Plot: S.H.I.E.L.D. is in pieces. Desperate to find any semblance of control, Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) leads his team on a wild goose chase. He is confident that Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is still alive and helping from behind the scenes. The rest of the team unfortunately doesn’t share the same sentiment. Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) and John Garrett (Bill Paxton) meanwhile set their sights on The Fridge to further increase Hydra’s strength.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier has changed everything. We’re officially in the fallout phase from Hydra’s uprising from deep within S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ranks. Considering how major last week’s events were, it was hardly a surprise that “Providence” focused more on rebuilding. It openly questioned what this team can do now that they’ve lost everything. As Skye (Chloe Bennet) herself says, they’re now the “Agents of…nothing”. Plus we had that major reveal with Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) to focus on. “Providence” basically set out to put the show on an entirely new path with our heroes as federal outlaws and trust shattered on all counts.
There really was a lot “Providence” needed to follow up on. Coulson’s own traumatization with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s collapse took center stage as most of the night was spent on him finding answers. He has spent his life with this organization and now everything has been stripped. Once he receives cryptic coordinates on his badge, he sends his team on a blind mission convinced Fury is behind it all. His reasons for this aren’t based on logic though. It was simply a “feeling” he had. While this is the absolute worst cause for doing anything considering what literally just happened, it’s clear these are the actions of a desperate man. We especially see that when he breaks down near the end after repeated questioning from his team. You honestly cannot blame Coulson for desperately trying to salvage the organization he loves so much. Like Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) and Antoine Triplett (B.J. Britt) said, the coordinates could have easily been a Hydra trap. The tragedy of this whole situation simply made Coulson’s discovery of a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. base that much sweeter.
Naturally Hydra’s uprising hasn’t gone unnoticed by the global population, specifically the federal government. Perennial Hulk nemesis Colonel Glenn Talbot (Adrian Pasdar) makes his first appearance as the man leading the charge against S.H.I.E.L.D.’s remains. Talbot’s on-screen presence is disappointingly brief but it does set into motion the story that I’m sure will take this season to its conclusion. Hydra has turned S.H.I.E.L.D. into a terrorist organization and now the US Army wants to stop them. Obviously this opens up an entirely new set of issues for this already damaged team to deal with. Outside of the story, Talbot is the first character from the Hulk’s history introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in quite some time. All that source material is currently being unused since Marvel Studios has no plans to produce another Hulk film so its no surprise that this show being used to bring that content into the fold.
Whenever “Providence” wasn’t focusing on Coulson, it followed Ward and Garrett as they increased Hydra’s power. This involved busting out Raina (Ruth Negga), Ian Quinn (David Conrad), and several pieces of technology and super criminals from The Fridge, including Graviton. While I’m still desperately holding onto hope that Ward is simply deep undercover, I’d be lying if I said being a villain didn’t improve his character. In one fell swoop, Ward goes from Mr. Boy Scout to one of the most adept infiltrators we’ve ever seen. Everything he did in the past was apparently calculated as a means to gain trust. Saving Simmons from free fall in F.Z.Z.T., hooking up with May, becoming Skye’s S.O. It was all just a plot by Ward to bring this team down. It really is tough not to feel betrayed as he lays this all out for Raina.
Patton Oswalt was absolutely delightful last night. The comedian makes his grand MCU appearance as Eric Koenig, a Level 6 S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent in charge of Providence. Oswalt brings his usual wit and charm to the role making Koenig just a fun character to have around. He also drops a major truth bomb on Coulson by revealing Fury’s survival and that only a select few people can know it. I’m glad the show freely acknowledges that Fury is alive because anyone who saw The Winter Soldier already knows. Can you imagine if the show waited on this for weeks only to make it a huge reveal? That would have been a mess. Excellent job squaring this all away so soon.
Lastly, “Providence” is really when the “it’s all connected” promotion was fully laid out to us. Nearly every single disparate plot element from past episodes has been weaved into this Hydra owned tapestry. The staff from”The Well” and the beam cannon from “0-8-4” returned to the show and past villains are now waving the Hydra banner. It’s also safe to say that Deathlok (J. August Richards) is a member of Hydra as well. Even Coulson’s recovery is connected to the Hydra threat as May reveals Fury put her on the plane in case their enemies were responsible for bringing Coulson back to life. Though I highly doubt this will be the case, the logic behind Coulson as a Hydra sleeper agent does make sense.
“Providence” was all about getting our heroes back on track following S.H.I.E.L.D.’s downfall. What the episode lacked in the high octane action we’ve seen recently, it more than made up for by moving the overall story in a new direction. The US Army wants to take S.H.I.E.L.D. down by labeling them as a terrorist organization, major villains are now under one roof, Ward actually does receive more depth as a turncoat, and Coulson’s survival has a much needed twist. There are only a handful of episodes left this season but Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is definitely picking up steam for a roaring conclusion. Wherever the events of “Providence” may lead us, you can bet it’ll be something completely different.