Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Coulson’s Secrets Come Out From “The Writing On The Wall!”

The Good: Moments of character, Decent performances, Good plot progression
The Bad: Still a bit light on the character front
The Basics: "The Writing On The Wall" affords viewers some decent answers regarding the alien writing Coulson has been plagued by, while setting up the next big conflict for his S.H.I.E.L.D. team!

The return of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. comes at the right time; Marvel and DC’s entertainment divisions have been doing a press war for the past two weeks with almost daily announcements about their upcoming projects. Perhaps the most hopeful rumor for fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes from the branch that is most likely to affect Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Captain America 3 is currently slated to be Civil War, based on the graphic novel by the same name (reviewed here!). For those of us who are fans of that corner of the Marvel Universe, the idea that the Civil War plotline might begin in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. adds a fun new dimension to watching Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Watching for clues is a joy, though as “The Writing On The Wall” begins, it is clear that the show is not there yet.

Instead, “The Writing On The Wall” focuses on resolving or progressing some of the big, enduring mysteries of the series. Given that Ward managed a pretty obvious escape at the climax of “A Fractured House” (reviewed here!) and Agent Coulson has been suffering from the effects of being resurrected in order to make Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. work (with a recognizable character). “The Writing On The Wall” is a tight episode that moves things forward for Coulson and his storyline, while still relying heavily on serialized elements from prior episodes. Indeed, those who might not have seen “T.A.H.I.T.I.” (reviewed here!) and “The Magical Place” (reviewed here!) from season one, will be largely lost watching “The Writing On The Wall.”

While May is out hunting for Ward, Skye monitors Coulson as he once again carves the alien symbols on the wall. May and Tripplett actually manage to find Ward, but he is carrying C-4 in a public place when they track him down. Skye and Coulson’s search for the truth behind his experience with the GH serum leads the pair to upstate New York, where Janice Robbins is murdered and crime scene photos show the alien writing carved into her body. Robbins is actually a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent named Stevens and Coulson quickly discovers that she, too, was a test subject for GH-325. With May using Morse and Hunter to actually tail Ward, Coulson uses her absence to Stevens was one of six patients who Coulson monitored as part of the T.A.H.I.T.I. project. Pushed near his breaking point using Raina’s memory machine, Coulson recalls how all six patients reacted after the alien blood was administered and what happened when each started writing the alien text or even seeing it. Dr. Goodman advises Coulson to simply wipe the memories of each of the patients. Coulson and Skye realize that there are only two T.A.H.I.T.I. patients left; one who is the next victim and the other who is the killer erasing the evidence of the GH-325 tests.

As Ward meets with the H.Y.D.R.A. hierarchy, Skye tells Coulson that Hank Thompson is the nearest surviving T.A.H.I.T.I. patient and Coulson locks her in Ward’s cell and runs off to find Hank. As Coulson tracks down Hank, May’s team gets Whitehall’s right hand man. Coulson, though, finds himself at the mercy of Sebastian when it turns out he made it to Hank first. Sebastian tortures Coulson to try to find out the secrets of the alien writing. Hank is given information on his former identity, Cameron Klein, after Coulson and Sebastian actually achieve their goal!

“The Writing On The Wall” is very focused on revealing the plot secrets that have existed beyond the simple mechanics of how Coulson was resurrected. Coulson’s resurrection had to be explored in season one, but the answer for the first season was simply to explore the mechanics of how Coulson was returned from the dead. The second season is working harder to explore the effects of the resurrection. “The Writing On The Wall” continues the assertion that the GH-325 used to resurrect Skye and Coulson comes with a disastrous price. Coulson is getting worse and worse, while Skye’s immunity to the side effects raises more questions about her identity.

When it is not focused on Coulson, “The Writing On The Wall” is very plot-centered on Ward the escapee. With Ward in the wind, it is refreshing that the show devotes so much time to hunting him as he represents the greatest traitor to Coulson’s team so far and May has a personal stake in recovering him. In the process, the episode peppers the new tech team dynamic; with Simmons back and estranged from Fitz, Mac acts as Fitz’s best friend. And Mac is cool in “The Writing On The Wall;” he realizes that Fitz should still have all he needs in his head, even if he can’t access it now. Of course “The Writing On The Wall” begs the question: why hasn’t Coulson and his team used the memory machine on Fitz?!

Even as “The Writing On The Wall” resolves a decent chunk of Coulson’s mystery, it peppers the new direction for Ward. The moment Brett Dalton was retained on the cast for Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., it was pretty obvious that Dalton’s Ward would not remain a prisoner of Coulson’s team for very long. Now running around free, Ward is not given the chance to develop or grow, though the seeds of his arc seem to be planted in “The Writing On The Wall.”

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has a mediocre record with resolving its lingering mysteries, but “The Writing On The Wall” has a satisfying pay-off. The alien writing idea came up exceptionally late in the first season and the final resolution to the concept is pretty cool. That makes “The Writing On The Wall” a worthwhile episode of the series, even if it is not the most intense episode on any front.

For other works with Joel Gretsch, please visit my reviews of:
V - Season 2
V - Season 1
The 4400 - Season 1
Minority Report

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - The Complete Second Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophomore season here!


For other television reviews, please check out my Movie And Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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