With “The Writing on the Wall,” Agents of SHIELD severed one of the last ties to its inconsistent first season by revealing the final details about the TAHITI project and the whole connection to the compulsive carving for those with the alien blood in them.
All season long, SHIELD has been shedding its freshman flaws to round into the kind of show Marvel fans anticipated seeing from the start. Since about Episode 13 last season the show had completed a near 180 degree pivot by telling a serialized story, improving the fight scenes, making Skye competent and useful, making the wooden Agent Sudden Heelturn interesting and totally shaking up the FitzSimmons dynamic. The excellent use of guest stars and the addition of a whole crew of new supporting players - led by Adrianne Palicki’s Mockingbird — left one big thread still dangling: Coulson’s resurrection.
After this week’s episode, that arc has been scratched off the list too, but the Director put himself and most of the team through hell to get it done. Thanks to another session with Raina’s magic memory machine, Coulson remembered he was actually one of a handful of dead and/or dying SHIELD operatives who were given the alien miracle cure.
Everybody suffered the same side effect, a madding, unquenchable desire to find the secret meaning of these strange symbols they couldn’t stop making. The only way to save these people from themselves was to wipe their memories clean, implant new ones and send them to quiet corners of the world.
Even that was a temporary solution. Any exposure to the symbols started the whole downward spiral over again. It all came to a head in barn of a TAHITI program survivor. After Coulson easily duped Skye into the basement cell, he winds up in a showdown with an inked-up former agency assassin. Luckily for them all, the barn owner figured out the crucial detail of the alien symbols: they weren’t a map, they were a blueprint. Every drawing was another layer of a rendering of a city the alien wanted to desperately return to and the barn owner built a 3-D scale model. After seeing the drawings in their proper form, both Coulson and the assassin snapped back to reality.
This might not have been the most action-packed chapter of the season, but it was a crucial resetting of the game board. On the other side of TAHITI, there’s a new destination, higher stakes and a race against Hydra where Coulson’s rag-tag band of loyal operatives are the underdogs against the better organized, superiorly financed Hydra.
We built this city: The introduction of this alien mystery city adds fire to the speculation that Skye, Raina and Skye’s father, The Doctor, are all going to be tied to The Inhumans in some way.
It makes sense because Marvel recently announced an Inhumans feature film as part of its next slate movies. The TV show is a good place to do the heavy lifting on the origins of the group, allowing the movie to jump right into action.
Is this mystery city Attilan, the Inhuman home base on the moon? My gut is saying no, because Marvel will want to introduce that locale in the movies. This city here will be a terrestrial outpost and maybe the legendary Shangri-La. It’s also a good bet that the Obelisk is going to be the literal key to this city.
On the hunt: While the nerds were dealing with Coulson, jocks of the team were in pursuit of Ward as he retrieved a bug-out bag, strapped on a suicide vest and ventured from bus station to bus station along the Eastern seaboard before reuniting with Hydra.
Ward is going to be the wild card for the foreseeable future. He’s doing his best at feeding both Hydra and SHIELD enough info (and prisoners) to keep them distracted, which will allow him time to kill his Senator brother.
Salon quality: Mockingbird’s hair has honeyed up since her introduction a few episodes back, so she’s either spending a lot of down time in the salon or Billy Koenig is not only an organizational master and expert gamer, he’s also a fabulous colorist.
Brain games: It doesn’t look like we’ve seen the last of the magic memory machine. Mack and Fitz are brewing up a plan to modify the thing to restore Fitz to his old self (or a psycho crazypants, you know whichever.)
Meanwhile in Starling City…
Three words: Boxing Glove Arrow.
If you were even slightly considering leaving Arrow for greener pastures, this week might be the perfect time to abandon ship. You got to see Ollie’s signature trick arrow in action and not have your retinas burned out by the sight of Laaaawrl in the blond wig and buckles of full Black Canary regalia. It’s a win-win.
