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A gut reaction, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. “T.R.A.C.K.S.” 

Photo Credit: Carol Kaelson/ABC
Photo Credit: Carol Kaelson/ABC

There are a few things that I’ve learned in my literally thousands upon thousands of hours spent watching television. One: When Canadian actor Carlo Rota shows up, there will be blood, and it will be his fault. I don’t care if he’s introduced holding a basket of puppies in the first few minutes in whatever show he’s guest-starring on (Bones; 24; Castle) before the end credits roll, he’ll have been revealed as the devil.

So, when he showed up, all super co-operative with Agent Coulson as Italian special ops guy Luca Russo, making nice and not being at all upset about losing escort duty to our agents of SHIELD for some package traveling on a train in the Italian countryside, I knew immediately something was desperately wrong. Rota was sweet and adorable as the doting father on Canadian favorite, Little Mosque on the Prairie, but he’s pretty much the harbinger of doom on everything else he’s involved with. I’m pretty sure if I saw him at a dinner party I’d been invited to, I’d just sneak out the back door with a pocket full of crescent rolls and some cold shrimp.

Secondly: If you’re on a spy show and there’s a train involved, things are going to go south like whoa. Trains are just giant trouble machines, period. People get thrown off them; people get shoved into the luggage compartment. And have you seen the washrooms in a train? Heavenly Father, there is not enough Purell in the world. But I digress. Ask Bucky Barnes how he feels about trains.

“T.R.A.C.K.S” reminded me of the Archer episode where Sterling was so excited because he finally got to live out his dream of having a fight on a train, and it turns out that fighting on a train really, really sucks. Basically, trains are silver bullets of awful.

But, good news, “T.R.A.C.K.S,” as  an episode, was one of the better Agents of SHIELD so far. Splitting the team up into groups of two made it possible for the characters to display more personality without the handicap of getting lost in the crowd that is SHIELD. Ward, without the twins, is amusingly vexed by technology, May gets to let loose and kick the living crap out of everything around her and it is beautiful; Coulson is warmly paternal with Simmons, much the same way he is with Skye, and it makes me wonder about what sort of previous personal life he may have had. He’s mature enough to maybe have had a young family at one point. He’s developed a deeply nurturing and caring relationship with Skye fairly quickly and even in these quick scenes with Simmons he’s fallen easily into a certain Dad vibe, chiding her gently about announcing his predilection for ‘prostitutes’ plural.

And Skye gets to demonstrate more of the focus and maturity we’ve been told she’s developed since that whole, “Whoops. You’re an object of unknown origin. Maybe you’re a Frost Giant’s drinking gourd; who knows?” incident (alright, that last part was unfair. I’m actually warming up to Skye since she found out she’s the human equivalent of Thor’s hammer. She’s lost some of that hacktivist immature brattiness and seems to have dedicated herself, somewhat, to actually having a job and working towards something concrete and real. Just couldn’t resist a Frost Giant jab).

The pairings themselves worked well enough, although I was nervous about the Fitz/Skye team. Those two just don’t have enough field experience to be left to their own devices, especially when you consider another pair was May/Ward, the two warriors of the team. An argument could be made that the job was supposed to be simple enough so the kids should have been ok, but the truth is: The jobs are never simple and the chance isn’t worth taking. One experienced field agent per rookie next time, please, especially in light of what eventually happened.

But the Coulson/Simmons duo could have their own show as far as I’m concerned, and Jemma’s dedication to her “character” and her choice of method acting and character research to get her through her part was simply a delight. It was good enough to fool the nameless Stan Lee character, who, while taking advantage of the boss’s prerogative to have a cameo role in every Marvel’s production, had a few choice words for absent father Phil Coulson, who evidently preferred work and hookers to his now-deceased wife, Simmon’s beloved mother. If this science thing doesn’t work out, Jemma, the bright lights of Hollywood beckon.

I liked the technique of telling each pair’s story between commercial breaks and felt it was strong in demonstrating the characters’ differing points of view. It was especially effective near the end of the episode on Ian Quinn’s (David Conrad) compound when it became clear that the “package” in question wasn’t a parcel or box on the train, but the SHIELD team itself, mostly Skye, specifically. It was most apparent in Quinn’s shooting of Skye in the gut.

This is something else I know: If you want to kill something, you shoot it in the head. If you want to hurt something and make it suffer before it dies, you shoot it in the stomach (before you ask, my dad was a hunter. I’m perfectly safe to be around).

Quinn, under orders from the Clairvoyant, wanted Skye there so he could shoot her and Coulson could find her before she died. More than he wanted Skye dead, he wanted Coulson to suffer. It was Coulson he wanted to hurt. Skye was just the package, the little gift the Clairvoyant had Quinn leave for Coulson.

Random Bits

• Mike Peterson (J. August Richards) is alive, awake and officially Deathlok. His creators also won’t let him see his son. One last thing I know: That won’t go over well.

• I wish I were clairvoyant, so I could know what was going on with ‘The Clairvoyant,’ because all these references to ‘The Clairvoyant’ are working my last nerve. Just reveal already. It’s like getting what looks like could be a really awesome present at Christmas, but it’s wrapped in so many layers of paper as a joke, by the ninth layer you’re ready to throw the box against the wall and give up; you don’t even want the dumb present anymore.

• I worked against every instinct I had not to use the phrase “Skye Train.” You are welcome.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on ABC.


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