Last night's episode of Agents of SHIELD was pretty fascinating, and not just because it revealed the origins of the current disagreement. We got another look at the huge turning point for SHIELD — and we saw what other people learned from it. What does SHIELD stand for, and what should it be after Hydra? Spoilers ahead...
So in last night's "One Door Closes," the two versions of SHIELD came into direct conflict. The "Real SHIELD," led by Robert Gonzales (Edward James Olmos) made its move against Coulson's version of SHIELD. And it all led up to a confrontation between the two men, Coulson and Gonzales, over their respective visions for the organization.
And the ideological divide between Coulson and Gonzales isn't simple, by any means.
On the one hand, it has to do with Gonzales' distrust for alien influences that he seems to believe will taint humanity — like Coulson, injected with alien blood to bring him back from the dead which Gonzales suspects will turn him into a "messenger" for an alien race. Or Skye, whose DNA was altered by the Terrigen mists, turning her into a potentially dangerous adversary.
So Gonzales believes that Coulson no longer deserves to be the Director of SHIELD because he's no longer fully human, and because he's taken the not-quite-human Skye as his protege. But also, because of Coulson's obsession with finding the ancient city in Puerto Rico, which he was compelled to draw maps of.
But also, Gonzales believes that nobody should be Director of SHIELD, at all. He sees Nick Fury's autocratic style as a big reason why SHIELD failed — as Gonzales tells Coulson, it was secrets, not Hydra, that brought down SHIELD. So Gonzales' attack on Coulson is also a rejection of Fury (whom everyone believes to be dead).
To underline the reasons for Gonzales' radical break with Fury's SHIELD, the episode shows us how Gonzales and his people spent the first day of the Hydra era.
Destroy the ship or recapture it?
The flashbacks take place on the same aircraft carrier that Gonzales is still commanding today — but we see how he, Bobbi Morse, Mac and Isabelle "Izzy" Hartley nearly destroyed the ship instead.
After Hydra have just risen up within SHIELD, they've taken control over the aircraft carrier and seem to be on the verge of sealing their victory — when Bobbi shows up and turns the tables. She helps Mac to rescue Gonzales, and then Bobbi reveals she has a second mission from Nick Fury: To destroy the ship and keep Hydra from getting control over the powerful secrets it contains. Bobbi doesn't expect to survive this mission, which is why she gives Izzy a medallion to give to Lance Hunter, her ex.
Bobbi insists on going alone, because those were her orders from Fury — but Gonzales overrides them, and insists on going with her, along with the rest of the group. Along the way, they see lots of signs that they're turning the tide against Hydra, and learn that loyal SHIELD agents are fighting back all over the ship. So when it comes time to destroy the ship, half the group wants to retake it instead.
Gonzales tries to insist that Bobbi complete her mission, but he's outvoted — because his rank no longer means what it once did, now that SHIELD has basically fallen apart. Saving the ship turns out to be the right call, because Bobbi and a bunch of other SHIELD agents get to survive. And after that, the "Real SHIELD" is a quasi-democracy.
Contrast all of this with Coulson's experience after SHIELD fell. He had a crisis of confidence, and led his team to a hidden base in the snowy middle of nowhere. His team thought he was losing his mind, but he kept insisting that his SHIELD badge meant something, that it had to mean something — and then, it did. He got access to a base, and an as-yet-undetermined number of Patton Oswalts.
Coulson's autocratic leadership, coupled with his faith in SHIELD as a light in the darkness, saved his group from falling apart and allowed him to rebuild. And later, he was rewarded by having Nick Fury himself pass the mantle of SHIELD director to him. Coulson's lesson was about having faith, and also about the importance of leadership.
Meanwhile, Gonzales' experience on Hydra Day was all about learning to question — although as Coulson more or less points out, Gonzales may hate secrets, but he sure doesn't mind being stealthy.
Some Pretty Great Spy-vs-Spy Action
Between the scenes of Bobbi and Izzy taking down a slew of Hydra goons and the battle for Coulson's SHIELD base, "One Door Closes" is pretty packed with the spy-vs-spy action we've always wanted from this show.
