Last night’s episode of Agents of SHIELD was a terrific action movie, a major gamechanger for the TV show, and a prelude to Avengers: Age of Ultron, all rolled into one. But it was also a huge present to those of us who’ve been watching the show since the beginning, proving that it was all worthwhile. Spoilers ahead...

In “The Dirty Half-Dozen,” the original team from the first season comes back together to do One Last Mission, and take down a Hydra base in the Arctic Circle. But nobody trusts Ward and his puppet Bakshi, and Simmons actually plots to kill Ward. Coulson and May are having trust issues, and meanwhile Coulson is having to work with the “Real SHIELD.” And meanwhile, back in the Inhuman Day Spa, Jiaying is struggling to cope with Raina and her ex-husband.

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The big arc of this episode has to do with our team taking down a Hydra base, where Mike Peterson and Lincoln (aka John from Tomorrow People) are being experimented on. I bet John wishes he still had access to the Three Ts. Surprisingly, Bakshi remains loyal to Ward even after he’s back in the bosom of Hydra, and Coulson’s original team is able to rescue the prisoners and gain critical intel — which leads to the Avengers being able to attack Baron von Strucker, in Age of Ultron.

I continue to think that Hydra went down too easy, unless it turns out that Gonzales is a Hydra mole. This season started out with Hydra triumphant and SHIELD in tatters, and Hydra was built up as an unstoppable foe. And then, Hydra sort of got treated like the Borg on Star Trek: Voyager. Turning points included the attack on Puerto Rico, when Coulson and a handful of others managed to take down a Hydra army, and then Lance Hunter and Coulson’s sting operation, which went way, way too smoothly.

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That said, it’s awesome to see the assault on the secret Hydra base, which is full of badassery including Coulson getting his beloved jet blown up on purpose. As soon as I saw that this episode was directed by Kevin Tancharoen (brother of producer Maurissa Tancharoen and director of those awesome Mortal Kombat shorts) I was primed for some great action scenes — and “The Dirty Half-Dozen” did not disappoint. Just check out the GIF above. This easily held up to the May-on-May fight scene from the last episode Tancharoen directed.

This episode also paid off a lot of long-term plotlines in a pretty satisfying way. Skye gets to use her superpowers in the field, unleashing the Quake on a couple of Hydra goons. Mike Peterson’s journey as an “enhanced” person reaches an interesting point, both with him having alien material used on him and with him getting to bond with Lincoln over being two very different superpowered people. Lance starts to repair his bridges with Mac over the fact that Mac choked and kidnapped him — but absolutely won’t speak to Bobbi, his ex.

And meanwhile, Coulson and May have a really interesting dynamic. May really appears to have drunk the “real SHIELD” kool-aid, and is now a full voting member on the SHIELD council — and she’s pissed at Coulson for keeping so many secrets from her. (Including Theta Protocol, which is still a secret, but is apparently something that Maria Hill gets to know about.) Coulson tells May he was meeting with her ex-husband purely for therapy visits about his alien writing compulsion. But he also doesn’t tell her that his real reason for wanting to attack the Hydra base is to get intel on Strucker’s location so the Avengers can take him down. Coulson believes that if May knows his real agenda, she won’t support it — which seems weird. Why not?

But the most satisfying thing in this episode is the way that nobody lets Grant Ward off the hook. This moment, in particular, is just pure beauty:

This comes right after Skye says that Ward is “like Candyman,” because he shows up when you mention his name. Ward wants to rejoin the team and have it be like old times, but nobody is letting him forget that he betrayed them and tried to kill Fitz and Simmons. Thank goodness.

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And then Simmons hatches a plan to kill Ward, using one of those nasty disintegration bombs, which Fitz doesn’t entirely approve of but also doesn’t try to stop. Simmons actually goes through with it, but Bakshi sacrifices himself to save Ward — who doesn’t try to kill her back, but just says he’s disappointed in her. And with that, Ward disappears, realizing at last that the team will never forgive him because he doesn’t deserve forgiveness.

And just when we’re ready to write Ward off entirely, we see that he actually does have a decent side to him — thanks to the storyline involving Agent 33. We sort of assumed he was using her, or that his plan for her involved some kind of nefarious power grab. But no — he really does want to fix her, and he thinks that the way to do that is to bring her back to SHIELD and help her to rediscover what she’s lost as a result of Hydra’s brainwashing. Only Bobbi Morse is willing to give Agent 33 a chance and treat her like a person, but the scene where Ward asks Coulson to help her rediscover herself as a SHIELD agent is actually quite moving.

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Meanwhile, the move from Coulson and SHIELD being enemies to teaming up is pretty lightning-fast — in keeping with the traditions of spy stories. But the one fly in the ointment is Gonzales, who only goes along with it to capture Skye, Lincoln and Deathlok. Gonzales still sees “enhanced” people as the enemy, and is determined to study them in much the same way as Hydra was doing — and he’s still going to clash with Coulson, who warns him that Nick Fury will probably show up to ask for his toolbox back.

Meanwhile, back in the Inhuman Day Spa, Raina is having more prophetic visions, predicting that Skye will save Lincoln, and also predicting the storyline of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Raina is like, “There’s a staff... and it’s going to lead to the creation of an android, called Ultron. I think... you might be able... to buy action figures... as well as see him... in theaters... Possibly, there will be other merchandising... as well.”

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Raina’s being awfully useful, but Jiaying’s ex-husband Cal warns her that Raina’s a manipulative psycho — something that turns into a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, since that warning brings out the control freak in Jiaying, who in turn inspires Raina to start challenging her.

And meanwhile, Cal is acting a lot like Ward — in denial about how much has changed, and how impossible his dream of getting his family back together again is. For some reason, instead of dropping Cal down a deep hole, Jiaying tells him that he can stay in the Day Spa for now. That’s not going to be a decision she winds up regretting, at all.