The main plot of “Guilty” inched Laurel ever closer to her comic book dictated destiny (sigh). Her trainer, Ted Grant, briefly donned the mask and brass knuckles of Wildcat in order to keep The Glades safe for regular folks back in the day. He had a sidekick who was too angry, overzealous and who eventually killed a gang-related drug dealer.
It was all too much for Grant and he abandoned his trainee, who was subsequently tortured for years by the gang.
Flash forward six years and gang bangers are getting strung up like sides of beef in fully stocked abandoned warehouses all over town with “Guilty” written in blood underneath them.
Surprise, surprise it’s Wildcat’s kitten back to exact revenge on his former teacher. He kidnaps Laurel and Grant before taking them to parts unknown. Thanks to some fast and furious moves behind the wheel, the sidekick and dumped out of the speeding car so he can fulfill his purpose in this episode.
The side story this week produced tensions between Red Ranger Roy and Ollie. Roy gets to Grant’s ward and they duke it out. In mid-fight, the sidekick gives Roy a long spiel about how Roy is just a pawn in Arrow’s game of life - sowing the seeds of distrust, blah blah blah.
For a show that spent two seasons borrowing heavily from other comic histories or just flat out making stuff up, Arrow is all about sticking to canon now.
Roy on borrowed time: The show didn’t drag out the mystery about Roy’s bad dreams for very long. He went to Felicity and admitted to her he thought he killed Sara. The virtual forensics seemed to back up the idea, before blood evidence and guided meditation proved otherwise. Roy’s subconscious merely merged two traumatic events together: Sara’s death and Roy murdering a cop during the Mirakuru riots. The latter throws some shade on Ollie and Roy’s relationship and will ultimately lead to Roy’s leaving in a huff just in time to make room for Black Canary - just like in the comics!.
Turrible Laaawrl watch: The prize this week goes to her driving. The show runners just don’t know how they want to get us to like Laurel. They give her a nice “hell yeah” stunt driving moment then totally undermine it by making her crash into the only two parked cars on the block immediately after just to put her in peril so Ollie and Diggle have to save her.
If you want us to buy that Laurel can be a hero, you’re going to have to let her be successfully heroic from time to time.
Who’s that girl?: You might have recognized Rila Fukshima, who played the punk rock Samurai bodyguard in The Wolverine, teaching Ollie guided meditation during the Hong Kong flashbacks. If she doesn’t grab a sword and start kicking ass in the next few episodes, the whole Hong Kong storyline will be a total bust.
Meanwhile in Gotham City …
Where to start with this show? Gotham has its share of merits and flaws but on top of all the Catgirl perching on furniture, Barbara being generally awful (more on that later) and the hero of the story not being terribly interesting, its biggest weakness is staying in the shadow of two characters who were killed before the show’s opening credits: Thomas and Martha Wayne.
The elder Waynes were at the heart of two storylines in this week’s episode. Gordon was lamenting that the city has taken a turn for the crazy since the Wayne’s murders and Bruce is beating up bullies to defend the honor of his sainted mommy.
Keeping the Waynes alive for two or three episodes would have would have helped the narrative of the show so much. It would have explained why Bruce was so driven to carry this grudge this whole life. It could have shown that it was the Waynes power, influence and financial support that kept the corruption and anarchy at bay. It could have created a personal relationship between Gordon and the Waynes and strengthened Gordon’s dedication to find justice for Bruce.
As it stands, Gotham City isn’t much of a prize for the mob to be fighting over and there are enough costumed loonies running around that it needs Batman now. At this rate, the city is going to burn to the ground before Bruce is old enough to drive.
Doubleheader: Got a villain two-fer this week with Black Mask’s questionable hiring practices and Tommy Elliott, who grows up to hate both Batman and Bruce Wayne before adopting the guise of Hush.
Fighting the Goop way: Why use a roll of nickels in a sock to beat up your nemesis when a fine Swiss timepiece works just as well - and is far more stylish.
Don’t let the door hit you: So Barbara, goons break into your home and point guns at you but you can’t stay away. You get a little tipsy and scared, pull a gun on your late arriving fiancé and suddenly that’s too much for you to handle?
