Agents of SHIELD finally show how deep the connection with the movies goes - and everything gets turned on its head because of it! Also, did Wolverine's old bosses just get namechecked? (Answer: Yes.)
The episode started off slow but quickly built to Whiskey Tango Foxtrot levels. Is this a good thing or a bad thing for the show's future? Time will tell.
The Amazing Spoiler-light Recap: Following up on recent leads on the Clairvoyant, Coulson calls in his top-ranking SHIELD agent buddies. They, along with the band of irregulars, go hunting - but the search gets sidetracked by the Captain America sequel and bad guys that seem to think three steps ahead. Loyalties are strained, betrayals are outed and some agents do some really crazy things. When they say nothing will be the same after this, they might actually mean it this time.
Now, the Marvel Connections:
After Garrett and Triplet face-off with Deathlok, SHIELD pools its resources. Coulson's plan is to have Skye - now a SHIELD agent - go through SHIELD's list of individuals rejected from the Index for apparently not being Registered Gifted™. The Official Index of the Marvel Universe - sorry, just Index of Registered Gifted, was first mentioned in "Girl in the Flower Dress" (though I wish they called it the Handbook), and the theory is that the mastermind behind Centipede, the Clairvoyant, might be on the list that is not on the list (an index of things that aren't indexed?). Garrett hopes it isn't the Amazing Kreskin, which is a reference to (now) obscure mentalist from the 1970s. Seems a shame they couldn't have mentioned a Marvel mentalist, like Merzah the Mystic, who recently appeared in X-Men: Legacy.
Anyway, Coulson lands the Bus on an aircraft carrier (presumably the Helicarrier) and tells them the plan, then pulls the ole I-bet-you're-wondering-why-I-called-you-all-together with Agent Blake (from the Marvel One-Shot "Item 47"), Jasper Sitwell (who appeared in Thor), Victoria Hand (who appeared in "The Hub" episode), Agent Garrett and Agent Triplet (both from the "TAHITTI" episode). As mentioned before, Sitwell, Hand and Garrett are all SHIELD agents in the comics. For a real government agency, it would seem weird to call such high-ranking people together to go into the field for a job like this, no matter how high profile the target, but in the comics, this is the kind of thing the original Nick Fury would pull all the time.
They repeat SHIELD's line so far - psychics don't exist. This does make a fair amount of sense considering how many psychics in Marvel Comics are mutants, and Fox has all of Marvel's movie mutant rights (so much so that Marvel and Fox butted heads over the non-Fox Mutant X series years ago). But as mentioned before, not all Marvel's mentalists are mutants.
Skye suggests not only sending the top agents off in pairs, but giving each agent different access to information to prevent any mind-reading (although if there really was a mind reader, he could probably read both minds). This is an interesting tactic in that, while it often gets horny teenagers in horror movies killed off, it always worked well for super-heroes. Marvel's 1940s superhero team the All-Winners Squad (yes, that was their name - wanna make something of it?) and the Distinguished Competition's Justice Society of America used to do this all the time. The heroes would get together, discuss the plan, then pair off and fight bad guys in individual chapters before reuniting for the conclusion.
To narrow the list of 13 candidates to more likely Clairvoyant suspects, SHIELD commissions Skye officially - which raises some questions. Do her teammates know her real name, or was she allowed to join a top-secret agency using pseudonym? Is this a field commission or can agents forego the usual years of academy training (as seen in "Seeds") as long as they pass the right tests? Sure, she's an admitted cyberterrorist who has betrayed SHIELD more than once, but Coulson, Ward, May and Garrett all love her anyway (platonic or otherwise). It's getting harder and harder to not call Skye a straight-up Mary Sue.
Before splitting, Garrett makes fun of Sitwell for never getting shot at, even though we know he can handle himself in a fight from "Item 47" and Simmons shot him in "The Hub." In the comics that is the running gag with Sitwell - everyone thinks he's a wimp, but he can kick ass anyway. Not that we get to find out, because Hand suspiciously withdraws from Coulson's plan and the Triskelion (SHIELD's other headquarters) orders Sitwell to a boat called the Lemurian Star. Sure, in the comic book Marvel Universe there are two unrelated undersea races called the Lemurians living in the Pacific - one group of green-skinned Atlantean offshoots and the other a demon-like alien-created offshoot of the Deviant race - but this isn't a sly reference to Namor (whose film rights belong to Universal? Really?), instead it's a sly reference to this weekend's Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I hope nothing bad happens to him on that boat.
Updates on characters:
Garrett confirms that, like his comic counterpart, he's received a lot of damage over the years, including third degree burns over his torso. Whether this means he'll become (or is) a cyborg like his comic counterpart is anybody's guess.
Deathlok still looks strange on the outside, but under his skin he is looking more and more like his cyborg-zombie comic book inspiration (screencap courtesy of Xeos!).
Ward's mysterious family background is compared to the Kennedys, lending credence to the unlikely possibility he is related to Senator Ward.
