Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD S03E08 “Many Heads, One Tale” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on: E4, Sundays, 9pm
Writers: Jed Whedon, DJ Doyle
Director: Garry A Brown
Essential Plot Points
- Ward and Malick meet. Ward wants access to the Vault he knows Malick is keeping Hydra’s biggest power in. Malick isn’t inclined to acquiesce to this request. He leaves, sends guards in to kill Ward and, of course, Ward dismantles them, then tortures and interrogates the survivors. He finally gets some information from one and – it’s heavily implied – kills all three.
- Andrew is being transported to the ATCU facility. Coulson and Ros are not happy about this. Mack’s not happy about them not checking in on May. May’s not happy about everything.
- At HQ, May stalks in and past various conversations. One of them is Fitz yelling at a tech for dropping priceless books everywhere. He and Simmons discuss the Ram’s Head symbol and try and work out how it connects to Will’s mission and the portal.
- Lincoln’s on base too, and May gives him a special death stare as she stalks past. He is surprisingly whiny about it. He and Daisy flirt briefly and she reminds him that if he lives there he needs to pull his weight.
- Mack confronts Coulson about Ros and if she can be trusted. Coulson gently, then less gently, verbally takes the big engineer apart. He’s bringing in Ros precisely to see if she can be trusted or not.
- He’s also launching Operation Spotlight, an infiltration mission to confirm the ATCU are doing what they claim they are. Bobbi and Hunter are deployed as on the ground infiltration, Mack and Daisy are to run back up from Zephyr 1 and Lincoln and May are working the extraction. Lincoln, again, whines.
- Ros is brought on base and her phone scanned to make sure it’s not got spyware. Endearingly, SHIELD use this, and a homing beacon on Andrew’s containment cell, as back doors into the ATCU system.
- Bobbi and Hunter go in as members of FBI Cybercrimes with Daisy feeding Hunter the necessary jargon.
- At SHIELD HQ, ATCU IT department calls Ros. She asks if Phil and co happen to be trying to break into her systems. He admits the containment module was designed to do just that and they flirt good-naturedly. This stuff is actually very sweet.
- Fitz confronts Simmons and they have it out. Simmons can’t take how well Fitz is dealing with everything. Fitz can’t take the fact he thinks they’re cursed. They lash out at each other, kiss, twice (!) and break apart. Fitz explains he can’t hate Will because Will did everything right, he was a good guy, a hero so of course Jemma fell for him. Then, Simmons notices something about the ram’s head…
- Ward is on a plane. He flirts with the hostess and she goes numb with terror as he tells what he’s about to do. The plane was the first he could find that would take him over the site of the Hydra vault.
- He’s not waiting for it to land.
- Ward warns the passengers, straps in and blows the door, parachuting into the Vault.
- At HQ, Fitz and Simmons continue their research and realise something awful: Will was sacrificed. The blood sacrifice the logo they found refers to echoes up and down through history and DISTANT STAR PATHFINDER was just the most recent example. Fitz tries to help but Simmons blows up, yells at him for doing the right thing and storms off.
- Ros and Coulson continue the tour, and Ros compliments Coulson on his fondness for the analogue. They dork out together in an adorable manner as Phil gets the word that Bobbi and Hunter are in. May and Lincoln, STILL whining, deploy to prepare to extract them.
- Lincoln, finding a spine and maybe realising how whiny he’s been, confronts May. To his amazement, she admits she was trying to work out how to apologise for what Andrew did to Lincoln’s people. Lincoln apologises and sympathises with her for the awful things that happened and they each find some peace.
- Andrew is visited by Gideon Malick. Malick explains that SHIELD has good intentions but bad practices and offers Andrew a Faustian deal to help solve his problem…
- At the ATCU, Bobbi breaks into the lab and finds… nothing. No cure. No Andrew. Then she finds a vault at the back of the lab filled with sealed boxes. Inside each is a failed Inhuman.
- The ATCU hasn’t been trying to cure Inhumans.
- They’ve been trying to make them.
- Daisy and Mack discover they’ve been feeding employees the Terrigen-infused fish oil. And not all of the Inhumans they’ve created are under containment…
- Upstairs at the ATCU, Hunter spots Banks, Rosalind’s right-hand man. Downstairs, Bobbi’s confronted by some guards and asks Hunter to bring her briefcase. Hunter exfiltrates in exactly the adorably crap way you’d expect as Bobbi beats the snot out of the guards.
- Hunter arrives late. There are height jokes. They’re magnificent. Marvel’s Most Wanted cannot show up fast enough for me.
