Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: The Magical Place (1×11)

Summary: With Coulson missing, the team works in their own ways to find and rescue him. Meanwhile, Coulson discovers the truth behind his recovery.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Wow. Just… wow.

I know that we all had our theories about what happened to Coulson after he died and how he managed to recover, but I didn’t expect the answer to be kind of terrifying.

We’ll get to that in a bit, because really, this episode is less about the truth behind Coulson living and more of how awesome the team is.

With Coulson missing and Mike Peterson presumed dead (which I was muttering “Nonono” at for the entire episode), the Bus is on high alert to try and recover him and find Centipede. Meaning that it is swarming with S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and Victoria “Possibly Evil” Hand taking the reins for the time being. Much to annoyance of the team since they’re not used to so many agents being on board, but especially to the annoyance of Skye. She keeps trying her hardest to hack into criminal dealer Vanchat’s financial records and find out more information about Centipede, but her bracelet keeps locking her (and all the computers on the Bus) out. Damn S.H.I.E.L.D. EVERY computer in her proximity? That’s cold.

Seeing her as useless to the operation, Hand orders Skye off the Bus and into S.H.I.E.L.D. custody for debriefing until the mission is over. Skye argues for herself, but Hand won’t hear it. Ward tries to argue for her as her SO and it seems to have a little sway over Hand, but she still asks for May’s opinion over if Skye is useful to the mission. May says no, and Hand carries out her original order. Damn Melinda, that’s even colder. Especially with how harsh you were in the last episode to Skye. And yes, she hasn’t forgotten that.

Ward escorts Skye off of the Bus as she complains about May and how she could find Coulson. Ward lets her know that he believes her and what she can do, even without her usual resources. Right then is when FitzSimmons come over and secretly hand her a satellite phone that will only work once before the bracelet shuts it down. Skye doesn’t understand since she’s about to be “spending three days in a S.H.I.E.L.D. broom closet.” Ward lets her know that her pickup isn’t happening for another twelve minutes and wishes her good luck.

You know what that means? If you guessed Skye going slightly rogue to find Coulson in the best storyline the character has had so far this season, you guessed right!

Skye starts off in a coffee shop, assuming that maybe if she types with one hand, she can get some way into finding out. However, the bracelet messes with the wi-fi and locks down every device in the shop. Frustrated, Skye walks to the nearest newsstand for ideas of where to start. She sees an article in a financial magazine about a guy named Lloyd Rathman who’s being questioned about offshore accounts and decides to follow that hunch.

With the purchasing of a sweet leather jacket and a clever ploy at being the owner of his vehicle as he leaves it for valet parking, Skye steals Rathman’s car and gets to work. The plan seems to be over before it starts since her bracelet locks down the car’s GPS that would take her to Rathman’s home, but she realizes the car has OnStar and that the program is likely outside of the lockdown limits. This leads to her running the car into a water barrel median to test her theory, and lo and behold, it works! OnStar asks if she needs assistance, and she asks if she can get towed to her home address. They say yes and immediately get to work. One part of Skye’s brilliant plan down.

At Rathman’s home, Skye uses one of his golf clubs to dial his office. She tell his secretary that his car was stolen and that there are two LAPD officers at his home ready to take a statement. Rathman walks in sometime later, but to Skye in that sweet leather jacket and aviators claiming that she’s Melinda May with S.H.I.E.L.D. She tells him that she believes some of his clients are siphoning money to do bad things and that S.H.I.E.L.D. will be prepared to freeze his assets if he’s making a profit. She offers him immunity if he doesn’t call his lawyer and helps her with what she needs. Which is, of course, using his corporate ID to get her into the door of a private Swiss bank account. He asks to see her badge, which leads to Skye locking down his phone in a clever ploy. As she’s dressing him down of all his various money issues, Rathman’s private security comes in, but Skye manages to take them out with her basic training from Ward. Rathman finally agrees to help her, but probably so he doesn’t get his ass kicked later.

The problem with that is though is that Rathman is so computer illiterate that he can’t follow Skye’s instructions on how to get into his account. In a classic Whedon moment, Skye has one of the security guards do it. She looks into Vanchat’s account to see who’s been paying him, and if she can find them. No surprise, Raina’s in there and Skye gets what she wants. Her last request of Rathman before she leaves though is to take his Lamborghini with the license plate “$BLSYAL.” Because this guy is classy, but hey, a Lamborghini is a Lamborghini.

As she drives to find the location, Skye calls the Bus to let them know she has a lead on Coulson. May asks her what she found.

Meanwhile, on the Bus, Vanchat was refusing to talk to Hand’s “best interrogator,” so Ward relieves him to take care of things. In a move that would make Nick Fury shed a single tear, Ward straps himself in and has Fitz and Simmons open up a hole in the roof of the plane to threaten Vanchat with getting thrown out if he doesn’t talk. He agrees, after about 30 seconds of hanging on for dear life.

