Quote of the week: Skye: I know that you’re the boss and you have to compartmentalise everything but it’s not healthy. You need to loosen up. Try… yoga. Or something.
Coulson: I tried it but I’m… really not flexible.
This week, the agents out in search of Creel and the obelisk, whilst we learn a little more about some of our newer characters and how the team are holding up.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. gets off to a surprisingly grisly start in ‘Heavy Is the Head’, considering the usual tone of the show. Seeing the new mercenary, Hunter, shoving a car seat headrest up against a corpse’s head in the first scene doesn’t make for the most pleasant viewing experience – but the opening sequence, particularly May’s awesome motorcycle chase, sure is exciting. Whether this is to make up for the slow, exposition-heavy season opening or not, this episode thankfully manages to up its game a little.
‘Heavy Is the Head’ reconfirms a lot of what last week’s episode introduced about our post-Hydra gang; we see Coulson as more of a stern leader, Skye as more of a soldier – an agent, even – rather than the internet vigilante we met at the beginning of season one. It’s great that we don’t see Skye settle into this role with immediate ease; though her relationship with May has certainly strengthened and there’s a lot of trust between the two of them now, she seems to be missing the usual team dynamic as much as the audience. Even her frustration with Coulson’s cryptic ways are a natural reflection of our own curiosity. Skye’s always been an excellent audience surrogate, and the fact that she’s changed and morphed with the nature of S.H.I.E.L.D. itself means she remains so.
This episode, we also delve further into the extent of Fitz’ brain damage, as we watch the repercussions of the team supplying a piece of cloaking technology that Fitz has been working hard to recreate himself. We now know that Fitz’ mind is technically sound; his subconscious creation of Simmons supplies all the answers and endings to his tailed-off sentences. The knowledge is still there – he simply struggles in communicating it verbally. It’s a subtle boundary that Fitz can’t work his way around, and for a character who was so reliant on his faculties of communication – season one often saw him in fast-talking, Holmesian scientific explanations – watching him struggle through every sentence is more than a little tragic. However, seeing him team up with Mac, a patient fellow engineer, helped to instil some hope for our favourite technology expert.
There were a number of minor plot threads this week that culminated towards the end of the episode in the team coming together in the hunt for Creel – and a not-all-that-surprising betrayal from Hunter, who shoots Skye, May and Tripp (non-lethally, obviously) in the midst of his bid for revenge against Creel and then, conveniently, manages to get talked back into S.H.I.E.L.D. by Coulson in about two minutes. Considering Gregg still plays Coulson with all the charm of a slug, I found this a little unbelievable – and I don’t think being part of the Avengers is worth the inevitable fall out from shooting Melinda May in the back, let alone being part of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Whilst numerous b-plots do go some way to show the scattered nature of the team, it also gives the narrative a disjointed, fractured sense that can be a little distracting for the viewer. It doesn’t help that there’s at least half a dozen potential antagonists, all centred on the search for the obelisk and the threat of Hydra. We even see the return of Raina – who literally has to introduce herself on screen, just in case the audience doesn’t remember one of the most one-dimensional female characters on US television right now (and that’s saying a lot, considering The Big Bang Theory is still running.) Whilst the writers do seem to be attempting to show a chain of command amongst this season’s villains, it’s like they’re throwing everything they can at the audience to see what sticks.
Although this episode certainly improves on last week’s Shadows, the ending hurriedly sets up plot points for next week rather than tying up its own, and the characterisation still feels lost amongst a too-busy plot.
Of course, I couldn’t call this a fully-formed review without mentioning an old favourite which makes a return this week – vague hand waggling at bad C.G.I.! This time, it’s Coulson flicking through some files in a hologram display that could just as easily be shown on a computer. It’s like the files Iron Man flicks through at the beginning of the Avengers, except not as cool. I feel like this is a staple of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.; no matter how sketchy the characterisation, the plot lines or even the acting – we’ll always have terrible, terrible C.G.I.