- The second wave of guards arrives, led by Giyera, the Inhuman Daisy and Mack found on active duty at the ATCU. He has very cool powers, using a form of telekinesis to fire the downed guards’ weapons at Bobbi and Hunter. Hunter whines.
- Bobbi deploys her BOOMERANG BAD GUY-SEEKING BATONS and proceeds to kick all degrees of ass.
- Back at SHIELD HQ, Coulson drops the hammer. He accuses Rosalind of being Hydra, citing her reference to Tahiti a while back as evidence. She accuses him of being a paranoid asshole and they go toe-to-toe until Coulson tells her about the lab Bobbi found.
- The lab that Malick told Rosalind was working on a cure.
- The penny drops. Hydra were more highly placed than anyone could have imagined. Gideon Malick, who gave Rosalind the Tahiti intel, is Hydra.
- She begs Coulson to trust her and he does. At the ATCU building, Banks gets Bobbi and Hunter out alive.
- Ward breaks into the vault and finds Malick waiting for him. He shows Ward a fragment of the Monolith that took Gemma and explains Hydra’s true history; that thousands of years ago an Inhuman was born who was destined to rule the Earth. It was banished to another world and Hydra have tried, for as long as humans have been on the planet, to get it back. As he talks we see the outside of Andrew’s containment cell.
- It now has a PROJECT DISTANT STAR RETURN mission patch.
- Hydra have failed to bring their leader back. But now they’re going to send him an army of Inhumans. And in return for Ward telling Malick how SHIELD brought someone back through the portal, he’ll let Ward have revenge….
- At SHIELD, Rosalind briefs them on Malick. She explains, and Simmons guesses, that she was recruited by him when he consulted for NASA. Fitz and Simmons show them the evolution of the Ram’s Head logo. They turn the last one upside down. It’s the Hydra octopus.
- Ward visits Andrew and explains that he needs to see the monster. He fills the cell with mustard gas and waits to see if Andrew will die or Lash will save him…
As the opening chords of “Payoff City” begin for this half season of Agents Of SHIELD it’s interesting to see how the show revolves around couples. The locked in, almost painful focus of last week is lessened a bit here but it’s still a plot driven by pairs.
The first is Coulson and Rosalind who set the plot up and bring it into land this week. Not before time too, as the relationship takes a turn for the worse but also the more honest. SHIELD has always flown a bit close to the wind with repeated motifs and the ATCU plot was just starting to be stretched too thin. It’s nice to see that the characters, and maybe the writers too, here acknowledging that no this won’t be “SHIELD VS SHIELD VS OUTSIDE AGENCY OF THE WEEK” again.
But the heart of the episode sits with Fitz and Simmons, and it’s perfect. Shippers the world over will fist bump, high five and grab gifs of the two (TWO!) kisses, we have no doubt, and not without reason. Better still, that moment – which has been building for two-and-a-half years – is not a conclusion. They’re still trying to figure out their relationship, what they are to each other and what they can be. It’s complex and untidy, sweet and awful and horribly familiar to a lot of people I suspect. This is one of the best written not-quite romances on TV right now and absolute top marks to everyone involved.
Those two couples drive the episode along but there’s a constellation of lesser ones that help keep it moving. Malick and Ward, a partnership in the business sense, have some good work here and it’s great to see Powers Boothe use the smoothest voice in showbusiness to deliver that Earth-shattering final monologue. This is a vital episode not just for the season, but the show. It recontextualises Hydra, ties them and the Inhumans together and makes it a three-season-and-counting arc rather than standalones. It’s really smart writing and plotting and I’m looking forward to seeing where they go with it. Especially as, sooner or later, someone is going to try and rescue both Will and the thing he’s sharing that world with…
Elsewhere Daisy and Lincoln get a little progression and Lincoln and May find themselves the avatars of human/Inhuman cooperation. That’s especially nice given how much of a brat Lincoln is throughout the rest of the episode. Bobbi and Hunter also get some great stuff this episode, but their plot is so standalone it’s almost transparently a test run action sequence for Marvel’s Most Wanted. Not that we’re complaining. Especially if Bobbi gets to keep those awesome batons.
“Many Heads, One Tale” loses a little pace and focus from last week but makes up for that with the escalation of the ATCU plot and the massive plot bomb it detonates under the season arc. All in all another very strong episode in a very strong season.
- Excellent direction this week. I like that SHIELD has started to use “We follow someone into the base to tie various plots together” as a narrative tool. Also, lovely shots of Zephyr 1 and the Quinjets and some nicely burly fight choreography.
