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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 1.07 "The Hub" Review: Trust the System

    This week’s episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “The Hub,” was written by Rafe Judkins and Lauren LeFranc and directed by Bobby Roth. Roth’s previous credits include Flash Forward, V, Lost, Prison Break, and Fringe, so he’s no stranger to action and science fiction. Judkins and LeFranc’s other credits include Hemlock Grove and that other awkward special agent Chuck.

    “The Hub” treats us to another Fitz-Simmons episode only this time the focus is on Fitz (Iain De Caestecker). Caestecker, like Elizabeth Henstridge (Simmons) last week, delivers a wonderful performance. The episode begins, however, with what appears to be a captured Coulson (Clark Gregg), but quickly becomes a team extraction of an undercover agent. Once again, I have to give a shoutout to Gregg’s amazing acting. Even while his face is “blank” looking at the instruments his would be torturer is about to use on him, you can just detect the most subtle look of panic on his face. I also adore the underlying glee with which Coulson goes about his job – a job he obviously loves. One of the best lines – and there were many in this episode! – was when the extraction asks where the sled dogs are and Coulson’s answer is “Don’t be ridiculous!”

    The team is called to the Hub for a new mission. This gives us some added insight into the seventh regular on the show – S.H.I.E.L.D. itself. The audience gets to view the Hub and its operations through Skye’s (Chole Bennet) eyes. It’s large and very hierarchical – something which doesn’t sit well with Skye who keeps being told she doesn’t qualify to know anything! Fitz and Simmons are just happy to be at a nerve center and act like they’ve been in the wilderness. They are not at all disturbed by being kept in the dark due to their clearance level being only 5. As expected Ward (Brett Dalton) and May (Ming-Na Wen) are level sevens and Coulson is an eight.

    Coulson, Ward and May are briefed by Agent Victoria Hand (Saffron Burrows). Fitz and Simmons have a nice fan moment when they learn the team is being briefed by her, but they are completely comfortable not being included as they simply accept the hierarchy. In the comics, Hand has a long history of being a double and triple agent and is tied in particular to Captain America. She does not have a good relationship with Nick Fury and that is nicely alluded to when she calls Coulson one of Fury’s “favorites.” A bit of jealousy perhaps?

    The episode also features Jasper Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernandez). Hernandez also played the character in Thor and The Avengers. He’ll also be featured in the forthcoming Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In the comics, Sitwell works closely with Nick Fury.

    The episode continues to build S.H.I.E.L.D. as a bit of an antagonist for our team. They are both part of S.H.I.E.L.D. and a team unto themselves, allowing the show to critique the government juggernaut that may not have the concerns of the individual at heart. May tells Skye that the Hub does things differently than how they do it on the plane. Ward explains that that if every agent knew the details to every mission the whole operation would be vulnerable. Given Hand’s background, this is an interesting comment. S.H.I.E.L.D. controls who knows what, and Coulson defends them to Skye, saying if they keep you in the dark it’s for a reason. He also tells her they can go off book because there is a book. However, in talking to May, he rails against S.H.I.E.L.D.’s red tape, saying he likes the way they do things on the plane with a level playing field and not keeping anyone in the dark. He acknowledges that they need to trust the system. This was one of my favorite scenes as it perfectly encapsulates their relationship. May continues to do her Tai chi as Coulson rants about S.H.I.E.L.D. She remains utterly calm and passive never uttering a work until just her presence and calm rub off on Coulson. Her eye roll as he leaves is the perfect touch to the scene. She understands him and supports him, providing that calm reassurance that he’s looking for. The scene also shows another consequence to the hierarchical system. Coulson can’t really discuss his concerns with May because she’s only a level 7 to his level 8.

