With its release last week, Thor: The Dark World may be the most recent installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and while a crossover is on the docket, this week’s episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “The Hub”, takes a cue from the upcoming Captain America: The Winter Soldier, choosing to set aside the more fantastic elements and tell a straight up espionage story.
Familiar characters from both the page and the screen make appearances this week, further fleshing out the universe, and two of the great mysteries plaguing the team receive some attention, shining a little bit of light upon the shadowy secrets of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Who’s the guy with a bag over his head that’s about to make these terrorists dead? Phil! You’re damn right. Our beloved Agent Coulson finds himself being dragged through the stereotypical dark, dank corridors of an underground bunker, minutes away from a date with a scary interrogator. When said intimidating bad guy arrives, Coulson drops the bomb that this man, Agent Shaw, is a S.H.I.E.L.D. contact and they have three minutes to get out with recovered intelligence. After quickly dispatching the guards, Coulson and Shaw meet up with Ward and May on their way out of what is revealed to be a base beneath the Siberian wasteland. It’s an excellent opening worthy of a James Bond film.
Aboard the bus, Simmons recovers Agent Shaw’s smuggled intel by using a device not too dissimilar from what Arnold Schwarzenegger used to extract the tracking device from his own brain in Total Recall. For all the uninitiated, she shoved a mini claw up his nose. There’s no time for comfort when national security is on the line. Coulson orders the recovered data to be taken to the Hub, yet another location on the ever-growing list of S.H.I.E.L.D. facilities around the globe. However, unlike previous missions, there’s no meeting around the holo-table to discuss the threat of the week. Coulson plays the “classified” card and identifies the intel in question as available to only level 8 agents or above, much to Skye’s (groan) chagrin. While agents like Ward, Fitz, and Simmons accept the S.H.I.E.L.D. hierarchy and understand the need for insulation and secrecy, Skye makes a stink about it, claiming that everyone on the team should be in on the secret. Needless to say, she loses the argument.
At the Hub, agents bustle about, identifying threats, keeping secrets, and overthrowing bad guys. Simmons even manages to name drop the Triskelion, answering that particular question if it was on your mind after seeing the Winter Solider trailer. Coulson also reconnects with Agent Sitwell, a character fans will remember from Thor and The Avengers. Once inside the restricted area to receive the level 8 briefing on Shaw’s intel, Coulson, May, and Ward are introduced to Victoria Hand, a character many fans will recognize from Marvel comics, especially with her characteristic red streak through her hair. Hand divulges what has been discovered in Russia, identifying a group of separatists in possession of a sonic weapon, named the Overkill device, capable of detonating weapons from afar. The mission calls for an infiltration team of two, citing Ward’s Georgian contacts as one half of the equation. However, when it comes to disabling the weapon, someone with a background in tech is required. Cut to the clichéd, yet amusing, display of ineptitude as Fitz struggles to get a cart of equipment through an automatic door.
The Hand of Fate
With Fitz recruited to the mission, Simmons expresses her concern regarding his qualifications as a field agent. It’s a touching exchange that follows up on the pair’s experiences from the previous week, especially the mildly romantic moment they shared after Simmons’s selfless act. Ward expresses his own doubts to Coulson, but the ever-faithful team leader backs Fitz, making it clear that he continues to trust his team. Skye, however, expresses her own worries about the mission; not about Fitz’s ability, but the secrecy surrounding the assignment. She makes it her own mission to get some answers out of Coulson.
Once on site, Fitz and Ward find themselves in the Russian bar to locate Ward’s contact. Unfortunately, dear old Uri is dead, leaving the boys in a very awkward position. By awkward, I mean tied up in the back room. Back at the Hub, Skye continues her revolt against the hierarchy, desperate for answers about the mission, but also gets some tunnel vision once she realizes a S.H.I.E.L.D. installation like the Hub is a prime place to dig up some info on her own past. As the mission progresses, Coulson and Hand discuss strategies. In an uncharacteristic display of compassion, Hand inquires about Coulson’s time in Tahiti following his injury at the hand of Loki. The clearly conditioned response of “It’s a magical place” catches even Coulson off guard as it escapes from his own mouth almost involuntarily. Last week we saw some concern from our fearless leader over his own state and this has clearly added to the pile. Skye even drops her own clue, stating that Coulson is “acting like a robot version of himself” as he dodges her questions about Ward and Fitz’s mission. It’s getting harder and harder to ignore the LMD theory. While Coulson maintains that Skye should “trust the system”, he meets her halfway and promises to use his own clearance to look into the redacted S.H.I.E.L.D. document that holds the answers to Skye’s past.
Meanwhile, Fitz and Ward find themselves looking down the business end of a gun as the untrusting Russians find no use for them. Thankfully, Fitz uses his own technical trickery to secretly cut the power then fix it, resulting in a gain of the Russians’ trust. As he reveals his sly plot to Ward, the seasoned veteran cannot help but be impressed.
