The aptly titled "End of the Beginning" was the first of seven episodes left in Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. freshman season, but more importantly it was the first of seven episodes IN A ROW. We can argue all day about the annoying scheduling of the series this season, but there was method to ABC's madness, and I have a sneaking suspicion it was because they wanted and needed Captain America: The Winter Soldier to hit theaters between this episode and next week's, which I suspect will be heavily impacted by the film's events. "End of the Beginning" finally began delivering on all of the promises the series made up until this point. It featured someone with "superpowers" in Deathlok's reappearance and subsequent weaponization, which is exactly what fans have been waiting for. There was also the birth of a real villain after Skye's research helped Coulson discover that the Clairvoyant probably wasn't psychic, but rather a high-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. agent with access to everyone's psychological evaluations. And most importantly, the episode featured a fractured team turning on one another, which always raises the stakes and makes for good drama.
There's probably not a fan out there who believes Agent May is working for the Clairvoyant, but with the tension turned up to 11 and the discovery of her encrypted secure phone line, it makes sense that Coulson and Fitz were quick to jump to that conclusion. As I mentioned before, it's more likely that she's reporting to someone like Director Fury and was placed on Coulson's team specifically to monitor him, but the sudden distrust amongst the team and May's refusal to explain what exactly she's been doing makes for not only great drama, but the kind of exciting drama this series desperately needed.
Who is the Clairvoyant, though? If it wasn't Brad Dourif's Thomas Nash (excellent casting, by the way) and Skye's correct in that it's a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, that means Handsome killed the wrong man for chivalrous but stupid reasons. But who is the man behind the curtain? The show seems to be suggesting it's not a man at all, but Saffron Burrows' Agent Hand. The episode ended with her order to kill Coulson and his team upon arrival at the Hub. She's definitely up to no good, but I don't feel comfortable jumping right from obviously evil to Clairvoyant. There are still six episodes remaining this season, and she'll probably throw a wrench in to the remaining episodes, but to reveal her as the Big Bad at this point feels like a red herring.
Awhile ago I posited the idea that S.H.I.E.L.D. wasn't trustworthy, that Coulson would be turning against the organization he's blindly served in the past, and it's looking more and more like I was right. There are big problems within the ranks of S.H.I.E.L.D., and it would not surprise me if Hand's betrayal and whatever occurs next week as a result of Captain America, will be what ultimately results in Coulson completely giving S.H.I.E.L.D. the finger. He's always played by the rules and toed the company line, but now that he suspects he's fighting a villain with security clearance and not psychic powers, he's going to need to keep his team close. Unfortunately, his team is fracturing before his eyes. May has been spying on him, Handsome disobeyed orders by killing the person he thought to be the Clairvoyant (thus leading Coulson to suspect him of working against the team), and Simmons' loyalty has already come in to question in the aftermath of the miracle cure that saved Skye's life. I feel good saying the team will reunite and hugs will be exchanged but there's a lot that has to happen before that's possible.
Simmons is currently separated from the rest of the team because she opted to remain at the Hub with the hope of running further analyses on Skye's blood despite Coulson's orders not to. Her inner battle between doing what's right for her team versus doing what's right as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. is about to come into question, too. At the Hub, she's in the hands of Coulson's enemy, which hopefully means we're about to see Simmons really come into her own as an agent. When the series began, she and Fitz were both very innocent having never spent time in the field. Over the course of the season, they've both proven to be assets to the team, and I sincerely hope that's where we are headed next week.
As for Handsome, I think this week's developments have made me more Team Handsome than I've ever been before. There were several reasons why I gave Ward the nickname Agent Handsome when I first began reviewing Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on a weekly basis. First and foremost, I saw Brett Dalton's face. It's a really beautiful face. It was more than that, though; When Handsome was introduced, he didn't play well with others, he was closed off, and his character was the least developed and most stiff of Coulson's team. To put it another way, Handsome didn't really have much going on other than the fact that he was handsome. It was because he needed the most work that I've been harder on him than the rest of the team. He still needs a lot of work—S.H.I.E.L.D. wasn't built in a day—but ever since Skye was shot in "T.R.A.C.K.S.", he's felt like a different character. Maybe it's because his anger in the aftermath felt genuine and wasn't the act of an Asgardian Beserker staff or pent up family resentment. Maybe it's because he reacted as a human being and not as an agent first. "End of the Beginning" was another instance in which Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. saw a way to bring Handsome's humanity and anger together and it worked.
Unfortunately, it also backfired for the team. Handsome's obvious feelings for Skye, who is now an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., managed to elevate his character from prickly robot to real man, but shooting Nash for threatening Sky was rash and impulsive and stupid. Yes, it proved Handsome was human, but it also made him appear untrustworthy and erratic to his team. Before Agent Hand's trickery, he was supposed to go before a S.H.I.E.L.D. review board for his actions, and he doesn't even regret that he let his anger get the best of him. Handsome spent so many years repressing his feelings, that they appear to be spilling over the flood gates now. He's going to need to reign them in and find a happy medium before he can be an asset to his team.
"End of the Beginning" was the really fun, action-packed episode that I've been waiting for. All of the puzzle pieces are beginning to come together to setup the rest of the season, and I don't know about you guys, but I'd like to sleep until next Tuesday's episode, because it looks like it's only going to get better.
NOTE: Because Captain America won't be released in the U.S. until Friday, please try to refrain from discussing the events of the film in the comments if you've already seen it. Even though you're not giving away specific plot points, even mentioning it might ruin it for some of the American fans. Thanks, guys!
– I'm ready for Deathlok to be a real villain and not just a weapon controlled by the Clairvoyant.
– More Bill Paxton forever, okay, show? Cool.
– Is it just me or is Agent Sitwell shady?
– "Strange is such a subjective term."
– "You wear your heart on your sleeve. And your face."
– "You don't believe in the Clairvoyant, but you believe in astrology?"
– "Well don't you seem awfully chipper to pack up and leave me by my lonesome!"