Hello, friends. How was your summer? Good, I hope. But all that is behind us now; it's time to get back to work. Deflate the beach balls; put away the flip-flops; unpack the waterproof poncho. Agents of SHIELD is back, and I'm back to recap it. (Inexplicably, I was not fired for my recaps last season. I was actually promoted. Sorry, everyone.)

Long-time ComicsAlliance's Agents of SOMETHING readers will recall that my major objection to Marvel's Agents of SHIELD is that it just didn't make enough use of its Marvel Universe playground. It didn't need Chris Evans pouting beautifully in every episode; it just needed to exploit the assets it had. Season one never did; yet everything I've heard about season two makes me want to give the show another chance. Because, like Doctor Doom, I'm very smart but I never learn.

When last we left the agents, SHIELD had been broken up following its infiltration by HYDRA over in the movies; boring Agent Ward was exposed as a more attractive villain; Coulson got promoted to director of an agency that kinda doesn't exist anymore -- hey, congrats; and techy Agent Fitz got wet and had to be packed in rice, and everyone was too afraid to turn him back on in case he didn't work anymore.

Also, Guardians of the Galaxy happened, and Agent Carter got commissioned to series, so we can be sure to see something of the latter and we shouldn't be surprised to see something of the former, especially given how this show danced around the alien stuff all last season. The duck's out of the bag, Agents of SHIELD. Embrace the space weird.

I've come up with a brilliant new structure for breaking down the episodes this year, and it's not at all contrived. I'll examine each episode based on Story, Highlights, Lowlights, Explosions, Introductions, and Dumb Questions. Why? Because I really want the initials to spell SHLEID.

  • S is for Story

    In Hydra-era Germany, SHIELD's predecessors in the Strategic Scientific Reserve capture a bunch of Hydra agents and secure a tacky looking silver obelisk that looks like something Gordon Ramsay gives out to the winner of one of his reality shows -- but which can apparently turn people to stone.

    In the present day, a SHIELD sting to buy the obelisk from a rogue former agent ends badly when a giant bulletproof man bursts onto the scene and everyone starts shooting. A recovered chip of the bulletproof man's "armor" reverts to bloody flesh back in the lab, and the agents learn that the man is Carl Creel (Brian Patrick Wade), a HYDRA asset they believed to be dead. Skye (Chloe Bennett) questions captive traitor Ward (Brett Dalton), and learns that Creel is a former boxer who went by the nickname "Crusher," who has the power to absorb the qualities of materials he touches.

    Creel goes after Brigadier General Glenn Talbot (Adrian Pasdar), the man tasked with getting SHIELD to yield. SHIELD saves Talbot and takes him into custody, where Coulson (Clark Gregg) tells him they shouldn't be enemies, but Talbot seems pretty committed.

    Meanwhile, Talbot's men take Creel into custody -- and Creel uses his power to camouflage his way out and head for the obelisk, which happens to be at the same facility. SHIELD is once again on hand to intercept, but one of the mercenaries working for SHIELD, Isabel Hartley (Lucy Lawless), touches the obelisk to defend herself against Creel, and her hand turns to stone.

    While the agents steal a Quinjet with cloaking technology, Isabel is rushed away in a car for medical attention. A fellow merc cuts off her hand to save her life -- only for their vehicle to crash into Creel, who takes the obelisk and leaves the mercenaries for dead.

    In the closing scene, we learn that the Hydra bigwig we saw at the opening of the episode (Reed Diamond) is still alive, and seemingly hasn't aged a day.

  • H is for Highlights

    I may surprise you here, but I thought this was a strong return for Agents of SHIELD. Is it too soon to say that the show finally has some promise?

    Maybe I'm being deceived because the episode opens with a glimpse of Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Dum-Dum Dugan (Neal McDonough), and Jim Morita (Kenneth Choi) from Captain America: The First Avenger. Within the episode this serves to set up both the obelisk story and our new antagonist, 'Dr Whitehall', the Hydra officer played by Reed Diamond. It's also helping to set up Agent Carter, the show that will stand in for Agents of SHIELD at mid-season, and I'm unapologetically excited for that show.

    But even without that glimpse of Hayley Atwell's Peggy, this was still a better show. Reducing SHIELD to a smaller, ragtag operation ironically creates a much better sense of SHIELD as an organization. Having HYDRA as a permanent opponent, and Reed Diamond as the new antagonist, allows the show to stay focused.

