Leading up to the premiere of Avengers: Age of Ultron, SHIELD gave us a big episode which tied into current events in the Marvel Cinematic Universe without losing sight of the progression of the show and its characters. Last week gave us a tense showdown between HYDRA, Coulson’s team, and Cal/Skye/Lincoln as a result of Ward teaming up with Coulson, and left Mike and Lincoln captives of HYDRA. This week brought some big changes, including a reunion of our core six characters, some surprisingly dark turns, some of the best action we’ve seen on the show yet, and more than one death. So let’s jump into “The Dirty Half Dozen,” written by Brent Fletcher and Drew Z. Greenberg and directed by Kevin Tancharoen.
- The episode opens with Raina having a dream of Gordon bleeding from the forehead, a HYDRA base, Lincoln being tortured, Skye, Coulson, and a host of other images. Jiaying wakes her up and wants to hear about it, and when Raina explains she says that it felt real. Gordon returns to the village with Skye and Cal, who is pissed at Jiaying’s plan to banish him to Milwaukee, but willingly skulks off when Jiaying orders a guard to take him away to calm down. Gordon heads back to check on the situation and returns with a familiar looking cut on his head, telling them that HYDRA took Lincoln and that he barely escaped himself, all while Raina watches on and starts to believe in her powers. Jiaying tells Skye that it was a mistake to let her go with Cal, who isn’t as “safe and user friendly” as Skye had imagined. But she refuses to send Gordon to rescue Lincoln, correctly guessing that HYDRA has been tracking his movements, and justifying herself by saying that Lincoln wouldn’t want to be rescued if it endangered everyone else.
- Skye tries to convince Gordon anyway to take her to help rescue Lincoln, as her SHIELD training taught her to never leave a man behind, and to her surprise Raina supports her. She tells Gordon that she’s seen Lincoln being cut open by doctors, but that Skye is the only one who can save him as a part of a team with Coulson and Ward, which is surprising news to Skye. Gordon points out that he’s not going to drop Skye off in a HYDRA base when he barely escaped from his last encounter with them, but Raina’s plan won’t take him anywhere near HYDRA. Meanwhile, Cal is now calmer and Jiaying apologizes for sending him away. They discuss the threats that her people face, in particular Raina. Cal warns her that she’s manipulative and dangerous, but reminisces that they had some good times together.
- Gonzales comes to see Coulson on the bus, and Coulson tries to talk him into letting Coulson lead a mission to attack the HYDRA base. Gonzales doesn’t trust Coulson at all, and Coulson bringing up Mike Peterson’s capture doesn’t help his case. Coulson says that they both have the same goal of stopping HYDRA and that they can save lives by the mission, but most of all he points out that he’s not the only one with secrets. Gonzales gets a little shocked when Coulson brings up the one hiding in the cargo hold of his ship, wanting to know how Coulson knows about that, and is finally persuaded by Coulson’s agreement to open the toolbox if Gonzales will trust him with this mission. Gonzales isn’t thrilled by the plan, which Coulson insists will only use his personal team, and Coulson shoots down the idea of just bombing the base and sacrificing HYDRA’s prisoners.
- The rest of Coulson’s team flies in on their stolen quinjet. Hunter is still bleeding from being shot by HYDRA, though he can’t decide if the wound or the lovey-dovey-ness of Ward and Kara is making him more nauseous. Kara isn’t thrilled about returning to SHIELD after everything she’s been through, but Ward promises that he’ll take care of everything, and that they still need one more thing from Coulson. They land and May immediately has Ward surrounded with guards ordered to shoot him without hesitation. She’s not particularly pleased with the fact that Coulson has finally returned only to bring Ward with him.
- The plan is for Coulson’s team, without any of the “real SHIELD” members, will infiltrate the HYDRA base in the arctic where Mike is being held and will disable its missile launchers, so that SHIELD bombers can take the facility out. Gonzales puts it up to a vote, and it ends in a tie, with May the deciding vote. She asks for a word alone with Coulson and when she gets it they both are fired up. Coulson’s pissed that she signed up with Gonzales, but she says that she did it to protect the team and to run the base. She’s pissed that he lied about the trips he was taking and the Theta Protocol, which he still refuses to explain because she’s not the director. She tells him that he isn’t either, but he figures out that what she’s really mad about is the fact that he was working with her ex-husband Andrew behind her back. She admits that’s true, and is still mad even when he confesses that he’s been getting therapy from Andrew, as he was the only person qualified to help Coulson with the aftermath of the alien takeover of Coulson’s body. She insists that he still should have told her, he agrees to apologize later, and the mission is a go.
