Wow. This is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. firing on all cylinders. After seven weeks of disparate plot threads, questionable story choices, and seemingly forced plot wheels everything came together this week in one amazing package.
The ATCU, HYDRA, Ward, the Monolith, the alien planet (now named Maveth), it’s all connected; the praise to the AoS writing team is well deserved as not only was this episode full of surprises but majorly turned everything we know about one of the MCU’s biggest threats on it’s head, in a very brave fashion. It’s difficult to pick a starting point as it was only in the last ten minutes of “Many Heads, One Tale” that everything came together so brilliantly, but lets dive in.
Firstly, Grant Ward, the weakest thread of the whole season was still the weakest part of an otherwise stellar episode, but this time it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. The episode opens with Ward meeting Gideon Malick – who is now clearly this seasons big bad – to discuss the rumored hidden vaults of Baron von Strucker which supposedly contain HYDRA’s greatest power. Ward wants that power to destroy S.H.I.E.L.D. permanently. Malick, not trusting Ward, sets his goons on him and flees for the vault himself. Unsurprisingly, Wards bests the goons and tortures the vaults location out of them; he then hijacks a flight to Germany in an attempt to beat Malick to the vault.
The HYDRA politics are still quite farcical and silly but the chilling scene between Ward and the air hostess is well played and showcases how vicious he really is. Her reaction as he drops all charm and whispers unknown words into her ear before essentially downing the plane is marvelously executed.
Elsewhere, the fact that Coulson and Rosalind are now officially sort of an item, doesn’t stop Coulson wanting definitive answers as to the ATCU’s true intentions and so he rigs Andrews containment module during transit to emit a signal damaging the ATCU’s systems, allowing Hunter and Bobby to go undercover as FBI tech specialists to gain access to all the ATCU’s files. It is here that we finally learn that the organization have no intention of curing Inhumans at all as not only are they still keeping dozens of them in stasis, but their Endotex Lab division is actively using Terrigen on its employees in order to produce more. The grisly remains of stone body parts belonging to the failed Terrigenisis subjects filling the Endotex storage facility is all the evidence needed.
Horrified, and personally hurt that he has found himself manipulated, Coulson imprisons and furiously probes the truth out of Rosalind: whereby she admits that she is completely in the dark as the Endotex lab and Inhuman project is personally overseen by Gideon Malick. The ATCU is clearly a front for HYDRA to build their own army of Inhumans and Rosalind is merely a pawn, working under the original Presidential remit.
Meanwhile, Fitz and Simmons continued research into NASA’s expedition to Maveth is only adding to the new friction in their relationship. Fitz’s petulant jealously of Will comes to the fore; referring to the astronaut as ‘perfect’ he admits that he cannot possibly compare to a man like that. Simmons response of “You dove through a hole in the universe for me” is not only perfectly played but is the catalyst for a passionate kiss between the pair.
Finally! Elizabeth Henstridge and Ian De Caestecker have been wonderful in all their scenes together this season and the final romantic encounter between the pair is electric and more than earned. However, their tryst inadvertently knocks their research books to the ground whereby the pair realize that the ancient rams head symbol in the sacrificial Monolith castle, can not only been seen in the patch on Wills uniform but has a clear pattern of evolution into the modern HYDRA symbol – directly linking the expedition to the terrorist organization.
This all culminates in the final confrontation between Ward and Malick in Struckers vaults whereby Malick reveals that HYDRA has existed long before the Red Skull formed it into the pseudo Nazi regime it became during World War II. For thousands of years HYDRA have existed with the underlining purpose of returning an ancient Inhuman to Earth. An Inhuman that they worshiped as a deity and that was banished by others of its kind through the portal to Maveth. Malick has been overseeing the ATCU’s Inhuman division to build an army ready for the return of the creature and wants Ward on side to rule alongside the entity and create a new world order.
“Many Heads, One Tale” was a focused, yet frantic hour of television that starts the build up to the seasons midway point perfectly, and once again highlights how far Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has come since its inception, and how far it’s willing to go to push into original, unfamiliar territory.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is currently airing Sundays 9pm on E4