Aboard the Bus, we are treated to yet another amusing exchange between Coulson and May. As she practices some tai chi, the pair share a brilliantly one-sided conversation as Phil looks for advice. He is torn between respecting the hierarchy and wanting to trust his team, and as he voices his concerns, he is met with nothing but subtle glances from May as she carries on her exercises. Coulson eventually comes to the conclusion that he should trust the system – the very same advice he gave to Skye. These two continue to be the most interesting pair on the series, not only sharing a history, but also sharing great moments like this one.
Ironically, at this point we find Skye has recruited Simmons to plant a bug that will gain her access to the Hub’s database, allowing her to find out what kind of danger Ward and Fitz are actually in. Simmons is instructed to casually go about this task, but she does exactly the opposite when she is confronted by Sitwell. When asked what her business is, she panics and takes down Sitwell with the Night-Night gun. Not the best course of action when you’re surrounded by agents. Regardless, Simmons manages to plant Skye’s bug.
When we reconnect with Ward and Fitz, they are hiding in a sewer drain to avoid patrols. Fitz takes the opportunity to bust out a sandwich that Simmons made for him only to have it flung away by Ward. This gives Ward the chance to go off on Fitz, sparking an argument between the two. Ward explains how dangerous field work is and reveals that he was tasked by Coulson to take care of Fitz. He then hands Fitz a tasteless food bar. Yum…
With her bug in place, Skye goes into hacker mode, sneaking through the Hub systems with only a 2-minute window. As she delves into the mission files to get the dirt on Ward and Fitz’s op, she is tempted by the possibility of digging up the redacted file about her past. With the clock literally ticking, she chooses the team and learns that there is no extraction planned. Ward and Fitz are on a suicide mission. As soon as she learns this, she’s busted by Coulson and Skye shares her discovery, asking if he knew there was no extraction plan. Dodging the question, he defends S.H.I.E.L.D.’s methods, maintaining that they keep certain secrets from certain people for certain reasons.
Meanwhile, Fitz and Ward infiltrate the separatist facility via a mag pouch, a nifty magnetic sleeping bag with active camouflage. Once inside, Ward comes to the shocking realization that they are on their own and there is no one coming to get them. Steeling his own resolve, Fitz agrees to finish the mission, revealing to Ward that Coulson talked to him as well, tasking him with taking care of Ward. The pair of agents get to work, regardless of their own fate.
In the wake of his discussion with Skye, Coulson goes to Hand, demanding to know why he was kept in the dark over Ward and Fitz’s extraction plan, or lack thereof. Much like Coulson did to Skye, Hand defends the hierarchy, accusing Coulson of having planned several similar missions himself. Seeing what it means to truly trust the system, Coulson makes the decision to trust his team. Back on the Bus, May, Simmons, and Skye come up with their own plan to retrieve the boys. Thankfully, Coulson is there waiting for them.
As Fitz and Ward disable the device, fight off the bad guys, and avoid getting blown up by a S.H.I.E.L.D. air strike, the Bus arrives in the nick of time to clear the way. It’s an abrupt and anti climactic rescue, focusing only on the fact that the Bus can knock back bad guy with its engines. Before we know it, Ward and Fitz are back on board and Hand gives a sly smirk in the Hub war room, silently acknowledging that the team comes first.
Trust The System
With the agents back together and gone from the Hub, Coulson comes to Skye and shares what he found regarding her mystery file. As it turns out, the woman who left Skye at the orphanage, not necessarily her mother, was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. With a new lead, Skye is grateful, even to the point of giving Coulson a hug. After leaving Skye, Coulson once again consults with May. In yet another vague conversation shared between the two, it is made clear that there is much more to the story of this mysterious S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, but Coulson maintains that “some secrets are meant to stay secret.” He then asks May to help him find the truth, but it is unclear if he is referring to Skye’s past or the ongoing conundrum of what happened to Coulson in Tahiti? The scene ends on a grizzly photo of a murdered woman among the pages of the file.
Harkening back once more to the mystery of Phil Coulson, the final scene of “The Hub” finds Phil submitting a request for the file regarding his own death and recovery report. Despite his clearance level, he, Phil Coulson, is denied access. Too many secrets…
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is definitely hitting its stride. This episode proves that it doesn’t have to be all alien tech and superpowers to get S.H.I.E.L.D. involved. Sometimes there are just some evil bastards out there with a WMD and somebody has to go in and take them out. The typical nods to the MCU are still present, ranging from a sublte Hawkeye and Widow name drop to the guest appearance of Agent Sitwell, but it’s no longer heavy-handed to the point where the actors are one breath away from winking at the camera. The threats are taking a backseat while character relationships and development are getting their due attention, and the overarching mysteries are churning up more questions than answers. For these reasons, “The Hub” gets 4 out of 5 S.H.I.E.L.D. Badges.
Skye’s typical annoyance and the rushed climax bring it down a peg, but overall, another solid episode. Here’s hoping this trend continues!
Check back next week for our next recap of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.!