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Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Recap: Asgardians of the Galaxy

This is our second Thor-themed episode to date — but while the appearance of guest star Jaimie Alexander as Lady Sif made "Yes Men" a better continuation of the Thor movies, it also made it a slightly weaker Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode. Sif is a fun character on the big screen, and it's always nice when Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. feels like it coheres with Marvel's larger cinematic universe. But it also means we spent a lot of time on an extended cameo from a character we're not likely to see again. That comes at the expense of some of the show's more underdeveloped characters, like Fitz, whose only significant scene in "Yes Men" comes when Coulson punches him in the face.

"Yes Man" picks up where last week's teaser left off, as Lorelei hypnotizes a newlywed into abandoning his wife and driving off with her instead. But Lorelei quickly upgrades to a newer model: Rooster, a strangely clean-cut biker whose motorcycle gang seems to be called the Dogs of Hell. Rooster offers up his small army of leather-clad warriors, and Lorelei launches her not-all-that-well-planned plan to take over the planet.

Enter Sif, who has come down to Earth to hunt Lorelei down. (Coulson briefly recaps the time he saw her stab a giant robot, which is handy for anyone who hasn't seen Thor.) Sif explains that she's on cleanup duty following the events of Thor: The Dark World, when Lorelei escaped her 600-year imprisonment during the Dark Elves' attack on Asgard. If Sif can strap a golden collar around Lorlelei's neck, she can haul her back to Asgard. Yes, this is another stand-alone mission-of-the-week, though the presence of the Asgardians raises the stakes a little higher than the show's usual level.

Sif warns our heroes that Lorelei has the power to make men do anything she wants. It's a vaguely sexist concept that originates in a comic from a few decades ago, but "Yes Men" is smart enough to establish that Lorelei is perfectly capable of fighting on her own. Of course, this is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., so no one comes up with the one plan that will virtually guarantee the team's success: making Coulson, Ward, and Fitz sit this mission out. (Incidentally, is S.H.I.E.L.D. hiring? Because I'm pretty sure I'd be better at Coulson's job than Coulson is.) Ward manages to track down Lorelei in the field, and — surprise, surprise — winds up at the mercy of her command.

It's here that "Yes Men" falters a little on a story level. The episode's suspense hinges on the tension of the mind-controlled Agent Ward being pitted against May, his lover. But Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has taken great pains to establish that May has no genuine romantic feelings for Ward — and even if she's lying about that, she never falters in her greater duty.

Lorelei manages to infiltrate the S.H.I.E.L.D. jet, which has got to be the least secured top-secret vehicle on the planet, and ensnares Fitz. For reasons that once again defy logic, Lorelei doesn't bother to dispose of the one thing that can stop her evil plan; she uses the collar to bait Sif into a trap using the actual collar that can imprison her, instead of literally anything else. It's a short step from there to our punchy finale. As Ward and May engage in a surprisingly brutal fistfight, Coulson knocks out Fitz and frees Sif. Sif confronts and defeats Lorelei, freeing all the mind-controlled men — including Ward, who gets a solid slap from May anyway.

But whether or not Ward can be held morally responsible for his actions, the damage has been done, and his fling with May is the biggest casual. In an encounter earlier in the episode, Lorelei dropped a bombshell on May: "He told me who he desired before me. But my dear, it wasn't you." (Cue the applause from a thousand Skye/Ward shippers.)

When Ward regains his mind, the typically emotionless May initiates a typically emotionless breakup. "Seems like we're done here," she says. "But if what Lorelei said was true, you are more honest with her than you are with yourself." May is one of the show's more interesting characters, but her unflappable stoicism makes a scene like this tricky: Is this one of those times when she actually doesn't care, or one of those times when she's pretending not to care? I'm betting on the latter, if only because that's more interesting, but the show doesn't tip its hand either way.

With the Asgardians off to Asgard again, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can get back to its favorite story: The convoluted death and resurrection of Agent Coulson, who can count Skye as a fellow GH-325 patient. Coulson has been bottling up his concerns since last week's episode, but after a failed attempt to get him talking, May convinces him to confide in Skye.

Coulson tells Skye that the miracle drug seems to have been culled from the incubated body of a blue-skinned alien creature — and that after 15 episodes of following orders from S.H.I.E.LD., he's ready to go rogue in pursuit of some actual answers. He calls off all normal rules and protocols, and insists that the rest of the team shouldn’t be told. "We find the person responsible for this," says Coulson. "And we make him pay."

Not so fast! The tail end of the episode reveals a genuinely surprising twist: May, who gently prodded Coulson into sharing his mission with Skye, has been eavesdropping on them all along. As soon as he reveals the truth, she picks up the phone and dials a mysterious ally. (Probably Nick Fury, but maybe Maria Hill, Victoria Hand, or John Garrett.) "He knows," she says. "Repeat: Coulson knows."

This revelation sets up a number of interesting questions. Has May known the truth about Coulson's resurrection all along? How far above Coulson's clearance level does this go? Why is S.H.I.E.L.D. so desperate to keep this a secret? And where do her true loyalties lie?

My biggest hope for this twist is that it doesn't turn out to be a retread of my least favorite Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. plot contrivance: That time Skye betrayed the entire team without anybody really holding it against her for more than a single episode. One of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s biggest problems is that these characters have never faced any real consequences for their actions. Whatever her motives, this is a massive betrayal on May's part — and when Coulson learns what she did, it will merit a massive response.

Let's hit this week's S.H.I.E.L.D. points:

  • (Spoilers for anyone who hasn't seen Thor: The Dark World.) So the "Odin" that sent Sif to recapture Lorelei was actually Loki, right? Any thoughts on what his greater scheme might be? (End of Thor: The Dark World spoilers.)
  • How long will it be until one of the Avengers discovers Coulson is alive? Sif wants to tell Thor, though Coulson manages to talk her out of it — but given the team's mobility, it's hard to imagine that Tony Stark or Natasha Romanoff won't stumble onto the info at some point.
  • In her brief time on Earth, Lorelei managed to split up at least two happily married couples. I wish Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had checked back in with Rooster and nameless "Just Married" guy after her spell was broken. Good luck, fellas.
  • Even Coulson is sick of hearing that Tahiti is a magical place. When asked about his now-famous vacation by a fellow agent, he replies, "It sucked."
  • Lady Sif rattled off her list of blue-skinned aliens so quickly that I didn’t manage to transcribe it all. The biggest names were the Kree, who are set to appear in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Centaurians, who apparently visited Earth at some point in the past.
  • Diehard Marvel fans will probably want to tune in during Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s normal time slot next week, when ABC will air "Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe" — a behind-the-scenes documentary/shameless promotional tool that promises new info on Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Synergy!

Scott Meslow is the entertainment editor for TheWeek.com.

Photo: Kelsey McNeal/ABC