'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' Review: "End of the Beginning"

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Marvel’s ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ assembles its latest installment in “End of the Beginning,” as the pursuit of Deathlok brings about a surprising revelation of the Clairvoyant, while other, more wintery-soldiery events begin to make their presence felt.

Previous ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ episode “Yes Men” saw 'Thor''s Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) arriving to Earth in pursuit of the villainous Lorelei (Elena Satine), while Coulson wrestled with his secret knowledge of Skye's miraculous recovery, so how does ABC’s ‘Avengers‘-adjacent series keep us marveling at its inaugural season?

Read on for your in-depth recap of everything you need to know about ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s sixteenth episode, “End of the Beginning!”

Agents Garrett and Triplett check into a Sydney safe house, but are soon confronted by Deathlok, on whom their weapons have little effect, though he nonetheless flees. Afterward, Coulson gathers together Agents Hand, Sitwell, Blake, Garrett and Triplett in a remote location to isolate against the Clairvoyant’s vision. Having narrowed the list of possible candidates to 13 from those rejected by S.H.I.E.L.D.’s gifted index, Coulson proposes that they compartmentalize a plan so that none of them have the full scope of the mission, though Hand points out that someone with S.H.I.E.L.D. clearance would need to organize that.

After Fitz and Simmons take more of Skye’s blood, Coulson tells Skye of her involvement with the mission, as the Agents surprise her with a S.H.I.E.L.D. badge of her own, officially indoctrinating her into the organization with clearance. Elsewhere, Deathlok examines himself in the mirror, before the Clairvoyant types over the eye-piece that he left him a gift outside. Deathlok opens it, finding a silver gauntlet that attaches itself to his wrist and uploads weapons data.

Sitwell ends up called away for a mission while Hand returns to the Hub, and Garrett bonds with Skye over the injuries they’ve both suffered. Downstairs, May overhears Fitz and Simmons discussing their analysis of Skye’s blood, and asks to be brought up to speed on any observed side effects first. Meanwhile, Coulson tasks Skye with looking through the 13 potential Clairvoyant files for a pattern others might not have seen.

Triplett and Ward are sent to investigate a target in the UK, while Garrett is paired with Coulson, and Blake is paired with May in search of a man in an assisted living facility named Thomas Nash. Coulson finds his car mysteriously diverted and blocked, while Trip and Ward find their location empty, and Blake and May find no one in the home. Deathlok appears and attacks Blake, but his pleas for Mike to listen fall on deaf ears, and Deathlok violently injures the man, before escaping. Agent Hand suspects that Thomas Nash simply provided a cover for Deathlok to attack, meaning the Clairvoyant can still see their plans.

Simmons is tasked with working alongside Triplett at the Hub for the moment, though Fitz vows to set up a secure line for them to stay in touch. Meanwhile, Skye goes over Nash’s file to learn that he could predict people’s behavior, but lacked the ability to alter it, while Coulson realizes that they can track Deathlok through one of Blake’s tracking rounds. The team follows a signal to an abandoned race track in Florida, though Ward insists on keeping Skye behind for protection’s sake.

Fitz’s trackers explore the facility, from which Skye finds Deathlok and sees that he has been considerably altered underneath the skin. Deathlok attacks the team again before fleeing into a sub-basement, followed by Coulson and Garrett. Deathlok seems to disappear, though the trackers pick up another presence nearby: that of the paralyzed Thomas Nash, who claims himself to be the Clairvoyant, though he never approved of the name.

With the whole team gathered, Nash insists on wanting to meet Coulson in person, nothing that even if they sent him to prison, he’d still be able to see them with his abilities. Nash prophesies that a force beyond Coulson’s comprehension will come for him and Skye, taking what it wants from her and killing her in the process, but Ward angrily shoots Nash dead before he can continue detailing the plan. Coulson balks at the brazen action, for which Ward will face a review, while May updates Coulson that Nick Fury has returned and waits for him at the Triskelion.

Ward explains to Skye in captivity that Nash simply knew how to push all of his buttons, though he doesn’t regret his actions given the man’s threats. Meanwhile, Fitz sets up his secure comm line with Simmons, but finds that something must be distorting the connection, and investigates. Upstairs, Coulson wonders if Nash had really been the Clairvoyant, as Skye brings to his attention that thus far the villain had been pushing all their buttons with details obtained from their own personal S.H.I.E.L.D. files. Coulson interrogates Ward to ask if he’d been ordered to kill the Clairvoyant, while Fitz stumbles upon a secure communications line hidden among May’s personal possessions.

