Avengers: Age of Ultron won’t officially hit theaters until Friday, but regardless of what Joss Whedon says, Iron Man and his buddies have the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to thank for their next adventure. Tonight’s “The Dirty Half Dozen” staged a massive crossover that directly set up a pivotal sequence in the Avengers sequel, and brought back a fan-favorite to do it. Our full review!

You’re warned of all the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. spoilers (and even a few from Ultron!) for tonight’s “The Dirty Half Dozen,” but it seems the Avengers have a guardian angel on their shoulders, and Joss Whedon won’t even acknowledge him. Apart from leading the original Agents team into a Winter-y base to rescue Deathlok (and don’t forget our post-mortem interview with J. August Richards), Coulson also took time to contact one Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) at Avengers Tower this week, providing crucial intel on Baron Strucker’s Sokovia castle, and the presence of Loki’s sceptre within.

You see, that handy Dr. List (Henry Goodman) dragged poor Lincoln and Mike to an arctic Hydra testing facility for experimentation, noting in exposition that Baron Strucker had moved “the twins” to their facility in Sokovia. Of course, that wasn’t the only major Age of Ultron tie-in, as “The Dirty Half Dozen” revealed that Maria Hill was in on the mysterious “Theta Protocol” as well, the significance of which will become clear with the film. As Coulson puts it, “Time to bring in the Avengers.”

All that crossover-y goodness aside, “The Dirty Half Dozen” had plenty more Marvels outside of The Avengers, especially as Coulson and Robert Gonzales managed to put their differences aside long enough to greenlight the mission in the first place. Not only was the original gang reunited to infiltrate the base — Ward and all — but the action itself was a thing of beauty (R.I.P. “The Bus”). Perhaps incensed by Daredevil or True Detective, Skye showed off her incredible prowess as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent not only in harnessing her Quake powers, but also with an epic tracking shot takedown of the Hydra goons guarding Lincoln’s operating room.

It seemed at first as if Skye was too late to save her Inhuman friend (cough, for now), though a clever use of her new abilities re-started Lincoln’s heart and sent the two on their way. Less fortunate were Deathlok and Sunil Bakshi, the former of which lost a mechanical leg and eye to Hydra’s experimentation, while the latter lost significantly more.

Yes, it seems as if Jemma Simmons may officially have gone to the dark side, first making good on her promise to Fitz in attempting to kill Ward, only to have Bakshi dive in the way of Simmons’ little disintegration doo-dad. Having attempted to make good with his former teammates all hour long, Ward expressed his disappointment with Simmons, but ultimately relented against killing her for the slight. Instead, Grant Ward took the opportunity to hit the wind once more, simultaneously leaving Kara (Maya Stojan) in S.H.I.E.L.D. 2.0's care, hoping they could undo Whitehall’s emotional damage more than he ever could.

Ward wasn’t the only one with some abandonment issues this week, as May had just as many bones to pick with Coulson as Cal did with Skye’s mother. Following Coulson’s return to base, he and May had it out about his secrecy of late, in turn leading to Coulson’s admission that he’d sought out May’s ex Andrew for personal therapy, not subterfuge. Cal too fumed about Jiaying’s attempt to exile him from “Afterlife” last week, though the rapport between the pair yielded some good, as Cal warned his wife about Raina’s duplicity and burgeoning clairvoyance.

All was not necessarily well within S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters either, as while Hunter and Mack managed to mend fences, Robert Gonzales revealed to Bobbi his intent to keep Skye within their ranks as long as possible, if only to discover more about the threat posed by her Inhuman friends. Still, Coulson managed to drop a few bombs of its own, not only warning that an alive-and-well Nick Fury would one-day return for his “toolbox,” but also that the device contained knowledge of whatever secret Gonzales held in the bowels of his aircraft carrier. S.H.I.E.L.D. will always be S.H.I.E.L.D., it seems, “real” or otherwise.

Plenty of questions remain for the final three post-Ultron hours of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2 (and don’t forget to check out our interview with J. August Richards above), but will The Avengers take care of Hydra for good this Friday? What will become of Coulson’s team and the Real S.H.I.E.L.D., after their successful co-venture? Where do the Inhumans fit into all this, and will Lincoln finally get his deep-dish pizza after all that stress? Will Ward return before the end?

Stay tuned for the latest from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., spinoffs, Age of Ultron, and more, and check back next week for our full review of the Marvel universe’s post-Avengers 2 “Scars”!

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