It’s a post Ultron world, we’re all just living in it. While a commercial success, last week’s Age of Ultron premiere was a bit of a mixed bag with critics, so it’s not surprising that this “tie-in” episode (I’m using that phrase sooo loosely here) doesn’t seem to know quite how to fit into the overall MCU plot. It’s one of the tough things about having completely separate products that have to fit together to form a cohesive story. Just how far can you go without revealing major spoilers for one (“WHAT?! You mean they built a new hellicarrier?”) or creating confusion for people who haven’t been watching the other (“Hey, Katie, you watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? Does it have anything to do with that Dr. List guy who they gave a lot of focus to in that one scene and then never mentioned again?”). As it is, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. decided to stick mostly to a third option and just be kind of vague. It’s actually impressive how they loosely allude to an event that we can assume they just lived through, without showing any direct connection between themselves and the Avengers. It’s not very strong storytelling, but defiantly the lesser of about six possible evils.
With regards to Ultron, I’m still mourning the misuse of a perfectly good James Spader, but The Blacklist season finale hasn’t happened yet, so hope still lives on. And the villain wrangling on this weeks Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pretty much blows all previous villainy out of the water. One of the upswings of this episode is the sheer amount of red herrings thrown in to cloud just who our villain will be for next week’s 2-hour season finale. I don’t usually say this, but SPOILERS AHEAD. Because, in the off chance you don’t figure out the real villain before the turn, I wouldn’t want to take that from you.
We’ve got two obvious contenders in Gonzales and Raina. Gonzales even goes so far as to manipulate Coulson out of a diplomatic meeting with Jiaying, and carry a mysterious box around with him. Raina spends most of the episode embracing her gift and trying to help the people of Afterlife. Unfortunately because she’s Raina, it only takes a few gentle—ha, no sorry, a few furniture-breaking reminders from Cal—to throw more shade on her than Hulk’s shadow could cast. This is especially true after she and Gordon find the Inhuman’s (yep there’s that name drop we’ve all been waiting for, courtesy of Skye) Kree artifact in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s cargo hold.
Our third red herring oddly enough is my Mack. He doesn’t seem to be up to something evil, so much as just up to something. Still, it’s enough to distract you from what’s really going on.
When the turn finally comes, after the reveal that Gonzales’ mysterious box contains a charm that once belonged to Jiaying, after Mack quits S.H.I.E.L.D., it’s none of our usual suspects, but Jiaying herself who turns out to be the big bad. I gotta say having my half-season long bad feeling about her be proven right isn’t nearly as satisfying when it’s pretty clear she intended to murdered Coulson. I had to live through that already three years ago. I still have Fury-related trust issues. Still it’s a pretty sweet reveal. Especially when you consider that much like Cal, her seemingly insane actions have just enough logic behind them to make her sympathetic. Still she’s going to start a war between S.H.I.E.L.D. and Afterlife, so that pretty much promises a powers filled season finally. Let’s just hope no one does something they’ll end up regretting. I’m looking at you Skye. And also you Jemma. Hunter and Fitz too.
Oh and serious points to Kara and Grant, Marvel’s own Bonnie and Clyde, for not only successfully kidnapping Bobbi, but for keeping us all in the dark on you’re ultimate end game. That, my friends, is called playing the long con. Or as long as an episodic television series will allow.
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.