    When push comes to shove, Coulson goes to bat for his team. He tells Hand that he’ll deal with any discipline and then takes her to task for not telling him there was no extraction team. Hand was in charge of the Suicide Squad in the comics and tells Coulson that Romanoff and Barton go in with no extraction plan – but they are trusted to be able to get out again. Hand says she kept the information back because Fitz was untried in the field and might have lost focus or courage if he’d known. Fitz proves her so, so wrong. It’s a great moment when May, Skye, and Simmons are determined to go in and Coulson joins them. In the end, Hand backs their play, and I had to wonder if she was relying on them reacting in just the way they did.

    Coulson’s remark about keeping no one in the dark is ironic given the last two scenes. He tells May everything that is in the file about Skye being dropped at the orphanage by a female agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. He also asks May for her help in finding out more. I have to wonder if Agent Hand might be that agent – or possibly Agent Romanoff, who has been mentioned several times lately? Unlikely Romanoff is old enough, however. May agrees to help Coulson discover what really happened. May’s final remark, “poor girl” could be directed at the picture of the dead agent in front of her or Skye – it’s ambiguous. Ironically, in a nice parallel, Coulson himself is stymied by the level system when he is refused access to his Tahiti recovery file. Clearly, Coulson still wants answers about his “death.” So, I guess this means there may still be more to it – Fury seems to be hiding something...

Agent Sitwell the recipient of bad-girl shenanigans...

    Much of the storyline with Skye and Simmons is played for laughs, but I found some of it a little too over the top. With comedy less is often more. I did love Simmons telling Skye she didn’t want to be part of her “bad girl shenanigans.” Of course, Skye manipulates Simmons into helping break into the system by appealing to her concern over Fitz. The scene in which Skye must choose between learning more about her parents or saving Fitz and Ward was excruciating and well done. Coulson, of course, doesn’t let her down but doesn’t tell her everything either as he doesn’t tell her why the agent dropped her off. It is enough to garner her gratitude and a hug that makes Coulson oddly uncomfortable.

    The heart of this episode, however, belongs to Caestecker. He nails each and every scene. It’s a nice continuation from last week’s Simmons-centered episode, giving us insight into Fitz's feelings. There’s no question in my mind that had he been able to get out of the locked lab he would have jumped after Simmons. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t still have his quirks about smells and germs, but it’s been said that you are really only heroic or courageous if you are afraid and do what needs to be done anyway.

    I love the moment when Fitz fights with the door in the Hub. Apparently Caestecker improvised that which is hilarious, but the best part is the looks on Ward and Coulson’s faces. Ward is appalled that this is the person he has to go into the field with, but Coulson has a fond and knowing look on his face. Coulson knows that Fitz has hidden talents and that he’ll rise to the challenge of being in the field. Coulson is an excellent judge of character and has picked his team wisely. It’s great to watch Ward begin by being completely protective of Fitz and then slowly grow to respect him.

    Fitz completely takes Ward by surprise by shorting out the power with an EMP device and wrapping their leader around his little finger – a much better alternative for Fitz who was dead set against any plan of Ward’s that endangered his pinky! Ward and Fitz have some great high tech including the “mag-pouch” and the magic window. It’s hilarious watching Fitz watch the guards and not realizing that Ward is the one beating them up. Ward, of course, realizes immediately that they’ve been lied to about the extraction plan, but simply carries on with the mission. Dalton really impressed me in this episode and delivers his best performance as Ward to date. His reactions to Fitz and the situation are great.

    Perhaps the best scene in the episode is when Ward tries to get Fitz to leave. Fitz accuses him of thinking he’s a coward. Ward assures him that neither he nor Simmons think that, but Ward is also forced to really reassess how he thinks about Fitz and recognize that he does treat him condescendingly. Fitz revealing that Coulson told him to look after Ward was perfect – and completely in character for Coulson. Fitz and Ward make a great team in getting out which is completed by the cavalry (the rest of the team).

    So much to love in this episode! What did you think of the episode? Do you think we will see a bigger split between the team and S.H.I.E.L.D? Why do you think the agent dropped Skye at the orphanage? What did you think of Agent Hand? Were you as impressed as I was with Fitz’s resourcefulness in the field? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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