After last week’s episode got season 2 of Agents of SHIELD off and running at a fast pace, the latest episode continued right where we left off with another exciting installment. “Heavy is the Head” gave us some solid character development, it wrapped up some of the loose threads from last week, and it helped to set the stage for the coming season. We got the addition of a new villain, allied with a returning character from last year, plus a deeper look at the new additions to our band of heroes. And perhaps most importantly of all, we got the return of some humor to the show, for which the action last week left little time. (Though I imagine that people are most interested in discussing the preview for next week’s episode, which we’ll get to at the end of the recap.) In all, this episode felt like the second half of a two-hour premiere, and gave the team and the show a solid base to build on for the next 20 episodes. So let’s dive right in to “Heavy is the Head,” written by Paul Zbyszewski and directed by Jesse Boncho.
The episode opens as if we’ve only had a commercial break between “Shadows” and “Heavy is the Head,” instead of a full week in between. Hunter is still trapped in the wrecked SUV with Hartley and Idaho, after Carl Creel caused their car to flip so he could retrieve the Obelisk. As he lays there, he hears someone approaching and reaches for his gun, but it’s Melinda May, who’s come to rescue him. She asks about Hartley and Idaho, but he tells her they’re dead (I guess there goes all hope of Hartley making another appearance on the show), and when she tries to free him from the vehicle he tells her not to bother. His leg is stuck and Creel is getting away, “Don’t worry about me, there’s no time.” She tells him “Good luck” and then leaves him there, trapped. He starts to cut his way out of the car, but when he finally manages to free himself he emerges to three military Hummers and is captured.
May, meanwhile, has continued after Creel on her motorcycle, looking completely badass. She’s informs Coulson via her earpiece that Hartley and Idaho are dead and Hunter has been captured. “This shouldn’t have happened,” Coulson says, clearly upset that his orders were disobeyed and it resulted in the deaths of agents, even if they were mercenaries. He intercepts a police report about a stolen pickup truck, and tells May to follow Creel but stay out of sight. “Do not engage,” he says firmly. May, however, wants to capture Creel, and nearly causes a major accident as she weaves in and out of cars, sending them careening out of the way to the sound of squealing tires. “May, that doesn’t sound covert,” Coulson warns. However, May has caught up to Creel and tells Coulson that she has a shot on him, which she wants to take while he’s still unaware. Coulson orders her to drop back, but May disagrees. “We can’t just let him go, Coulson,” she says angrily. He tells her that he’s more interested on who Creel is answering to than in actually stopping Creel. He tells her again to stand down, adding “That’s an order, Agent May.” After a long pause she gives him a begrudging “Yes, sir.”
Back at the Playground, Skye and Trip have returned with the quinjet. They’re both worried about Hartley’s team, of whom they’ve had no word, but Trip tells her not to worry about something bad happening “until it shakes your hand and says hello.” Skye asks if that’s another one of his grandmother’s sayings, but he tells her he read it in a fortune cookie. They meet up with Mack, who is to reverse engineer the cloaking device from the quinjet for use on the Bus. Coulson joins them to check on the quinjet, but distinctly avoids telling them that Hartley is dead. Skye joins him as he walks off, wanting to tell Coulson her secret news. She informs him that when Hartley touched the Obelisk, it displayed some of that alien writing, “like braille,” that she’s been researching for Coulson. He doesn’t offer much of a reply, which infuriates Skye. When he asks what sort of response she was looking for, she tells him, “How about, ‘Holy crap, Skye, we’ve got to get on that!’” Coulson doesn’t reply, but does tell her that Hunter has been captured and might have compromised their operation. This would mean abandoning the Playground, which would be a shame as “we just retiled the bathrooms.”
We catch up with Hunter, who is in the trunk of a military car. The car drives out to a field and drops him off (“Just as I was dropping off to sleep”) and drives away, leaving him seemingly alone. However, that doesn’t last long as a helicopter appears over the trees, landing nearby. General Talbot emerges and walks over to Hunter. He extends a hand and the two shake, and Talbot asks if Hunter needs a lift.
