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‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Review: “Nothing Personal”

Marvel Agents of SHIELD Nothing Personal Review Deathlok
ABC

Marvel’s ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ assembles its twentieth installment in “Nothing Personal,” as Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) returns to assist the team is rescuing Skye from the rogue Agent Ward and Deathlok, while Melinda May searches for answers regarding Nick Fury and the mysterious T.A.H.I.T.I. project.

Previous ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ episode “The Only Light in the Darkness” saw Coulson forced to protect his beloved cellist Audrey (Amy Acker) from escaped Marvel villain Blackout (Patrick Brennan), while Skye and Agent Koenig discovered the truth about Ward, 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 twentieth episode, “Nothing Personal!”

Maria Hill leaves a Washington briefing, updating Pepper Potts on her testimony as she eyes the government agents discreetly tailing her. The agents suddenly end up incapacitated, at which point Maria finds herself confronted by Melinda May, looking for answers as to whom Fury might have worked with in resurrecting Coulson. Maria claims Fury had the information figuratively buried, though he was fond of riddles, just before police show up to confront Maria.

At the Providence base, the team reviews the logs to find that May left shortly before Ward and Skye took the plane, with no sign of Agents Koenig anywhere. Simmons and Fitz leave to make the team something to eat, though Simmons finds blood in the pantry while Fitz observes one of the scrolling window screens to be jammed. Simmons sees the body of Agent Koenig hidden in the ceiling, as Fitz fixes the jam to find a message scrawled on the poster “WARD IS HYDRA.”

Skye informs Ward she’ll be able to decrypt the hard drive at the same L.A. diner she met Mike Peterson at, while Ward takes the gun from her belt, not wanting to get caught concealing firearms. By the time they land, Skye fakes that it will take at least an hour to decrypt the drive, given the low processing power of her laptop. Back at the base, Simmons confirms in autopsy that Ward was the one to kill Koenig, sending Fitz into a rage, while Coulson tasks either of them with repairing the base’s communications.

Tripp aids in fixing the base’s communications as Coulson reasons that Ward would have come back to the base needing Skye for the drive, just as enemy contacts breach the base. Gathering the team, Coulson and the others find Glenn Talbot (Adrian Pasdar) and his men entering the facility, flanked by Maria Hill, who gave them the location and authorization to do so. Meanwhile in the diner, Skye stalls for time as Ward notices police entering the facility. Elsewhere, May digs up and opens the coffin buried at Coulson’s grave, finding a thumb drive that shows her the apparent identity of Fury’s co-conspirator.

Talbot interrogates Fitz and Simmons, urging them to think about what might make them valuable to the standing government agencies, while Maria explains to Coulson that he should offer Talbot a few worthless items of intelligence to corroborate their deal. Coulson bristles that Fury and Hill didn’t trust him with the secrets of his resurrection, also revealing that Ward was a Hydra agent, and that Skye has been kidnapped. Realizing her mistakes, Hill helps Coulson take out Talbot and his men, insisting on joining them.

Ward grows impatient with Skye as more and more police appear to enter the diner, to which Skye reveals that she’d been the one to tip them off, having known of his deception since before they boarded the plane. The officers attempt to take both into custody, though Skye escapes outside shortly before Ward fights his way through. Skye pulls away in a police car, though Deathlok quickly catches up with her and takes control of the car.

Back on the plane, Skye insists she’ll never give up the hard drive, attacking Ward for his betrayal. Ward insists he isn’t a Nazi like Hydra’s origins, nor had he known of Garret’s intent to harm her, and that his feelings for her are completely genuine, though she becomes disgusted by the thought. Deathlok sees that he can’t decrypt the drive on his own, and is instructed to go to “Plan B.” Skye tries to appeal to the good in Mike, though he points out how S.H.I.E.L.D. couldn’t protect his son from the Hydra threat, shooting Ward with a device to stop his heart unless Skye acquiesces. She considers it for a moment, but ultimately opts to spare Ward’s life, instructing Deathlok to take the drive above 35,000 feet to unlock it, before Deathlok reactivates Ward’s heart.

Ward goes to put the plane in the air, but finds himself confronted by Maria on the runway, at least until Ward reasons that Coulson would never deliberately sacrifice Skye. Maria backs down, as the bus begins to take off, and we see that Coulson bought enough time to sneak aboard the plane. In the air, Coulson manages to liberate Skye, before being confronted by Deathlok, who pushes the two escapees toward the cargo bay. Lowering the door, Coulson and Skye manage to escape by jettisoning themselves inside Lola, whose engines just barely succeed in hovering them to the ground safely. Meanwhile, Deathlok insists they don’t need Coulson or Skye anymore, while Ward bristles over the attempt on his life earlier.