In particular, the early sequences where Mac and Bobbi are still trying to be stealthy about stealing Nick Fury's "toolbox" from Coulson are terrific — Coulson rumbles Mac but plays it cool until he gets Mac surrounded by armed guards. And meanwhile, Bobbi nearly gets away with the "toolbox" but gets into a brutal fight with Melinda May — who almost wins, except that Bobbi unleashes an EMP.
The tables are nearly turned, largely thanks to Fitz and Simmons — Simmons tricks Bobbi into holding on to a device that shocks her into unconsciousness, while Fitz comes close to disabling Bobbi's hardware before Mac catches up with him. But it's all for naught, because the main assault force shows up.
One positive outcome of all this is that Fitz and Simmons seem, finally, to be coming back together again. They start the episode at loggerheads, with Fitz accusing Simmons of treating Skye like a "science experiment" — you can tell they're not getting along because they call each other by their first names. But once they're overrun by the "Real SHIELD," they sit together and even hold hands.
But one of the big questions hanging over this situation — as with all spy-vs-spy stories — is whether anyone will change sides. Especially when Fitz and Simmons meet Weaver, their mentor from the SHIELD Academy, who tells them how Agent Calderon saved her and her students.
Will Simmons wind up sympathizing with Gonzales' view of Skye, Coulson and other abnormal people who've been transformed by alien DNA? Given some of her recent xenophobic statements, it seems at least possible.
In the end, Gonzales has more or less won the battle — he has the toolbox and Coulson's base, along with almost all of Coulson's people. But Gonzales can't open the toolbox (yet), and Coulson gets away, thanks to an assist from Melinda May.
And Coulson isn't alone — in the episode's kicker, we see that he's joined by Lance Hunter, who finally washed up ashore in his escape pod. Lance and Coulson drink girly drinks together — Lance really likes umbrellas — and Lance officially signs on to be a member of Coulson's ever-diminishing team.
Now we know why Coulson sending Skye to that cabin was a mistake
Last week, Coulson dropped off Skye at a cabin in the middle of nowhere. And it was pretty heavily foreshadowed that Coulson made a bad decision — even Coulson himself says he has a feeling it was the wrong call. Now we see why.
True, Skye is out of harm's way when all the shit goes down, and Gonzales' people aren't able to put their mitts on her right away. But it adds to Skye's sense that her friends are rejecting her out of fear — especially when she tries on Simmons' power-dampening gloves and finds they give her vertigo. And when she pulls the homey walls away and realizes she's in an armored safehouse designed by Bruce Banner for the Hulk.
All of this makes Skye especially vulnerable to an approach by Gordon, the member of the Inhumans who's been keeping tabs on her since she first manifested her powers. Gordon tells her about his own experience of being nurtured from childhood to accept that he was different, and supported and embraced (by Skye's own mother, I guess) when his powers emerged. He makes joining Team Inhuman sound pretty attractive.
And meanwhile, Gordon also manages to do more to help Skye with her powers in a few minutes than Melinda and her ex did in several hours. Instead of seeing her powers as a curse to be suppressed, he encourages her to embrace them — and convinces her that she doesn't just cause earthquakes, she connects to the vibrations that exist in all matter. Almost immediately after that, Skye takes off the gloves and is able to reshape water into cool spirals and send it upwards, using pure concentration.
When Bobbi, Calderon and some other SHIELD agents come after Skye, she barely gets warning from Melinda May in time to flee — but they still catch up with her. And she once again discovers that her powers are a lot more versatile than she realized. She's able to deflect a bullet, and then generate a huge wind that knocks down Bobbi and Calderon, along with a ton of trees.
And then Skye calls for Gordon to come get her, and he takes her away to Inhuman-land.
The sad irony is, if Coulson had followed his own faith-based approach instead of succumbing to Gonzales' relative paranoia, he might not have lost Skye (both her presence and possibly also her trust) just when he could use her help the most.