For those audience members craving more Marvel Comics connections, the past two weeks of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had you covered. “Providence” introduced us to two new iterations of classic Marvel Universe characters: Agent Eric Koenig, in a radical re-imagining as Patton Oswalt, and an extremely traditional interpretation of Colonel Glenn Talbot by Adrian Pasdar (this is the character’s second live-action appearance, having been played by Josh Lucas in Ang Lee’s Hulk). Then last week’s “The Only Light in the Darkness” introduced Marcus Daniels, better-known to readers as Blackout, played by Patrick Brennan (this is also this character’s second screen appearance, after showing up in the film Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance – but that was a completely different character, really), plus we discovered that Agent Triplett (B.J. Britt) is the grandson of Howling Commando Gabe Jones (Derek Luke). And all the action here is direct fall-out from the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D. in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. You asked for it, you got it. The creative minds behind this show clearly listened to what the extremely vocal disappointed fans were saying about the opening episodes, and as we got closer to that original 13-episode order completion there were already signs of change. And since we’ve moved past that to the new episodes written after the full-season was a lock, things have only gotten more and more fan-servicey. And while I enjoyed the early episodes, their Knight Rider / Six-Million Dollar Man level of action and overall lack of consequence were a creative hindrance, keeping the show in a more child-friendly lockbox that drove away potential adult fans. Whether that was a result of broader-audience targeting from the get-go, or a by-product of having to wait for the new Captain America film to debut, is probably impossible to establish at this point. Regardless, for the past few episodes, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has become a very different show, with more mature themes and events that have actual repercussions. It’s not being grim and gritty for its own sake or to pander to disgruntled fans. It’s been drawn directly into the Post-S.H.I.E.L.D. world of the Marvel Movie Universe with everything that entails. And I am glad they finally got there. Introducing a toned-down Deathlok (J. August Richards) was a nice start, and bringing in Agent Garrett (Bill Paxton) was a great improvement, but revealing HYDRA as the Big Bad behind everything they’ve faced so far gives the surviving agents a strong focus going forward – especially going forward without their S.H.I.E.L.D. back-up. The mistrust between the characters plays as a natural outgrowth of the HYDRA reveal, with Coulson (Clark Gregg) not able to reconcile both the betrayal of Garrett and May (Ming-Na Wen) keeping tabs on him — despite that being a direct order from Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). We can only imagine how he’ll react when he discovers Ward (Brett Dalton) is also working for HYDRA. Ward has suddenly become a much more interesting character due to this revelation, and while he was separated from the team for “Providence,” when he arrives back on the scene in “The Only Light in the Darkness” there’s an immediate ratcheting up of tensions (for the audience, anyway). It’s still too early to tell how much of Ward’s S.H.I.E.L.D. agent persona is “real” and whether or not his feelings for Skye (Chloe Bennet) are “real,” but that dissonance provides a nice conflicted area for Dalton to play that makes Ward interesting for pretty much the first time. The major conflict in “Providence” also echoes events from the comics as HYDRA breaks out all of the prisoners S.H.I.E.L.D. had locked up in the Fridge, providing our heroes with a Raison d’être as the show moves forward. So, immediately after the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D., HYDRA has armed itself with all the stray tech S.H.I.E.L.D. had in storage (looks like launching that stuff into orbit was a fairy-tale), released an army of super-villains into the wild (including turning their secret stash of Gravitonium – with Dr. Franklin Hall trapped inside—over to Ian Quinn (David Conrad)), and have possible access to all of the secret research Coulson’s team had done, stored on an encrypted hard drive. Our heroes, in that same time, are on the run from Colonel Talbot and the U.S. Army, and have holed up at a secret base manned only by Patton Oswalt. Talk about stacking the odds against your heroes. Episode 19, “The Only Light in the Darkness,” put the agents back in the field as one of the villains freed in last episode’s jailbreak makes a b-line for his old obsession, a certain cellist named Audrey Nathan (played by the always welcome Whedon-alum Amy Acker). So much for all those theories that Coulson’s cellist girlfriend would end up being the Scarlet Witch. Instead, she’s the target of Blackout’s obsession and Coulson risks revealing that he’s still alive in order to save her (which echoes how they met in the first place, years earlier). It’s cheesy and silly, leading up to a whole “he’s watching over me” moment, but wasn’t too terrible. I don’t know if that’s just because of my crushes on Acker and Gregg, so take that as you will. The real meat of the episode was back at Providence, where Agent Koenig’s lie detector test forces Ward to figure out a way to cheat it on the fly, covering up his actual mission goal (get Skye to decode the hard drive) by playing up his “romantic” feelings for her. Then, once the rest of the team lights out after Blackout, he’s able to start seriously working on seducing Skye (once Koenig is out of the way – Patton, I miss you already!). Skye catches on pretty quickly to what’s up, to her and our horror, and after a genuinely tense few moments as she hides from Ward, she comes up with a plan of action: pretending she doesn’t know Ward is HYDRA. Unfortunately, that leads to the two of them abandoning Providence (taking the Bus) for a destination known only to Skye (the decryption of the hard drive is location-triggered – sneaky, sneaky). This leaves us with a pretty effective cliffhanger, as the rest of the team arrive back at base and wonder where Ward, Skye, and the plane have gone. Somewhere in all of that, Agent May split, called her mom (Tsai Chin) to come pick her up (on a lonely Canadian road in the middle of Nowheresville, Canada), and the two of them set out to find Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders). Because, of course, May’s mom used to be a secret agent, too. Agent May’s sort of awesome doesn’t just happen out of the blue. She’s a second-generation bad-ass. Agents of SHIELD 1.18 “Providence” & 1.19 “The Only Light in the Darkness”"Providence""The Only Light in the Darkness"4.0Overall ScoreShare this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Noonie It actually IS a different Blackout. Multiple dudes in the comics with the same code name. http://marvel.wikia.com/Blackout_%28Lilin%29_%28Earth-616%29 vs http://marvel.wikia.com/Marcus_Daniels_%28Earth-616%29 Paul Brian McCoy Interesting! I had no idea they were two different characters. Thanks! Shawn EH I loved May’s mom’s advice: “You want to meet with Maria Hill, or take her out?” Fair question, I’d guess.