‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Review: ‘The Dirty Half Dozen’ Is a Fun Nod to the Past
Recap and review of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Season 2 Episode 19 – The Dirty Half Dozen:
While I’ve actually really enjoyed the darker tone for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2, I’ve kind of missed that action movie sense of adventure that Season 1 had. More than that, I missed the sense of team cohesion, since the S.H.I.E.L.D. team has largely been divided this season. “The Dirty Half Dozen” is a fun nod to the show’s past, as the old crew is back together for one of the more exhilarating missions this season.
The mission is also surprisingly straightforward. It’s basically a rescue mission, as Coulson (Clark Gregg) turns himself in to Gonzales (Edward James Olmos) to propose an alliance in which they infiltrate Hydra to rescue the prisoners taken last week, Lincoln (Luke Mitchell) and Deathlok (J. August Richards). To this end, they also enlist the aid of Ward (Brett Dalton) and Kara/Agent 33 (Maya Stojan), creating a de facto reunion once Skye (Chloe Bennet) gets involved with the mission. And yet, it’s not really the mission itself that brings the most resonance, it’s the reunion of our original S.H.I.E.L.D. team. In the episode’s best scene, Ward expresses that his greatest regret, more than all the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents he’s put down or the innocent people he’s killed, is that he ruined the family they were building together with this S.H.I.E.L.D. team. Granted, the emotional appeal doesn’t fly with any of his former colleagues, but there’s a certain kernel of truth in what he’s saying.
Ward’s betrayal is the point at which the entire cohesion of S.H.I.E.L.D. became compromised. They were never quite the unified team they once were once that trust had been breached, because if Ward could secretly be a bad guy, then who knows who else is secretly Hydra? It certainly didn’t help Coulson rest any easier to have learned that May (Ming-Na Wen) had been reporting to Nick Fury throughout the first season, the same way it didn’t help Skye to learn that Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) harbored a secret resentment of super-powered individuals. There have been cracks all over the foundation of S.H.I.E.L.D. since Ward left, so even while Ward recognizes that he has no real chance of being brought back into the fold, there’s still sense in what he’s saying. More than that, not only is he kind of right about what a great family they were all becoming, his participation also illustrates how much more effective they all are when working together.
Case in point, while the Hydra infiltration doesn’t exactly go smoothly, it goes a whole hell of a lot better than some of the other missions this season, as there’s a clear benefit to having everyone on the same page, with Coulson and his team on the field, while Gonzales and his group supervise. I’ve always felt the show does action sequences really well, and this is no different, as the setpieces continue to deliver. Yes, there are some shootouts in darkened corridors, but there are some surprisingly badass moments as well, such as when Simmons stands up to Ward, or when Skye uses her powers to take out some Hydra agents and, later, to meld with Lincoln’s to jump start his heart. It’s all thrilling stuff, but it’s also narratively significant because the implications tie into Avengers: Age of Ultron, as both Strucker and List make reference to the only two successful test subjects they’ve ever had: the twins. It’s likely a reference to Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, as the Hydra men discuss how their attempts at alien enhancement have been largely unsuccessful, save for those two. And it speaks to where the show relates to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, much of the episode does: after they successfully rescue Deathlok and Lincoln, Coulson hands over Fury’s toolbox to Gonzales, then takes a video conference with Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), revealing that Loki’s scepter is being reforged, and that it could be dangerous in the wrong hands, considering it can control minds. Coulson believes List is headed for Sokovia, and so they put Theta Protocal into motion. And that means sending in the Avengers.
Of course, this all ties into the story with Afterlife and its denizens, as Raina (Ruth Negga) is having visions that are coming true, whether it’s Gordon (Jamie Harris) getting injured or a scepter being put back together. Raina’s clairvoyant abilities result in a fairly terrifying prophecy to close the episode, as she notes that “consequences are upon us, men made of metal will tear our cities apart, and the world will be changed forever.” Once again, it’s another tie-in to Age of Ultron, and while the show has caught a lot of flack in the past for being so heavily involved with the Marvel Cinematic Universe at times, I love these nods in both directions. These references make the show feel weightier, as if part of a larger narrative whole. It also gives more dramatic weight to the character developments. Then again, even without the movie tie-ins, there is some solid development here. Before being seized by the vision of Loki’s scepter, Raina is flirting with stepping up to challenge Jiaying (Dichen Lachman) for control of Afterlife, since Jiaying is furious that Raina has used her clairvoyant abilities to convince Skye to go on the mission to rescue Lincoln. This ambition in Raina brings us back to the Raina of old, but with a more vicious, sinister twist. It helps deepen her character, even though we don’t get too far into that development this week (although even if we had, it would have taken a back seat to the far more pressing development of Jiaying ultimately deciding to allow Cal to stay at Afterlife for now, which has the potential to open up a whole new can of worms, if he reverts to his crazy self).
But Raina isn’t the only person going through changes. For instance, Ward leaves Kara behind at S.H.I.E.L.D. in order for her to get the help she deserves, since she’s actually a good person at heart. He feels Coulson can succeed where he failed in helping her, and I find it somewhat poignant that he’s recognizes just how little good is left in him. He’s an aimless man now, and while I feel like that might have made him dangerous in the past, I think it mostly makes him somewhat rootless. Where does he go from here? To what does he attach himself in order to keep himself going? I find Ward’s development to be one of the most complex and interesting in the show, and I hope we get more from him as we go forward.
Ultimately, “The Dirty Half Dozen” was a fun episode that takes us back to the best days of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1. It’s part of a larger narrative fabric, yes, but it still works as a standalone, which isn’t always the case in such a heavily serialized show. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is heading towards the end of the season, and I think the momentum from its connection with Avengers: Age of Ultron should help give it a boost. If nothing else, the narrative itself, independent of the movie tie-in, offers plenty to look forward to as the season comes to a close.
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