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Agents of SHIELD 1.19 "The Only Light in the Darkness" Review: The Truth About Love


    This week’s episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “The Only Light in the Darkness,” was written by Monica Owusu-Breen and directed by Vincent Misiano. Misiano’s last episode was “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and he continues to ratchet up the tension in this episode. Owusu-Breen’s last solo episode was “The Well.” Interestingly, this episode circles back to that one with Ward’s (Brett Dalton) story, and like that episode, this episode’s title works on a number of levels – not just the obvious one. The episode includes some incredible performances, most notably from Chloe Bennet, Iain De Caestecker, Dalton, and Clark Gregg.

    The episode begins with the entire team gathering around a battered Ward. He tells them just enough of the truth to make his story believable but tells them he killed Garrett (Bill Paxton) to get away. He tells them that he put 2 in the back of Garrett’s head – one for Triplett (BJ Britt) and one for himself. The bullets, of course, symbolizing payback for Garrett’s betrayal of them. Even in this, Ward shows an emotional detachment which Triplett doesn’t share as he remarks that he would have emptied his gun into Garrett.

    Ward reveals that he still has the hard drive and immediately suggests that Skye (Bennet) should back it up for safe keeping. However, Coulson want Skye on threat assessment of the escaped prisoners and blocks Ward from achieving his real mission. Ironically, Garrett released the prisoners as a distraction for S.H.I.E.L.D., and here it is actually a distraction that is preventing Ward from achieving his goals.

    As soon as Coulson (Clark Gregg) learns that Marcus Daniels (Patrick Brennan) has escaped from the Fridge, he’s determined to go after him.  May (Ming-Na Wen) suggests that the prisoners are merely a distraction by HYDRA – rightly assessing Garrett’s intention – and Dalton’s quietly smoldering frustration is great – if looks could kill! Skye also argues against leaving the bunker because Fury wants Coulson there. However, Coulson is determined because even though they’re safe, not everyone has a secret bunker to hide in. He tells them, “I don’t know if it’s wise, but it’s right.”

    Coulson’s face off with Koenig (Patton Oswalt) is even more impassioned. He tells him that HYDRA just released everything from the Fridge and “there will be violence. People will die. I still consider it my duty to be the shield that protects them.” Coulson is finding his own inner light against the darkness. The agency that he believed in may have lied to him and been full of the darkness of HYDRA, but at its core, Coulson’s belief in its basic purpose is still a light for him to follow.

    Koenig only agrees to let them go if they pass “Orientation” – a lie detector test devised by Fury himself. It was built to withstand Romanof – another nice nod to Black Widow from the movies (Scarlett Johansson). It’s hilarious as Ward – who has the most to lose – quickly asks if she beat it. Koenig laughs and points out that Fury would hardly tell anyone if she had! This is a really great device to reveal some really interesting – and in many cases telling – information about our team. It also reassures us that the ones we now think are good are good.

    We learn that May was married once and that Fitz’s (De Caestecker) only family is his mother. We also learn that Triplett is a legacy – his grandfather was one of the Howling Commandos. Ironically, the Howling Commandos were originally lead by Nick Fury in WWII, and one of the original members was Eric Koenig, a defector from Nazi Germany!  Triplett is most likely descended from Gabe Jones (Derek Luke) who appears in Captain America: The First Avenger. We also learn that Skye’s “real” name was Mary Sue Pootz.

    There’s also something to be learned from comparing their answers to Koenig’s questions. When asked the difference between and egg and a rock, May answers edible, not edible. Fitz and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) finish each other’s sentence in a nice piece of editing cutting back and forth between them. Ward, in contrast to May, answers food and weapon.

    Koenig also asks about a Project Insight and an Alexander Pierce. None of them know about the project. May has met Pierce and shaken his hand while Triplett says that Pierce used to call Garrett from time to time. Of course, this was the centerpiece to Captain America: The Winter Soldier. There’s also a nice Hulk reference when we learn the Darkforce that is powering Daniels was developed by Bruce Banner – and Coulson really doesn’t seem to like him!

