At the end of last week's episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson told Titus Welliver's Agent Blake that he wasn't the same old Coulson and that everyone had better get used to it. In last week's review I mentioned that I believed that message was about Coulson and about the direction of the show. I've been enjoying the show and picking up little threads here and there to connect, however I know the vast majority of critics have been hoping for something different. I'd say that this weeks episode, entitled "The Hub, may have delivered just that and gave us a glimpse, however brief, into the convoluted world of the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization. While the last few minutes of the show continued to tease Skye's past and Coulson's recovery, it was the look inside S.H.I.E.L.D. operations and the beginning of a rift that held the most interest to me. After the jump I'll review the episode and explain why last night's episode puts pieces in motion that will impact the MCU.
If you were watching and paying even a little bit of attention last night, you heard the message loud and clear: "Trust the system." By the end of the episode, however, you should have clearly understood that the system cannot be trusted. Comic book fans could probably have seen this coming with the addition of Victoria Hand to the mix. Hand's history in the comics suggests that she not be trusted, at all, by anyone...ever, and the her TV counterpart has certainly given us that same vibe. Without spoiling the show it's enough to say that she's making some calls about Coulson's team without informing Coulson, who has top clearance, of the calls she's making. As you might expect, Coulson, who definitely has changed, does not take kindly to being left out of the loop, which seems to be happening more and more.
Coulson's entire team, it seems, is being left out of the loop, almost by design. A few references are made to the fact that Coulson's team operates differently than the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D. and that they are looked at in a different light from the rest of the agency. This episode finds the team called into The Hub, a top-secret base in a top-secret location, that houses some S.H.I.E.L.D. big-timers, including the aforementioned Agent Hand and a more familiar face, Agent Sitwell. It seems that Coulson's team has two operatives that the agency needs to do a job...and so Fitz and Ward, the obvious choices to run a two-man field mission, are sent in to disarm a weapon ahead of a full-scale S.H.I.E.L.D. air assault. Simmons and Skye, especially Skye, have some real issues accepting the company line to "trust the system" when they ask why Fitz would be sent into the field while they are left in the dark because they don't have enough clearance. While everything looks good up front, I think it's safe to say that from this point on we are never going to look at S.H.I.E.L.D. the same way again and that's the point.
By the end of this show it's clear that Coulson's team intentionally exists outside of the rest of the organization; this is something I believe will continue to develop as the show moves forward and will tie in with the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The episode was designed to make the audience call the integrity of S.H.I.E.L.D. into question while we watch Coulson's team do the same. There are certainly some subtle and not-so-subtle underlying hints to the audience that things are not as they seem and that a great deal of information is being withheld from the team on The Bus. This is almost certainly going to be a topic that's explored during the rest of the show's run and will probably come to a head in the show's final two episodes which will air right before the Cap sequel that will show us what happens when a spy organization turns on itself.
I've been pretty sure that this show is pacing itself but going to pay off big in the end. For some people, including this guy at Zap2It, that's not good enough. I forget, sometimes, that the world needs everything right now and that some people do not enjoy good, old-fashioned story telling. I'm very hopeful that Joss Whedon and the rest of the show runners are telling a good, old-fashioned story that, when seen as a whole, will make people feel fulfilled. I'm willing to wait. I'm willing to continue to pick up all the easter eggs (The Triskelion was mentioned last night), follow all the little threads and cookie crumbs (we found out more about Skye's mom and less about Coulson's recovery) and think. I like this show because it's making me think. I'm not afraid to think and fill in some gaps for myself because I know, down the road, I'm going to get something bigger and I'm pretty sure it's going to be pretty cool.