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REVIEW: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 3×08 “Many Heads, One Tale”

Written by Jason Wittmer

The unofficial mantra of the MCU, “It’s All Connected,” was taken to a whole new level this week, in what amounted to the best episode yet of the season. The three main storylines of the episode all came together by the end, giving us a clearer idea of what the ATCU actually is, what Ward’s plans are, and the revelation that HYDRA has been around for thousands of years. A busy episode, yet it was handled brilliantly; other than the ATCU, HYDRA, and Inhuman developments, “Many Heads, One Tale” still had time to show Bobbi Morse truly channel her inner “Mockingbird” for perhaps the time; and let’s not forget about that kiss! Suffice it to say, there’s a lot to discuss. Spoilers ahead!

One of the biggest standouts of the episode would have to be Grant Ward. He came into his own last season after the big HYDRA reveal, and while it’s always been quite fun to see this villainous version of the former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, it always felt like the writers were hoping to one day redeem him in the eyes of Coulson, Daisy, and the others. After this episode in particular, it’s clear that that possibility is gone forever. We learn here that Ward is searching for “HYDRA’s greatest power,” which is kept secretly in one of the late Baron Von Strucker’s vaults. Powers Boothe‘s Gideon Malick does not want to help him, however, and instead sends his men in to kill Ward. This led to an exceptional scene as Ward went to town on Malick’s lackeys. Just as he was fending them off with a cue stick like HYDRA’s own Jason Bourne, I was wondering why we should accept Ward as such a bloodthirsty killer, when he doesn’t seem to use lethal force whenever necessary. And just as I was thinking that, Ward plummets a knife into the neck of one of the men, killing him while smiling sadistically. A sick, ruthless individual – but truly becoming a wonderfully entertaining villain in his own right.

The other primary storyline of the episode involved Coulson and Rosalind, along with their respective organizations, finally coming to a head. It was good to see somebody finally call Coulson out for his close and quite possibly unethical relationship with Rosalind, as Mack continues to be the voice of reason – though he still isn’t given very much to do on his own. Right on cue, Coulson announces “Operation Spotlight:” a mission whose sole purpose is to peer into every shadowy corner of the ATCU and figure out what exactly they’re up to. This was a welcome development, not only because of what we learn about the ATCU, but also because of what we learn about Coulson – the man is not above sleeping with someone, even a potential enemy, if it means gaining an advantage.

As the team is infiltrating the ATCU, Fitz and Simmons continue to search for clues about the alleged NASA mission which sent Will through the portal to the alien planet over a decade ago. The tension in the room is ripe, as Fitz gets frustrated that he’s unable to find anything noteworthy, and Simmons is livid that Fitz is still so motivated to help her, despite all the obvious pain it is causing him. And then, in the moment we’ve all been waiting for, they had “the talk” and they finally shared a kiss. As they were yelling at each other, I was a bit disappointed because it seemed like the writers were dangling their relationship in front of our faces and would not yet commit to them taking the next step. Fitz is devastated when Jemma claims she “doesn’t know,” whether or not she loves Will, but it’s not long until she points out that Fitz “dove through a hole in the universe” for her…..and they kiss. The scene was incredibly well-done and brilliantly acted by Elizabeth Henstridge and Iain De Caestecker. It lived up to all the expectations we’ve had over the last couple of years, but I’ll admit I’m not too into Fitz’ final admission that him and Simmons are “cursed.” He finally got to kiss the girl, you can be happy for a minute at least, right?!

Bobbi and Hunter infiltrate the ATCU and discover that they are not working on a cure for Inhumans, but rather reverse engineering the terrigen crystals so that they can turn as many Inhumans as possible. This led to another fantastic confrontation scene, albeit between Coulson and Rosalind. He locks her in a containment room and lays all the cards on the table, saying, “Convince me that you’re not HYDRA, otherwise you’ll never leave this room again.” Yet Rosalind sticks to her guns and is incredulous that Coulson still doesn’t trust her, even pointing out how sick it is for him to sleep with her just to gain an advantage. But Coulson doesn’t buy it, claiming that Rosalind “slipped up” when they first met when she mentioned TAHITI – only S.H.I.E.L.D. (and by extension, HYDRA) knew about the project, so if she didn’t find out from the former, then she must have from the latter. And now, let the connections begin.

Rosalind reveals that it was Gideon Malick who told her about TAHITI. Coulson knows of him, calling him an “industrialist. He was on the World Council.” I had assumed in an earlier review that Malick’s status as HYDRA was probably well-known to Coulson because of his status on the Council, which in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, was revealed to be compromised. It’s not a major issue, but I don’t quite understand how Malick’s connections to the villainous organization would not have been discovered after the fallout from the HYDRA coup, but I digress.

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Ward makes his way to the Von Strucker vault in Germany where Malick is already waiting for him, apparently for an impromptu history lesson. Malick reveals that HYDRA was not founded by Red Skull during World War II, but instead thousands of years ago. HYDRA has been an entity for generations and generations, all with one goal. “Thousands of years ago, an Inhuman was born on this planet,” Malick explains, so powerful that it was sent through a portal to another, alien planet. HYDRA was created with the sole purpose of ushering this Inhuman’s return to earth. This revelation was aided visually, as cutaways show Simmons presenting her team members with various pictures which detail the evolution of HYDRA’s emblem through the centuries, right up to the most recent incarnation. By creating more Inhumans via the ATCU, Malick hopes to usher them to the alien planet, creating an army for the mysterious, eternal Inhuman who’s marooned there to help it bring destruction upon all of earth.

Malick initially viewed Ward as a problem, but he now realizes he could be of help to HYDRA’s ultimate plan. Gideon wants to help Ward defeat S.H.I.E.L.D. so that they can also find out how they were able to do what HYDRA hadn’t in thousands of years, and that’s bring somebody back from the alien planet. With this revelation, the ATCU, HYDRA, and Inhuman storylines all come together. It’s possible some viewers found this type of storytelling far too neat, but I was immensely impressed by the calculated pace of the episode. The closing minutes showed us that Garner wasn’t taken to the ATCU, but to a facility of Malick’s which is linked to the supposed NASA program. Ward goads him, saying “May thinks I’m a monster, but you actually become one,” right before releasing mustard gas into Garner’s cell. I was admittedly a bit confused as to what this was trying to show us. After Malick’s revelation, one would assume that he wanted Lash as an Inhuman ally on the alien planet; yet, if Ward was releasing mustard gas, was that intended to kill him? If you think you have a better understanding of the closing minutes, let us know in the comments! Otherwise, spectacular episode!

Final Grade: A

Extra Thoughts:

-When Gideon revealed the miniature monolith, how many of you thought (for a second, at least) that we were going to see an Infinity Gem on the show?

They really hyped up Ward’s mission to reclaim HYDRA and lead it back into its pursuit of world domination. It hadn’t been a primary storyline as of yet this season, so I’m glad to see it take a more prominent role this week. Brett Dalton has teased a Winter Soldier-level game changer for the midseason finale, so here’s hoping that it has to do with an unexpected development in his villainy – assuming a new role as “Taskmaster,” perhaps?

Nice touch to hear Coulson talk about being first recruited for S.H.I.E.L.D. out of college.

-Great line: “Andrew has a PHD in Psychology. Now he’s a specimen.”

-MOCKINGBIRD! Just as I was thinking that Bobbi as a character was uninteresting and underdeveloped, she put on some kind of magnetic technology which allowed her to retrieve her batons like a boomerang effect. I still don’t think her and Hunter deserve a spinoff, but it was definitely a cool, badass moment in an otherwise complicated episode.

About the author

Jason Wittmer