On the quinjet, Skye, Trip, and Mack look at the cloaking device and debate whether or not to tell Fitz that they’ve stolen it. They’re not sure he could handle the knowledge that Coulson had such little faith in his abilities as to risk a mission to steal the device. They remark that he’s been especially bad since Simmons left, abandoning not only him but all of them. However, Fitz shows up, curious as to what they’re doing. Skye cautiously tells him what they’ve found, and Mack points out how close Fitz was to figuring it out, with the missing link being the audio component of the cloak. Fitz at first seems excited about the project, but he’s still having trouble coming up with the right words to express himself. Skye tells him to take his time, but as they suggest that he help Mack reverse engineer the device he yells at them, “Everyone stop talking for one second,” before leaving. Skye says that sometimes he’s like the same old Fitz, but sometimes he’s…. not.
Talbot tries to engage Hunter by bringing up his old missions, including in Sierra Leone, Basra, and something called Operation Panther’s Claw. He calls Hunter “Lieutenant,” which earns the response that he’s not a Lieutenant anymore. Talbot brings up the decorations he received when he was in the military, and Hunter reminds him not to forget his basket weaving and pottery badges. Talbot wants to know why Hunter would leave the SAS to join some “mouth-breathing mercs,” and Hunter replies, “Why does anyone do anything, sir? I met a girl.” However, Hunter quickly figures out that Talbot is not after Creel but is instead after Coulson. Talbot justifies this by calling Coulson a vigilante and a zealot, and explaining that there’s a Senator with deep pockets who wants Coulson captured (who?). Hunter wonders whether Talbot’s joking, but Talbot says, “I don’t have a sense of humor.” He wants to know what it will take for Hunter to help, and when Hunter asks for two million dollars, Talbot doesn’t even blink before agreeing to it. But Hunter also wants a proper burial for Hartley and Idaho, because he knows that their association with SHIELD would see them branded as terrorists. He wants their records wiped clean.
It seems that after struggling last season, Coulson has finally figured out how to manipulate the holoprojector! He’s in his office going through files (perhaps from Fury’s toolbox), looking for information on the Obelisk. He comes across a file on Agent Carter, which earns a thoughtful “hmm” from Coulson before Skye knocks on the door. He quickly shuts off the projector and lets her in. She’s ready to head back out into the field, particularly since May is still out there somewhere. She asks if Hartley and Idaho are dead, and she figures out the truth even though he refuses to directly answer the question. She wants to know if the Obelisk killed Hartley, but Coulson tells her it was Creel. Now she wants to go after May even more, knowing what Creel is capable of. “She’s my S.O.,” she says, “I’m a field agent. I can handle myself. I can’t help if I don’t know what’s going on.” Coulson tells her that if she wants to help she should go pack up Hartley’s belongings for him. “Ok, I know you’re the boss and you have to compartmentalize things, but you need to loosen up. Try yoga or something,” she says before storming off. “I tried it,” Coulson replies, “but I’m really not flexible.” As the door closes behind her he adds, “But thanks.”
Fitz is still talking to his hallucination of Simmons, and they commiserate about how impatient everyone is. Fitz is upset that everyone is treating him like the plague, but what he really needs is a project to work on. He knows the team needs help finding a way to neutralize Creel’s powers, and Simmons helpfully points out that someone printed out Creel’s DNA test results but just left them sitting in the printer for anyone to take. They cutely debate about the ethics of hijacking the project from the others, but Simmons insists that it’s their fault for leaving papers lying around all willy-nilly. Clearly Fitz’s imagination is a bad influence on himself.
Creel has stopped off in a diner, and tells the waitress he’s waiting on a friend. Not all is right with the Absorbing Man, however, and we see that he’s suffering some ill effects from touching the Obelisk. His forearm now resembles the object, despite the fact that he turned his hand to rubber before touching it. He also can’t get it to go away. Unfortunately, his waitress chooses that moment to reach over him to fill his coffee and jumps back when she receives a jolt from brushing against that part of his arm. May, meanwhile, is watching the diner from outside and talking to Coulson when she hears a scream. She rushes in to find the waitress’s skin rapidly transforming into a substance that makes her look just like the dead soldiers from the 1945 flashback last week. Creel has fled, but as May watches, the waitress completely succumbs to the infection and is frozen solid.