After a few episodes of ‘adventure of the week’, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns to the plot of the pilot episode as the mysterious Centipede becomes the main focus, whilst also introducing a new villain for the series to follow.
Having seen in the very first episode of the season, the Centipede serum – a super soldier drug that uses some elements from Iron Man 3‘s Extremis – has a nasty tendency to cause those who use it to blow apart. Thankfully for the mysterious organisation, they have discovered the existence of Chan Ho Yin (Louis Changchien), a street magician with the ability to generate and manipulate fire.
It is not clear how Chan received his powers. There is a mention of him developing them after a fire at a nuclear power plant (though knowing where the series will go in future seasons I suspect he may somehow be InHuman), but his abilities are the key that Centipede needs in order to make their super-soldier programme work. As such, they send Rayna (Ruth Negga) to bring him in. A beautiful young woman (in a flower dress) with a passion for people with powers and the ability to sweet-talk Chan around, it becomes apparent throughout the course of the episode that Rayna is a character that has much more life than a single episode and will be a character that the audience will need to keep an eye on.
Negga’s performance is very subtle throughout and you never know whether you should be trusting her or not. She appears to mix truths in with lies, tells people what they want to hear and gets Chan to make choices to push him into decisions that she wants. She’s a manipulator.
Elsewhere, we finally discover exactly what Skye (Chloe Bennet) is up to with S.H.I.E.L.D.. Despite the past episodes doing their best to make it appear that she was working against the team as a double agent for The Rising Tide, things are actually much more personal. It’s revealed that whilst she’s been in contact with an outside party, it’s not some evil group, but her old boyfriend Miles (Austin Nichols).
Whilst this initially feels like something of a let down, the surprise turn is that she’s infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. in order to find information about her parents, information contained within a redacted S.H.I.E.L.D. file; and it actually makes things better than her just being a spy. It gives Skye more to drive towards for the rest of the season as she hunts for answers about her past, searching desperately for the parents that she knows nothing about.
The drama with Skye also gives the other members of the team a chance to voice some of the concerns that they’ve had about the character since the first episode. Whilst these moments are good not just for further character development – especially between Coulson (Clark Gregg) and May (Ming-Na Wen) – but they also shine a light on the fact that it was a little ridiculous that Coulson would invite a dubious hacker to join their team (a criticism that a lot of viewers were quick to level at the series).
‘The Girl in the Flower Dress’ packs a lot of story into its run time, bringing back plot elements from the pilot, setting up new mysteries and introducing new characters. Because of this, the pacing isn’t the best. It doesn’t quite feel as fun and slick as the previous two episodes but it is one of the most important at this early stage.