NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are present in this review
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. revealed a crucial element of its seasonal arc this week, in the superb “Many Heads, One Tale.” This episode continued to illustrate the true reach and lore behind HYDRA, who are continuing to exponentially grow into a very dangerous threat, even amidst the Inhumans. In fact, HYDRA is more deeply tied to the Inhumans than the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ever indicated before, apparently!
The episode begins with Ward meeting with Gideon Malick again, discussing something called the Von Strucker vault, containing some sort of great secret to HYDRA’s power. After the conversation, Malick sends several HYDRA agents to kill Ward, though Ward naturally overpowers them, and begins torturing them to learn his next move. Yep, Ward is still a badass villain, and remains one of the show’s best! It’s very hard to believe that he was part of the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew during Season One now!
On another note regarding Malick, the show also set the record straight this week, for Marvel fans that saw the connection with Powers Boothe portraying the character. Turns out the fan speculation is correct. Coulson directly states at one point that Malick once served on the World Council, confirming that, yes, he is the same unnamed man that Boothe portrayed in The Avengers. As I said when I speculated upon this in a prior Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. review, this is really cool, since it adds a whole new dimension to the climactic Battle of New York from The Avengers, implying that Malick actually pushed to nuke New York as a means of discrediting The Avengers, and knowingly humiliating then-S.H.I.E.L.D. director, Nick Fury. Since Malick advises the President of the United States himself, I’m getting the feeling that he may end up being a key player in the Superhuman Registration Act that’s sure to be a big focus in the next Marvel Studios movie release, next May’s Captain America: Civil War.
Anyway, after the Ward intro, the episode continues with Coulson inviting Rosalind for a tour of his secret S.H.I.E.L.D. base, hoping to establish a base of trust with her that can’t be disputed by either of them. Unbeknownst to Rosalind however, Coulson is enlisting the bulk of his operatives to sneak into the ATCU facility, and discover both where and how Dr. Garner/Lash is being held, and what’s really going on in the back corners of the ATCU.
As much as Coulson is a likable guy, “Many Heads, One Tale” did a great job of reminding viewers that being the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t come with peace of mind. He’s doing what he feels is necessary to protect his organization, especially since he must assume the worst of Rosalind, even as they grow closer. Even Mack voices discontent with the evidence that Coulson and Rosalind have started sleeping together, though Coulson stresses that the situation is none of Mack’s concern.
It’s been a little while since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has delivered a fun little heist that encompasses most of an episode. Bobbi and May had one a few weeks back, but this episode offered an even better one, as Bobbi and Hunter must sneak into the ATCU disguised as cyber security agents from the FBI, while Daisy and Mack run analysis, and May requests Lincoln to be her co-pilot as extraction, even while appearing to be desperate to punish him for what happened to her ex-husband during last week’s episode.
The scenes with Bobbi and Hunter were quite a lot of fun, especially as Hunter reliably becomes a hilarious dickhead to maintain his cover. There wasn’t any tension to start, but the good humour helped to compensate. The tension instead came when Bobbi manages to make it to a deeper level of the facility, not finding Dr. Garner, but instead finding drugs extracted from the tainted fish oil that caused so many Inhuman transformations after the end of Season Two. At this point, they learn that the ATCU facility isn’t actually developing a cure for Inhumans, but a way to make more Inhumans! That’s a twist!
At this point, we get a pretty cool action scene, where Bobbi must go toe-to-toe with an Inhuman on Malick’s payroll, who appears to be able to attract and repel metal, like a C-list Magneto. Right when Bobbi is about to lose the fight, Hunter knocks out the Inhuman attacker, and the two are led out by Rosalind’s right-hand man, who legitimately leads them to extraction.
This was another great twist that viewers no doubt won’t see coming, after Rosalind was on the phone with Malick during last week’s epilogue. Turns out, yet again, Rosalind doesn’t actually have an angle. Despite a heated confrontation with Coulson in a containment area, where Coulson throws the evidence of the ATCU’s dirty dealings in her face, and demands answers, Rosalind is genuinely unaware of what the organization, and Malick, is really doing. Her feelings for Coulson were legitimate, and her desire to build a relationship with him really was real. When she claims that Coulson has an inability to trust people, and can’t build anything with a woman without one finger on the Eject button (nicely calling back to Amy Acker’s cellist character seen in Season One, and first mentioned in The Avengers), she’s kind of right. Rosalind not having an ulterior motive was the biggest surprise of the episode, and it will be very interesting to see how Coulson’s big slip-up will affect their relationship, going forward.
As for Ward, he manages to find his way to the Von Strucker vault, where Malick is waiting for him. Malick commends Ward for his tenacity, since Malick arrived mere minutes before Ward did, despite knowing where the vault was, and having his own private jet. Malick then reveals that HYDRA is actually much older than WWII, contrary to what 2011 movie, Captain America: The First Avenger initially established, and has been around for centuries, as an ancient order built to usher in the return of a mighty Inhuman from thousands of years ago, who was banished from Earth, but is predicted to return and rule it. The Inhuman’s identity is a secret, but it looks like, whatever it is, it was stashed on the mysterious world that Simmons and Will ended up on. Also, surprise, Will was actually sent by HYDRA as a sacrifice. Go figure. This doesn’t totally disprove my theory that the alien world is actually Ego, the Living Planet from Marvel lore, and if that’s the mysterious creature that Malick is referring to, that would be quite the twist indeed, even if this idea of HYDRA being created to summon a powerful planet-dominating monster would benefit most from being built around a big cosmic Marvel force like Galactus, except 20th Century Fox still has the rights to Galactus for now, most frustratingly.
The episode rounded itself off with some standout emotional dialogue between Fitz and Simmons, and May and Lincoln. Fitz and Simmons are the ones that piece together HYDRA using NASA to send astronauts as unwitting sacrifices to the mysterious planet, and the two have a heated argument about how to carry on with the revelation that Simmons fell for Will. The two finally share a kiss this episode as well, but Fitz ultimately cuts it short, since he believes that the two are cursed to never be together. It was a bit annoying after such a big moment, but perhaps Fitz is justified to not want to step on Will’s toes, even then. On the flip side of things however, May actually does another thing that viewers won’t see coming, and apologizes to Lincoln, saying that she sympathizes with his pain, after Dr. Garner killed all of his friends, and targeted Lincoln as well, for being what he deemed as a ‘bad’ Inhuman. Like Rosalind not actually having an ulterior motive, May actually wanting to offer an olive branch to Lincoln was another great surprise.
There’s little, if anything to complain about in “Many Heads, One Tale”, which fired on all cylinders regarding S.H.I.E.L.D., HYDRA and the ATCU alike. HYDRA even manages to capture Dr. Garner for themselves, putting Lash in their corner, and making them more dangerous than ever, especially with the tease of them building up an army of Inhumans for their own. With just a couple of episodes left before the show’s lengthy Winter hiatus, on top of it taking a week off next week, I hope that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can continue tying together the Inhumans and HYDRA to great effect, so viewers will be anticipating the show’s return in March all the more!
- Ward continuing to be a total badass
- Fun heist with Bobbi and Hunter, and its shocking secret
- Great emotional surprises with all of the leads' actions
- Fitz could have savoured the kiss with Simmons a bit more