Fitz wonders aloud to Skye why May would have an undocumented secure line, to which Skye orders him to shut it down and runs to get Coulson. Meanwhile, May realizes that her line has been cut, and begins searching for Fitz with an icer. Fitz manages to lock May in the plane’s cargo bay, while Coulson and Skye train guns on her. Coulson presumes that May has been taking orders from the Clairvoyant, though she insists she can’t yet explain who she’s been talking to. Suddenly, the plane changes course on its own, as Victoria Hand remotely orders the team brought in, with only Coulson to be taken alive.

Meanwhile in Washington D.C., Nick Fury weaves through traffic pursued by police vehicles with automatic weapons, before managing to shake them. Shortly after, a mysterious masked figure takes aim at the vehicle with a bomb that attaches to the underside of the car, flipping Fury clean over.

OUR REVIEW:

As tends to be the case with Marvel’s ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,’ sudden bursts of casting announcements and crossover material have a way of creating more anticipation when we left with. The series took a brief break before we learned that Mike Peterson would turn out to be an incarnation of Deathlok, while Lady Sif would arrive to square off with Lorelei, and now too we have Adrian Pasdar, Patton Oswalt, Amy Acker’s cellist and Blackout to look forward to, compounded by all the recent ‘Age of Ultron’ reveals. It certainly helps that the various ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ promotion doesn’t feel entirely too obtrusive, while it seems clear ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ wasn’t kidding about its promises to improve.

We were a bit worried about seeing Deathlok in action by the photos, but thankfully for the most part, the character looks good enough in motion (and predictably incorporates the more garish technology aesthetics under the skin) that “End of the Beginning” proved reasonably effective in driving the story forward with enough razzle-dazzle to keep things exciting. The Kree-not Kree debate seems to have been tabled for the moment while we take a few leaps forward in investigating the Clairvoyant, even if the narrative seems to overplay its hand a bit in revealing that the figure actually gets his inside knowledge from within S.H.I.E.L.D. Garrett seems like the most likely culprit, what with Bill Paxton’s movie-star credit and more than a few foreshadowings, but for now we’re content to give ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ a bit of credit for pushing the story forward.

It also helped to have the various agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. we’ve met before playing roles within the story, even if Blake and Sitwell ended up dispatched a bit quickly, so long as writers remind us in an overall sense that the series can still tell stories beyond its core team of fresh-faced hit-and-miss characters. If what we’ve heard about ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ rings true, and the creeping sense of dissension within the ranks takes further hold, we have to wonder how ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ will operate in a second season, should ABC move forward in granting one.

The one major dim spot predictably proves to be Skye once again, or at least another overstatement of her importance. We’re still interested to see what the creepy Nash (the always reliable Brad Dourif) might have meant by an inconceivable force coming to get her, but absurdly less so with whatever lapse in judgment would cause Ward to lash out by killing him. Good grief man, we get that you have a crush, but why in the blue Earth would you shoot dead a defenseless mastermind who only vaguely implied Skye would die eventually? Couldn’t you at least have gotten more information out of him before bringing a months-long operation to a screeching halt, endangering countless others in the process? We were willing to overlook Skye’s value in being promoted to actual agent, but boy was that swerve sloppy.

It’s nothing quite on the level of ‘Arrow’ mind you, but “End of the Beginning” overall exceeds in ratcheting up the action and weaving together various threads without tripping all over ‘The Winter Soldier.” There’s enough lined up in the coming weeks, and plenty of effective drama in Melinda May’s betrayal and the insurrection within S.H.I.E.L.D. to move things forward, just a dash of hope that ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ may yet live up to some of its early promise.

Well, what say you? Did ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s latest outing “End of the Beginning” finally deliver the Marvel-ous series we've been waiting for? What did you make of the upgraded Deathlok, Clairvoyant swerve, and 'Winter Soldier' tie-ins? Give us your thoughts in the comments, and join us again next week for another all-new recap of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s latest episode, "Turn, Turn Turn" on ABC!

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