Agents of SHIELD: 111 “The Magical Place” Review
Reviewed by Phil Boothman.
After a long break, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns to UK screens with an episode which promises an answer to the mystery of Coulson’s resurrection. It’s a big promise for the showrunners to make, but one which could revitalise the show in the eyes of a lot of its critics. So, did they make good on their promise?
The short answer is sort of: we are offered the biggest clues yet towards how Coulson came back to life, and some hints as to how the truth behind his return will affect the show’s future, but we are also denied the entire answer to the mystery. Whether this disappoints viewers and causes them to turn off remains to be seen, but for me the reveal of what happened after his death was satisfyingly creepy and suggests some incredibly sinister machinations going on behind the scenes.
Coulson’s abduction by Project Centipede and the S.H.I.E.L.D. team’s attempts to rescue him form the bulk of the episode, with Agent Victoria Hand (from episode 7) assigned to track Coulson down and rescue him. However, she doesn’t take too kindly to Skye’s presence on the team and send her for debriefing, from which she naturally escapes and goes rogue: however, she is still unable to use computers and phones due to her S.H.I.E.L.D. cuff and has to improvise, tracking down a businessman called Lloyd Rathman who has financial connections to Centipede through a man named Vanchat. Fortunately, Vanchat also happens to be a man whom the S.H.I.E.L.D. team have managed to capture and interrogate for information about Raina, the girl in the flower dress.
Meanwhile, Project Centipede are torturing Coulson for information: as it turns out, the mysterious ‘Clairvoyant’ who heads up Centipede and who is able to see anything and everything, is unable to sense Coulson since he died and was brought back. Basically, the Clairvoyant doesn’t like not knowing things, and wants the secret of resurrection for his Centipede soldiers. Edison Po, the weird psychopath from the previous episode, is doing his best to break Coulson and draw the information out of him, but it turns out that the Clairvoyant isn’t best pleased with Po’s methods and kills him with some kind of pulse sent through his phone, leaving Raina to head up the interrogation instead.
It transpires that Raina’s methods are a little kinder than Po’s as she convinces Coulson that finding out the truth is a good thing; that S.H.I.E.L.D. have been lying to him and he deserves to know the truth about his death and subsequent resurrection. After realising that he has been conditioned to say ‘It’s a magical place’ whenever someone mentions Tahiti, Coulson acquiesces and undergoes a brain scan to find out what really happened in the days following his death.
So the S.H.I.E.L.D. team track Coulson’s location down to an abandoned nuclear testing village full of creepy mannequins against the orders of Victoria Hand, who decides to take S.H.I.E.L.D. teams to every Centipede base Vanchat informed them of instead; all the while Coulson digs deep into his subconscious and finds something that was actually pretty unsettling to watch. After his death, S.H.I.E.L.D. operated on him, including having his skull cap removed and his brain rewired to change his memories: during the operation, Coulson was pleading with the doctors to let him die and Dr Streiten (returning from the pilot episode, and played by the fantastic Ron Glass) was agreeing with him, but someone in S.H.I.E.L.D. wasn’t keen on letting that happen.
Before we can get any more information, however, the team storm in and rescue Coulson, knocking Raina out and taking her into custody, although Skye does happen to hear Coulson asking Raina to let him die and is understandably shaken by it. The team welcomes Coulson back, and he doesn’t seem as chirpy about Raina being taken into custody as the rest of the team.
Shortly afterwards, Coulson pays Dr Streiten a visit and gets some answers from him: apparently after Loki stabbed him, Coulson was dead for days, and underwent multiple surgeries and procedures on the orders of Nick Fury, all of which made him lose the will to live. They then manipulated his brain to implant false memories of recuperation in Tahiti and to try and make him into the man he was before his death, and change him from the ‘thing’ he became: understandably Coulson is upset about this and leaves Streiten before he has a chance to apologise.
Finally, Mike Peterson, presumed dead after the explosion at the end of the previous episode, is shown alive but badly burnt and missing a leg, in a mysterious cell-like room. It also turns out that he has been implanted with an eye-camera by someone who is presumably working for Centipede, who tells him to ‘await further instructions’, and thus a new, if rather reluctant villain is born.
So, while we didn’t get all the answers promised to us, we got a big forward movement in the story of Coulson’s resurrection and a focused, arc-heavy episode which had some satisfying, if incredibly creepy revelations which have potentially huge implications for the future of the show, and the future of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
While I can foresee the inevitable backlash caused by the continuing mystery behind Coulson’s resurrection, I understand the need to keep S.H.I.E.L.D. as the nominal ‘good guys’ for the time being and I was left satisfied by the revelations made in this episode. I also enjoyed Skye’s impersonation of Melinda May used to extract information from Rathman, and the fact that Team Coulson seems to be working together better than ever: my only concern is that they were able to do all of that because they didn’t have Coulson, so it remains to be seen whether he can pull the team together in the same way that his absence did.