Having checked the team into a hotel, Maria assures Coulson that there is no reforming S.H.I.E.L.D. anymore, and his vendetta with Ward and Garrett will be a personal one, after which the team should split up. Maria offers him a place with Stark Industries, though Coulson reminds her Tony doesn’t yet know of his survival. Outside, Fitz causally urges Simmons to assure him she’s not Hydra, for which she puts her hand on his knee. Tripp relaxes for the moment, as Coulson urges the entire team to take it easy for the night, before they go after Ward in the morning.

Coulson returns to his hotel room to find Melinda May waiting for him, in order to show the data from the encrypted drive in his coffin. Coulson plays the video, in which Coulson himself records a video resignation to Director Fury, having himself led the T.A.H.I.T.I. project in the case of an Avenger’s death. The recorded Coulson lays out that the subjects would all deteriorate mentally so long as they knew the circumstances of their resurrection, and their only hope would be to have false memories implanted. The recording urges the project to be scrapped, as the real Coulson sits in shock at the revelation.

OUR REVIEW:

Much as we appreciated putting a face to the name of Coulson’s cellist, last week’s installment proved something of a dud in that the only real plot advancement arrived through Skye catching onto Ward’s true identity, which itself only caught the characters up with things the audience already knew. So even while “Nothing Personal” essentially gets things back on track for the final three episodes of the season, even ably incorporating Maria Hill into the proceedings, we can’t quite shake the feeling that tonight’s hour felt more or less like the show firing on all the right cylinders, though only as much as we’d expected of it from the start. That’s certainly tough to consider, given that we’d naturally want things to have only improved from that point, but better late than never we suppose.

By that note, everything felt reasonably strong tonight, between the post ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ fallout still taking a toll on the team’s resources and list of allies (Adrian Pasdar expectedly plays Talbot with his finest jerk), while Cobie Smulders provided a bit of extra gravity as Maria Hill, and even the action and effects seemed on point for a TV budget. Hell, even Ward seems as compelling a character as he’s ever been, even if it’ll never quite make up for the cheat twist of revealing him as Hydra to begin with.

What at least softens the blow is that the dynamic between Ward and Skye feels much less forced with both their true agendas exposed, which now that we think about it, will make the early episodes seem especially ill-thought out in retrospect. Still, even the audience’s distrust of Ward didn’t necessarily detract from the strong scenes between the pair tonight, while even J. August Richards managed to get his due as Deathlok, getting a few cool moments in between Skye appealing to his humanity.

The other seemingly big-ticket item from the hour appears to be that the full scope of the “T.A.H.I.T.I.” mystery has been exposed, with Coulson surprisingly behind the program that led to his own resurrection, designed in case of an Avenger’s death. We’re not sure how well it would track that Dr. Streiten never provided that information, though It at least made for a nice parallel with Coulson’s earlier anger at Hill over having been a trustworthy enough soldier to keep secrets. Some of Coulson’s more exasperated material has proven difficult to sell with Clark Gregg, though tonight seemed much more on point in conveying his frustration with all the secrecy, and distaste for the project. We hope the loop isn’t entirely closed, now that Coulson was essentially keeping the information from himself, though we imagine Nick Fury’s reappearance will provide a bit more insight.

Still no season 2 renewal as of yet, making Maria’s words about splitting up the team and abandoning the idea of S.H.I.E.L.D. all the more ominous for the show’s future prospects, but as of now, the ‘Agents’ have at least found themselves with the strongest storytelling and characters to date.

AND ANOTHER THING…

  • Pepper Potts! Man-Thing! Oh, what we’d give to see either.
  • The triangle between Fitz, Simmons and Tripp still feels somewhat ill-timed, though both Fitz and Simmons certainly had some nice moments to play tonight.
  • Not sure we’d buy that Skye would give in to Ward’s possible death so quickly, especially given how easy a scenario it would have been for Deathlok to fake, and how little Skye would have to lose by being wrong in either case.
  • The falling Lola effects were reasonably well-done for a TV budget, but man, if they weren’t deliberately highlighting all the corporate sponsorship that made those effects possible on the way down.
  • “Huh.”

Well, what say you? Did ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s latest outing “Nothing Personal” return Maria Hill to the fold as successfully as we’d hoped? Where do you think the team will go next? 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 penultimate season 1 episode, “Ragtag” on ABC!

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