- GREAT payoff to the arc plot this season. The Ram’s Head/Hydra symbol imagery and the patch on Andrew’s cell are both chillingly well done.
- Some fun Ward stuff this episode too. The show been sort of meandering about not knowing what to do with him recently but it’s nice to see Brett Dalton getting to cut loose and the torture scene in particular here is very well done.
- BOBBI HAS BOOMERANG BATONS NOW!
- EPIC Bobbi and Hunter banter.
- Every single moment Fitz and Simmons are onscreen. Who knew, when the show started, that the slightly forced comic relief pair would eventually be the beating, bruised heart of this show?
- “I feel like you’re going to tell me I didn’t make little league all-stars.” This season has excelled at the hard-edged/goofy elements of Coulson and this line is a stand out.
- “Again, not your business. But you really think I’m THAT guy?” Also this one. I love that Coulson is insulted Mack would think that of him.
- “Because the only spies without trust issues are either young or dead.” And this is brilliant. Coulson’s struggled at times with that nice guy/hard-edged combo. That line shows both sides of him, the regret and the brutal pragmatism that are both needed in his job.
- “Be proud. You stayed quiet.” Some good Ward stuff this week. Especially this horrifying compliment.
- “We really have to figure out other ways to flirt.” Rosalind’s characters has been variable but all the Coulson/Rosalind scenes this episode were great. Nice to see them finally laying to rest the threat of yet another SHIELD 2.0/Hydra takeover plot too.
- “Are you alphabetising those?”
“Don’t be ridiculous – I’m organising them by subject and date.” YOU TWO ARE PRECIOUS!
- “Now all Hunter has to do is run his mouth and waste time.”
“Well he excels at that.” Hey! No, actually… that’s completely fair.
- “We’re CURSED! The bloody cosmos wants us apart!”
“The cosmos doesn’t want anything.”
“I BEG TO DIFFER.” The Fitz and Simmons plot is so good right now because it’s complex and messy and they can’t not be together. It’s one of the most realistic not-quite relationships we’ve seen on a mainstream TV show and every moment they have on screen here works. Also – yay kissing!
- “He did everything right.”
“AND YOU DOVE THROUGH A HOLE IN THE UNIVERSE FOR ME!” This stuff is just heart-breaking. Maximum kudos to Ian de Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge for turning in yet more sterling work.
- “Listen, Steve. You seem like a really good guy and you were spot on about not being able to trust me. Just wrong about why, see? I’m not very good at computers.” Hunter is purely and completely loveable.
- “Once again, too little too late.”
“I’d remind you that we’re the same height I just don’t wear bloody heels.” Apparently he may have a point. Records show there’s only an inch between them. Bet that doesn’t stop her patting him on the head lots.
- “Well, that’ll buy us very little time.” Or coming out with stuff like this.
- Operation Spotlight. Really, Phil. Really? Is the next mission going to be Operation Bad Guy Stopper? Or perhaps Operation Secret? Maybe Operation SSSSSSHHHH?
- Lincoln is very very whiny this episode. It does not endear him to anyone. The payoff’s good but after two months of Lincoln being defensive and reactionary we’d really like to see him act like an adult soon.
- The ATCU plot pays off and it’s about time. It’s ended up going some fun places but we’re very ready for season four to not have the, “can we trust this mysterious government agency?” plot front and centre thanks. Judging by some of the comments this episode, we suspect the writers are about done with it too.
- Daniel Bernhardt, legendary martial artist and B-movie actor extraordinaire, is in this episode for maybe two minutes. He shares an episode but no screen time with another all time great, Mark Dacascos. We’re not sure what’s more upsetting; that they don’t get to fight or that Bernhardt doesn’t get a real chance to show off. See John Wick (but maybe skip the first couple of chapters if you’re a dog lover) to see one of the best movie fight scenes of all time between him and Keanu Reeves.
And The Random:
- IT Steve is played by Nelson Franklin who had a memorable cameo(ish) in the wonderful Scott Pilgrim Vs The World.
- Giyera is played by Mark Dacascos. One of the finest martial artists of his generation, Dacascos is also a prolific actor who, like Daniel Bernhardt, doesn’t get enough credit for his work. He’s best known for his turn on Hawaii Five-O as Wo Fat but also appeared in the astoundingly weird and brilliant Brotherhood Of The Wolf as well as shows like Stargate: Atlantis and The Flash. The original one, from 1991.
- Shot of the week is this. Poor Andrew, completely unaware of what others have planned for him.
Review by Alasdair Stuart