- FitzSimmons is reunited, and they discuss recent events. They feel sorry for Kara, with whom they are convinced that Ward is not really in love, because they know what love really looks like. Speaking of which, Fitz is very grateful for the sandwich Simmons made, as it was delicious, and she’s flattered by his gratitude. That’s love, kids. Fitz admits to her that he tried to attack Ward on the quinjet, and Ward was lucky that Fitz was held back. She’s so proud of him, and they smile over the thought of throwing Ward off the Bus thousands of feet in the air. Things take a dark turn, however, when Simmons shows Fitz some bombs she created, that will disintegrate whomever they are attached to. She wants to use them on Ward, which is a bit too far even for Fitz.
- The team prepares to leave, with Kara staying behind in an attempt to reconnect to her past with SHIELD, and Simmons (with a bomb in her bag) talks Coulson into tagging along as a medic. They board the Bus, and as soon as the ramp closes there’s a sound and May instantly pulls her gun on Ward. However, it was just Gordon dropping off Skye to join the fight, finally bringing the team back together. FitzSimmons have a million questions for Skye, but she doesn’t want to spill anything with Ward listening in. The team gathers around the briefing room just like old times, and Coulson reluctantly tells Ward to bring them up to speed. He tries to get started, but the icy stares he gets from the rest makes him want to address the elephant on the plane. He admits that mistakes were made and people were hurt (“by you” they all respond), and he tries to bring up his childhood trauma but they don’t want to hear it. But when he talks about how he’ll regret forever the fact that he destroyed their little family, I almost believe him. Skye, however, is still happy she shot him, although May agrees with Fitz when he says that she should have aimed for his face. The plan is to split into two teams, May, Coulson, and Fitz to disable the missiles and Ward, Skye, and Simmons on rescue detail. And Coulson orders Ward not to talk to anyone anymore.
- Inside the HYDRA base, Mike and Lincoln have been bonding by being prisoners in adjacent cells and their shared fate of being experimented on to death by List and Bakshi. The two HYDRA heads, meanwhile, discuss the differences between Mike and Lincoln, one of whom was made extraordinary by science while the other had some sort of genetic predisposition. List says that Strucker is pleased by their subjects, and they begin their experiments. Mike has his eye removed (watched on camera by SHIELD), while they start to cut open Lincoln. Bakshi and List discuss the subjects’ survival odds, noting that the “twins” have been the only viable subjects HYDRA has found so far. They’re interrupted by news that HYDRA has detected a cloaked plane entering the area, and they order the soldiers to shoot it down.
- Onboard the cloaked Bus, with a quinjet riding piggyback, May informs the team that they’ve been spotted. They all strap in as missiles launch in their direction, but before May can even attempt to maneuver away the Bus is destroyed in a fiery ball of wreckage! (::sniff::) Luckily, the team was all in the quinjet and this was part of the plan. The quinjet freefalls toward the ground, looking like just another piece of Bus debris and much to the distress of its passengers, but May turns the hover engines on at the last second and they gently touch down in the snow to proceed on foot. They breach the compound, taking out HYDRA soldiers until they are joined by Bakshi, still brainwashed to comply with Ward’s instructions. The teams split up, and Ward, Bakshi, Simmons, and Skye set off to find the prisoners. They run into List, who flees, and as they fight HYDRA soldiers Ward comments how it’s just like old times. Skye proves him wrong by stepping out around a corner and using her powers to knock out the last two guards. “So that’s what happened in Puerto Rico,” Ward says. They eventually find Mike, only to see that his eye wasn’t the only thing that was removed, as he’s now missing an arm and a leg, and will need a stretcher.
- Skye splits off from Ward and Simmons to look for Lincoln while they tend to Mike. She finds him after taking out a dozen guards single handedly, but he’s already flat-lined on the surgery table. With nothing else left to do, she puts her hands on his chest, uses her abilities to vibrate his heart back to life, realizing that Raina was right. Simmons, meanwhile, pulls out her bomb and is ready to attach it to Ward while his back is turned, but at the last moment Bakshi steps in the way and is disintegrated. Ward is taken aback, as he thought they were on the same team, but she reminds him of her promise to kill him. For a moment it looks like he’s going to take her out, and she even tells him to “get on with it, you monster,” but he just shakes his head in disappointment and says that she’s changed. As he walks away she lets out a small sob. Fitz almost has the missiles disabled, but when May tells Coulson it’s time to go, she finds him hacking into HYDRA’s files. May threatens to kill him and he immediately joins her, and the three of them hook up with Skye, Simmons, Lincoln and Mike, with Ward having disappeared into the night. They make it out just in time for the SHIELD forces to bomb the base.