Hey, I'd threaten to pull a Laura Roslin on this guy too. [abc.go.com]
Hey, I’d threaten to pull a Laura Roslin on this guy too. [abc.go.com]
Vanchat spills the beans on every Centipede location that exists and the Bus sets course for Sydney as strike teams are sent out all over the world. Hand pulls Ward aside and asks if they have a problem, considering his unorthodox and permission-less way of interrogating and the fact Skye never reached her debriefing. She then begins to muse on how much has been done to recover a single level 8 operative, that she’s had calls from Fury and Hill, and that there’s no way that one single agent is that important. Ward states that Coulson is, and walks off.

Alright everyone, I want you to remember the fact Fury is super intent on finding Coulson, because it’s not only important to the end of this episode, but probably the rest of the season and maybe for Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Ward goes to May and asks her why she didn’t stick up for Skye, mentioning all the times she’s been an asset to the team. May says that she was just telling Hand the truth, and that Skye would not have been at her best to the team with a ton of agents breathing down her neck. She needed to be off the plane. With a slight smile, May tells Ward not to expect the worst of her. Right then, May gets an order to turn the plane around and head to the Mojave desert where one of Centipede’s helicopters has been spotted. As the team begins to plan how to deal with Centipede soldiers, Skye calls with her lead. You also learn that her safe word with Simmons for compromising situations is “manscaping.” I wonder how that even comes about, but I like to imagine they got it from watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine during downtime.

The team informs Hand of Skye’s lead and that they’re going after it. Hand realizes she’s been played by the team, especially by May, but she lets them go without much argument.

Ward does everything in this entire episode with only eight fingers and hair like Dr. Ethan Haas. [abc.go.com]
Ward does everything in this entire episode with only eight fingers and hair like Dr. Ethan Haas. [abc.go.com]
Convening in a creepy property in the middle of the desert, the team splits up and begins to look for Coulson/fight off the Centipede soldiers on the property. There’s not much luck until Skye here’s Coulson screaming and finds the room he’s being kept in with Raina. She punches out that girl in the flower dress and finds Coulson on the table muttering, “Please let me die.” May unplugs the machine, and Skye goes to Coulson, asking him to come back. It’s kind of emotional, considering how much Skye has bonded with him and the thing Coulson was going through right then.

So what was Coulson going through?

For most of the episode, Po was torturing Coulson with use of cattle prods and a machine that extracts memories from the user in order to find out what happened to him after he died. Coulson, refusing to let Po get to him or reveal classified S.H.I.E.L.D. intelligence, only replays a memory of Tahiti where he was receiving a massage and a man comes to his table with drinks. This frustrates Po, who continues to try and break Coulson.

There were no pictures of Coulson in the promo gallery, so have some May kicking ass. [abc.go.com]
There were no pictures of Coulson in the promo gallery, so have some May kicking ass. [abc.go.com]
Coulson tries to escape once with use of tweezers and spy tactics, but doesn’t get very far when he sees he’s in a nuclear test town in the middle of no where. Basically, he wouldn’t get very far before he got dragged back.

Sometime during Po’s latest interrogation that’s going nowhere, Raina arrives and begins to argue with Po about how he’s treating Coulson. Po pulls the trump card of “The Clairvoyant says that this is how it’s going to be done, so suck it,” but as soon as he does, he gets a call from the Clairvoyant themselves. They ask to speak to Raina, who’s eyes light up like Christmas as she has a brief conversation with her distant boss. She hands the phone back to Po, who then totally gets Stane’d. Y’know? When Obidaiah Stane totally used that illegal Stark tech in the first Iron Man movie to freeze Tony and steal the arc reactor? Yeah, that’s kind of what happens to Po but over the phone and with more death. Raina takes the phone and takes charge of the mission.

Coulson begins to speak to Raina about what’s happening, her history with the people she’s previously been friendly to dying, and refusing to give up classified intel. Raina tells him that they’re not looking for international secrets. The Clairvoyant already knows that shit. The Clairvoyant just wants to know why Coulson is alive after dying, and that if he just “surfs” on the theta waves coming from the machine, he’ll know too. He’ll know why he’s alive, and why S.H.I.E.L.D. is keeping it secret. Coulson tries to grin and bear it, mentioning that he trusts the system. Raina further drives the knife in by mentioning his family and the Cellist. Seriously, with as much as she’s been mentioned in the past few episodes, I wonder if we’re ever going to meet this mysterious and wonderful Cellist in Portland.

Really, I think Melinda May being better than everyone really breaks the tension. [abc.go.com]
Really, I think Melinda May being better than everyone really breaks the tension. [abc.go.com]
It makes Coulson emotional, but he doesn’t break until Raina says “Tahiti” and Coulson responds back with, “It’s a magical place.” He pauses, and says he keeps doing that. Raina asks if he wants to know why, and with a brief amount of thought, he tells her to turn the machine on.

