A confirmed Secret Warrior! An obscure villain! A classic piece of Marvel tech! And DID YOU NOTICE WHAT SHOWED UP FOR A SPLIT SECOND FROM THE AVENGERS MOVIE?! Oh dang, let’s dive in.
I loved this episode, though a large part of that may be due to how many great nods to the Marvel Universe (i.e. the comics) and the Marvel Cinematic Universe were in this episode. Not forced in, but popped in quite nicely to compliment the story. We need more of this!
The Story Thus Far: As the “Fallen Agent” storyline commences, the ancient Inhuman Hive has infected Agent Daisy Johnson, making her a threat to SHIELD and the world. Now it’s a race against time as the team has to find a way to save their friend and stop the destruction of humanity!
Comic Connections in “The Singularity”
After Daisy brought down the house last episode, SHIELD’s on clean-up. In a really long (and very cool) continuous shot, we learn Coulson was severely wounded (necessitating crutches), the hangar doors won’t open (necessitating a sideways takeoff), Joey and Elena have been sent to the Cocoon for safekeeping (Nick Fury’s Secret Base #17, first seen in “Chaos Theory,” and the Secret Warriors’ comic book headquarters). It’s nice to see the Cocoon mentioned again, since the Secret Warriors are nominally part of this season, though one would have to wonder how effective a hiding place it would be, since Daisy was the one who set up the Cocoon as their base.
We learn a bit more about Hive’s infections, as Simmons has perfected a way to test for it, and learned it works like an addiction, upping levels of dopamine in the brains of Inhumans, causing them to feel euphoric at Hive’s commands, and heightens any existing emotional connections. Also, for plot reasons, the team’s trademark, non-lethal ICER weapons have no effect on those affected by Hive.
Realizing Hive will recruit other known Inhumans first (though interestingly, he didn’t have Daisy bring him Lash), the team seeks out Alisha Whitley, the Multiple Man-like Inhuman from the Afterlife. Like Jamie Madrox, Alisha can make multiple dupes, but the “original” maintains control, and she can feel whenever one of her dupes dies. Unlike Madrox, thankfully for May, she doesn’t duplicate when hit. Coulson sends Lincoln to help retrieve Alisha, but requires him to wear a vest armed with nanothermites that will detonate on May’s command if Hive compromises him – a murdervest. Dang, that’s the same way Agent Carter’s boss Chief Dooley died in the first season of her series. May rightfully points out that Coulson is willing to sacrifice Lincoln, an Inhuman he barely knows, but unwilling to harm Daisy, his surrogate daughter. Although Coulson eventually agrees with her, they were too late to save Alisha, who willingly shoots her own double under Hive’s control.
Hey, speaking of Hive and Daisy, what’s up with that crazy couple? Back in Agents of SHIELD season one, it seemed like Ward and Skye (aka Skyeward) were going to be a thing, but neither character connected with audiences as much as the show’s creators hoped. Two seasons later, Skye is a badass as the Inhuman called Daisy Johnson, and Ward became the villain we loved-to-hate before being possessed by Hive. Nice transition, TV show makers! Anyway, Daisy is inherently creeped out by her old SO (senior officer) Ward, but her “addiction” to Hive wins out; she even tells him about her lost-found-and-lost-again parents, the Inhuman leader of Afterlife Jiaying and the modified human Mr. Hyde.
For his part, Hive claims to be one of the first Inhumans (if not the first), and that he plans to spread his infection to the world, creating one organism for all humanity. This isn’t the first time single-celled organisms have tried to take over the Marvel Universe. Not counting alien invaders like the Brethren, there are two (or maybe one?) really powerful entities that claim to be older than humanity itself: That Which Endures and Sublime. In both cases, the bacteria emerged prior to humanity, then piggy-backed inside of various humans throughout history, slowly guiding humans from time to time (including creating the Weapon Plus program, that gave us Captain America, Wolverine, and Deadpool). By the modern era, the bacteria decided to take over the earth outright, bringing them into conflict with major supergroups (West Coast Avengers and the X-Men respectively).
