Plot: After paying two students to invent a dangerous ice machine and subsequently creating a new super villain, Ian Quinn (David Conrad) officially has S.H.I.E.L.D.’s full attention. Now Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his team must do everything they can to take him down.
Ever since the first episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the show has been about a core team. Their growing pains became the primary focus of many episodes. They always work together whenever some menacing and mysterious force crosses their collective paths. It’s clear that each person involved fills a necessary void. But what happens when the team is split off? When each team member isn’t able to rely on the strengths of someone else? That was the overall theme last night in “T.R.A.C.K.S.” Once the team enters their mission together, unforeseen consequences split them up. The show then decides to focus on each of the characters in four connecting stories that all come together to form the truth of what is really going on. It’s this deft handling of show structure and the shocking ending that makes “T.R.A.C.K.S.” one hell of a ride.
The mission is initially going fine for the team. Their goal is to intercept a train with Cybertech corporation agents on it protecting some unknown device. Coulson theorizes that the device is being shipped to Quinn himself so it becomes the team’s main objective to obtain it. As many people probably expected, the mission goes south. The Cybertech team knows that S.H.I.E.L.D. is on the train and they deftly take down each team member. Once the smoke is cleared, everyone is either alone or paired up. Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) is with Coulson, Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Skye (Chloe Bennet) are together, and both Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) are alone.
“T.R.A.C.K.S.” was then rolled out like a puzzle with each piece fitting in to solve certain mysteries. It all starts off with Coulson trying to find the device and quickly being forced off the train with Ward. In an amazing twist, the train vanishes into thin air. Before we find out exactly how the train straight up disappeared, we see what happened to Ward when their communication broke down and the mission fell to pieces. We then get our first real taste of what it’s like for this team to be completely alone. Considering how Coulson and Ward aren’t tech experts, the show immediately makes a point for them to fumble with a computer once they return to the Bus. Sure it was such a hammy scene but I had a good laugh.
May’s story followed immediately after which was much more action packed. May had to escape the car via parachute only to find Ward and Coulson paralyzed on the ground. This is when the mystery slowly begins to unravel and connections are made to what we previously saw. In all honesty, I’m a sucker for these kinds of stories. I legitimately enjoyed piecing each hint together to get the full truth. While it was easy to guess that May initially hotwired the car and that Coulson’s contact Senor Euruso (Carlo Rota) was betrayer, I didn’t expect the explanation for the train disappearance to be nerve toxin. I really like how that explanation was more grounded in reality than magic or portals. Ward and Coulson being knocked out and not knowing any time had passed fits this show much better than a magic wormhole creating device. Also, that fight scene where May pulls a knife out of her shoulder to kill several people was freaking awesome.
Fitz and Skye’s separate story then filled up the remainder of the episode with a dash of Simmons. Simmons, after being told to hide in the equipment room with Fitz and Skye, got barely any flashback coverage to connect the story. We did however get her willingly throwing herself into harms way to save the lives of both Fitz and Skye. Think about it, there was no way for her to know that the grenade was nerve gas. She basically proved she was okay with death, and that’s not even the first time. I’d say that’s a proper trade off. Fitz realizing that the nerve grenades were simply airborne versions of the Night-Night Gun was also some great foreshadowing to the later truth that Quinn is studying up on S.H.I.E.L.D. technology.
Everything comes to a head when Fitz and Skye decide to take matters into their own hands by secretly invading Quinn’s compound. I understand their bravado and sense for duty, especially since they’re clearly more trained in the field now than before, but going into a heavily guarded compound alone is just a stupid decision no matter who you are. Sure enough, Skye is tragically shot (twice) by Quinn and is barely kept alive thanks to a hyperbaric chamber that Mike Peterson (J. August Richards) was in. I have no doubt that Skye will somehow pull through this (such is the nature of this show) but I was legitimately shocked by her being shot. She’s officially the closest any main character has come to death on this show.
There were also two amazing moments last night. One was a cameo by the creator himself, Stan “The Man” Lee. Lee has popped up in every film currently in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so his eventual inclusion was a no-brainer. That doesn’t stop it from being one of the greatest cameos ever! I hope this isn’t the first time Lee drops by. I’d love for this to be an in-joke with the characters (“Didn’t we see that guy on a train in Italy?” Coulson will hopefully ask when Lee pops up in a commercial airliner with two beautiful women).
The second moment obviously belongs to Mike Peterson who we can now call Deathlok. Deathlok has been a Marvel Comics staple since the ’70s and J. August Richards is the first person to play him in live action. Deathlok has never been one singular person too, it’s always been a name used by a series of characters that are half-robot/half-human. The leg given to Peterson, which was the mysterious item on the train, is only the beginning of this badass comic cyborg. I absolutely cannot wait to see what the Clairvoyant makes him do. Peterson is officially one of the coolest characters on this show.
By some cruel twist of fate, we’ll have to wait until March 4th to officially see if (when) Skye lives and what the new Deathlok will do. It’s a shame that there’s so much time between episodes now because S.H.I.E.L.D. has seriously found its groove with these past three episodes. If the writers can keep this momentum going, this show will officially become everything fans want it to be.