Pick one: Not sure which was the better moment, Bullock calling out the entire precinct for being cowards in the face of Zsasz or Bullock calling Gordon an asshat.
Meanwhile in Atlanta…
After a few episodes of generally good behavior, John Constantine’s amoral side was on full display in Constantine.
An old running buddy/wannabe Gary tries to get a demon in a bottle though customs with predictably terrible results. The malevolent spirit in question is an especially strong hunger demon that consumes host upon host never stopping.
Constantine paints Gary in much the same light. Gary was a rich kid who idolized Constantine, but Gary’s hunger for the next high could never be satisfied. Gary was with Constantine the night Astra’s soul was lost to the devil, and it’s haunted both men ever since.
Gary, in a heroin stupor, recognized a possessed urchin on the streets of Sudan and thought he could atone for his past sins by pulling the demon out of the man and into a vessel.
The demon proves to be too strong for Constantine’s methods and he visits a shaman for an acid trip and advice. John learns that this particular demon must be bound inside a human vessel where it will kill the host but not be able to escape.
Constantine decides that it’s Gary who should be the sacrifice. Under the guise of teaming up for another go-around with drinks, breaking and entering and demon hunting on the itinerary, John and Gary get to work. It’s not until they are on the theater stage staring down the demon that Gary finally gets wise to what’s going on.
Gary really talks himself into the idea that sacrificing himself in this way is noble and he gets no objections from Constantine.
Once the deed is done, Zed is none too happy about what has happened because her psychic powers gave some insight into how well intentioned Gary really was. After a spat outside the millhouse, Constantine looks Zed in the eye and lies that Gary came to him to be sacrificed and she needs to suck it up if she wants to hang.
The episode closes with a teary-eye Constantine and a stern Manny holding vigil as Gary is in the painful throes of demonic death.
What’s up with Zed?: First of all she lives in a magical millhouse surrounded by trees but goes to a mostly concrete city part to “reconnect with nature.” Secondly if you are going to go into psychic heroin withdrawal at the slightest touch, maybe dealing with people who are traumatized by otherworldly encounters isn’t the best life path. Just sayin’.
Meanwhile in Central City…
The Flash followed up its excellent Captain Cold episode by going down the now well-worn path of meet metahuman followed by flashback ending with Dr. Wells is creepy/evil.
This week Barry meets up with Bette Sans Souci a former soldier who recovering from serious battlefield wounds near Star Labs when it blew. The bomb fragments in her wounds fused with her body granting her the power to create time bombs with a touch.
She get chased by General Kurgan (ok really Eiling, played by Clancy Brown) who of course wants to weaponize her. Barry wants the team to help her control her powers so he can have a metahuman buddy to share his superpowered problems with.
Dr. Wells has other plans and convinces Bette (dubbed Plastique by Cisco because that is his purpose on the show) to take the fight to the Army because it’s the only way she can truly be free. And by free, Wells of course means dead.
It’s later revealed that Wells and Eiling have a history of trying to make super-intelligent gorillas together and Wells was trying to at least intimidate and at most eliminate Eiling from the picture and keep docile little Grodd to himself.
Power stunts galore: After her death, Plastique detonates like a several kiloton nuclear device. It was a couple of miles off-shore, thanks The Flash learning how to run on water, but the 6-inch swells that hit the shores Central City were not the tsunami that fluid dynamics says should have hit. Barry also learns how to vibrate his vocal cords in such a way that it can disguise his voice, which is admittedly pretty cool. His metabolism is also so high even the strongest hooch science can make only gets him buzzed for a moment.
Star-crossed lovers: At the behest of Det. West, Barry tried to convince Iris that chronicling the efforts of “The Streak” on her blog might not be the best idea out there. His efforts fall on deaf ears, and Iris potentially puts herself in danger by putting her name on the blog. In a last ditch effort to get her to stop the blog (and to him the enormous torch he’s carrying for Iris) Barry suggests that they take a break from each other for a while.
Craig Wack is a veteran journalist. Please follow his Twitter.