Ladies and Gentleman, the hits keep on coming. This week’s episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. may not be as philosophical as last week’s, but it’s definitely the most fun I’ve had with spy craft in a long time.
The episode kicks off with the arrival of ominous black sedans. That can’t be good. Then Catholic priests step out of the sedans. Okay, in our line of work that really can’t be good. In a sci-fi show, priests arriving are equivalent to the music dropping out of a horror movie. Something bad is approaching fast. Not to disappoint, they are investigating a burnt out church and the miracle painting inside. The painting is unscathed, but on the back we find a collection of Coulson’s favorite alien style symbols. Someone call theHistory Channel, we’ve got another one.
From there we cut to South Beach, Florida, and sunshine. It seems a little cruel to drop the tropics in my face, just as autumn looms large here in Chicago. Grrr, I miss the sun… but not the elaborate pick pockets. Though these pick pockets just happen to be Skye and Hunter stealing a flash drive. Why has S.H.I.E.L.D. resorted to petty theft? Rising business costs? Lab explosion repair fund? Surprise birthday party for Ward? Nope. Just a little bit of Mission Impossible-style hacking to help break Coulson and May into a fundraiser for the aforementioned burnt out church. I mean, really guys. No one likes Ward. No one. He’s not even in this episode.
But back to South Beach, where May and Coulson are on their first undercover operation in—well, let’s just say it’s been a while. I’m going to take a moment here to say, I’m not a fan of May’s dress, but I’m a huge fan of her attitude about it. “I will pay you 500 dollars right now for a pair of flats.” Love it. Spy craft in heals is no fun.
After a little bit of catch-up with the team (yep, everyone still hates Hunter), we return to May and Coulson, and their mission to steal the miracle painting. They go to radio silence to engage in a little spy craft waltz, cha-cha, tango. Yes, they manage to combine all three while checking out their security obstacles, and that’s why they’re the highest ranking agents we have. Well that, and the whole messy Hydra hiding within S.H.I.E.L.D./Captain America wants to shut us down/our other agents keep disappearing thing.
More importantly, they take a moment to discuss what’s been going on off-screen. Coulson’s hand has a tremor and his symptoms are getting worse. He wants to discuss a plan in case he starts turning like Garrett, and becomes a danger to everyone. This is clearly all leading to—Oh crap, General Talbot’s here. Has anyone mentioned to our primary antagonist that his facial hair is looking a little Hitler-esque lately? Not judging, just saying it doesn’t exactly scream I’m on the side of righteous good.
Coulson decides to face the situation head on, and confronts Talbot directly. The general is acting weird; giving vague responses and even claiming drunkenness. Dude, something is totally up with this guy. Coulson, Coulson—oh geez, he’s a robot. Absolutely a robot. I have to warn Coulson.
But instead we cut to Tripp who complains that he’s spent the mission babysitting an empty plane. Side note here: I feel like they’re trying to write this character out. They’ve done so much character development for everyone else (even Ward), but Tripp doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. We’ve got a short bonding moment where the question of why Hunter is so good at seduction comes up. No one really has an answer, but I’ll put money on the accent.
With Talbot acting strangely, Coulson decides to step up the time line, and May gets an A+ at flirting. Coulson punches a guy out, and together they break into a secret vault where they find laser grids. Why does it always have to be laser grids? Coulson is about to pull a Catherine Zeta-Jones in Entrapment when May decides to take the more direct approach, and just walk through them. Apparently, she’s done with spy craft for the evening.
Once in the vault, they discover Talbot’s purpose at the party. He’s there to grab the miracle painting himself. And before we even have a moment for “What? Why?” it’s revealed that he’s working for Hydra. What? Why?
No time for answers as May and Coulson are trying to sneak out after setting off the alarms. They almost make it before being stopped by Talbot, who wants to strike a deal. He even calls Coulson “Phil” and asks for help deciphering the marking on the back of the painting. Seriously he calls him “Phil”, and finally the red flags go up. They decide May is going to investigate by herself before they agree to anything involving Talbot. May’s also displaying a great talent for avoiding Coulson’s “I’m a danger” conversation.