    The most interesting answers come from the question about what’s in the box on a desert island. May says machete – practical and a weapon – she can look after herself. Triplett says a satellite phone – practical to get saved and follow orders. Fitz says Simmons and Simmons says the Tardis! Like any true Brit, Simmons is apparently a Dr Who fan. Fitz’s answer is perhaps most telling, and the first real indication of his real feelings. There are several scenes in which we see De Caestecker’s wonderful reaction shots to Triplett. He’s clearly jealous of Triplett’s friendship with Simmons and is trying to show him up. He’s not happy that Coulson picks Triplett to be the specialist on the mission and he even tells Ward he thinks that Triplett is a terrible person. But clearly, at the heart of it are Fitz’s own feelings for Simmons. Ward tells him to tell Simmons how he feels. Fitz asks Coulson if he’s afraid to talk to Audrey (Amy Acker) because he is afraid to talk to Simmons. When Simmons finally confronts Fitz, he tells her, “You know how I can be. I hate change.” He does hate change, and he is hesitating because he doesn’t want his relationship with Simmons to change. If he declares that he has feelings, their relationship will inevitably change – she will either accept or reject him, but the end result either way is change.

    Both Skye and Ward over-think the box question. Skye wants her laptop, but then says she doesn’t want to seem subversive with the whole Rising Tide thing. This is a really nice way of reminding us that Skye herself has lied to the team – very effectively – in the past. She can maintain a cover. Ward dithers but pretty quickly decides on a pistol – a weapon really only suited to defense or aggression.

    The final question is the most telling for all of them and reveals their motivation. Koenig asks why they are still there even though S.H.I.E.L.D. no longer exists. May answers Coulson. It makes complete sense then for her to leave when she feels she’s lost him. Simmons is not entirely sure. She is still struggling to come to terms with losing the structure she’s used to. I think that she is also likely there for Fitz and possibly Triplett, but I don’t think she’s really made any kind of commitment to either at this point. Fitz answers that they need to stick together and keep the people they trust close – it’s all about avoiding change for him. Triplett says that his grandfather fought HYDRA and won and they can do it again – this is Triplett’s legacy. Skye says it’s the only home she’s ever known – and we know how important finding that family has been for her.

    The final question becomes the most important for Ward. He’s managed to game the system up to this point by sticking a huge thorn – or nail? – into his thumb so that he’s in agony and that pain has made the system go crazy the entire test. Koenig asks him right at the outset if he’s in pain, and Ward blames it on his injuries. Up until the last question, Ward is able to tell the truth, which is why the system doesn’t catch him. However, he answers the last question at first by saying that he’s an agent and it’s his duty to be there. When pressed, Koenig finally asks a question that Ward can mostly tell the truth to. He says his hidden agenda for being there is Skye. What’s interesting, is that he goes on to elaborate that he has feelings for Skye. Koenig is put completely at ease by this and so is the machine. Which leads me to believe, as Garrett does too, that Ward really does have feelings for Skye. Remember too that he was pissed at Garrett for ordering to have her shot.

    Ward opens up to Skye and tells her that he’s not always good. He confesses that he lied about his older brother beating up his younger brother and tells her that his older brother made him do it. He tells her his parents were even worse. Ward tells her that she is good and she insists that he is too. He tells her that specialists have to keep their emotions in check and focus on their mission. Dalton deserves a mention here for his brilliant acting all season. What seemed to be somewhat wooden performances early in the series are now clearly explained. It’s so much fun getting to see him actually show a range of emotions now. Ward hasn’t been entirely successful in suppressing his emotions all along, however, and I think, he does have those feelings for Skye. He’s also trained Skye, who is also a specialist in her own right, and I think that’s how Skye is able to keep her own emotions in check after finding Koenig’s body. And boo for killing Patton Oswalt who has been a joy to watch. Let's hope the wily level 6 agent isn't really dead... please? The scene between Ward and Skye in which he reveals the darkness within himself is juxtaposed with the away mission and Blackout’s (Marcus Daniels) confrontation with Audrey. He tells her that he knows he’s a monster and she’s the only one who can save him. Is Skye the light in the darkness for Ward?

