The creepy guy with the Kree tattoos makes an appearance in this week’s opener, flirting with an unassuming art teacher before he goes on about how they’re connected, because everything is connected on this show! He then murders her to get the episode on the road. Then we’re given a cut to Coulson, who is now doing his etchings of those very same Kree markings, now on a nightly basis, but thankfully has some Jazz on vinyl to keep him grounded, giving a sense that everything involving these strange carvings is coming to a head, besides the fact the episode description just said so. Skye is chaperoning for him as of late, since May and Bobbi are constantly on the clock looking for escapee Ward, who is well armed with the knowledge that they’re tracking him, and some C4.
Skye is just as confused as I am about how the GH formula from TAHITI in herself and Coulson is actually somehow connected to her father, Ward’s senator brother, and the carvings in a neatly wrapped bow; they’re being given pieces to a puzzle with no knowledge of the problem to be solved, or as she delightfully describes it, “An everlasting gobstopper of firewalls.” She then comes up with information on the woman who was murdered by the tattooed creep in a rather brutal manner, investigative photos and all. So Coulson and Skye do a little breaking and entering to get themselves any kind of answers they can get their hands on. What they find is that she once was a SHIELD agent, and not only an art teacher, but was portraying some Kree typography herself, though much less dangerously with acrylic paints on canvas.
We see Ward hopping on a bus to Dallas where he decides to sit next to Bobbi, whom he’s never met, though we’re given a rather interesting conversation between the two trying to dance around why someone would actually decide to travel by bus, though Ward is a keen enough eye to know Bobbi is working for Coulson, and threatens to let the C4 he has on hand go boom, switching to a bus to Boston instead. That devil. No worries, though, as Hunter was planted on that same bus, dressed as a cowboy, a decision that Bobbi chastises him for later on. Hilarious.
This former agent’s paintings add a great deal to Coulson’s puzzle, but they need to perform an autopsy, as Simmons comes to the conclusion after analysis that both she and her murderer had the GH 325 serum, the very same inside Coulson and Skye, in their blood. At this point, Coulson has no idea what is going on, and no clue where to start, so, he decides to let Skye and Simmons torture him for answers! Wait, what?
Yes, Coulson believes that memories can be uncovered by sticking him in this torture device that looks like an MRI machine that both Skye and Simmons agree should have been destroyed, but Coulson is willing to indulge in a somewhat brutal pain of the mind if it means he would even save a single life. Fitz and Mack are on standby to hold him down, y’know, in case he starts screaming. We’re taken into a surreal representation of Coulson’s memories, where it is revealed all at once that he was the director of the TAHITI project, that there were six patients who went mad, that the “host” (which was the dismembered Kree body revealed last season) is thousands of years old, and that, before Coulson had his head cut open and reworked, those six subjects had the very same done to them, with their memories wiped and new identities given to them. The sequence is well put together in a schizophrenic flashback intercut with pieces we know already, and the unsettling side effects of the subjects prior to their brains being wiped, complete with cutting, scribbling, hair pulling and drooling. Needless to say, Coulson is going to feel pretty guilty in the days to come…
Meanwhile, in Boston (Woo! Represent!), Ward stops in a bar to get his authentic Irish drink on, with Hunter trailing close behind. Who pulls up in white and black suits and cars? Bakshi and his HYDRA posse, who presumed Ward to be dead. Now that they’ve sat down to chat, Ward name drops a character we’ve yet to meet outside of a cameo in The Winter Soldier: Baron Von Strucker, who is the current helm for HYDRA proper in this 21st Century, but he’s overseas, as we’ll find when we see Avengers: Age of Ultron in May.
We return to Coulson’s Memory CAT scan, where Skye has dediced that two of the patients are still alive and one of them is the murderer, whose name is revealed to be Derik, the man who currently has the tattoo typography on his body, and who once was an assassin for SHIELD. When called by Skye, May orders Coulson to be locked up until she gets back, but Coulson goes “kooky” and shoves Skye into Ward’s old cell instead, and leaves to find the other survivor. So, Coulson shows up on this man’s doorstep to “pick his brain” at gunpoint, but Derik is unfortunately lying in wait.
Meanwhile, Bobbi, Hunter, May and Triplet make their way into the Boston bar to find it empty except for Bakshi tied up with Ward’s clothes in the back room with duct tape on his mouth that says “For Coulson,” as if we didn’t need more confusion about Ward’s true intentions.
This Derik guy is like a Marvel version of Victor Zsasz out of Gotham City, insisting on causing pain on himself and others to find the answers, believing that he can’t simply carve on walls to complete this message from the serum… that walls and two dimensional spaces aren’t deep enough, and that the message has a third dimension to its writing, causing Coulson to realize his carvings in a whole new light. The other survivor, Hank, gets free of his binds, and his family away as Coulson forces himself free and satisfyingly kicks Derik’s ass.
Skye and Mack make their way to Hank’s house, where Coulson and Derik are tangoing with their fists, but as Mack threatens gunfire at them both, Coulson makes Derik stop and look… it turns out a scene of Hank and his son playing with their custom train set was absolutely intentional, as Hank was subconsciously creating a representation of the alien typography in layered three dimensions, making a city, as Coulson describes, giving the scene a feeling almost like that “X marks the spot” moment from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade… but not as funny.
The episode wraps satisfyingly with answers, and the show feels like it’s in a wholly different place than where it was before this episode began. Derik is arrested for his crimes, Coulson’s carving compulsion is gone, and Ward is still MIA, now beardless, and on a hunt for his brother. In the long term, SHIELD has two cards in hand: Mr. Bakshi and the carvings represented as they’re meant to… in a three-dimensional city hologram.
The question at hand is… now that this feels like the satisfying end of a story arc, where do we go from here? Will they find Ward? Will killing his senator brother be worth anything, or is he even worth saving? Where exactly will the hunt for this alien (Kree) city lead Coulson and his team? It seems the next step for Coulson and Co. is to finally retrieve the Obelisk from Hydra and Skye’s father… so we’ll see how that goes with some new intel on hand.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Episode 2.7. “The Writing on the Wall” (8.5/10)
Next week: “The Things We Bury”