Last week’s installment of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was the equivalent of a terminally brain-dead patient suddenly awaking after six months, just as fingers reached for the plug and time of death was recorded. Then, the patient immediately leaped from their stretcher, performing acrobatic kung fu while solving differential equations. While we have yet to tell, ultimately, how much permanent damage occurred while the show—err, patient—was on life support, the question now that they’re alive, kicking and thinking is: Where are they going with this explosive return from the brink?
While it was frustrating to be made to wait an extra hour before tonight’s actual new episode, it wasn’t the worst idea to air the best—and most impactful—episode again immediately before, as tonight’s episode extends directly from those events. While “Providence” could never hope to reach the levels of excitement generated by the cataclysmic “Turn, Turn, Turn,” it nevertheless played off it as well as could be hoped.
After Ward’s demonstrated allegiance to H.Y.D.R.A. by straight-up murdering Hand and freeing Garrett (Please, never leave us, Bill Paxton!), the two set to work getting the band back together by springing both Raina and Quinn (who’ll always have a place in my heart for nearly killing Skye). Meanwhile, Col. Talbot takes a break from hunting Bruce Banner to contact Coulson and, basically, pull jurisdiction on S.H.I.E.L.D. Coulson, wisely, doesn’t like that arrangement, so he makes the call to encrypt his team’s records completely from the Bus and network. Unwisely, only Skye will retain the encryption key. Honestly, Phil—your world was just totally shattered, everyone around you could be your enemy, yet again you pin all your faith on the new recruit who immediately betrayed your trust after joining. I can’t stress this enough: If they can’t write the character less annoyingly, the showrunners and writers need to at least stop treating her character so preciously. Agent May is far more awesome, and she’s on Coulson’s shit list for keeping secrets under orders from the friggin’ top.
Anyway, while getting ready to toss out their badges, Coulson finds hidden coordinates on his, which he believes is a message sent directly from Fury. It was a good hunch, because it leads them directly to a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. base run by Patton Oswalt as Agent Koenig (who’s let himself go quite a bit since the comics, it would seem). One thing Agents is doing extremely well in is casting their guest stars; the Nerd Cred from Oswalt’s presence alone can bump up an episode a half-grade. Koenig explains to Coulson that Fury faked his death, which places him in roughly the same situation as Coulson: Off the grid, and looking for answers.
If it all reads like plot fallout from last week, that’s because it basically is. But, unlike the ghost of terrible episodes past, it’s held together with its internal logic and now-more-consistent rules of its universe. Coulson and Company are no longer mere spokes in the big wheel that is S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s a world gone mad, and they’re struggling for survival. There may be huger things occurring elsewhere in the MCU on both the cosmic and terrestrial scale, but damn good stakes continue to rise right here on TV, and it won’t even shake you down for 3-D ticket prices.
Scott Wold is a Chicago-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter, if you must.