‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Review: ‘Many Heads, One Tale’ Has Moment We’ve Waited For
Recap and review of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Season 3 Episode 8 – Many Heads, One Tale:
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is kicking into high gear, as the antagonists’ plot is actually coming together and tying all the disparate plot threads of the season so far into one, cohesive whole. “Many Heads, One Tale” is an episode that goes back to this show’s initial mantra: It’s all connected.
The show has spent so long building up Rosalind Price (Constance Zimmer) as a potential villain, that the big surprise of the episode is that…well, she’s actually no wiser about what’s going on at the ATCU than Coulson (Clark Gregg). Initially, I had wished the show would have explored the chemistry between Rosalind and Coulson for an extra week or so. However, as the episode rolled on, I found that the suddenness of Coulson and Rosalind’s break-up, in the aftermath of last week’s hookup, actually added to their dynamic. The back-and-forth between Zimmer and Gregg felt authentic and intense, similar to a lover’s quarrel, which this is more or less was. Coulson feels Rosalind has a source within either SHIELD or Hydra, since she knows about the TAHITI project, which she couldn’t possibly have known about otherwise. The argument cuts pretty deep in both directions, with Rosalind accusing Coulson of just sleeping with her as part of his spycraft, and Coulson accusing Rosalind of making up the story about her dead husband. It’s an argument that really illustrates just how much these characters have in common, as they both have baggage and very few people who understand it. I like the dynamic here, and it ties nicely into the overarching mission of the episode, as Coulson authorizes an infiltration into the ATCU headquarters, in order to see what they’re doing with the Inhumans held there, and try to figure out if they’re real about trying to find a cure. Unfortunately, despite Coulson desperately wanting to trust Rosalind, his agents’ discovery pretty much kills their relationship dead.
As it turns out, the investigation reveals that the ATCU is doing the polar opposite of trying to find a cure: they’re actively infecting their agents with terrigen that’s been placed inside “mandatory” fish oil supplements, in order to create Inhuman agents. Rosalind swears she knew nothing about this, and proves her loyalty by revealing the inside source that told her about TAHITI: Gideon Malick (Powers Boothe), the man who started the ATCU, and who nearly has Ward (Brett Dalton) killed by his men at the start of the episode. It’s part of a series of revelations that really put this episode over the top, in my opinion, as we get a sense of just what the bad guys are up to. Not only does the reveal mean the ATCU is yet another Hydra front, it ties into the ongoing attempt to bring Will back from the mysterious alien planet. When Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) compare the symbols in the temple with the symbol on Will’s jacket, a familiar pattern begins to take shape — the Hydra symbol.
The title of the episode, then, is manifested in a literal sense, in that Hydra has existed for hundreds of years and has had many different heads, but they’ve only ever had one mission — to bring home their founder and true leader. Apparently, Will was sent to the alien world as a sort of blood sacrifice to the Inhuman who was once Hydra’s creator before he was banished by people who didn’t understand him. Gideon is creating new Inhumans to serve as that leader’s army — that is, provided they can figure out a way to bring the original Inhuman back from that alien world. And that’s where Ward comes in. Gideon will help Ward take out Coulson, provided he helps discover just how SHIELD was able to bring someone back from that damned planet. It’s a plan that makes a certain amount of narrative sense, even if the suggestion that Hydra has always been about bringing back its founder feels a bit like a retcon. But even if it is a retcon (which, admittedly, I can’t be 100% sure it is), I don’t think it’s the type of retcon that would break the narrative. If anything, I think the story is far more focused now that we have a broader sense of just who these bad guys are and what they’re up to. For instance, we learn that Gideon bargained for the life of Werner von Strucker because he was hoping to use the boy to find the location to the Von Strucker family vault, which contains a Hydra artifact of unfathomable power. In another example, we see Ward visit the ATCU compound to torture Andrew (Blair Underwood) with mustard gas in order to turn him into Lash, although why an Inhuman-led army would want an Inhuman-killer on their side is beyond me. But it’s clear that Andrew/Lash is viewed as a major asset, and I like that type of plot cohesion, because it gives the sense of a more intimate focus. Yes, this is a big story, but it’s centered on this ensemble, and every member of that ensemble matters, albeit some in bigger ways than others.
In addition to the expositional bombs dropped throughout the episode, we got some other awesome moments: there’s a really cool fight sequence in which Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) has to figure out a way to take down the Inhuman ATCU agents, since their physics-manipulating powers make it difficult to get a hit in edgewise. I also loved Hunter (Nick Blood) going undercover as the world’s most sarcastic hacker, since it showed off some of Nick Blood’s colorful comedic talents. I even found myself strangely invested in this potential relationship between Daisy (Chloe Bennet) and Lincoln (Luke Mitchell), who joins the SHIELD team as a way of paying his rent at the SHIELD facility. Lincoln is a character I feel they should use more often, since he’s essentially the new Skye, a SHIELD-hating outsider brought into the fold, who’s made to see the type of good that SHIELD does on a daily basis. His heart-to-heart with May (Ming-Na Wen) is one of the highlights of the episode, as she apologizes for Andrew’s actions as Lash, even as both of them realize that neither of them has anything to apologize over. As the show digs in to more character-driven storytelling, the plots feel all the more dramatic and weighted with meaning, and that’s a change I love in this show.
Of course, none of those character stories are as momentous as the moment that’s been three years in coming: Fitz and Simmons FINALLY have their first real kiss! And it comes as the climax to an outstanding scene in which Simmons loses her patience with Fitz’s tireless dedication to bringing Will home. For Simmons, there’s been no sense of closure or confrontation over what she did with Will on the alien planet. She wants Fitz to be angry, to have a problem with what happened, because what could their connection really mean if he’s simply okay with her being with another man? However, what Simmons doesn’t take into account is that Fitz is absolutely livid, and he’s been trying like hell not to let it show. He knows that it’s wrong to be mad at Simmons, because she didn’t do anything wrong. She simply clung to life, however she could. What Fitz is mad about, then, is that it took he and Jemma too long to realize they had feelings for one another. “We’re cursed,” Fitz declares. “The cosmos don’t want us to be together.” It’s a comment that would be cringeworthy if it weren’t delivered with such passion and resentment by Iain De Caestecker, and it segues into an argument that culminates with Simmons revealing that she’s sort of in love with Will, but that she can’t just overlook the fact that Fitz dug a hole in the universe for her. She loves both men, and her heart is as conflicted now as it ever has been, which is what makes the kiss Fitz plants on her all the more fraught with complication, since she’s still trying to figure things out herself. However, when Fitz breaks away, she returns with a kiss of her own, further meddling things and leaving Fitz to once again declare that their pairing is cursed. While I sincerely doubt that, I do think the show needs to come up with a convincing way for her to let go of Will and actually choose Fitz. Because Fitz will always seem like a runner-up if, say, Will dies or turns out to be a bad guy. For this relationship to really have all the dramatic potency it could have, in my opinion, Simmons has to choose Fitz, rather than allowing fate to make the choice for her. Regardless, I’m completely invested in this relationship, and I’m anxious to see where it’s headed.
“Many Heads, One Tale” is packed with revelations and a kiss that was a long time in coming. Either one of those elements would have made for a good episode, but the combination of both, along with some stellar performances throughout, made this one of the stronger episodes of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. this season. The show won’t be back for another two weeks, but hopefully, the series will be able to maintain its momentum once it returns.
But what did you think of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Season 3 Episode 8, “Many Heads, One Tale”? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., read our review of last week’s heartbreaking “Chaos Theory”!