Last week's format-breaking stunner "4,722 Hours" was one of the all-time-great Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episodes, so "Among Us Hide …" felt a little like following up a perfectly cooked steak with a fast food hamburger. It's not exactly bad, just a little underwhelming — one of the season's clunkier episodes, centered on a pair of divergent missions that never quite coalesce.
I suspect that when we look back at the end of the season, only one thing about "Among Us Hide …" will truly pop: the revelation that Dr. Andrew Garner is Lash, the spiky-head Inhuman who has been running around killing other Inhumans all season. It's another devastating betrayal for a team that has endured plenty of them, and the consequences will likely be far-reaching: for May, who was once married to Andrew; for Coulson, who counts Andrew among his most trusted confidantes; and for Daisy, who has unwittingly been providing Andrew with valuable intel in his homicidal quest.
I'm glad Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. opted against dragging out the big Andrew/Lash reveal for more than a single episode, because "Among Us Hide …" practically spells it out from the very beginning. When Andrew was caught in the convenience store explosion in "Devils You Know," I assumed he was dead. But as soon as Andrew popped up on a hospital gurney — speaking with incredible calm and lucidity for someone who had just survived an explosion — it was obvious something sketchy had happened. As Andrew spent the whole episode asking about Lincoln's whereabouts and talking about people underestimating his strength, it was like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was sending up a signal flare to ensure no viewer could overlook the dramatic irony.
The Lash reveal came at the end of a globetrotting mission to track down Werner von Strucker, the sole Hydra survivor from the convenience-store standoff (and by extension, a mission to track down Grant Ward, who continues to lead S.H.I.E.L.D. on a Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?–style chase). The mission is fronted by May and Bobbi, who each have intriguing personal stakes in play. May wants revenge on Ward, her ex-lover, for attempting to kill her ex-husband. And Bobbi — returning to the field for the first time and eager to prove she hasn't been softened by her time in rehab — has the added bonus of making up for her own ex-husband's failure to take down Ward when he had the chance.
It's easy to see why Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was eager to pair up May and Bobbi — two very interesting characters who happen to be played by two of the show's most gifted physical performers. But the attempt to hunt down Werner von Strucker didn't bring out the best in either of them. Following Andrew's brush with death, May was uncharacteristically on tilt — a direction that broke with the character's traditional steely stoicism (and, frankly, didn't play to Ming-Na Wen's strengths as an actress). And Bobbi's nerves about returning to the field were virtually suspense-free — would Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. really strand Adrianne Palicki in the lab all season? In the end, that story ended on a weird note of ruthlessness: Bobbi electrocuting a swimming pool with a Hydra agent in it, then leaving him to drown, I guess.
Unfortunately, the episode's second mission — while intriguing in the notes of discord developing between Daisy and Coulson — was saddled with a particularly weak story for Lance Hunter. Following his bungled attempt to kill Ward, Hunter has been benched by Coulson, and he's eager to prove himself again. When Hunter learns that Daisy and Mack are planning to investigate Banks — Rosalind Price's right-hand man at the A.T.C.U. — on the suspicion that he might be Lash in disguise, he insists on tagging along. And when Daisy and Mack track down Banks and begin to determine their next step, Hunter jumps out, blasts him with a stun gun, and punches him in the nose to collect a blood sample.
I think we're supposed to see Hunter's actions as a kind of earthy, roguish pragmatism from a man whose primary asset is his willingness to get his hands dirty. But the whole story — beat the snot out of an insanely well-connected innocent man, but escape with no consequences — feels a little miscalculated. Hunter is most compelling when he's just this side of dickishness, and the loose-cannon stuff undercuts Nick Blood's inherent charisma. Confusingly, Daisy and Mack's reaction to the impulsive and unnecessary violence is similarly muted — less "you just compromised S.H.I.E.L.D.'s most important alliance for no reason" and more "c'mon, man, that's not cool." (It doesn't help that it's very, very obvious that Banks isn't Lash, rendering much of this story pointless.)
But even if "Among Us Hide …" isn't Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. at its best, it lays groundwork for a number of promising stories on the horizon. While Daisy skeptically watches from afar, Coulson is getting closer and closer to Rosalind Price, in what's either some much-needed mutual intimacy or a particularly dangerous game of Spy vs. Spy. After the comic-book villainy of Hydra and blandness of last year's alterna-S.H.I.E.L.D., the A.T.C.U. feels just right — a powerful organization that can be noble or sinister depending how you squint. And Andrew's Inhuman killing spree is about to target Lincoln. Whatever happens to Andrew, it should have far-reaching consequences, both literal and metaphorical, for his onetime allies. And I haven't even mentioned the emotionally fraught love triangle between Fitz, Simmons, and Will, which hasn't stopped Fitz from attempting to mount a rescue mission — even as he privately obsesses over the details of Will's life before he stepped through the portal.
Every week, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. manages to keep an impressive number of plates spinning. And based on the show's broader arc of self-improvement over course of its run, I'm inclined to cut them some slack if it looks like those plates are wobbling every once in a while.
- The episode's title is presumably a reference to a 1965 Fantastic Four issue titled "Among Us Hide … The Inhumans." The comic is noteworthy for introducing the Inhuman Royal Family, which includes storied characters like Black Bolt, Karnak, and Lockjaw.
- He doesn't have a lot to do yet, but the episode introduces new a villain played by Powers Boothe. He isn't named in the episode, but Marvel PR documents identify him as someone named Gideon Malick. Malick has no immediately apparent analogue in any of Marvel's comics, but he's not quite a new villain; he appeared in The Avengers, in a role so minor Boothe was merely credited as "World Security Council." While Malick's elevation to Hydra head reeks of a retcon, it's also a clever way to amplify the connections between the TV show and the film — and frankly, anything that results in a meaty new role for Powers Boothe is okay by me.
- It's interesting that Hunter hastens to tell Fitz he didn't mean to imply Simmons and Will had shared a bed, since we already know for a fact that they did. Either Simmons didn't share every little detail to Fitz, or Fitz is keeping some details from the rest of the team. (Based on what we know about Fitz, I'd assume the latter.)
- Call me paranoid, but the break-in story Rosalind spins — alongside Coulson's comment about Rosalind's furniture looking suspiciously new — still feels like a pretty big dangling thread. If I had to bet, I'd say she's still playing him.
- Fitz is right — there are an insane number of ways to spell Katelin.
Scott Meslow is the entertainment editor for TheWeek.com.