting suit for the new hero.
Between Skye’s ongoing parental debacle, whatever is going on between May and Ward, Coulson’s frank discussion with Peterson about balancing S.H.I.E.L.D. and fatherhood, and a look into Coulson’s cellist/muse and his own death, we’ve moved forward with most of the cast in huge, outstretched leaps compared to the whole season’s baby steps. The episode was still over-packed with great action sequences, ranging from the fun first encounter Peterson has on the field with Centipede soldiers to the devastating, explosive finale to the episode. It’s a refreshing model for the show, and with a pre-established Centipede team (headed up by the return of the stone-cold Raina) of baddies, Marvel was freed up to cover plenty of ground this episode.
Most of the emotional weight is piled on for Peterson, a character I’ve come to like more in this episode than most characters in the course of the show. Richards plays the part of the conflicted single dad pitch-perfect, channeling regret, loneliness and a little pride in his current situation. And after an exchange with Centipede, once his son is kidnapped, he brings out some of that live-wire energy we saw in the pilot after realizing he’d been duped into delivering Coulson to the forces. But Peterson’s only one of the reasons we’re devastated at the end of the episode—our new hero takes off after Centipede and ends up running into an explosion. Hopefully some of that Extremis power comes through here—we don’t truly know the fate of Peterson, and if Coulson’s life is any evidence, he’s probably not done for—but to the S.H.I.E.L.D. team, he’s a goner.
In the end it’s bleak, it’s messy and there’s no resolution to be seen for miles. And that’s okay—it’s what I’ve been hoping for in week-to-week episodes this whole season. Coulson’s captured, Peterson’s possibly dead, Ward has been shot, and the team is split up dealing with a common enemy they haven’t been able to snuff in the course of 60 minutes. Where it leads, we’re not sure, but in a world that thrives on this long-form, it’s hard to do anything but grin at Marvel’s nail-biter of an end-of-year send-off.