Agents of SHIELD: 113 “T.R.A.C.K.S.” Review
Reviewed by Phil Boothman.
Finally, after a lot of groundwork over the first half of the season, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is beginning to come together to be the show it always promised to be but never quite lived up to: the elements of the show that previously seemed disparate and borderline pointless are starting to intertwine and become a much more efficient and enjoyable show.
So after the brief appearance of Ian Quinn last week, the team are focused on tracking him down and finding out the nature of his connection to the Clairvoyant, and to do so they are following a package being transported on a train through the Italian countryside from a company called ‘Cybertek’ to Quinn, taking over the mission from a member of the Italian police that Coulson has some sort of history with. The team goes in undercover, something which May apparently hates, split into three groups: Skye and Fitz posing as backpackers, Ward and May as a married couple and Coulson and Simmons as father and daughter. There are some humorous moments to be gleaned from Simmons’ aversion to lying clashing with the needs of the undercover assignment, but it’s never quite as funny as the writers clearly want it to be.
Anyway, it doesn’t take long for the team to be exposed, their comms cut off and from here we see the same few minutes played out several times, from the points of view of each team. It’s an interesting narrative device, although I’m not sure how necessary it is when it doesn’t really add much to the plot of the episode: it would have hung together just as well if everything had played out in chronological order. Anyway, Ward is attacked by a group of agents and flees the train, taking Coulson with him: an agent of Cybertek throws a weird explosive device which makes the train disappear after they jump off. After a series of weird coincidences, it is revealed that the device actually froze Ward and Coulson in time, and May tried to save them. However, she was captured by Russo, the Italian police officer, who is actually working for Cybertek, and tortured until she fought back and escaped. She then kills Russo as he arrives at the plane to kill Coulson and Ward, and they manage to track the train to a stopping point in the middle of nowhere.
As we see Fitz and Skye’s point of view, it is shown that the train stopped to transfer the package to a car which took it to Quinn’s country estate. They manage to follow the car and activate a tracker to guide the rest of the team to their location, and Skye goes into the mansion to find the package. However, she wasn’t expecting what she actually finds: namely Mike Peterson, scarred and missing a leg but still alive in a hyperbaric chamber. Quinn then confronts her and demonstrates that the package was a crazy high-tech cybernetic leg, which he grafts onto Mike’s stump and reveals that Mike is now working for the Clairvoyant. Quinn orders Mike to kill Skye, but he tells him that he is not supposed to kill Skye: Quinn, on the other hand, has no such orders, and shoots Skye twice in the stomach while Mike kills the agents of Cybertek for leading the team to the mansion.
Shortly after all this happens, the team arrives at the mansion to find the Cybertek team dead, but they manage to apprehend Quinn and find Skye before she bleeds out. However, she is in a critical condition and the only way they can even begin to save her is to insert her into Mike’s hyperbaric chamber and lower her body temperature then get her back on the plane.
Overall, the plot of the episode is fun if a little oddly-structured, but the ending as they reach the mansion and their mission changes from finding the package to saving Skye is some of the most tense action featured on the show thus far. Up until now, even when Coulson was captured by Centipede, the team never really seemed to be in any real danger in any of the missions they embarked on. But now, placing Skye in real physical danger ratchets up the drama in the show, and actually made me realise how much I like Skye as a character: nothing proves that more than my genuine anxiety that they would kill her off.
But as if that was not enough, the episode ends with Mike spying on his son (how he got from Italy to America is beyond me), and holding up a piece of paper asking ‘Can I please see my son?’ to his eye-camera and receiving the response ‘Not yet’. As he crumples the paper and drops it to the floor, we zoom in on his cybernetic leg which is marked with the moniker ‘Project Deathlok’: in Marvel Comics, Deathlok is the name of multiple characters all conscripted into a program which created cyborg super-soldiers, and it looks as though Centipede are providing the Cinematic Universe with their very own versions of these cyborg killing machines. Whether this is Centipede’s ultimate goal or just a side-project remains to be seen, but for now the bad guys in this show just got a whole lot more powerful.
The format of “T.R.A.C.K.S.” is a little jumbled, which slightly lets down what would otherwise have been a compelling plot, but the shock ending to the episode goes some way to making up for this. What’s most compelling about the episode is that it shows the continuation of a much more layered and intriguing plot arc for the entire season: at the very least, I’m hooked, and all that’s left is for the writers to build on these small successes and combine them into something great.