Five seasons in and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is still finding clever ways to mine the MCU mythology to make new stories out of old parts. Though, clever twists or not, Hydra is starting to get a bit long in the tooth at this point.
Spoilers ahead for “Rise and Shine,” the latest episode of ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which aired Thursday, Mar. 29, 2018.
The big-screen hit Captain America: Winter Soldier brought Hydra into the modern era of the MCU, but Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has done more than any other property digging into the nefarious group’s takeover of S.H.I.E.L.D. and lingering presence in the Marvel Universe. From clearing out the remaining Hydra leaders and sleeper agents to telling a story in a virtual world where Hydra rules the United States, this show has lived and breathed in that space. Now we’re down to the last two remaining members of Hydra — and they might just be the last hope to save the world. Or not.
This episode was all about General Hale, with much of the story set decades ago when she was just a teenager being indoctrinated in an underground Hydra school that’s not unlike the Hitler Youth. S.H.I.E.L.D. has rarely let a good chance at an easter egg pass by untapped, and Hydra High was loaded to the gills. From young versions of future Hydra double agents like Sitwell to Hydra leaders who would eventually face off with Coulson and his team, they’re all sprinkled into this flashback designed to pull back the curtain on exactly why Hale is doing what she’s doing — and how it all almost certainly fits into the brewing apocalypse Coulson is trying to prevent.
We learn Hale becomes somewhat disillusioned with Hydra when she’s assigned to birth a child that Hydra hopes will eventually rival Captain America (hence Ruby’s rigorous training regimen), and after the fall of Hydra, she carries on working on a project that could decide the fate of the planet. Turns out that the mysterious Confederacy is apparently a coalition of alien races that Hydra has made contact with. The group offers to protect Earth from a brewing war, so long as Hale meets a growing list of demands (such as tracking down and turning over that stash of Gravitonium). Coulson is understandably wary of the deal, but does recognize the importance of Hale’s mission. So yeah, we might actually see S.H.I.E.L.D. team up with what’s left of Hydra, at least out of necessity for a while.
Arguably the biggest reveal comes when Hale proposes they use Daisy for a secret project Hydra has been cooking up for years — essentially a power upgrade to create the ultimate super-soldier. Ruby was born and bred for the procedure, but Hale (rightly) thinks she might not have the proper temperament to handle all that power. So she recommends Daisy, a proven leader who Coulson has been grooming as his own potential successor for years now. It doesn’t sound like the worst idea until we hear the name of the project: “Destroyer of Worlds,” the same moniker Daisy is known by in the future for breaking the world apart.
This looks to be the missing piece of the puzzle to explain how Daisy gains the power boost to potentially break apart a planet, though you know there are almost certainly a few more twists around the corner when it comes to the true cause of the future apocalypse. Hale understandably thinks Coulson is playing her for a fool when he tells her about the time he spent in the far-flung future. Coulson is finally getting a clearer picture of how to fix the future, but is currently locked in a cell and powerless to do so.
*Talbot lives! After getting shot in the head last season by a LMD, Talbot has been largely MIA, aside from a few token mentions. Turns out he actually made a miraculous recovery, other than some lingering side effects from taking a bullet to the brain. Hale had him transferred to her facility and has been holding him hostage, after he refused to help when learning she’s Hydra. We eventually learn he’s spent the intervening months locked up in a cell growing a gnarly beard, though he never gave up hope that Coulson would come to his rescue. They may have been at odds quite a bit over the years, but Talbot knows that Coulson is a good man under it all. Here’s hoping Coulson eventually gets a chance to pull off that rescue.
*It’s been an interesting little narrative trick the past few weeks to see how the different characters respond to Hale’s introduction to those being held in her base — leaving the door open, leading to a table full of food —with Ruby wandering in with headphones on. Coulson has seen it all, though, and is having none of this nonsense. So he takes the Oops All Berries! and heads back to his room. Oh, Coulson. If this really is the final season, you will be missed. At least we’ll have young Coulson in Captain Marvel to look forward to.
*Simmons came clean to Fitz about Deke being their grandson (a positively hilarious scene, considering Fitz can’t stand him) and had an interesting takeaway from Yo-Yo’s assertions that she’s invincible, essentially, since she knows she survives into the future. Simmons takes a similar tack and takes solace in the knowledge that she and Fitz will have a future, no matter how bad things may look at the moment. As for Fitz, he’s still in lock-up after cutting out Daisy’s power inhibitor last episode while channeling his Hydra-loving Framework persona. However this show ends, it’ll be hard to find a truly happy ending for Fitz after all he’s endured.