    Chloe Bennet delivers her strongest performance to date as Skye completely freaks out after figuring out that Ward is HYDRA. Her terror and devastation over the revelation are palpable. But then she pulls herself together. We also see Audrey luring Daniels into the light as Skye and Ward lure each other. She was searching for something in that bathroom as Ward approaches – but what was it? It seems that she hits on a plan of some kind in looking at the windows that change pictures – has she left a message for Coulson and the team to find? The payoff of reminding us of the Rising Tide comes when we see that Skye has replaced the penny on the door that tells Ward whether someone has entered the closet. But even better, is the incredibly brave way that Skye turns the tables on Ward, in almost exactly the same way. She tells him a partial truth – she was freaking out – and then she seduces him right back. I think that Ward is actually telling the truth when he says to Skye that he wishes they could stay in the bunker and forget that the outside world exists. This can only end one way. Garrett is never going to let Skye live once the hard drive is de-encrypted.

    Coulson leaves Ward behind due to Simmons’ orders that he rest. Leaving May angers both May and Ward and leads to her decision to leave – which clearly saves her life. Fitz and Simmons go on the mission to help devise a weapon to take down Daniels. We learn that rather than helping him at the Fridge, S.H.I.E.L.D. was actually trying to make him more powerful, despite the fact that his brain had already been “fried” by the power he’d absorbed. Kudos to the VFX team for the great effects in this epiode!

    Amy Acker delivers a terrific guest performance as Coulson’s cellist. I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping we see her again under happier circumstances. Once again, Simmons’ inability to lie comes into play as Audrey quickly realizes that they aren’t CIA but are S.H.I.E.L.D. She reveals that she doesn’t believe what’s being said about S.H.I.E.L.D.  She tells Simmons and Triplett that after her first encounter with Daniels a handsome S.H.I.E.L.D. agent showed up and she trusted him. “Phil never lied to me,” leaves Fitz gaping open mouthed. Simmons manages not to give the game away. She tells Simmons that she still dreams of Coulson. Audrey says, “I wake up feeling like he’s watching over me.” At that point, Coulson takes out his earpiece and can no longer listen – he is, in reality, literally watching over her.

    When Fitz asks why Coulson doesn’t go to her, Coulson reveals yet again why he’s a hero. He tells Fitz that she’s healing from his death and getting on with her life. Later he adds that he can’t stay and put her in danger. He has to come out of hiding at the end in order to save her. Gregg and Acker – who does nothing but lie unconscious and let a single tear fall – have a terrific scene. Coulson goes to an unconscious Audrey and reassures her that she’s safe. That he’s still here: “I promise I’m still here with you.” He kisses her and leaves her to wake up with Simmons. Audrey tells her that she thought Coulson had been there. Simmons actually manages to lie convincingly here.

    Audrey is clearly also the light in Coulson’s darkness. He also made another promise – to act as a shield and keep everyone safe from the darkness. Saving Audrey, helps him to rekindle that lightness, that purpose, within himself. And another major theme in this episode is truth – a light in itself. Coulson tells Fitz that someday he will reveal himself to Audrey. He also says, “She said I never lied to her. But today I did. But at least she’s safe.” He goes on to say that he’ll reveal himself, “when there’s a chance she’ll understand. When we get back, I need to make things right with May. How can I expect Audrey to forgive me if I’m not willing to do the same?” He’s finally realized that May’s lies were meant to keep him safe, even if they hurt him in the short term.

    Of course, when they get back to the empty bunker the bus and the team are gone. The final scene is priceless as May is picked up by her mother (Tsai Chin). We learn that May also comes from a long line of those who have served their country as her mother is retired from a high level position in an “agency.” It’s clear that May’s upbringing by her no-nonsense mother helped to shape her. But it’s also clear that she learned trust and loyalty from her mother who brings her the information she needs by driving 500 miles with no questions asked. We’ve learned a lot about the characters families in this episode and how those families have influenced who they’ve become. Fitz cherishes his relationships because he’s had only his mother – also makes it hard for him to share. The team _is_ Skye’s family. Triplett’s a legacy – loyalty to S.H.I.E.L.D. is in his blood. And Ward’s family clearly drove him to what he’s become.

    The episode ends with May going after Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders). I loved May’s mother asking her if she was going to take her out! Skye is essentially Ward’s captive and Coulson is missing his bus. Things continue to heat up as we near the end of the season. What did you think of the episode? Do you think Skye is going to be able to thwart Ward? Do you think we’ll see the team reunited soon? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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