'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' Review: "Providence"

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Marvel’s ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ assembles its latest installment in “Providence,” as the decimation of S.H.I.E.L.D. forces 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 Garret enact their Hydra plan to invade a a S.H.I.E.L.D. base for confiscated technologies.

Previous ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ episode “Turn, Turn, Turn” saw the events of 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' taking their toll on S.H.I.E.L.D., while Coulson discovered the true identity of the Clairvoyant and the mole in his team, 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 eighteenth episode, “Providence!”

Raina makes origami flowers within her cell, before an audible incursion brings Ward to her door, with the gift of a new flower dress from the Clairvoyant. Ward takes Raina to a barber shop in Cuba, introducing her to the real Clairvoyant, John Garrett, before he explains the deception of his abilities, and activates a lever that takes her to a secret chamber downstairs. Meanwhile, Coulson and Skye assess the remaining uncompromised S.H.I.E.L.D. bases, currently standing at a bleak three.

While Fitz and Simmons attempt to repair the damage to the plane, Coulson learns of another S.H.I.E.L.D. base recovered, just before Air Force Major Glenn Talbot makes contact, announcing his intent to send a peacekeeping force to moderate the surviving S.H.I.E.L.D. staff. Coulson realizes from Talbot’s reputation that the Major will likely keep them all in captivity, tasking Skye to enact the “Odyssey” protocol as they prepare the jet for takeoff.

Reluctantly allowing Triplett to fly with them at Simmons’ behest, Coulson is confronted by bad news and worsening updates on their situation at every turn. Skye scrubs any record of their identities from the internet, including from S.H.I.E.L.D. databases, before calling Ward to check in. Ward fakes that Hand has them taking the long way to the Fridge, after which Garrett chides him for holding up the “Agent Ward” cover for so long. Ward protests that Shooting Skye hadn’t always been part of their plan, but Garrett counters that she’d been onto Centipede long before S.H.I.E.L.D. recruited her. Changing direction, Garrett shows Raina to her new assignment, investigating any drugs he could salvage from the G.H. base, while he and Ward lead a team to raid the Fridge.

Coulson places the team’s badges in safe keeping, before noting that his own badge has begun to glow with a set of coordinates, undoubtedly from Nick Fury himself. Coulson updates the skeptical team, though they remain unconvinced by his pleas. May asks Coulson for his weapon, given that his resurrection might have included subliminal Hydra instructions, as Nick Fury assigned control of the project to an unknown second party. Meanwhile, Ward explains to Raina how he managed to blend in with the S.H.I.E.L.D. team, Coulson included, though his true allegiance remains to Garrett.

Ward leads Garrett to the top floor of the Fridge, though the guards deny him entry without the explicit presence of Victoria Hand. A staged chopper attack from Hydra forces the guards to allow them inside, after which Ward quickly disposes of the men. Downstairs, Garrett reveals that the “slingshot” method for disposing of dangerous technologies is itself a ruse, and Fury keeps a story of 0-8-4’s within the base. Activating the Hydra weapon recovered in Peru, Garrett sets free a number of S.H.I.E.L.D. prisoners, among them Marcus Daniels, while Ward examines the Berserker staff. Finally, Ward uses the weapon to uncover a secret storage locker beneath the floors, containing an item that Garrett marvels at.

Coulson and his team arrive to a snowy wilderness to track down the coordinates, during which Fitz and Simmons remain uneasy both in trust for Coulson, and Simmons’ continued affection for Triplett. Upon finding the empty coordinates, Coulson pleads with the team that Fury must still be alive, and that their status as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents fighting Hydra must still carry wait, before a toss of his badge activates a nearby gun turret. Coulson steps out to identify himself, after which a nearby rock opens to reveal an entrance to a base. Meanwhile, Ward and the others find that Skye’s logs of the team’s work on the alien serum has been encoded, for which he’ll need to go back undercover.

Agent Eric Koenig steps out to greet Coulson and his team into the “Providence” base, admitting that Nick Fury is indeed dead, while Skye calls Ward to update him on the situation. Koenig pulls Coulson aside in private to explain that he can’t trust anyone outside of Coulson, per the still-living Nick Fury’s orders, something only a select few know, as part of “Eclipse Protocol.” Meanwhile, Garrett (bearing some apparent cybernetic enhancements of his own) instructs Ward on his mission to get the password from Skye, hitting the agent multiple times to sell his cover story.

