The fifth episode of Agents of SHIELD's second season is in a sense the episode some fans have been waiting for since the show began; it's the first episode to ever introduce a fully fledged comic book superhero into the cinematic universe. If you've somehow avoided spoilers until now, I'll avoid saying more until we're safely inside the recap.

That big event aside, 'A Hen In The Wolf House' by director Holly Dale and writer Brent Fletcher, is an oddly uneven episode. It's so preoccupied with the show's big mysteries that it lacks the focus that has made this season so much stronger than last. But it still has some great moments, as we'll uncover in our SHLEID recap.

  • S is for STORY

    This is a weird episode to recap, because it begins with a sequence of set-ups; first a HYDRA op, then Kyle MacLachlan, then a check-in with SHIELD and all its many subplots (in which Lance Hunter reminds us several times that he has an ex-wife you guys), and finally Simmons undercover at HYDRA labs. The staging eats up an absurd amount of the episode, and could take up a similar amount of this recap.

    So let's speed ahead to the scene it all hinges on. A spy, not long ago revived from the dead by an alien serum, takes dinner with an arch manipulator whose interest in aliens goes well past zealotry.

    Raina (Ruth Negga) knows that Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) is spying on HYDRA. She'll expose her if Coulson (Clark Gregg) doesn't give her Skye (Chloe Bennett), so that Raina can introduce Skye to her father, Kyle MacLachlan (Kyle MacLachlan).

    Raina rather gullibly believes Kyle MacLachlan will then let her borrow the alien artifact called the Obelisk, which she can take to the Nazis, who will then spare her life. Long story short; Raina wants to save her life by threatening Simmons' life by way of Skye, Kyle MacLachlan, an alien Obelisk and some Nazis. There are some dead sailors involved. Not important.

    Coulson rejects the offer. This is bad news for Simmons, who is already under suspicion as a SHIELD spy on the not unreasonable basis that she is a long-serving SHIELD agent who recently and unaccountably switched sides (because she is in fact a SHIELD spy). It probably doesn't help her cover that she sends messages to Coulson by sitting in a park and reciting them out loud to a piece of paper, like she's pre-narrating a letter for a Nicholas Sparks movie.

    The good news for Simmons is that the appallingly lax admission standards for covert Nazi villain agency/dot-com giant HYDRA have allowed a second SHIELD agent to penetrate the organization, as their head of security. Meet Bobbi Morse (Adrianne Palicki), who uses her twin batons to bash heads and get Simmons out of the building and back home to her SHIELD buddies. (Morse's placement in HYDRA is extremely unrealistic. I don't know much about covert Nazi villain agencies, but I can assure you that the hiring practices of dot-com companies is rigorous.)

    Skye skips out on the team to follow Raina's information to her dad's last known location, but Kyle MacLachlan has scarpered, leaving only a sad photo of father and daughter and a couple of goon corpses (because it turns out he's some sort of goon doctor, and clearly not a great one, because he murders his patients).

    Skye is upset to learn that her dad is a monster/Kyle MacLachlan. Coulson offers some paternal reassurance, and Kyle, watching the scene remotely, flips out and destroys an iPad.

    Simmons rejoins the team, to the relief of Fitz (Iain DeCaestecker), who earlier in the episode just conveniently decided to abandon his hallucinations because it turns out they only existed to fulfill an actor's contractual guarantee of an appearance in every episode (I'm assuming). Morse also joins the team, where she is less than warmly received by Hunter (Nick Blood), because they used to be married you guys. As you had already guessed.

    Oh, there's a subplot with Skye worrying about Coulson's obsession with Kree math. Turns out she might be an alien and the Kree math is actually a Kree map. No big deal. Let's all go to space and hang out with Chris Pratt! Wheee!

    In the kicker, Kyle MacLachlan visits HYDRA, kills a couple of goons with his super alien strength, maybe, and proposes a Marvel Super-Villain Team-Up to destroy Coulson. I've got to say it; Kyle MacLachlan and the dot-com Nazis are a sorry substitute for Namor and Doctor Doom.