Checking back in with the rest of the team they’re all talking about ex wives, boyfriends, and crushes. Hallucination Simmons pops up again to point out that if Fitz doesn’t join the conversation he’ll be left out of the group bonding. And that’s a double ouch.
May finds Agent 33 in a hotel room and ends up in a fight with her and Talbot. May gets the upper hand for a moment and pulls Talbot’s face off. No really, it’s the return of Natasha’s virtual facemask from Winter Soldier, and it turns out Talbot is Mr. Ominous in disguise. They knock May out, and Agent 33 creates an Agent May mask. It’s pretty obvious where that’s going.
May-gent 33 infiltrates S.H.I.E.L.D., tricks Phil into going on a mission without backup, and plants a sabotaging robot on the Bus all in under 10 minutes. If she hadn’t been converted to evil, I’d definitely still be crushing. Meanwhile, Ominous is threatening May with improvised electrical torture. He’s also dropping hints about putting her through brainwashing. Seriously Ominous, you are earning that nickname.
Coulson and May-gent are driving to the fake meet up when Coulson decides to bring up the need for a contingency plan in case he loses control. May-gent 33 is good at a lot of things, but apparently improvisation is not one of them, as her answers are more vague and stilted than fake Talbot’s were earlier. She crosses a very particular un-May like line by squeezing Coulson’s hand. He’s understandably a little suspicious after that.
Meanwhile, that little robot is causing trouble on the Bus as it sets up the plane to explode. So it looks like bonding time will have to be rescheduled.
Coulson’s suspicions are confirmed when May-gent agrees to go for a cup of coffee. It earns her a punch to the face. May, as it turns out, hates coffee. She’s also the ultimate action lady who will come at you in her irregularly cut underwear when you’re distracted. Just a heads up, Ominous.
May-gent and Coulson fight, but are interrupted by May who delivers a kick to May-gents uterus. Seriously, ouch—that’s much more painful than those lacking a uterus might think. Apparently, this signals the fight is on to May-gent who takes off her heels, because honestly, no one in their right mind wants to fight in anything but flats. Ominous makes a run for it with the painting, but Coulson is in pursuit.
Back on the bus, Fitz guides Hunter through some circuits being inserted into already-empty ports (also known as S.H.I.E.L.D. Science and Mechanical Engineering 101). It causes an explosion, which Fitz qualifies as a good thing. So, maybe more like, the Tony Stark school of science instead.
After an epic May versus Agent 33 fight, improvised electrocution makes a return as May uses it to take out her doppelganger. Note to self: electrocution to the face looks painful. Coulson, who has recovered the painting, and May make a quick exit, just as Hydra S.W.A.T. shows up. Note to Hydra: if you’re trying to operate in the shadows, maybe don’t put your insignia on literally everything.
As we near the end, the team is celebrating, when Hunter offers Fitz a beer, and Fitz finally decides to join the conversation. Aaaah, he’s going to move on. Hallucination Simmons would approve.
May and Coulson update Talbot on his impersonator, and Talbot and I finally agree on something: Coulson was kind of carrying the idiot ball if he didn’t recognize there was something wrong with impersonator Talbot from the beginning. Yay! Friends! So, Talbot, now that we’re buddies, can we talk about your facial hair? No? Okay, maybe later.
We’ve got a big revelation coming anyway, because after Talbot exits, it’s revealed that the carving on the back of the miracle painting is a recent addition. This means that there is someone else out their like Coulson. May tries to initiate her super skill set of avoidance, but Coulson finally forces her to talk about an exit strategy if he starts to turn. In a very May-like move, our favorite lady agent already has a plan in the form of a bug out bag. If the worst happens, she is going to take Coulson away and find a way to fix him. “I’m not shooting you in the head. I will never shoot you in the head. I’m getting you out.” Coulson doesn’t believe this will work, and tells May it’s time to deal with reality. Hard choices are coming to S.H.I.E.L.D., and if the tag scene with Reina at the end of tonight’s episode is any indicator, Nazis. Lots and lots of Nazis.
Katherine Siegel is a Chicago-based freelance writer and director and a regular contributor to Paste. You can find out more by checking out her website, or follow her on Twitter.