Last night's Agents of SHIELD was really like part two of the season opener, wrapping up the Absorbing Man story and the "getting the team together again" story. But the best bits involved our heroes accepting each other's damage, and even using it to get things done. Spoilers ahead...
We're still missing Gemma Simmons — the non-imaginary version — on Agents of SHIELD. But last night's episode gave us a new pairing, that might actually rival FitzSimmons. How about FitzMack? The way that Mack pays attention to the brain-damaged Fitz and coaxes him into being helpful — and is even protective, shooing away the other science nerds who upset Fitz — is really sweet.
And this episode's big miraculous save, stopping Crusher Creel from killing a whole lot of people, happens because Mack takes the time to listen to Fitz and understand what the hell Fitz is on about. Fitz keeps muttering "I didn't solve that today," which sounds like self-recrimination — but he's actually saying he solved the Creel problem in the past, and they just need to find one of his designs.
We don't know much about Mack, but I'm already liking him on the team. And as fun as seeing Mack and Fitz team up is, the little glimpses of Mack-and-Tripp banter are also lovely. Let's hope neither of these cheerfully competent African American men is marked for death. Please?
The other really nice, and quite surprising, bit comes at the end — when we find out what Coulson has been doing about his weird incidents since the first-season finale. Those weird episodes where Coulson has a compulsion to start sketching strange diagrams that look like alien circuitry. (A side effect of being injected with Kree goop, although it doesn't seem to have affected Skye.)
I'd sort of assumed Coulson was keeping these manic-sketching things secret, because it might damage team morale to know the team leader is acting kind of loopy — but instead, he's told Melinda May, whom he trusts again after their brief falling out last season. And he's got her photographing him as he sketches. (And of course, he's giving the diagrams to Skye to try and figure out.)
This episode's big reveal is that the Obelisk, that mysterious object captured from Hydra during World War II, has markings on it that are similar to Coulson's sketches. And it's apparently sentient, because it "decides" to let Raina live at the end of the episode. The object is obviously alien in origin, and now I'm wondering if it's one of the Infinity Gems (that would be one way to increase the stakes on this show quite dramatically.)
The Obelisk has infected Crusher Creel with its weird skin-blorping power that killed Izzy last week, and this is screwing with Creel's skin-changing powers. And when he touches people, he passes along the Obelisk's death touch to them. He almost passes the Obelisk along to Hydra, but in the middle of the episode's big fight scene the Obelisk gets snatched by Raina — who used to work for the Clairvoyant (and hence Hydra) but has now defected.
Turns out Raina is working for a new player, played by Kyle MacLachlan. He's very someone powerful and knowledgeable, who wants to be reunited with his daughter. (And anybody who's been reading news articles about MacLachlan's casting already knows who his daughter is, but the episode doesn't say. There's really only one candidate, in any case.)
The other "meat" of this episode had to do with another character who's kind of messed up, and whose issues need to be used to SHIELD's advantage — Agent Lance Hunter, who is sort of a standard-issue "rogue who's only out for himself." Brigadier General Glenn Talbot offers Hunter $2 million and a decent burial for Izzy if he turns Coulson in, and Hunter almost takes it — but he wants revenge against Creel, and believes Coulson's people are most likely to make this happen.
Hunter won't betray SHIELD for money, but he's happy to shoot his team-mates with tranq darts if they get in the way of his revenge plan. Coulson saves Hunter's ass when his bid for revenge against Creel goes south, and then offers him a place on the team. So Hunter is basically stepping into Ward's original slot as the generic badass who doesn't play well with others — but at least he's a bit more fun than Ward was, at first.
All in all, this was mostly an episode about moving the pieces into position. But given that the show could be leaning pretty hard on the "they're in a bad place after Hydra's betrayal and nobody trusts each other" theme, it's interesting that instead the episode chose to emphasize how they're making it work, in spite of Fitz's damage and Hunter's unreliability.