T.R.A.C.K.S. is the season one episode that a lot of people will take notice of and remember for one very specific reason: the Stan Lee cameo. It’s not a Marvel production until Stan The Man turns up. In all seriousness, this episode proves to be very fun, clever, and moves the story forward in some great ways.
Having continued their hunt for the evil businessman Ian Quinn (David Conrad) the S.H.I.E.L.D. team discover that he has purchased some advance technology from Cybertek Industries, which is being transported to his private estate in Italy by train. The team plan to steal the tech by infiltrating the team posing as ordinary passengers. However, as this is television the plan immediately falls apart.
The central feature of the episode, retelling the same events from different points of view to fill the audience in on what has happened has been done before, and can sometimes be a bit boring, but the writers use the concept very well here, especially when it gives some surprising reveals. Each section of the episode follows a different member of the team, giving each of the main cast a moment to shine.
The stand out is easily Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) who sneaks through the train, runs across the roof in a cat suit, parachutes, steals a car, and takes down a room full of bad guys. May has always been the secret weapon of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team but watching her in this episode it’s easy to see her as an agent on the same level as Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and fighting alongside the Avengers.
Despite being full of spy intrigue and action the episode also packs in some great comedic beats, with Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) and her overly prepared backstory about Coulson (Clark Gregg) being her distant father who cheated on her mother being one of the best moments of the season. It’s great to see Jemma so flustered and panicked, as she does it so well, and Coulson trying to process what she’s doing and not break his cover, whilst being chastised by Stand Lee, is a particularly great turn from Clark Gregg.
The biggest developments in the episode come in the final few minutes, however, when it’s finally revealed just which comic book character J. August Richards is playing, when Mike Peterson is implanted with cybernetic devices from the ‘Deathlok’ program. With so much speculation over who Richards would be revealed to be Deathlok was certainly not a character that I’d seen mentioned, but it works well. The character has decades of comic book history and connections with characters from across the Marvel universe, but remains fairly unknown to the casual reader, allowing the series to be able to do almost whatever they want with the character.
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The episode ends with a bang (sorry for the bad pun) as Skye (Chloe Bennet) is shot twice in the stomach by Quinn. With her life on the line the team are forced to take desperate actions in order to keep her alive. With Skye’s life far from saved the series seems poised to keep up it’s faster momentum.
T.R.A.C.K.S. takes some of the standard television formulas and puts the Marvel spin on things, adding new tech and innovations that are sure to reappear again in the future, as well as sneakily adding a new comic book character to the series. Each character gets a moment in the spotlight, and the actors all get to play to their strengths before a dramatic finale that leads to some exciting developments. An episode that shows how good the show can be, and possibly one of the best in the series so far.