‘The Writing on the Wall’ Plot Summary:
With his condition rapidly deteriorating, Director Coulson (Clark Gregg) is on a race against the clock to find out what the symbols mean. Meanwhile, Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) leads a manhunt to retrieve Grant Ward (Brett Dalton).
It’s always refreshing when a show learns from its past mistakes. For exactly half of Season 1, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. danced around the mystery of Coulson’s revival. We’d get a little tidbit here and a tidbit there, but nothing even remotely concrete that really let the viewers sink their teeth in. In fact, it took a full eleven episodes and four months before we actually saw how Coulson was brought back, and it wasn’t until three months after that did we actually see what T.A.H.I.T.I. meant. To say it was a little maddening was an understatement. Season 2, however, is changing this. I’ve already said previously how this season is much more streamlined and fluid than the last. Now we have another perfect example of that. Seven episodes in, and not even two months after the premiere, we have learned what Coulson’s drawings meant. The big mystery actually received major headway.
To the casual viewer, the big map reveal at the end probably left their head scratching. “A city” is admittedly a pretty vague answer. I can see how a lot of people would be a bit confused by what it all means, still pining for more answers. But for those who have some knowledge of Marvel’s history and what is currently on the movie slate for Phase 3, Coulson discovering the design was a blueprint for “a city” means so much more. I am, like a few others are already, putting my bet on the city being Attilan. What is Attilan you ask? That’d be a bit much to explain here, but what’s important to know is that Attilan is the home of the Inhumans. And guess what movie is coming out November 2nd, 2018? Inhumans. Of course, this is all conjecture right now, especially since Inhumans is four years away, but if this really is Marvel’s way of introducing them, I’m so on board. The Inhumans are major characters after all. Bringing them in through a malleable show like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. makes a ton of sense.
Thankfully the episode’s enjoyment didn’t anchor itself on that reveal. It probably would have tanked for a lot of people if it did. Instead, “The Writing on the Wall” excelled by successfully juggling two distinct stories. The firm division kept it all tight too. Coulson’s quest for answers and May’s mission to get Ward did not intersect at all. The characters spoke to each other, obviously, but never strayed from what they had to do. The Coulson story was easily the better of the two, giving us plenty to love from Mac (Henry Simmons), Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), and Skye (Chloe Bennet) and one terrifying bad guy, Sebastian Van Holt (Brian Van Holt). Circling it all back to the T.A.H.I.T.I. project and the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents experimented on was an exceptionally smart decision. It was really, really disturbing watching the patients lose their minds, and seeing how Coulson himself came to the idea of erasing memories was a great bit of insight. This was pure intensity from start to finish.
May’s mission to get Ward was great too, don’t get me wrong. It did an excellent job of proving that Ward is easily one of the best secret agents out there. He outsmarted May’s team at every turn, even tripping up Bobbi Morse (Adrianne Palicki), which is saying a lot when you consider how hardcore she is. I’m a fan of how the writers are playing up Ward as that wild card too. All episode we think he’s off to join a Hydra faction somewhere, and it even looks like that when Sunil Bakshi (Simon Kassianides) is called in. But then we discover that Ward has actually killed the Hydra agents and delivered Bakshi to Coulson on a silver platter. Talk about an interesting twist. In this short about of time, Ward has quickly grown to become one of the more interesting characters on this show. Putting him out in the wild and likely against his own brother can easily pay off in dividends.
I only really have two complaints for the episode. One is that the writers were clearly a bit confused on where to put Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) again. This is the first time since her return that she’s fully back in her element and she just felt out of place. It wasn’t like in “A Fractured House” where she tried to work through her issues with Fitz. She spent this entire episode essentially off on her own. While everyone was off in pairs or groups, including Fitz-Mac, Simmons was busy working with an unnamed assistant and asking questions but getting not much as a response. It felt so awkward. Coulson suddenly getting better after seeing the blueprint felt like bit of a cheat as well. After all of that drawing and focus, he’s suddenly better? That’s all it took? Why do I get the sense that the writers wanted to move on to the next step so quickly, they forgot to make the transition more graceful?
As an aside, I couldn’t help but compare the various GH-325 patients to Skye. Before this episode, we only saw what happened to Coulson and Garrett. The fact that people went absolutely crazy before getting their memories erased was pretty eye opening. I fully expect Skye’s lack of insanity to play a major factor in what we ultimately learn about her.
“The Writing on the Wall” was a great episode. It was fast, tight, and never let the pressure go. Basically, it was a complete improvement from last week. The two separate stories had very little overlap and it allowed each of them to shine on their own merits. Ward is out as a wild third party, which is great, and we learned that the drawings are a blueprint to a city, which is even better for theorists everywhere. I just wish that Coulson’s recovery wasn’t so sudden. Something this major that we’ve focused on for several episodes can’t just up and finish in a split second. I hope, and this is probably true, that we haven’t seen the end of Coulson’s GH-325 affects. I also want Simmons to find her place again. Right now she doesn’t feel like the teammate she was last year and that’s super lame.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.