So our mystery man with the familiar face finally gets a name – Gideon Malick, formerly a member of the World Security Council (last seen as the man ticking off Nick Fury at the end of Avengers Assemble), now Adviser to the President and during all of that time, one of the Heads of HYDRA. Our opening sees Malick and Ward engaged in conversation, the former expressing his respect and admiration for the latter, the latter wanting to know the location of Von Strucker’s secret vault. The conversation ends in a fairly abrupt fashion which serves to show us as the viewers one thing only – Ward is back, and every bit as lethal and ruthless as he ever was.
Elsewhere, Andrew is being loaded up on a lorry to be taken to ATCU, and Rosalind has some words of comfort for Coulson which elicit an invitation from him for her to tour SHIELD’s secret base, causing concern from Mack as to whether Coulson’s objectivity has been compromised. Couslon’s rejoinder is a briefing to the whole team as to exactly what he plans for them to be doing while he has Rosalind safely tucked away at home base – namely an infiltration of ATCU and a thorough search through everything they are doing. He wants to know everything about them, so that he can know whether or not he should be trusting ATCU after all.
The operation itself gives us a lovely ensemble effort which allows some of the fun of the team to be brought in, welcome after the darkness of last episode. Hunter in particular, masquerading as an ex-hacker turned FBI IT Consultant, with Daisy prompting his stream of technobabble via earpiece, is a joy, with Bobbi also giving a good turn as his no-nonsense and slightly frustrated handler. Mack too gets an opportunity to exercise some comedy range and all told the mission has everything you could expect from the MCU at its best, combining espionage, action and laughs into a satisfying sequence which concludes with a twist that isn’t entirely unexpected but nevertheless welcome.
Back at base, Coulson gives Rosalind the tour before they conclude in a locked down room, at which point he drops the flirting and begins an interrogation, based on what the team have discovered and his own long-held suspicions. The scene is crafted well, Coulson’s scorn and Rosalind’s responses playing to exactly what the audience expects and believes, right up until the point where it all gets turned on its head, and we are left once again not entirely sure what the heck is going on.
Fitz and Simmons have a brief spat based on Gemma’s frustration at Fitz being far too nice about everything, which ends in a moment of revelation that will alter everything when it is finally shared with us at the end. There’s also a brief moment of hope for all those like me, who have been waiting for FitzSimmons to be a thing since episode 1 of the first series, but it ends before it really begins, leaving us all in purgatory once more.
And so back to Ward, and a pleasingly Ward-esque journey to the vault that he seeks, via a commercial flight which isn’t landing quite where he needs it to. He arrives at the vault mere moments after Malick, and the two share another conversation on somewhat different terms from the last. Malick explains the true origins of HYDRA, its ultimate goal, and offers Ward a place at his side. That nature is confirmed by Fitz and Simmons in their brief to the team, as they explain their findings from a comprehensive study of various symbols relating to the portal. The game just got raised to a whole new level.
Which leaves the end tag, in which Andrew, caged in a facility…somewhere… receives an unexpected and unpleasant visitor, who informs him that SHIELD may have shown them how to turn the monster off, but now they want to know how to turn it back on again…
Verdict: Hands down the best episode of the series to date, and justifies the slowness of the buildup in previous episodes. Everyone is on top form, and the multiple twists and reveals feel exactly as SHIELD should. 10/10
Greg D. Smith