- Back at the playground, Lincoln and Mike get treatment while Gonzales explains that the base was destroyed, although List escaped. He talks to Bobbi about the current situation, saying that they got exactly what they wanted: enhanced people on the base. They plan on holding Skye and Lincoln, whether they want to stay or not. Coulson interrupts their discussion, and when Gonzales reminds him of their deal he unlocks the toolbox and tosses it to him. “Go nuts,” Coulson says, adding, “at least until Fury asks for it back. Spoiler alert.” His phone rings, and caller ID says it’s Maria Hill, and he cuts off Gonzales’s questions saying that he needs to take the call. In his office, he and Hill share a laugh about how pissed Gonzales is going to be, roll their eyes at how he puts everything up to a vote, and discuss the Theta Protocol, but things get serious when Coulson says that they have bigger problems. He tells her that they’ve found “it,” and advises her to pass the intel on to Stark and the rest of the Avengers.
- Jiaying pays a visit to Raina, who challenges Jiaying’s authority but eventually tells her of her latest vision, one of Loki’s scepter and the upcoming events of Avengers: Age of Ultron.
- There were a few other loose ends this week that got scenes disconnected from the main story. First up was something of a reconciliation between Hunter and Mack. Mack apologized to Hunter for knocking him out and locking him in a bathroom (“I looked for any other place”), and seemed really upset about what he’d done which seemed a bit at odds with some of his other statements in the past few episodes. Hunter continued to surprise me by being very direct and forgiving Mack, though admitting that it’s going to take more than just buying a round of drinks to make them even. Hunter continues to grow on me every week, and he’s definitely come a long way since the beginning of the season.
- The other main side story involved Kara. She was left behind while the “Dirty Half Dozen” went on their mission, and she and Bobbi shared a nice moment while Kara was getting a checkup from SHIELD doctors. Bobbi confesses she doesn’t like needles, and gets Kara talking about her time with SHIELD. She only remembers pieces, but Bobbi promises to help her and be there for her, and Kara appreciates that Bobbi talks to her like she’s a real person. Kara, however, makes things a little weird when she talks about how happy she is that she met Ward. It turns out Ward really does care for her, however, when after their mission he calls Coulson to talk about her. He confesses that he doesn’t want his brain erased, and asks Coulson to do the right thing for Kara and help her. He says that she deserves forgiveness, even if he doesn’t. His goal was to return her to SHIELD, where he knew she’d get a fair opportunity and she’d be better off away from him. He says that she deserves better than him, because he doesn’t have enough good left in him to be what she needs. I still don’t know what to make of Ward these days, but he is constantly surprising.
- Of all the great fight scenes we’ve seen on this show, Skye vs everybody in this episode might have been my favorite. It was especially impressive because the entire sequence was filmed in one long take, and I can’t imagine the level of effort from everyone involved required to pull it off. It was a great way to establish once and for all that Skye is a full-on SHIELD agent badass, perhaps not up to May’s level, but deserving of her position in the field and able to handle anything. The choreography (both fight and camera movement) was fantastic, and it turned what could have been a standard shootout into an intense showdown. I lost count of how many HYDRA soldiers she took out, but it felt like it could have been the entire base. SHIELD has always had its impressive moments, and this one was one of the best, and it didn’t require any huge special effects to pull it off.
- I’m curious to see how Simmons handles the aftermath of her attempt to kill Ward and her success in killing Bakshi. I doubt she’ll have much remorse over Bakshi, although she’s never taken a life in cold blood the way she did in this episode. But I do think she has some internal conflict over trying to kill Ward, especially after he didn’t retaliate against her. He certainly knows what he deserves, but it’s disturbing to see how eager Simmons was to kill him while she was talking to Fitz. I wonder if she’ll hide what really happened or if she’ll confess to Coulson or Fitz. We got some stellar acting from Elizabeth Henstridge, but it’s still shocking to see Simmons be so cold.
- Then there’s the question of what Gonzales is hiding. Coulson made mention of something hidden in the cargo hold of his aircraft carrier, and Gonzales was shocked that Coulson knew about it. Given Gonzales’ obsession with enhanced people, I’d bet anything that there are enhanced people down there, captured by Gonzales and being held because he considers them a threat. I bet he’s kept it a secret from some or all of the other members of the board, and he might even be experimenting on the a la HYDRA. He certainly seemed pleased to have Skye, Mike, and Lincoln in custody, though based on his previous fears of enhanced people I would have thought he’d want them as far away as possible.
What do you think? Did you enjoy “The Dirty Half Dozen?” How did you feel seeing the band back together? Am I the only one upset that the Bus was destroyed? How awesome was Skye’s action sequence? What do you think Gonzales is hiding in his ship? Does Ward really care about Kara, or anyone other than himself? What will he get up to now that he’s on his own again? Would Simmons really have killed him? Do you think Coulson and May can trust each other again? For those who have seen Age of Ultron, what did you think, and did watching SHIELD bring anything to the experience? What do you want to see in the final hours of SHIELD this season? Let me know in the comments!