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‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Review: “The Only Light in the Darkness”

Agents of SHIELD Only Light in the Darkness Review Cellist Acker Blackout
ABC

Marvel’s ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ assembles its nineteenth installment in “The Only Light in the Darkness,” as Coulson is forced to protect his beloved cellist Audrey (Amy Acker) from escaped Marvel villain Blackout (Patrick Brennan), while Skye and Agent Koenig discover the truth about Ward.

Previous ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ episode “Providence” saw the decimation of S.H.I.E.L.D. forcing Coulson and the team to take refuge from Glenn Talbot (Adrian Pasdar) in a secret base commanded by Eric Koenig (Patton Oswalt), while Ward and Garrett enacted their Hydra plan to invade a a S.H.I.E.L.D. base for confiscated technologies, 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 nineteenth episode, “The Only Light in the Darkness!”

Former S.H.I.E.L.D. inmate Marcus Daniels debarks and asks a local trucker for a ride to Portland, draining the man’s energy to the point of death when he refuses. Elsewhere, Simmons and the team treat Ward for his injuries, as he claims the Fridge was overrun as he and Hand arrived, though he managed to put two bullets into Garrett’s head before retrieving Skye’s database of their previous missions. Coulson learns that Marcus Daniels was among the released inmates, and volunteers to lead a group to begin addressing the escaped superpowered prisoners.

Agent Koenig balks at the suggestion, insisting the team undergo his and Fury’s 96-variable lie detector test before anyone leaves the base. Over the course of the interrogations, Triplett reveals that his grandfather was among the Howling Commandos, while most admit to sticking around S.H.I.E.L.D. to follow Coulson. Ward nearly fails his test, as Koenig picks up on the man’s connection to Hydra, though Ward counters by admitting he returned to the team to be with Skye. Afterward, Ward removes a splinter from his finger, and advises Fitz to tell Simmons his feelings before it becomes too late.

Coulson explains to his team that Daniels was involved in a lab experiment that enabled him to manipulate “dark force,” and will single-mindedly return to his prior target, Audrey. May bristles that Coulson denied her the opportunity to pilot the mission, to which Coulson retaliates that lie detector or no, he has no capacity to trust her ever again.

Audrey Nathan runs alone at night, unaware of the street lights slowly dimming behind her, before finally catching onto Marcus’ presence just as Simmons screeches up, posing as the CIA and advising her to get in. Coulson and Fitz pull up in a separate car, using Fitz’s drones to project a light wavelength that previously incapacitated Marcus, though the villain admits that S.H.I.E.L.D. had since improved his abilities during his time in captivity, before fleeing. Meanwhile, Skye proposes to Koenig that they hack NSA satellites to track the S.H.I.E.L.D. breakouts, while Ward continually suggests they decrypt Skye’s hard drive.

Audrey quickly deduces that Simmons and Triplett belong to S.H.I.E.L.D., explaining how an agent named Phil had previously saved her from Marcus, before being killed in the line of duty. Listening in, Couson shoots down Fitz’s idea to reveal his survival, before Fitz suggests that he’d modified the tech to subdue Marcus, if only they’ll use the cellist as bait for another attempt. Meanwhile, Ward finds that May plans to leave the team behind, given that Coulson no longer trusts her, just before May exits the base.

Ward learns from Koenig that Skye successfully hacked the NSA, ominously closing the door behind him, while Triplett and Simmons set Audrey up to play a solo rehearsal, assuring her that their best men are on standby for Marcus’ arrival, as Fitz and Coulson watch overhead. A short while later, Ward finally shares his drink with Skye, admitting that he felt nothing for May, and that it had been his older brother who manipulated him into terrorizing their younger brother. The pair share another kiss, before Skye finds blood behind Ward’s ear, and he sheepishly retreats to wash it off. By the time he returns, Skye has already left to track Agent Koenig’s signal from his lanyard.