    And of course, there was Crusher Creel, the Absorbing Man -- a real comic book villain with real comic book villain powers. He's reduced to hench-goon here rather than driving a story directly, but that doesn't really feel like slumming it for Crusher Creel. Also, there's a glorious moment when the character tears off a piece of chain fence with a ball at the end to recreate the character's iconic ball-and-chain weapon, and if Agents of SHIELD is finally going to start pandering to my nerdy affections like this, I am all in favor of that.

    Adrian Pasdar finally got something to do as Glenn Talbot, the Hulk nemesis now downgraded to Coulson nemesis, and he's very entertaining in the role, especially when he sneeringly refers to Coulson's over-used plane-based prison cell as a "honeycomb kill room."

    The episode also introduced some intriguing new characters in the mercenaries, swaggering Isabel Hartley (Lucy Lawless), louche Lance Hunter (Nick Blood), and "Idaho" (Wilmer Calderon), who I assume doubles up as Coyote Ugly dancer. These characters feel rougher, more charismatic, and less blandly inoffensive than our core cast of agents.

  • L is for Lowlights

    The show very quickly kills these new characters off.

    OK, Lance seems to have survived, but the other two look dead. Alas, poor Idaho, we barely knew thee. But Lucy Lawless's character (a) is played by Lucy Lawless and (b) just had an arm cut off moments before dying, which feels like a set-up for something rather than a misdirect, so I'm going to go out on a limb (sorry) and say she'll be back in some capacity. Ooh, ooh, she can be a Deathlok!

    The other big disappointment of the episode, I'm sorry to say, was a scene between Skye (Chloe Bennett) and her star-crossed beloved Ward (Brett Dalton). It wasn't a bad scene in itself, but I felt my enthusiasm waning as they established that Ward has tried to slit his wrists inside his cell, and I was especially frustrated when Ward made a reference to Skye's mysterious parents and Skye didn't hear it. I hate that the show is still toying with the idea of Ward's redemption, and I'm exhausted by Skye's never-ending, never-really-beginning mysteries. There are better characters on this show than this watery pair.

  • E is for Explosions

    Not a lot of boom in this episode; all of the Creel fights were surprisingly short, especially the central open air fight with Talbot where the ball and chain came into play. Actor Brian Patrick Wade is an imposing figure, and I've seen him do much more impressive fight scenes than these, so it seems a waste not to make better use of him

    The biggest bombshell of the episode was an emotional one. At the end of last season we learned that Agent Fitz's (Iain DeCaestecker) time under water may have given him brain damage. This episode we discover that this is indeed the case, as he's having trouble finding his words and piecing together his thoughts. In all his scenes, Agent Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) stands dotingly at his side, fussing over him.

    At the end of the episode we learn that Agent Simmons quit weeks ago to give Fitz space to recover. The person he's been talking to is a hallucination. That's quite a kick in the stomach.

  • I is for Introductions

    At least three established Marvel characters joined the on-screen universe with this episode. Crusher Creel is an old-school Stan-and-Jack creation. Originally a Thor villain, his powers are Asgardian in origin in the comics, but that hasn't been established in the show.

    Lance Hunter is very loosely based on a senior British secret agent from the Captain Britain comics, created by Gary Friedrich and Herb Trimpe, but the on-screen character has almost no resemblance to him. Reed Diamond's new villain Dr Whitehall is based on the comic book HYDRA agent Daniel Whitehall, aka Kraken, created by Jonathan Hickman. He's best known for wearing a hat that looks like a crab. We probably won't see Reed Diamond wearing a crab hat.

  • D is for Dumb Questions

    Why are there multiple Koenigs (Patton Oswalt) at the various SHIELD facilities?

    It was a fair question last season, but Agent Triplett (BJ Britt) asks it this episode, so perhaps we'll get an answer. (It's probably Life Model Decoys. Can it be that obvious?)

     

    Who is Idaho and why does he only have one name?

    OK, this may not be an important question now that he's dead, but I confess I was scrambling around to try to identify Marvel characters from Idaho. The Leader is from Boise! And so is Gargantua, a size-shifting Master of Evil who was originally a SHIELD agent. Ooh, ooh, ooh, Idaho is Gargantua!

     

    Who is that very tall man who keeps lurking around the new SHIELD HQ? A

    ll right, I know from PR that he's an engineer played by Henry Simmons, and I even know that the character shares a name with another SHIELD agent from the comics, but the character is so loosely established in this episode that he could easily be another Fitz hallucination. He feels like a deeply weird presence in this episode.

     

    Blah blah blah Skye's dad.

    Who cares? No-one cares.