  • H is for HIGHLIGHTS

    Mockingbird design art and promotional image.

    Mockingbird, obviously. As surprised as I am that the show decided to introduce an actual Avenger, the introduction of Adrianne Palicki to the team is enormously welcome. It essentially obligates the show to embrace its superhero world more fully than ever before, because Bobbi Morse is right up there with Hawkeye, Falcon, and Black Widow when it comes to kicking Nazi butt.

    And Palicki does not disappoint in the role. She exudes a cool, confident, take-charge manner. Her use of batons as a fighting weapon is immediately distinctive and awesome. Pleasingly, she also has instant chemistry with the rest of the cast -- especially Henstridge as Simmons, who is smitten and adoring, and with Blood as her ex, Hunter. Seeing those two bounce off each other in their one short scene was tantalizing.

    I don't know if Morse is a truly permanent addition or a multi-episode guest star. As a confident fighter and senior agent, she potentially occupies the same role as May (Ming-Na Wen), so the show will need to find some way to distinguish the two. And the cast is getting pretty crowded.

    But I can only dream about how much better this show could have been last season if they'd opened with Bobbi Morse in the crew, and maybe Hunter and Tripp, in place of characters like Skye and Ward.

    While I didn't love this episode, I love Mockingbird. I think she changes the dynamic. I'm excited to see what happens next.

  • L is for LOWLIGHTS

    I swear I will stop asking when they're going to give Mack (Henry Simmons) some real screen time just as soon as they give him some real screen time.

    This episode furthered the degradation of Raina as a worthy villain. She's meant to be a genius manipulator, because we're told she is, but she seems to spend all her time flinching away from powerful men, whether it's Coulson, Whitehall (Reed Diamond), or Kyle MacLachlan. Maybe we're heading for a stunning reveal in which Raina played everyone and emerges victorious? If we are, we're taking an ugly road to get there. If we're not, it's an ugly dead end.

    Speaking of villains; it's increasingly tough to read HYDRA as a credible threat when they're also presented as a slightly dorky and broadly incompetent Evil Inc. that hires SHIELD spies off the street. I'm sure we're not meant to think about it too much, but it's kind of the super-structure of the whole season, y'know? Simmons Undercover was good fun in execution, but more than strained credibility in conception.


    There is a scene in this episode in which FakeSimmons ogles Mack -- a fine figure of a man -- and Fitz acknowledges that as she's a manifestation of his subconscious he obviously agrees with her assessment of his appeal. This is the trigger for putting FakeSimmons to rest, with Fitz taking a seemingly external voice -- Simmons's female gaze -- and internalizing it as part of himself.

    I've seen some fans call this evidence that Fitz is gay or bi, and I've seen some decry it as queerbaiting, and I'm sure some of the former camp will move into the latter camp if the show doesn't pay this off to their satisfaction.

    If you're not familiar with the term 'queerbaiting', it's when a show pays lip service to the possibility of queer representation or queer inclusion without ever paying it off in a satisfying way, to serve a queer-friendly audience without alienating the straight audience.

    I suspect queerbaiting is called out as duplicitous act more often than it actually is. Audiences can get very distressed about ambiguity or deferred resolutions, and don't always acknowledge that the gap between expectation and outcome is where stories happen and where writers live.

    That's not to minimize the existence of queerbaiting. I think there are plenty of writers who deliberately exploit queer interest without paying it off. I don't think the media has come close to satisfying audience appetite for queer content -- both from queer and non-queer consumers. But I also think there's also often a benign explanation for what appears to be queerbaiting.

    I'm old enough to remember when any hint of gay subtext was something queer audiences craved and clung on to, because it was the only text we ever got. It's difficult to overstate just how important those glimpses of visibility were.