Marcus arrives at the concert hall to hear Audrey playing, just before Fitz and Triplett activate their modified light weapons, which still have little effect in subduing the villain. Audrey passes out from the commotion, before Coulson finally emerges to pick up the weapons, and he and Triplett finally succeed in overloading Marcus to the point of bursting. Coulson cradles Audrey as she wakes, but quickly steps away to preserve his secret, leaving Simmons to take his place. Meanwhile, Skye follows Koenig’s signal to a storage closet, discovering his corpse hidden in the ceiling, before realizing that not only is Ward Hydra, but he has also begun looking for her throughout the compound.

Shaking off her panic, Skye finds Ward in a corridor and acts as if nothing is wrong, before Ward suggests that Fitz has called to meet them in the air. Meanwhile, Coulson laments that he had to lie to Audrey for the first time, just before Simmons asks Fitz if he has an issue with Triplett, though Fitz admits only his difficulty with change. A while later, the team returns to base to find that the bus is gone, as an airborne Ward explains to Skye that Fitz asked that they unlock the data from her hard drive, leaving the destination to her.

After the credits, May’s mother picks her up by the side of an Ontario highway, handing over an envelope May requested. The mother questions if May intends to kill the target, though May only wants to talk with them, as the mother admits to always having liked Maria Hill.

OUR REVIEW:

We confess, we were a bit worried that “The Only Light in the Darkness” might have shaken loose of its ‘Winter Soldier’-fueled boost, settling into some of the worse habits the series has displayed over its inaugural season, even with such fertile material as the introduction of Whedon-verse alum Amy Acker as Coulson’s oft-mentioned cellist, along with Marvel villain Blackout. Much as we trust Acker and Clark Gregg to sell whatever relationship Coulson and Audrey might have had, little of what we’d seen from Patrick Brennan as Marcus Daniels suggested that ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ would make much better use of the character than some of the other one-off Marvel C-listers in the past.

Truth is, these fears proved somewhat founded. It was nice to put a face to the name (or job title, technically,) and Amy Acker of course provided a welcome presence as Coulson’s cellist Audrey, though the drama proved almost entirely one-sided considering “The Only Light in the Darkness” wouldn’t commit to that extra mile of having the characters actually reunite. Sure, Clark Gregg got some reasonably meaty material to play, and with far less exaggerated fervor than his S.H.I.E.L.D. rant the previous week, though why the episode opted to leave the relationship as it was rather than advance their story in any meaningful way seems exceptionally odd.

By the same token, “Blackout” was afforded even less of a presence than previous Marvel characters, solely existing to hop off a boat, display his powers on a few occasions, and cryptically stalk Audrey before Coulson and the team finally managed to…burst…him? “The Only Light in the Darkness” definitely serves as a bizarre reminder of ‘Agents’ worst tendencies to trot out the Marvel name solely for show, as neither Blackout nor Patton Oswalt’s Eric Koenig share any real connection with their Marvel namesakes other than to wind up dispatched for the sake of the plot (note how Koenig referenced the Howling Commandos with Triplett’s history, but nothing of the comic character’s own Hydra past ended up incorporated).

And while we’ll miss Koenig, it feels exceptionally bizarre to point out that the episode’s more intriguing material emerged from Ward and Skye, the erstwhile black holes of character dimension from the season to date. We’ll never quite forgive that Ward’s Hydra turn served no purpose other than to retcon character into an otherwise blank slate, though at the very least, we’ve spent enough time with the character dynamic to feel a palpable sense of menace once Skye discovers the truth about what happened to Agent Koenig. It’s not much, and we’d have been more interested to follow Fitz’s complications with Simmons or May’s abandonment of the team, but we’ll make do with the latest turn as we wait for the season 1 endgame.

Well, what say you? Did ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s latest outing “The Only Light in the Darkness” pick up after ‘The Winter Soldier’ changes as successfully as we’d hoped? Were you satisfied to finally meet the oft-mentioned cellist? 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, “Nothing Personal” on ABC!

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