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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 1.16 "End of the Beginning" Review: Trust No One


    Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “End of the Beginning,” was written by Paul Zbyszewski and directed by Bobby Roth. Zbyszewski has been tasked with other mythology-heavy episodes such as “It’s a Magical Place,” with Brent Fletcher, and “F.Z.Z.T.” This episode actually takes place concurrently with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Spoilers for the movie follow in this article. In fact, I delayed writing the review until I had the opportunity to see the movie. The movie provided a payoff for the series to date – I think answering a lot of the negative whining about the series to date. The movie is also a huge game changer in the S.H.I.E.L.D. universe. It’s all been leading to this collision with the movie, and as the title tells us, this was just the end of the first act, the beginning.

    The episode begins with Garrett (Bill Paxton) and Triplett (BJ Britt) tracking the Clairvoyant and receiving a visit from Deathlok (J August Richards). I want to pause right here to say how much I’ve enjoyed watching Richards become Deathlok. Many critics of the show have pointed to the lack of superheroes and villains from the Marvel Universe. Personally, I’ve really enjoyed watching poor Mike Peterson slowly morph from who he was in the “Pilot” to Deathlok. The character has so much depth now based on Richards’ story and how he’s been affected by the ongoing storylines – such as the eye camera we learn about in “Eye Spy.” It’s all connected. And so much richer than if Deathlok just suddenly turned up. Of course, maybe it’s the detail of the interwoven storylines that people are daunted by.

    In order to keep the Clairvoyant in the dark, Coulson (Clark Gregg) calls a meeting on the bus at 30,000 feet about the Arctic. He’s joined by Garret, Triplett, Victoria Hand (Saffron Burrows), Agent Blake (Titus Welliver), and Agent Jasper Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernandez). Coulson is pissed off that the Clairvoyant keeps stealing their plays. The team has determined that S.H.I.E.L.D. rejects people who are “gifted” all the time – so often, in fact, that the law of probability is that one of those rejects is in fact not only a clairvoyant but THE Clairvoyant. Coulson informs the others that they are going to protect the information by compartmentalizing it so now one person will know both the location and the identity of the subjects – they’ll split the intell between two member teams. Funnily enough, the technique of compartmentalizing information is a bone of contention between Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and Captain America (Chris Evans) in the film.

    In order to do this, Coulson needs to put his best person on it – and Hand points out that that person doesn’t have the security to access the material because she is not an agent. It is very much a bitter-sweet moment when Coulson calls Skye (Chloe Bennet) to the bridge to present her with her very own S.H.I.E.L.D. badge. May (Ming-Na Wen) calls the rest of the team to the bridge so they can watch the big moment. It’s bitter-sweet because by the end of the movie, it seems unlikely that S.H.I.E.L.D. still exists. This, of course, has huge implications going forward with the series. It’s still a sweet moment between proud Coulson and his protégé. There’s also a nice moment between Ward (Brett Dalton) and Skye as she thanks Ward, and he won’t take the credit, telling her that some things are just meant to be. Is this perhaps also an allusion to a possible relationship between the two?

    Before they can break into working pairs, Sitwell is ordered to the Limurian Star – a ship. This is where Captain America: The Winter Soldier begins – with Sitwell held hostage by pirates on the ship. And the entire movie spirals out from there. Just as this whole season of S.H.I.E.L.D. to now has been about who can you trust – and Coulson’s increasing suspicions about S.H.I.E.L.D. – the movie exposes the core of deception at the heart of S.H.I.E.L.D. HYDRA is running S.H.I.E.L.D. and no one can be trusted. Except, of course, for the heroes of the film. It’s pretty clear from the film that not everyone was privy to HYDRA’s involvement.

    It’s clear that even with the compartmentalization of the plan, someone has tracked all three pairs. Ward and Triplett are stopped in the prison, Garrett and Coulson are boxed in, and Deathlok shows up for Blake and May. All three pairs reveal something of themselves as they travel to their destinations. We learn that Triplett lost his partner to the Clairvoyant. Garrett tells Coulson a tale of his exploits, which he naturally embellishes, only to have Coulson call him on it because Coulson was there. Coulson has lead a very similar career to Garrett. We tend to forget how often Coulson has been in the line of fire because he himself doesn’t play it up or brag.

    Welliver has created another great character in Blake. He tries to connect with May by asking her if she’s a Scorpio – hilarious. However, just when you think he’s a complete lightweight, he manages to get a tracking bullet in Deathlok before he’s almost killed. We see that May is almost killed as well – which will be important later in the episode.   

    They are able to track Deathlok to Nash – somewhat hilariously tracking him to a track: racetrack – a little on the nose, but the kind of playfulness that makes S.H.I.E.L.D. so much fun to watch. They discover that Nash  (Brad Dourif) is not catatonic but is in a wheelchair and only able to talk to them through a computer. Dourif delivers a wonderful performance (as he generally does). The only expression Dourif has is his eyes – he is completely paralyzed otherwise and even his voice has been slightly computerized, removing much of the inflection. In fact, Dourif is a pretty big name to have as a guest, and I have to wonder if we will see him again – possibly in flashbacks before his accident.