    Queer content is now in the text for a lot of mainstream shows, and it clearly isn't chasing straight audiences away. We're in a transitional phase from the age of subtext to... the age of the things they get away with in How To Get Away With Murder that aren't murder. So some writers are still serving up queer subtext in good faith, some are writing queer text, some are doing neither, and some are queerbaiting, and audiences don't always know what they're looking at.

    Meanwhile, the slow destigmatization of sexual same-sex relationships has in turn made it easier for shows to present intense non-sexual same-sex relationships, just as the slow destigmatization of gender non-conformity has made it easier for one man to admire another man's beauty without it being evidence of sexual desire. These are healthy developments.

    Our culture used to be so macho that it was afraid to present anything that looked queer. Queer subtext was an act of rare subversion, often more perceived than intended.

    Our culture is queerer now, which means one man admiring another man's beauty does not in itself have to be evidence of sexual desire. It might be heterosexual text, not queer subtext. The world is a better place if men can say things like, "I love you" or, "You look great" to other men without it being a footnote on their sexuality.

    Audiences should of course continue to demand more examples of one man admiring another man's beauty in a way that does denote sexual desire, alongside other manifestations of queer love and lust. But fictional examples of intense male relationships or man-on-man admiration are not necessarily queerbaiting; they might in fact be signs of progress.

    All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I don't think this show intends to bait the audience into believing Fitz is gay or bi. I don't rule out that he could be, but I don't think we've seen any evidence that he is. Though God knows this show could use some queer content, so maybe he should be.

    Of course, if Fitz does turn out to be gay, they'll kill him before they ever say it.


    Finally, the character we've all been waiting for.


    Yes, Hellcow, aka Bessie, an immortal vampire cow created by Steve Gerber and Frank Brunner in Giant-Size Man-Thing #5. Granted, Hellcow does not actually appear, but her milk is being studied by Simmons at the HYDRA lab. Hellcow is now MCU canon.

    Oh, and Mockingbird.

    Created by Len Wein and Neal Adams, and first appearing in a comic by Gerry Conway and Barry Windsor-Smith, Mockingbird is a character I'm disproportionately fond of. I was a West Coast Avengers fan. I loved that weirdo ragtag team, and in my mind Mockingbird is the true first lady of the Avengers. Now, sure, that's ludicrous placed in the context of anything that wasn't West Coast Avengers, but the heart wants what the heart wants, and I want Mockingbird to get her due.

    My only concern is that Agents of SHIELD is a little small for Bobbi. Changing her ex-husband from Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye to Nick Blood's Lance Hunter, while an upgrade on the charisma front, is a downgrade in scale.

    I would very much like for Bobbi to be an Avenger one day, and I hope being introduced on TV doesn't make her too small-time for the big screen. After all, being ashamed of your TV universe is so Warner Bros right now.


    What is Kyle MacLachlan? I mean, I know he's a Golden Globe-winning American actor best known for his roles in Twin Peaks, Dune, and Sex & The City, not to mention his star-making turn in Showgirls. But what is he in the show? The clues so far suggest he's both an alien and a mobster, and maybe a Hulk. (He gets very angry, and he seems to get stronger when he's angry.) He's probably not a Hulk.

    Who is scarier, Kyle MacLachlan or Daniel Whitehall? Kyle gets very upset at the suggestion that Raina is more afraid of the immortal Nazi than she is of him. Which makes him look a little petulant and un-scary, so Whitehall wins this round.

    Did anyone else think the poison in this episode was turning people into Thanos? The dead sailors that open the episode drink deadly champagne that turns their mouths purple-blue and skull-ish, and it looked very Thanosian to me. An army of Thanosi in cute sailor uniforms; it's what the world needs right now.

    Is Skye an alien, an Inhuman, a Moloid, or the Beyonder? She's one of those. I think she's Shatterstar. (The Kree warrior, not the Mojoworld mutant clone. Marvel would do anything just to piss off Fox.)