Fitz, aside from developing the highly successful ICER guns (née Night-Night guns), has also developed a gun that shoots tracking rounds, which seem very similar in size and utility to Spider-Man's Spider Tracers, although those tie into Spidey's Spider Sense, not SHIELD satellites.
Skye sends the teams on their missions: Ward and Trip investigate Milton Keynes Prison in the UK to find Elijah Ford, a 32-year-old ex-military guy who went on a killing spree in the 90s; Blake and May go to the Tranquility Bridge Assisted Living facility in Macon, Georgia, to investigate crash victim Thomas Nash; and Coulson and Garrett head to Muncie, Indiana, to investigate coed prodigy Noirko Sato, who has an IQ over 200 and ties to the Yakuza (because of course a Japanese-American in the middle of Indiana would have ties to the Yakuza). Oh, and for good measure, Simmons and Trip pair off and are sent to the Hub for research.
Before moving on, it's important to note that Blake asks May if she's a Scorpio. When May asks if he believes in astrology, Blake says he has "theories" of his own. Now, this could just be simple flirtation, but "Scorpio" is a really, really significant thing to call someone related to SHIELD in the comic books. There have been multiple Scorpios over the years, but most of them have been clandestine spies with strong connections to SHIELD - and almost all of them got their hands on the Zodiac Key at one point or another. Interestingly, the Zodiac Key has already been referenced - sort of - in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The SHIELD prequel Marvel One-Shot "Agent Carter" had the eponymous agent discovering mysterious "Zodiac" vials. Hmmm... coincidence, Easter egg, or potential plot hint?
Now, back to Nash. We eventually discover the parapalegic Clairvoyant suspect was recruited into a Department H-type program in Canada. Really!? Department H is the Canadian military agency that employed Wolverine, Deadpool, Alpha Flight and just about any other cool Canucks in Marvel Comics. Obviously, Wolverine's not going to show up any time soon, but it's cool to see the agency name-dropped here.
The team tracks Deathlok and Nash to Pensacola, Florida, use the Golden Retrievers seen in "Repairs" (called "RTVR" in Fitz's computer - abbreviation, or acronym?), and capture Nash. Talking only through computers, Nash (apparently) taunts the agents until Ward snaps and shoots a paraplegic man in cold blood. That's... different. When the series started, Ward was the most experienced and not-messed-up-in-the-head agent on Coulson's team (and boring because of it), then he got his head messed with by Asgardians in "The Well" and "Yes Man," had a torrid affair with May and (seemingly) pines for Skye. It seems he finally snapped - although Coulson suspects he might be another agent of the Clairvoyant. Regardless of how this turns out, can Ward (as a character) recover from shooting a paraplegic to death?
Meanwhile, Skye and Coulson realize that the Clairvoyant is probably a SHIELD agent (Blake? Hand?), and Fitz discovers May's duplicity from last episode, causing Coulson to further suspect the Clairvoyant has spies everywhere. Before Coulson can shoot May or May can shoot Fitz, Hand orders the Bus remotely returned to base so Coulson's team can be taken down.
But things aren't so rosy at SHIELD. Simmons and Trip are in the middle of some unidentified commotion, and Director Fury has returned to the Triskelion just in time to be taken down by the enigmatic Winter Soldier - I wonder if this has anything to do with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, in theaters everywhere this Friday?!
This is a really brave move. Even when Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: The Next Generation movies were coming out simultaneously, they never had the films and episodes crossover on the same week! If this is the first hint of the kinds of unique opportunities the Marvel Cinematic Universe has to offer - bring 'em on! (By the way, this is technically the first appearance of Winter Soldier as Winter Soldier in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.)
Special Bonus Thanks:
Actually, they didn't add any extra bonus thanks, but they probably should have.
Victoria Hand was created by Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca. Larroca has been a prominent Marvel artist for the past two decades, Fraction recently ended a great run on FF and Fantastic Four (two separate comics) and writes the greatest Hawkeye comic ever, and Brian Michael Bendis ruled Marvel Comics' Avengers for over a decade, and is currently exercising his influence over the Uncanny X-Men.
Jasper Sitwell was created by Stan Lee (who receives credit in every episode) and artist Howard Purcell, an unjustly overlooked artist who drew dozens of comics in the Golden and Silver Ages of comics.
Winter Soldier was created as SPOILERS FOR ANYONE WHO DOESN'T READ COMICS by Jack Kirby (who receives credit every episode) and Joe Simon, and turned into Winter Soldier by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting. Joe Simon was one of the most influential comic book creators in comics' formative Golden Age, and he is often cited as a major inspiration for modern comic creators. Brubaker made Captain America cool again (years after Mark Waid and Ron Garney previously made Captain America cool again, and years after Jack Kirby previously made Captain America cool again), and Epting is one of the best quasi-realistic gritty superhero comics artist working today.
Post Script: I haven't seen the new Cap film yet (although it is out five minutes away in Mexico, so my students have seen it). I'll catch it Thursday, hopefully avoiding too many spoilers until then.