'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' Review: "T.R.A.C.K.S."

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Marvel’s ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ assembles its latest installment in “T.R.A.C.K.S.,” as an undercover mission aboard a train proves to have deadly consequences tied to the fate of the surviving Mike Peterson, while Skye makes a deadly sacrifice in pursuit of Ian Quinn.

Previous ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ episode “Seeds” saw the team returning to S.H.I.E.L.D. academy to investigate a mysterious rash of cold snaps plaguing the students, while Coulson and May uncovered the secrets of Skye's true origins, 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 thirteenth episode, “T.R.A.C.K.S.!”

Coulson lays out that they’ve managed to gather intelligence Ian Quinn will be transporting a mysterious Cybertek package through a train in the Italian countryside, for which they’ll all need to go undercover. On the actual mission, May and Ward secure a room on the train, Ward noting how much more driven Coulson and Skye have seemed of late, before May dons infrared goggles and climbs out the window. Elsewhere, Skye and Fitz pretend to be a couple, swiping the ticket taker’s keys to set up their tech in the luggage compartment, while Coulson and Simmons pretend to be father-daughter passengers.

Having thoroughly prepared for her character, Simmons throws a pretend fit with Coulson so as to conveniently throw fake ashes on the security force moving through the train. May follows from above, using her goggles to locate the package in a dining compartment. Soon however, Coulson realizes that communications are down, and travels to the rear car to find it empty, Ward follows shortly thereafter, having been made by the security force, who chase both men off the train and lob a grenade that apparently causes the train to vanish into thin air.

Minutes earlier, Ward dresses as a conductor and prepares to find the package, only to be interrupted by two security agents anticipating his arrival. Ward returns through the car to warn Coulson, jumping off the train once more. As the pair wonder what made the train disappear, the presence of May’s goggles alerts them that she too is off the train, before arriving security chase them into a vineyard. Coulson and Ward find a small vehicle already hot-wired, driving it back to the plane to regroup. Coulson warns his Italian police contact Russo, before he and Ward stumble their way through the holo-table technology to analyze the grenade, debating May's earlier revelation about her relationship with Ward. Russo finally shows up to the plane, before May appears from behind and stabs him.

Back to earlier on the train, May followed the path of the package from the rooftop, but soon found herself shot at by enemy agents and forced to deploy her parachute to flee the train. May soon stumbles upon Coulson and Ward stuck in the positions they hit after jumping from the train, apparently paralyzed by the effects of the grenade. May eventually comes across a vehicle and hot-wires it, just before Russo and his men capture her. The men take May to a villa wherein they torture her, though she quickly manages to regain the upper hand and pursues Russo all the way to the plane, before killing him. Coulson tenderly assists with patching up her wounds, something Ward appears jealous of, before getting word that the train has been found stopped.

Coulson, May and Ward enter the abandoned luggage compartment to finds Simmons just waking up, uncertain what happened to Fitz and Skye. Hours earlier, Skye questions Fitz if an “0-8-4” had ever been found as a person, before the thought is interrupted by arriving agents. Fitz and Skye manage to hold off the attacker long enough for Simmons to arrive and throw herself on the man’s grenade, which puts her to sleep like the others. The train stops, as Fitz and Skye see the package being loaded onto a car, and pursue it all the way to a villa, wherein Ian Quinn soon arrives. Skye tasks Fitz with sabotaging the cars, while she herself enters the house in search of the package.

Down in the basement, Skye finds a hyperbaric chamber that contains Mike Peterson, before Quinn and his men quickly appear, waking Mike from his slumber and attaching a high-tech prosthesis that painfully transforms into a new leg. Mike reluctantly follows Quinn and the Clairvoyant’s orders, but insists killing Skye isn’t part of his mission. Mike departs, before Quinn decides to kill Skye anyway, shooting her twice in the stomach.  Upstairs, Mike brutally attacks the Italian mercenaries who transported the package, given that they led S.H.I.E.L.D. straight to the operation.

Fitz hears the fight commotion just as Coulson and the others arrive, realizing that Skye must be in trouble. Coulson manages to incapacitate Quinn, before finding a bloodied, but still-living Skye in the basement. Thinking quickly, Simmons has Skye placed into the hyperbaric chamber that Mike emerged from, saving Skye’s life, though only for the moment. Later aboard the bus, Ward seethes that Coulson allowed Skye to get hurt in the field, while Fitz comforts Simmons for her efforts to prolong Skye’s life.

Elsewhere, Mike stands near a busy park and questions his “eye-spy” for permission to see his son, though the device responds “not yet,” before we see Mike’s cybernetic leg to bear a “Project Deathlok” inscription.

OUR REVIEW:

It gave us pause to recall that the last new ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ installment we’d seen was the entertaining, if somewhat ill-thought out “Seeds,” considering all the TCA announcements and revelations that have since emerged for Marvel’s first live-action series. The news that Mike Peterson would in fact play an incarnation of Deathlok, with Jaimie Alexander’s Lady Sif and Asgardian villain Lorelei to follow shouldn’t necessarily color our expectations of future episodes, though we can’t quite help buying into a bit of a renewed optimism. It smacks of laziness to justify lackluster TV by saying the threads will all begin to pay off, though at least in ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s case, a bit of transparency for the larger plans of the back 9 episodes is a welcome change.

So while “T.R.A.C.K.S.” (why was that an acronym, beyond being cute?) hints at the designs of a larger plan, all is not entirely well with the fledgling series just yet. We’d be hard pressed to justify what the confusing time and perspective angles really lent to the proceedings, as would we be to explain some of the logistics behind the mission itself (was…there an agenda to the gas grenades making people lose track of time?), though beyond the schematics, the sense of urgency at least kept the plot rolling along. It certainly helped to have a few untapped dynamics in the mix allowing Fitz more moments of proficiency in front of Skye, while even Simmons got a few moments to shine, as later the episode would humorously highlight how inept Coulson and Ward are with the holographic technology. And yes, of course, May remains a badass, but…was it really worth the effort to string her from the ceiling?

Once the more confusing plot mechanics give way to the various sequences at the Italian villa, the excitement of seeing at least a partial Deathlok in action, as well as the genuine surprise of Skye’s shooting quickly overwhelmed any troublesome threads that preceded. In that way, it’s almost become ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s M.O. to bank on better narrative turns justifying weaker stories beforehand, a gamble that can only succeed so long. At least for now, the various character tics and interpersonal dynamics have formed a solid enough structure to carry more fantastical stories, so long as we don’t lose sight of the narrative to chase the various romantic pairings teased along the “T.R.A.C.K.S.”

Oh, and Stan Lee was there. And Emil Blonsky got a name-drop! As you can see, our giddy excitement remains, at least until crushing reality sets in over the hours to come. Seriously, what was the point of those grenades?

Well, what say you? Did ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s latest outing “T.R.A.C.K.S.” finally deliver the Marvel-ous series we've been waiting for? Did the Deathlok reveal or Skye's fate manage to shock you? Give us your thoughts in the comments, and join us again next Tuesday for another all-new recap of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’’s latest episode on ABC!

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