TV Review: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Episode 11 / January 7, 2014)
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EPISODE 11: "The Magical Place"
SYNOPSIS: Coulson uncovers vital information about the mystery of his death, but, with Centipede out for blood, this knowledge may come at the cost of one of the team.
BREAKDOWN: (The following column contains MAJOR SPOILERS, so I don't recommend reading this if you haven't watched this episode).
After a cliffhanger ending where Coulson was captured by the forces of Centipede, AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. had a nice hiatus to try and right the ship. Viewers have been slipping away from the new series since the pilot episode as the show has struggled to find the right balance between direct connections to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and forging a distinct identity for itself. The central connection between the two has always been Clark Gregg's fan favorite character.
As the latest episode opens, we are treated to the team functioning as a unit despite Coulson's 36-hour absence. Taking down a man who deals in Chitauri artifacts to try and find their kidnapped leader, Ward, May, Fitz, Simmons, and Skye are now under the leadership of Agent Hand (Saffron Burrows) who immediately banishes Skye from the team despite Ward's plea. May gives the final nay and drives another wedge in that fledgling love triangle. Skye is on her own to try and find Coulson using her hacker skills while Ward and the crew try to get intel from their prisoner.
Meanwhile, we find Coulson dreaming of Tahiti as he is tortured by Po and his Centipede minions. References are made again to the mysterious Clairivoyant who Po claims foresaw Coulson's death but not his resurrection. It seems that trick is quite important for some unknown reason. What feels odd about this little fact is that it seems Centipede has had numerous moments where they could have taken Coulson and yet they instead chose a very roundabout way of getting there. Either the story was intentionally convoluted or the writers just figured out how to get where they wanted to go.
Skye finds it difficult to hack anything with her S.H.I.E.L.D. mandated wristband that blocks Internet access so she devises a plan to use a sketchy financial wizard (Rob Huebel) to hack for her. Crashing a car, using a golf club to dial a phone, and dressing up in leather and aviator sunglasses, Skye pretents to be Melinda May to coerce Lloyd Rathman (Huebel) to do her bidding. Skye successfully convinces the unsure Rathman by taking down two armed guards, which surprises her as much as him.
Coulson's torture is halted by The Clarivoyant who kills Po via cell phone and has Reina user her powers of persuasion to break their prisoner. Reina uses the good cop method on Coulson and tries to convince him that S.H.I.E.L.D. is just as dangerous as Centipede. Coulson questions the power they have with an army of super-soldiers to which we learn they want Coulson's secret to be able to bring their dead back to life. Reina asks Coulson to allow the machine that was torturing him to unlock his unconscious so that they both can learn what happened to him after Loki killed him.
This is the central scene so far this season as we finally see Coulson begin to lose faith in S.H.I.E.L.D.. Building up to CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, seeing the holes within S.H.I.E.L.D. is integral to what is to come for the MCU at large. Coulson is the one character who has professed undying faith in the system and having him lose even a small part of that is a massive blow. Coulson goes into the machine and his recurring Tahiti dream begins to crumble. First we see the doctor from the pilot asking who ordered "this" to which we hear it was Nick Fury.
It is here, finally, the explanation for what happened. We see Nick Fury, green liquid, an operating room, visions of space, and Coulson begging to die as a machine does something to his exposed brain. Before anything further can be seen, Skye and May rescue Coulson and disable the machine. Reina is taken into custody and Coulson is back. Coulson tells the team nothing was real, but...
Coulson finds the doctor who tells him he was actually dead for days, not seconds. Fury employed scientists using questionable practices to try and save him. During the seventh surgery, Coulson was in extreme pain and the machine we saw working on his brain was used to replace that will to die with a pleasant memory and the will to live. The doctor tells Coulson if he only knew, but Coulson gets out of the car they are in and leaves.
The closing tease shows Mike Peterson, presumed dead, in a cell, burned and missing a leg. His Centipede implant is glowing and as he looks in a mirror, we see instructions flash across the screen as in the previous episode "Eye Spy".
MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE REFERENCES:
Chitauri and Coulson play central to this episode's plot and we see Nick Fury in a quick flash.
Hand: "It's unprecedented. This kind of response for a Level 8 operative, the sheer manpower involved. I've been on the phone all day with Director Fury, Commander Hill. Everyone wants an update. I don't understand it. No single agent is that important."
Ward: "Coulson is."
Brief, but seeing the S.H.I.E.L.D. jet redirect in mid-air to go rescue Coulson was a nice bit of CGI.
DO WE KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO COULSON YET?
Yes...no...sort of? To be honest, we now know that Coulson died for a long time and was brought back and his memories replaced but we still have no idea what the hell happened.
EPISODE CLEARANCE LEVEL: 5/10
Alright, this was f*cking bullshit. First off, if you are going to kidnap Coulson and give the team the goal to rescue him, don't make it for one episode. Everything seems to tie up so neatly on this show week to week and this was just another example of it. Having the team split and trying to find Coulson could have been a cool multi-episode story arc but instead plotlines building since the pilot are all neatly wrapped and put away. But, the big "reveal" of what happened to Coulson ends up being nothing more than another tease to the big mystery. I originally didn't want to know what happened to him and then they hinted at it a dozen times each episode. Now I just want to know so we can move on. Overall, this was a pretty good episode ruined by the shitty Coulson reveal.
NEXT ON MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.:
January 14, 2014 - "Seeds" - Coulson and May uncover startling information about Skye's past, while the team is swept into a storm at S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy.
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