While Ward arrives at the Providence base to find Skye waiting, Garrett and Raina welcome a bitter Quinn back into their operation. Quinn protests his being kept in the dark, before Garrett presents a gift: Quinn’s confiscated Gravitonium.

OUR REVIEW:

The insanity of ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ has come and gone (or if you’re anything like us, an additional week to process its fallout makes ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ seem far less jeopardized in retrospect), despite recent announcements of Cobie Smulders’ and Samuel L. Jackson’s participation in the final episodes. Whether or not you buy that the creative team behind ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ knew all along how the latest Marvel cinematic venture would upend their entire narrative, to the point where the show had laid enough groundwork to prepare its own course corrections, it’s at least refreshing to have a sense of urgency about the proceedings again, a drive to the series that had previously felt somewhat adrift against the silver screen.

It doesn’t hurt that “Providence” reaches back to include a number of seemingly one-off “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” macguffins as well, supporting the “it’s all connected” excuse that permeates the network’s social media campaigns, though some of the callbacks prove a bit more effective than others. In particular, the revelation of Ward’s true allegiance (we wondered perhaps if last week Ward might have become a triple agent, though tonight makes somewhat explicit that he’d been playing everyone from the start) proves a bit difficult to support, especially in that we know Brett Dalton himself hadn’t been aware of the turn in filming the first season, but more of that later.

The decimation of S.H.I.E.L.D. weighs strongly on the entire cast, to the point that most of the emotional burdens end up heaped on Coulson, who now leads a team of ragtags through an ill-defined mission with dwindling supplies and a crew that he only half-trusts. The changes work well in shifting a few of the stronger dynamics into conflict, as Fitz bristles against Triplett for moving in on Simmons, while Coulson and May’s well-established rapport has been blown to smithereens, though we have to wonder if ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s tendency to tell without showing again exposes a crucial flaw. It’s one thing for Clark Gregg to expound upon his belief in the team’s mission, Fury’s survival and the moral righteousness of S.H.I.E.L.D., but absent any real insight into Coulson’s background, all “Providence” affords us is the exaggerated performance of yelling to the trees, sans any of the investment to actually believe it.

And while ‘S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s principal flaw only grates against our investment in Coulson, “Providence” for us merely cemented that the “twist” behind Ward’s character feels inherently false. We know at least that Dalton didn’t play the early episodes with a sense of betrayal, whether or not the writers had the Hydra turn in mind all along, so the exposition of Ward’s specific manipulations of individual team members feel more like excuses; weak attempts to sell us on retroactive character definitions that we barely had reason to empathize with in the first place. It’s a dirty trick to play on the audience, and whatever machinations wind up keeping Dalton in the cast, we’re hard-pressed to imagine viewers ever trusting the character, perhaps even the writers again.

On the plus side at least, effortless talent like Patton Oswalt’s Eric Koenig make for an immediately strong addition to the cast, as does his quick info-dump about Fury’s survival quickly endear us, while Adrian Pasdar has enough experience conveying condescending authority figures to quickly establish his Glenn Talbot. Not to mention “Providence” afforded us the chance to see most of the major villains working together at last, with a particular tease that Franklin Hall may end up as the villainous Graviton before long.

It’s been a tough going for ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,’ and “Providence” certainly cements that the events of ‘The Winter Soldier’ put us on a much stronger footing toward the first (and hopefully not final) season endgame, though a few of the weaker elements still need strong solutions, and fast.

AND ANOTHER THING…

  • Aww, Coulson isn’t fond of the internet. We wonder why.
  • So, who do we think the true mastermind of the T.A.H.I.T.I. project is?
  • For all Koenig’s worries about secrecy and distrusting Coulson’s team, he didn’t seem to mind Skye handing over the base location over the phone, did he?

Well, what say you? Did ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s latest outing “Providence” follow the devastating events of 'The Winter Soldier' as successfully as we'd hoped? Where do you think the series will go from here, now that S.H.I.E.L.D. remains in pieces? 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, "The Only Light in the Dark" on ABC!

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