The mystery of the strange symbols being carved by both Agent Coulson (Clark Greg) and John Garrett (Bill Paxton) after being exposed to the alien derived chemical GH-325 final comes to a conclusion, and it’s a lot more surprising that first speculated. When a man covered in tattoos of these strange symbols goes on a killing spree, carving the same symbols into his victims the S.H.I.E.L.D. team discovers that Coulson and Garrett weren’t the only people to be exposed to the chemical, but several other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents had too.
Using the Hydra memory machine Coulson is able to retrieve some of his hidden memories as the director of the T.A.H.I.T.I. project. It appears that a number of other agents that were killed in action were revived using GH-325, but after a short time began to express disturbing behaviour, including obsessively drawing the symbols. These agents eventually had their memories erased and were given new identities and civilian lives.
Now this is the kind of plot that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. does really well. A hunt for a serial killer with links to shady government dealings, that sheds light not only on one of the central mysteries of the season but the past of S.H.I.E.L.D., this is definitely the kind of thing that we could use more of.
We knew that Coulson was the director of the T.A.H.I.T.I. project, but getting to see more of what he did during this time, and the development of the technology is interesting. It also sheds more light onto the flashbacks we’ve already seen of Coulson going through the process after his death in Avengers Assemble, he wasn’t just asking to be killed because he was in pain, but because he knew that the process was going to cause serious psychological damage to him.
The revelation that the killer, Derick (Brian Van Holt), was once a dedicated agent who fell victim to this process also makes him somewhat sympathetic, and not just some deranged killer needing to be stopped. The final confrontation between him and Coulson is certainly makes for one of the more interesting and three-dimensional villains of the week.
Despite the fact that the episode doesn’t tell us exactly why those who have been exposed to GH-325 draw these symbols we get a surprisingly interesting reveal that it’s not something as expected as a language that needs translating, but a three-dimensional blueprint to a city. Not what viewers were expecting, and if you say you saw that coming you’re definitely making it up. Now that Coulson has been cured of his compulsion to draw these symbols the team gets to focus on something infinitely more exciting, racing Hydra to a hidden alien city. Definitely a step up on season one.
The episode also manages to squeeze in some more developments to the Ward (Bret Dalton) story, and actually makes it fun and engaging again after the previous episode almost bored me with it. Finally free and on the run some of the team are sent after Ward to try and recapture him, leading to a pretty cool sequence in a bus depot where Ward slyly reveals to Triplett (B.J. Britt) that he knows he’s being followed by flashing the C4 strapped to his chest.
With most other villains this would definitely be seen as something of a bluff, but after seeing how being incarcerated almost drove Ward to killing himself earlier in the season it’s definitely believable that he’d rather kill himself than go back, and it makes him a much more dangerous adversary. By the end of the episode Ward has managed to worm his way back into Hydra, betrays Sunil Bakshi (Simon Kassianides) to S.H.I.E.L.D., and is even preparing to get revenge on his brother.
Despite only being in a small portion of the episode it shows just how competent a villain he can be, and makes him more interesting than he’s been since his reveal as a Hydra agent back in season one. If Ward continues to be used this way for the rest of the season he’s sure to become one of the more interesting members of the cast.
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