Don't Fear the Reaper?
NOTE: "Turn, Turn, Turn" takes place DURING the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier so expect spoilers where they intersect. Cheap Plug read my review here
“Turn, Turn, Turn,” continues the theme of Agents of SHIELD having episodes in which stuff actually happens. The paranoia found in “Beginning of the End” carries over, breaking the team down and leaving the foundations bare. Perfect for a quasi-reboot in the all but assured second season. The compressed timeline of the episode manages to focus on the seasons three major storylines and recontextualize the tedious opening two-thirds of the season. Stuff defiantly happens.
Why this team? Why these people? What is it that makes them so gosh darn special? All of these questions were on the tip of audiences tongues as the show failed to or never attempted to answer them. The first two questions are finally answered. Coulson was under the assumption that he put the team together but as he is slowly discovering, nothing is at it seems. Agent May put the team together on orders of director Fury. Whom the team discovers is dead thanks to May’s mystery phone line, just in time for the bullets to begin to fly. As the bullets pierce the Bus, a pane of glass with the SHIELD logo is shattered an excellent on the nose visual metaphor.
In the USA feature on SHIELD post Captain America: The Winter Soldier Clark Gregg described the show as "about a company man who finds out that everything he's dedicated his life to is not what he thought it was. To have everything dissolve around him to the point that S.H.I.E.L.D. itself is in smoking ruins (and have) that crisis of faith is such an amazing thing to explore." “Turn, Turn, Turn” doesn’t have the time to actually begin exploring this crisis of faith but if the final 5 episodes manage to, that’s potent dramatic ground.
The team was put together methodically except for Skye, with each member meant to fulfill a function should it Coulson begin to act “different”. Simmons was there to heal his body. Fitz was on brain duty. Ward was there to put Coulson down If need be. Gregg’s expression as this is revealed to him shatters his character, once again they hit the reset button a bit on progress but at least there is a decent reason. Coming clean also gives Ming Na Wen a chance to show off some of her acting chops, gone is the cold exterior, replaced with the empathetic heart of a friend.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier gave us the big picture view of the dissolution of SHIELD. Now in Agents we are given the ground level view, something this show has always claimed to be about but rarely felt delivered on. A smaller screen doesn’t stop “Turn, Turn, Turn” from having some impressive action sequences. A pair of CGI dog fights start off the episode as team is pulled to the Hub and harassed by drones. Grant Ward finally is able to look like the vicious killing machine he and the show always claimed he was. The specialist takes out 12 Agents with a mixture of guns and at one point slicing them with shards of broken glass. Director Vincent Misiano doesn’t go for overtly styled shaky came in this sequence mostly keeping things to a nice medium shot and just letting the choreography speak for itself. When Agents of SHIELD wants to, it can actually do good action.
“Beginning of the End” cliffhangar of Victoria Hand ordering the death of all those aboard the Bus sans Coulson was a clever bit of misdirection. Misdirection that actually capitalized on Hand’s history in the comics where she has shifty morals at best. Hydra sent out the message that it was time to come out of the shadows, forcing Hand to go on the immediate offensive of gathering up everyone in her purview for interrogation. She suddenly realizes she was on a leaky ship and dosen’t know where or how many leaks she needs to plug. Making her orders involving the Bus actually work dramatically, her bureaucratic brain sees all of Coulson’s involvement in various missions that weren’t exactly by the book and that screams to her (Hail) HYDRA.
Hydra revealing itself brings the Clairvoyant thread to head with now the assumption that it is John Garret. “Turn, Turn, Turn” has some cringe inducing expositional dialog but nothing compares to Clark Gregg yelling “X is the Clairvoyant” constantly. This may be giving the Clairvoyant thread a bit too much credit but it’s always seemed to be an exercise in red herrings and our need to create a narrative to explain something. Why does the Clairvoyant have to be one man? Why not a consortium of people acting as one, like says Hyrda? With his true colors revealed, Bill Paxton manages to make “Hail Hydra” sound less lame. SHIELD’s lighter tone and Paxton’s overall delivery as an ironic turn of phrase, after Hydra saves him sells the moment.
Garrett isn’t the only one revealed to be the traitorous sort. The above mentioned killing machine, Grant Ward, more than lives up to the moniker as he plugs two SHIELD agents in the head and Victoria Hand several times as they transport Garrett to the Fridge (this Is by far the most graphic SHIELD has gotten thus far). I’m not buying the heel turn just yet. Even without the knowing look exchanged by Coulson and Ward as they ship out, the episodes stinger reveals Ward to be sitting almost hypnotized with Garrett tell yet another story of his greatness (it’s the one he was telling Coulson in the car last episode). The series has laid the ground work showing Ward as man with issues expressing empathy, it wouldn’t be a stretch to have him be psychologically damaged in more traumatic ways.
Having Ward be the turn coat however plays fantastic to the sect of the audience that just don’t like him. Ward is ranked just slightly below Skye on the level of uninteresting characters so having him suddenly become an out and out villain gives those whom already dislike him reason more to hate Agent McRibb Beefcake Supreme.
The majority of Agent of SHIELD’s first 15 episodes, I don’t really like. Yes there are some bright spots like “FZZT”, “Seeds”, and “TRACKS” but by an large they were uninteresting form both plot and character perspectives. Showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen claiming that they were forced to be purposefully “lame” isn’t much of an excuse. It belies the fact that you could’ve used the time to really establish character dynamics. Either way “Turn, Turn, Turn” manages to monetize the bits and pieces of those past adventures and turn them into a decent plot point. The Bus has seen a bunch of crazy stuff, stuff that Hydra might find useful. The hard drive with all of their info (seemingly in the hands of Ward) is now a nifty Mcguffin. It doesn’t make me want to go back and rewatch any of these episodes but it at least turns them into something.
Who knew all it would take for SHIELD to actually become interesting was the dissolution of its namesake.