Last year, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. got a much-needed shot in the arm from an unlikely source: Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The events of the movie, which obliterated S.H.I.E.L.D. by revealing that Hydra had penetrated its highest levels, changed the TV series forever — and now, nearly a year later, those aftereffects are still continuing to ripple.
For better or worse, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s first season was already pretty busy when Captain America 2's big twist happened, so the nitty-gritty of that worldwide crisis quickly gave way to more personal storylines like Coulson's alien blood and Garrett's betrayal. But the hostile takeover of S.H.I.E.L.D. by its greatest enemy is easily the most interesting thing that's ever happened to the organization in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and this week's "One Door Closes" benefits greatly from revisiting that nightmarish day from a new perspective.
The flashback sequences that pop up throughout "One Door Closes," which focus on "the real S.H.I.E.L.D." during the events of Captain America 2, do a lot of heavy lifting: They flesh out the background between Bobbi, Mack, and Gonzales, offer plenty of tense action sequences, and feature the welcome return of Isabelle Hartley (Lucy Lawless). In response to the Hydra takeover, Nick Fury has tasked Bobbi with a suicide mission: blowing up an aircraft carrier full of valuable cargo to prevent S.H.I.E.L.D.'s enemies from obtaining it. With the help of Hartley, Mack, and Gonzales, Bobbi reaches the moment at which she can complete the mission she's been trusted with.
Before this week's episode, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had implied that Gonzales was the man leading his version of S.H.I.E.L.D. down a different path — but "One Door Closes" wisely puts the power in the hands of Bobbi, the best of the many new characters introduced in season two. As she considers blowing up the aircraft carrier, she has a crisis of conscience that sows the seed of the ongoing S.H.I.E.L.D. vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. battle that seems likely to define the back half of season two. As she sees it, there are hundreds of loyal S.H.I.E.L.D. agents left on the ship. Is Nick Fury's dogged insistence on keeping secrets really the best answer at a time when S.H.I.E.L.D. has been utterly compromised? "We can't keep pretending everything's the same it was yesterday," she says, rejecting her mission, and transforming from an efficient killing machine to an agent whose goals are much more complicated — and, as we've seen over the season, much more personal.
On the day S.H.I.E.L.D. fell, Bobbi and her allies successfully defeated the onslaught of Hydra attackers, and it's hard to argue that her direct defiance of Nick Fury's orders was a mistake. It's the kind of courageous, unified decision that breeds loyalty, and it explains why Bobbi, Mack, and Gonzales are so confident that their version of S.H.I.E.L.D. is, as they repeatedly insist, the "real" one.
But that kind of courageous, unified decision can also have a less savory side effect: blind confidence that every other decision you make will be just as correct. Gonzales's methods — embedding spies in Coulson's group, using knockout gas to capture an entire team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, hunting down Skye with a small army of his own — are all just as questionable as the methods employed by Nick Fury.
As the director of his own branch of S.H.I.E.L.D., Gonzales overestimates the strength of his own hand, and underestimates Coulson. When the two finally meet face-to-face, neither is willing to back down. "I spent months searching for you after S.H.I.E.L.D. fell," Coulson tells Gonzales. "Because I heard you were a good man. Because I wanted you on my team."
Gonzales, dismissing Coulson as the alien-blooded heir to Nick Fury's tarnished throne, is unimpressed by the onetime S.H.I.E.L.D. director's hand-picked successor. "One Door Closes" shows that this is a case of unstoppable force meets immovable object — and given the near-annihilation of S.H.I.E.L.D. (and Bobbi's belief in democracy), it's a shame that two leaders with such strong but divergent beliefs aren't on the same team. The episode ends in a stalemate; Gonzales has captured and isolated Coulson's team, but Coulson — with a major assist from Melinda May — escapes and reunites with Lance Hunter.
Of course, the most important player in the conflict is all the way off the board. Despite the comforting monotony of computer solitaire (and the promise of an upcoming shipment of gluten-free biscuits), Skye's time at the cabin in the woods is going poorly. After months spent traveling the world as a secret agent, the isolation of her quasi-involuntary quasi-imprisonment is pretty dull — so it's hard to blame Skye for being intrigued when Gordon (Jamie Harris), an eyeless Prince Charming, teleports into her life to whisk her away.
Since he was first introduced, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has wisely kept Gordon to tiny, intriguing cameos — sensing Skye and Raina's transformations in the midseason finale, stopping Raina from committing suicide by cop in the midseason premiere, and dismissing Cal as a "science experiment" in "One of Us." He's definitely made an impression, but "One Door Closes" is the first episode that gives Gordon actual screen time with one of our heroes. Fortunately, he doesn't disappoint: cracking jokes about how he doesn't crack jokes, dropping hints about his own past, and promising Skye a chance to join a group that will embrace her powers instead of fearing them.
It's a tempting offer, but Skye doesn't actually take it until she's pushed to the edge. As Bobbi leads a team designed to capture Skye and bring her back to the base, Agent Calderon (Kirk Acevedo) attempts to take her down with an actual bullet. (See, Gonzales? It's almost like your control is more tenuous than you realize.) Skye reacts on instinct, using her earthquake powers to deflect the bullet, injure Bobbi and Calderon, and fell a bunch of trees in the process. Horrified at her lack of control, she whispers for Gordon, who immediately appears and teleports her away.
It's a strong place to take the story, and a major tease for next week's episode. The episode may be titled "One Door Closes," but more than anything, I'm impressed by how many doors Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is leaving open. We have two S.H.I.E.L.D.s, and no clear sense of how their differences will be reconciled. We have a growing group of powerful Inhumans, and no clear sense of their ultimate goals. We have Cal and his bands of misfits, and the warped duo of Ward and Agent 33, and whatever shreds of Hydra remain, and anything else Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has in store. It's a crowded universe out there, and it's a pleasure to see this show exploring it so thoroughly.
- Interesting that Gordon dodged Skye's question about how many Inhumans actually exist. Given the preview for next week's episode, could his intentions be more sinister than they seem?
- Agent Coulson's mysterious cabin in the woods turns out to be the onetime hideaway of Bruce "The Hulk" Banner. Skye finds a giant fist-sized unlocking mechanism (but not, alas, any ripped-up purple pants).
- If Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ever wants to split up the season with a new, Agent Carter–style limited series, The Fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. should be a top candidate. When a global spy network implodes overnight, there must be endless stories to tell, right?
- In general, I'm not a huge fan of the newer, darker Simmons, but her wonderfully devious takedown of Bobbi might be her finest moment in the series. She's come a long way from the days when she couldn't tell a lie.
- Calling Gonzales's team "the real S.H.I.E.L.D." just isn't cutting it for me, so I'm letting you decide how I'll describe them in future recaps. Bizarro- S.H.I.E.L.D.? Mirror-S.H.I.E.L.D.? You tell me.
- Fun fact: Jamie Harris, who plays Gordon, is the son of legendary Irish actor Richard Harris, and brother of Jared Harris (recently seen as Mad Men's Lane Pryce).
- Next week: Coulson and Hunter launch a counterattack, and Skye gets to know her new Inhuman buddies.