Daisy and Hive head to James in his South Dakota compound. The Aussie calls Ward “the Latin” and Daisy “Flowers,” which make for interesting nicknames, but realizing they need him both as a recruit and for the hidden part of Hive’s Kree machine (which Hive says is “the only thing that can destroy me“), the expose James to Terrigenesis. He emerges from his Cocoon with the power to imbue anything he touches with fiery, explosive energy. He goes through several suggested codenames, starting with Inferno (who is a new Inhuman that can imbue himself, not other things, with fiery energy), then considers Firestarter (but it’s a little too 90s, despite being best-known as the title of an 80s book and movie), then Burning Man (the real world hippy fest that was the setting of a memorable X-Force issue), Mack suggests Blowhard (a little-seen mutant in Marvel), James considers Scorch (there’s a few forgettable characters by this name; EDIT: Thanks to Alexander Hammil who reminds us that “Scorch” was also a Registered Gifted from season one!), then finally seems to settle on Hellfire. Okay, so this seems to be as much confirmation as any that James is James T. James, aka Hellfire of the Secret Warriors. Now, Hellfire has a rocky history with Daisy and the Secret Warriors in the comics, both with and against the team, but what’s most interesting is that he’s not an Inhuman in comics, but inherited his demonic-based powers genetically from his ancestor, the Ghost Rider of the Old West! Just because he’s Australian and an Inhuman in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that doesn’t negate the possibility that this is still true. Some Inhumans (and mutants for that matter) have had powers tied to magic – heck one of the supporting characters in the current Patsy Walker aka Hellcat series is an Inhuman with magical telekinesis. Now James just needs to get his trademark metal chain.
Playing catchup to Daisy and Hive, Coulson and May reach the compound just in time to see it destroyed by the last of James’ explosives. Coulson only survives by revealing that his prosthetic arm has a photonic shield. Freakin’ bad ass. Photonic shields have a long history in the Marvel Universe. The first to carry one was John “USAgent” Walker back in his Force Works days, then Steve “Captain America” Rogers had one when his classic shield was temporarily destroyed, then John Walker carried a half-metal, half-photonic shield when he was working with project STARS, then Rikki “Nomad” Barnes carried one… anyway, it’s a proud, patriotic tradition.
At its most basic, a photonic shield does exactly what Coulson used it for: it takes one predetermined shape and can withstand a lot of damage (though not as much as Cap’s classic shield). More advanced photonic shields can change shape and size slightly, allowing the user to protect more specific areas, groups of people, or even form weapons like a bo staff or bundi blade. Photonic shields can even be shot out as energy blasts that retain their shape before making impact.
Fun Fact: The energy shield Steve Rogers used was given to an alternate future android freedom fighter!
Okay, so where’s the other side story… oh yeah…
Fitz-Simmons are sent to Bucharest, Romania, to track down former Transia scientist from Scotland, Dr. Holden Radcliffe. It seems – in a plot very familiar to fans of Orphan Black – Radcliffe is the guru of a transhumanist movement of people who want to become “designer humans” (as James calls them), modifying their bodies genetically and technologically. He and his heavily modified assistant Anon hide in an underground Eastern European club (formerly used to hide countercultures from the soviets). Fitz-Simmons hoped to bluff their way in by offering modified versions of Cybertek’s ocular technology, similar to Deathlok’s eyeball. Radcliffe is a rather minor villain who only appeared in an interesting but forgotten Marvel series called Machine Teen, about an android very similar to X-51 the Machine Man fighting for his freedom while billionaire scientist Radcliffe wants his techno-secrets for himself. Personality-wise however, the TV Radcliffe owes a lot to major Marvel villain the High Evolutionary (the guy responsible for mucking up Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch’s parentage), who was a human that heavily modified himself and is obsessed with modifying humanity. In fact, “Anon” was the name used by the Evolutionary’s loyal protector and one of his failed experiments.
While the agents hoped Radcliffe’s research could help them defeat Hive, the ancient Inhuman had other plans. Daisy and Hive personally take Radcliffe while scaring the bejeebus out of Fitz-Simmons. May had earlier given Simmons a gun just in case, and sure enough, she got to use it on Hive (mimicking her dead lover Will), just as she’d always promised she would do to Ward. Eventually they escape (or are let go) and return to Mack. Interestingly, while Mack has nicknames for everyone, Fitz seems to have one for Mack: Big-and-Strong. Not as catchy as “Tremors,” but hey. Oh, and Fitz-Simmons finally reach the singularity of their relationship – hot and sciencey!
Hive now has several Inhumans working for him – Giyera, Daisy, James, and Alisha – and seems to be enticing Radcliffe to help him recreate the Kree experiment that made a limited number of early humans into potential Inhumans. To give him room to work, Hive used Malick’s money to buy an entire town. Spooky! Wonder if it’ll be called Pleasant Hill?
Oh, and remember how I just said about last episode that Hydra seems to keep coming back after being totally eradicated? Well, they totally eradicate it again through Operation Decap. It seems the mourning Malick gave SHIELD tons of valuable info, so Talbot’s ATCU uses it to cut off the various heads of Hydra (metaphorically), thus completely wiping out Hydra’s infrastructure. Again. Coulson finds it a hollow victory with everything else going on, but did you notice the even more important thing going on in that scene? Coulson has the blood-soaked Captain America cards from the Avengers movie! It’s blink-or-you’ll-miss-it, but there they are! I need to get me a set.
Next Week: Dude, where’s my Kree?