[Requisite spoiler warning: This recap discusses "The Team" at length.]
With the Avengers busy punching the crap out of each other (and the rights to the X-Men securely locked up by 20th Century Fox), it's no surprise that it took Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. so long to assemble its very own team of superpowered heroes. As last week's episode promised, "The Team" gives us our first real glimpse of Daisy's pet project: A team of Inhumans who call themselves the Secret Warriors.
As the episode begins, Daisy and Lincoln pick up Joey Gutierrez (Juan Pablo Raba) and Elena "Yo-Yo" Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) on their way to rescue all the non-superpowered S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, who are being held captive in a secret Hydra base under an oil field. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't waste the opportunity to show us the Secret Warriors working in tandem. Joey uses his metal-controlling powers to melt the bullets in mid-air, as Yo-Yo boomerangs around to take down their adversaries. It's a quick, thrilling action sequence that speaks to a theory Lincoln raised several episodes ago: Could the Inhumans' varying powers have been engineered, on some grand cosmic level, to complement one another? By the end of the sequence, they haven't just saved the captive S.H.I.E.L.D. agents — they've also captured Gideon Malick.
The rescue mission could easily have provided enough fodder for an entire episode, but "The Team" brings the Secret Warriors' superheroic debut to a swift and decisive end so it can tell a story on a much murkier battlefield. In the safety of a S.H.I.E.L.D. interrogation room, Coulson interrogates Malick, who reveals that Hive has almost certainly infected at least one S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. Facing no choice but to investigate, Coulson orders a lockdown. When Malick is murdered shortly thereafter, his worst fears are confirmed, and he races to discover the villain/victim before Hive can use its new puppet to wreak even more havoc from the inside.
It's a classic scenario straight out of The Thing: With the mere suggestion that someone has been infected by the deadly new villain's mind control, our heroes aren't just threatened by Hive. They're threatened by the possibility that their own distrust might tear them apart. "Everyone is suspicious if you look at them long enough," Mack warns. As S.H.I.E.L.D. devolves into increasingly paranoid factions, every character gets the chance to be both accuser and accused.
The first major schism comes when the regular S.H.I.E.L.D. agents attempt to quarantine the Secret Warriors. It's a pragmatic approach to the problem; the Secret Warriors ran point on the rescue mission, so they were the most likely to end up infected along the way. For a group of people already subject to the paranoia of most outsiders — and who were literally faced with internment in a Russian gulag just a few episodes ago — the targeted quarantine is a long-harbored fear come to life.
But in their efforts to escape S.H.I.E.L.D., the Secret Warriors quickly realize that they can't even trust each other. Daisy notes that Joey was nowhere to be found around the time Malick was killed. Lincoln recalls that Yo-Yo was wounded by Hive during the fight at the Hydra base. Most damning of all, Mack discovers that Lincoln's bag contains the mysterious Kree artifact he discovered in last week's episode. Cornered, he gets ready to draw upon his electricity powers — but before he can do any harm, Daisy takes him out. It's a devastating blow to both S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Secret Warriors, which Coulson temporarily disbands while the Inhumans remain in quarantine.
And then the inevitable twist arrives. As Lincoln cools off in a quarantine cell, Daisy approaches. Around the time Lincoln was arresting Gideon Malick back at the Hydra base, Daisy was confronted and infected by Hive, and with his parasite firmly burrowed into her brain, she's a true believer. "I'm happier than I've ever been. I've found the answer, and it's beautiful," she tells Lincoln, urging him to join her as she leaves S.H.I.E.L.D. behind for a new life as one of Hive's minions.
Of course, this twist also means Daisy killed Malick and framed Lincoln, so he quite understandably turns her down. "We could have all of it together," she shrugs. "You'll understand someday." And then she walks out of the base with the Kree artifact and a heap of Terrigen crystals, using her earthquake powers to collapse the base around her.
What will be the long-term consequences for Daisy's mind-controlled betrayal? Given Hive's ability to draw upon the memories of its hosts, I'm hoping for a scene that directly draws upon Daisy and Ward's long, fraught history while they're both in the creature's thrall, but we'll have to wait and see.
Wherever the story goes from here, this is the dramatic twist Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. needed to propel its third season into its endgame. Hydra, as we knew it, is headless. S.H.I.E.L.D. is in ruins. Our primary heroine is under the control of a mind-controlling Lovecraftian tentacle monster. And there's still the matter of that ominous, apparently inescapable vision of a future in which at least one of our heroes ends up dead. The stakes are as high as they've ever been, and it's hard to imagine a version of this story that won't end without plenty of blood and tears being shed.
- R.I.P., Gideon Malick. Powers Boothe made you more interesting and sympathetic than you had any right to be.
- Joey and Yo-Yo may not be regular cast members, but it's still refreshing to see Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. use the Secret Warriors to diversify the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When was the last time a superhero movie or TV show featured two heroes speaking to each other in a language other than English? Or even hinted at the idea that a man might invite another man to spend the night with him?
- I know that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. requires us to suspend disbelief over the idea that none of these missions are important enough to merit the Avengers — but given that Hive is, you know, the manifestation of the devil on Earth, that's becoming an increasingly difficult sell.
- It's not like I thought that the show would kill Daisy off, but I'm surprised that "The Team" killed the suspense of her infection by revealing that Hive's brain parasites can be removed without any permanent damage to the host. Why not force our heroes to grapple with the possibility that they'll need to kill Daisy to stop her?
- "I've met gods. Gods bleed," Coulson says to Malick, in a (presumably unintentional) echo of the money line from the Batman v Superman teaser trailer.
- After so much stress in the front half of the season, it's a relief to see Fitz and Simmons goofing around in the lab again. "We can't waste any more time," Simmons says, after they hold hands and kiss. Co-sign!
- Next week : As Daisy runs around with her evil new alien buddy, Fitz and Simmons work on a long-shot theory to stop Hive for good.