    The scene with Nash is excellent and we see him manipulate the main characters. It looks like he’s going after Garrett and Coulson where they are weakest, when in fact his target all along is Ward, who has learned at the feet of both men. Nash taunts Garrett with the fact that a prison can’t contain him – playing on Garrett’s need to win and capture his target – something that Ward shares with him. Nash taunts Couslon with his guilt over Skye, something else that Ward shares. Nash had to know that he wouldn’t be able to break the senior agents, but all he had to do was distract them from realizing he was getting to Ward.

    The entire cast is excellent in this scene as we get reaction shots from all of them. Bennet is wonderful as she reacts to the pain Coulson obviously feels over having held her dying in his arms, as well as his guilt and his feelings of betrayal from being lied to himself. This clearly helps to solidify their bond even further as she can appreciate even more his telling her the truth to spare her.

    The best reactions come when Ward loses it and shoots Nash. The look on Gregg’s face is priceless, he’s been caught completely flat-footed. In fact, they’ve all forgotten that Ward was trained to be a cold-blooded killer. Of course, he’s not cold-blooded at all when he kills Nash. We’ve already seen him caution Triplett not to let his emotions get the better of him because they are supposed to bring the Clairvoyant in, not kill him for revenge. Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Skye can’t believe what they’ve seen and neither can Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge). Hand, however, merely states that she didn’t think the Clairvoyant saw that coming. Ward confesses to Skye that he simply lost it and couldn’t bear the thought of Nash living to hurt her... or the team.

    At this point, Coulson really does trust no one other than Skye. He wonders if Ward is being controlled by someone else and if Ward killed the wrong man. Based on what we learn in the movie, that HYDRA was using an algorithm to target people by identifying them as threats, it does seem likely that Nash was likely a decoy. In fact, the movie explicitly states that part of HYDRA’s plan is to use decoy missions to distract the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – to keep them busy and away from the real threat – just as Nash did with Ward, Garrett, and Coulson.

    Coulson is already suspicious that Nash was just a decoy – he’s decided that the whole case worked out too neatly. He wonders if Ward killed Nash to keep them from finding out the truth that he was just a decoy. Skye connects the dots, however, and tells Coulson that the Clairvoyant never was in their heads but was in their files, which are more than psych evaluations – they’re surveillance on all of them. That’s why the Clairvoyant had no idea what happened to Coulson after he died – because Fury kept that file from everyone. Because the Clairvoyant didn’t know that, we know that Fury is a good guy who can be trusted.

    Bearing in mind the events of the movie, and the events as they unfold in the episode, it becomes a lot easier to untangle who can be trusted and who can’t. Much of this is based on what we’ve learned about the characters over the course of the series. We know that both May and Ward can be emotionless, cold blooded killers, yet we’ve seen both of them come to care for each other and the team. I believe Ward is completely telling the truth. After all, just last episode he was under Lorelei’s spell, and he would likely have let something slip then if he had a hidden agenda. If he were a part of HYDRA, Lorelei would have gotten that out of him and used it to her advantage.

    May is clearly being set up as the threat, so what makes me think she isn’t? Several things. First, it’s clear that her mission is to protect Couslon. When she catches Fitz and Simmons conspiring over the blood, she doesn’t blow the whistle on them, she asks if they’ve noticed and side effects or unusual behavior. She's also clearly pleased when Skye gets her sheild. The only message we’ve seen her send on the dedicated line is “Coulson knows.” The most likely other person who knows what Coulson knows is Fury. Although, as she is checking on his physical condition, it’s possible that it could be Dr Streiten (Ron Glass). However, she is also the one to come tell Coulson that Fury is back at Triskelion. As Fury only resurfaces during the climactic battle in the movie, and May tells Coulson this just before Fitz loses contact with Simmons because all the agents at the Hub are running to the situation room, it seems likely that we can place this episode squarely within the movie. It also seems likely that if May knows about Fury, she is one of his remaining few trusted agents.

    May goes after Fitz after she realizes he’s cut her line, but she does so with icer rounds. She isn’t trying to kill him, but I’m betting she thinks he may be a spy – he’s certainly a threat to her own mission. Wen is brilliant in this final scene. She is desperate to convince Coulson that she hasn’t betrayed him, but she can’t betray her superior either. She is clearly not the one directing the bus when it turns around. I had to wonder if the bus was Fury’s original escape plan – it certainly would have come in handy.

    Hand, of course, is the one responsible for recalling the bus, and it seems pretty obvious that she is the one to have betrayed Coulson. She orders everyone on the bus killed but wants Coulson all to herself. Meanwhile, Simmons is at the Hub and under Hand’s control. However, she is with Triplett, so I’m betting that he and Garrett are both going to be on Coulson’s side, and we can hope that Triplett will keep Simmons safe. I loved the scene in the episode when Fitz and Simmons learn that Triplett will be going to the Hub with her – Simmons, clearly pleased, and Fitz, clearly not.

    This was a terrific episode that paid off so much of what’s happened in the series to now as well as weaving in the threads of the movie. Or was that the threads of the series being highlighted in the movie? It’s hard to believe anyone could be dissatisfied now with how the Marvel universe has knit itself together. The television show highlights the human aspect of the equation, and that part of the equation is an important element in the superhero universe. What did you think of the episode? Have you seen the movie? How did the two mesh for you if you have? What are your theories on who Coulson should trust? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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