Thursday, December 4, 2014

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 2.07: "The Writing on the Wall"

“He’ll recover. He did before. Besides, brains never delete files. They just lose connections. But there’s always a backup. Just a matter of digging and finding them.”

This episode of “S.H.I.E.L.D.,” while lower key than many recent episodes, was interesting in the sense that it was sort of a murder mystery for the team to solve. And added bonus, the murder mystery is connected to the bigger show mythology mystery the team is tackling this season. That would be the mystery of the writing that Coulson has been compulsively carving. While the episode didn’t really get the adrenaline going, I was happy to have more understanding of the carving. It was especially satisfying that while some of the basic mystery of the carving was resolved, that resolution opened up a new mystery. I think all good television shows pace their mythology well in that way. On the negative side, this episode had too much Ward. I’ve really never been a fan, and I’m more over him now than ever.

The episode opens by setting up the murder mystery. A man named Sebastian and a woman arrive at the woman’s apartment after a date. They talk about how when they saw each other, they could have sworn they recognized each other, but they don’t know why. Or at least the woman doesn’t know why. Sebastian says he can make her remember. We learn later that his idea of making her remember is carving stuff into her until she dies. Speaking of carving, Coulson is still carving into the wall of his office with a vengeance. He is interrupted by Skye, who, while she knows the carving is supposed to be a map, can’t figure out what the map is depicting. Their conversation makes it clear that Coulson has been carving more and more lately.

The B story in this episode is part of the team (the B team really, led by May) following Ward on a chase through cities that all have special meaning to me. It was quite fun to experience Ward’s tour of some cities in the eastern United States where I have spent some time. The first stop is Philadelphia, which of course is the city out of the bunch with the most meaning to me. I grew up in the suburbs, but my parents were both born in Philadelphia and raised either in or very close to it, so I have experienced my fair share of Philadelphia culture in my life. Anyway, the important thing isn’t that he’s in Philadelphia. The important part is that Tripp sees him there. May is on her way in the plane to help, but before Tripp can do anything, Ward flashes the fact that he’s wearing a dead man’s switch and a crap ton of C4. So if the team tries to do anything, there is going to be a huge explosion.

Back at the Playground, Skye tells Coulson about the murder that happened at the beginning of the episode. They are both really interested in the case because of the writing carved into the woman. It’s the same writing Coulson has been carving. Coulson thinks the victim was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, but there’s no readily apparent evidence of this. They investigate her apartment, and they see a bunch of paintings that seem to feature the alien writing (again). One of them is titled “A Magical Place,” and it’s apparent that there is something related to GH325 (the alien serum that healed Coulson and Skye) going on. It’s also apparent that the woman was probably a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent after all. As Simmons starts the autopsy, Coulson wonders why he can’t remember the victim. He has found her S.H.I.E.L.D. records, and because of her relatively high clearance level, he should have remembered her.

When we next see Ward, he’s in Atlanta. I myself was in Atlanta in October. It was my second trip to the city – my first was in 2012. When watching this scene, I wondered why they altered the MARTA logo to say Atlanta instead. Maybe to make it obvious it was Atlanta? Or the MARTA logo is copyrighted? Or both? Anyway, Ward is trying to catch a bus to Dallas. He befriends a mother and daughter, which is kind of creepy, but when he gets on the bus, he ends up sitting next to Bobbi. He quickly figures out she’s a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent because she hasn’t been turning the page in her book. He immediately gets off the bus and gets on another bus. Hunter is on that other bus, but Ward doesn’t notice.

Simmons’ autopsy discovers GH325 in the victim. There is also GH325 in some tissue under the victim’s nails, so the team figures the killer was exposed to GH325, too. This leads Coulson to think he needs to take drastic measures to remember what happened during his time working with the Tahiti initiative. Coulson goes in what is basically a torture machine to try and recover memories of that time. He sees himself supervising six patients/S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. All seem well adjusted at first, and Coulson recommends their release. Then the carvings start. Coulson’s boss says that he can help by erasing the memories of all the patients. While remembering this, Coulson is going through a tough time in the present day. Through all the pain, Skye asks Coulson to remember the names of the Tahiti patients.

When we next see Ward, he’s in Boston, home to my fearless co-runner of MTVP, Sarah. I’ve visited Boston twice, too. It’s a city I really enjoy visiting, although I don’t think I could stand the cold if I lived there. Ward goes into a bar, and inside, he meets up with one of Whitehall’s operatives. Meanwhile, Coulson remembers a few names of Tahiti patients before he starts really convulsing and Skye calls an end to the experiment. She also calls May, who tells her to lock Coulson up. There is only one Tahiti patients unaccounted for, and his new, post memory-wipe name is Hank. As Skye is trying to lock Coulson up, Coulson gets the upper hand and imprisons Skye. Then he leaves, presumably to go after Hank. Simmons is distracted at first with Fitz issues, but she eventually sees the imprisoned Skye on a security monitor.

Coulson goes to Hank’s house, but Sebastian got there first, and he knocks Coulson out. Meanwhile, May’s team raids the bar where Ward was last seen, but Ward is gone. Ward left the Whitehall operative behind as a “gift” for Coulson. When we next see Hank’s house, Sebastian has Hank and Coulson tied up. Hank slowly managed to get himself untied, though, and he manages to save Coulson. As Sebastian and Coulson are fighting, Sebastian evil speeches of evil about how the alien writing “goes deeper,” and that’s why he carves bodies.

May and Skye had to do some research to figure out where Coulson went, and when they’re on their way there, they run into Hank on the side of the road. Hank says two guys are fighting at his house, so May and Skye rush to the scene. When they get there, Coulson is strangling Sebastian, and they try to stop him. Sebastian doesn’t die, but he comes just close enough to death to see the final piece of the alien writing image. It’s not a map. It’s a blueprint of an entire city. With the puzzle solved, Coulson no longer feels the compulsion to carve. His new mission is to find the location depicted in the map. At the end of the episode, Ward makes a very creepy phone call to Skye. After the call, Ward puts down a newspaper, and the cover story is about his brother. It’s pretty apparent that Ward is going after his brother next.

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