Agents of SHIELD is getting into its third season, and by now Marvel’s spy show has covered the same ground a few times. What was great about last night’s episode, “A Wanted (Inhu)man,” was that it kept finding new twists on the familiar storylines.

Spoilers ahead...

In “A Wanted (Inhu)man,” the main plot has to do with Lincoln, who’s being hunted by the new not-so-covert agency ATCU ever since that hospital massacre. ATCU is willing to put out a Bolo on Lincoln, and even plaster his picture all over the media, to catch him. And meanwhile, SHIELD is tracking him but can’t quite win his trust—and maybe doesn’t entirely deserve it.


In the episode’s main subplots, Simmons adjusts to being home after spending months stranded on an alien planet. And even Fitz’s best efforts can’t help her recover. And meanwhile, Lance Hunter and Melinda May continue the hunt for Grant Ward, by going to an underground fight club where Lance needs to win some fights to prove himself to Hydra.

So here are all the ways that this episode managed to keep pulling out surprises:

It looks as though Lincoln is going to trust Daisy

After all, Lincoln was the one who taught Daisy to accept her powers and see them as something awesome rather than a curse, and he was all about sticking together back when he was living with the Tomorrow People, I mean the Inhumans. But no. Lincoln has gotten paranoid and also no longer believes any of his own hype thanks to Daisy’s mom and her wacky schemes. Especially once Lincoln realizes SHIELD implanted him with a tracker, it’s all over. At first, anyway.

You think May is going to have to rescue Lance

There’s so much buildup about the fact that Lance is going to have to go to the fight club and take part in matches, even though Melinda’s the better fighter—because Lance’s buddy set them up with the bout, and because Melinda stands out too much. So you kind of assume that she’s going to step in at the last minute and save Lance’s bacon. Instead, Melinda gets to have her own moment of supreme ass-kickery when three mooks try to take advantage of her, and she puts them down the hard way.

You think Lance’s buddy is going to suspect something

The whole thing with Lancy’s drinking buddy, Spud, is so built up, you kind of assume that it’s leading up to Spud doubting that Lance is really who he says he is. Or suspecting that Lance is actually working against Hydra, or whatever.

Instead, Spud pulls a nastier surprise—he’s the one who’s going to beat Lance bloody in the fight club. Lance only wins because he pulls out a pair of brass knuckles at the last minute. And Melinda seems somewhat perturbed by Lance’s gruesome victory.

Lincoln’s buddy seems too good to be true

Lincoln, on the run, gets picked up by his old pal John (which is confusingly the name Lincoln had on The Tomorrow People. But whatever.) I’m still not 100 percent clear on why Lincoln knows John, but they’re best mates and John is super-effusive in telling Lincoln that his casa is Lincoln’s casa and Lincoln can drive his car, and so on.

Seems like a set up to reveal that John has a secret of his own, like he’s working for somebody, or he’s a mutant as well. But no—John is exactly who he seems, and the surprise is that he finds out Lincoln’s secret and reacts really badly. And then Lincoln zaps him in self-defense, and he dies of a heart attack, leaving Lincoln racked with guilt.

You think Coulson is going to do something cunning and heartwarming

When Coulson sets up a one-to-one meeting with Rosalind, the head of ATCU, it sort of looks like he’s going to do something extreme to protect Skye and Lincoln, and possibly pull out an ace of some sort. Instead, he reveals that Rosalind is the one holding the ace—she’s got Skye’s picture from the hospital, and she could choose to plaster it all over TV screens. Coulson is willing to compromise pretty intensely to keep that from happening, even handing Lincoln over.

Oh, and I didn’t entirely see Daisy kissing Lincoln coming—but they don’t have much chemistry as a couple, so it feels like a red herring.

It looks like SHIELD is going to be fighting ACTU for ages

I was starting to roll my eyes a bit, because we already had SHIELD fighting Glenn Talbot, and then a rogue faction of SHIELD, and this seemed like it was going to be yet another round of “good guys fighting each other.” But Coulson points out that exact same thing, and in the end, he’s able to convince Rosalind to let him help her. It’s actually kind of awesome to see characters who are determined to keep from making the same mistakes over and over—so they can make brand new mistakes instead.

You think this is all leading up to Simmons having a sweet heartwarming moment

And she does show appreciation for Fitz rescuing her and taking care of her—but it’s also not that easy for her to come back. She’s super-traumatized and something as simple as a cellphone buzzing sets off her fight-or-flight instinct. She can’t even read a menu. The show does an amazing job of dramatizing the extremes of PTSD, and the only downside is that now we’re going to feel cheated if Simmons does wind up making a full recovery in a few episodes. (The show sort of lampshaded this by having Fitz point out that he can now say all sorts of ten-cent words again with no trouble, because he’s over the whole “brain damage” thing from last year.) The scene where Fitz takes Simmons to the restaurant where he was going to take her for dinner before the portal swallowed her up? And he winds up comforting her as she cries? All the feels.

You think Daisy and Mack are going to have a fight

After all, Mack is the one who tries to hand Lincoln over to ATCU after Coulson’s first attempt to cut a deal. And Mack was the number one advocate for not trusting anyone with superpowers, last year. But instead, Daisy and Mack actually have a nice bonding moment after their SNAFU in the field, playing some kind of multiplayer shooter game together.

You think Simmons is just scared the portal to that other planet will reopen

But no! In fact, she’s worried the portal won’t reopen... because just like Jack from Lost, she has to go back.

Charlie Jane Anders is the author of All The Birds in the Sky, coming in January from Tor Books. Follow her on Twitter, and email her.