I’m about to get into the big reveal, but there’s an interesting moment that makes me wonder if they’ll come back to it in a future episode. Before Raina starts her process of getting Phil’s memories, he asks her what’s with all the flowers. She responds with, “Who doesn’t like flowers? I’m glad you noticed.” Which is kind of peculiar, but it makes me believe that there is more significance to those flowers than Raina is letting on. Make a note for future episodes.

So the process begins back at the memory Coulson replayed at the beginning, but as Raina instructs him further to look at the details, it begins to break down. Instead of the waiter, he sees Dr. Streiten (Ron Glass) and the voice of the masseuse changes into another woman’s, mentioning Director Fury. The memory begins to flicker away from Tahiti and to a dark operating room with Streiten and another doctor. Streiten is shouting about what they’re doing is wrong and demands to know who ordered this, and the woman says it was Director Fury himself.

As Coulson gets further into the memory, he has flashes of seeing his blood, Director Fury standing over him as he died, his body bag being zipped up, and various other medical things before it slams back into the memory of Streiten and the other doctor operating on him. Coulson looks up to see that they’re operating on his brain with some machine, and begins to cry out for them to let him die.

This is when Skye and May break in and break him off from the machine.

Really, I feel more relaxed seeing May here. [abc.go.com]
Really, I feel more relaxed seeing May here. [abc.go.com]
With Raina now in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody to be questioned of her knowledge of Coulson’s life and Coulson back in his suit, Hand turns operations of the Bus back over to him and gives him an update on the Centipede takedown. She admits the Bus isn’t really her style and leaves with a handshake.

The team surrounds Coulson as Hand leaves. He thanks them for what they did, then tells them to get back to work. Of course they do with a smile, but Skye stays behind as Coulson addresses what she did for him. He decides it’s time for her bracelet to come off, which does so with a vocal command of “Disengage bracelet.” That doesn’t amuse her very much, but Skye doesn’t dwell on it as she asks Coulson about what happened. He tells her that they were just messing with his head and that he didn’t find anything out. Y’know, mostly not to worry her.

Later, we see Dr. Streiten getting into his car and Coulson sitting in the backseat waiting for him. He lets him know that he knows about Tahiti.

This is then where I like to play the game “Can Ron Glass Make Me Cry Again?” The rule is simple. I only win if Ron Glass fails to make me cry in a scene of emotional intensity. Considering how many times I’ve cried at Book’s death in Serenity, I do not win this game very often. I did not win this game watching the episode.

Streiten, in a scene where he can’t even look Coulson in the eye to tell him all of this, tells him that he was dead for days after he was killed by Loki. However, Director Fury “moved Heaven and Earth” to bring Coulson back and ordered a series of surgeries “that no good doctor would ever allow.” Streiten was brought in on the seventh. The surgery that Coulson remembers was the one where they kept him conscious to monitor his brain activity, but it was so painful for him that he lost his will to live. The memories of Tahiti were implanted to give Coulson his former self back instead of a man broken by the trauma he endured at Fury’s command. Streiten sincerely apologizes for what he did, but Coulson just leaves the car without another word and leaves the doctor to his thoughts.

May wouldn't play you like that, Phil. [abc.go.com]
May wouldn’t play you like that, Phil. [abc.go.com]
Well, there we have it. We know how Coulson survived getting stabbed in the heart by the King of Little Shits everywhere, but we don’t know why. Why did Director Fury order all of this instead of letting Coulson die? He got what he needed out of Coulson dying. Why move Heaven and Earth to bring back one agent? Fury alluded that Coulson was his “good eye” in The Avengers, but why is Coulson so important to him that he’d rather lie to everyone about his death to bring him back to life? Is Fury power crazy or is Coulson just a piece of a bigger puzzle?

All I’m saying is that I need a Fury and Hill centric episode and for The Winter Soldier to come out to see S.H.I.E.L.D. go down in flames stat. Dear Christ, is it April yet?

Since we are in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we get one last surprise in the episode: Mike is alive! However, he’s severely burned, missing a leg, and being held somewhere unknown. To keep throwing hit-fuel on the awesome fire though, we see that he’s been implanted with the eye camera from Hell that might kill him if he doesn’t follow orders. Awesome. Just leave me to scream into the night then.

Well, that was ‘The Magical Place.’ It’s an intense world building episode that really shows the horrors that S.H.I.E.L.D. will sink to in order to get its way. I have a feeling that this is going to be one of those episodes where the repercussions are felt for a while. However, it was also an episode where Skye got to be awesome and show how much she has grown since she first appeared. Way to be awesome, Skye!

Which I guess is why the next episode deals with her past. Great. I’ll just start preparing for the emotional gut punch now then.

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