Ever since Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. began, fans have been wondering how Agent Phil Coulson came back from the dead. Some were saying he’s an android, a Life Model Decoy, or even a clone. This week, we finally get some answers- at least most of them. However, the episode is bogged down by too much talk and not enough action.
Last time, Coulson was grabbed by Raina and Edison Po from Centipede. They want to know how Coulson was resurrected, because that may lead to super-soldiers that can’t be killed. Mike Peterson, an ex-super-soldier working for S.H.I.E.L.D, was blown to bits… or so it seems.
“The Magical Place” starts 36 hours later. A rich guy named Van Chat (Aiden Turner) tries to sell Chitauri metal, but he’s stopped by a S.H.I.E.L.D. Roomba and the rest of the gang doing what they do best. As he tries to escape, he’s stopped by Victoria Hand (Saffron Burrows), who asks nicely if he can help find a friend. Namely Coulson.
However, it looks like she’s more interested in bringing down Centipede than finding Coulson. She’s puzzled why everyone is so interesting in finding him, especially Maria Hill and Nick Fury. She’s also a stickler for protocol, and doesn’t want Skye hacking the S.H.I.E.L.D. computer system to find him. She winds up getting tossed off the Bus and the mission. Ward disagrees but May also wants Skye off the Bus. Thanks to some fancy footwork, Skye is “allowed” to escape, but her access to computers is severely limited.
Coulson’s being held in an abandoned bomb site in the Mojave Desert. Po (Cullen Douglas) and Raina (Ruth Negga) are taking desperate measures to get Coulson to remember what happened in Tahiti, the “magical place.” All they’re getting is false memories S.H.I.E.L.D. gave him. What they use, however, is memories of Coulson’s life, including losing his family, that were supposedly gathered by The Clairvoyant. What this Clairvoyant couldn’t get is why Coulson isn’t dead.
There’s really not much action on the Bus or where Coulson’s held hostage. There’s a lot of talking and torturing. Ward’s style of interrogation is effective, though.
Skye pulls some sweet moves to infiltrate the home of financial bigwig Lloyd Rathman (Ron Heubel), who did business with Van Chat. She thinks she can prove Centipede did business with Van Chat by getting into his Swiss bank account. Thanks to some fast talking, including threatening to send Rathman to “The Fridge,” she’s able to hack his computer, with some assistance, and send the proof back to the Bus. This is where Chloe Bennett really shines, showing how Skye can be a valuable asset to S.H.I.E.L.D, rather than a burden. Her Melinda May impression isn’t bad, either.
Speaking of which, May explains to Ward that she wanted Skye off the Bus so Skye could find Coulson without any S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, Hand especially, snooping around. As she tells Ward, “You don’t have to assume the worst of me.” Skye does find out Centipede bought desert land from Van Chat, and that’s where Coulson’s being held.
Meanwhile, Po and Raina argue over how Coulson’s being interrogated. He gets a call from the Clairvoyant, who then wants to talk to Raina. She’s excited about this, then gives the phone to Po- which promptly kills him. She uses this chance to convince Coulson to use the machine to find out the truth about what happened after Loki stabbed him, and maybe switch sides, too. She does what she did to Mike Peterson and Chan Ho Yin to get the into the web of Centipede: give them what they want. It’s a battle between her sweet words that condemn S.H.I.E.L.D. and Coulson’s faith in SHIELD and why it decided to keep the truth from him. When she mentions the cellist he once loved, he falters. Ruth Negga has the femme fatale role down cold.
Where was Coulson, if not in a “magical place?” He finally remembers he was in a hospital, where Dr. Streiten (Ron Glass) did very radical surgery ordered by Fury. It included rewiring Coulson’s brain, while he begged to die. That’s why he remembers the magical place instead. Seeing that surgery will give anyone flashbacks to the “Ariel” episode from Firefly, where Simon found out how government doctors scarred River’s brain. It’s that chilling.
The S.H.I.E.L.D. crew does find Coulson, and Skye gets the opportunity to slug Raina. Ward and May deal with the Centipede soldiers with a new drug, which works quite well. Raina is arrested, and Centipede outposts are being found. At least Hand’s happy about that. The Clairvoyant is still missing, though.
Coulson frees Skye of the Bracelet, but she asks him if he learned anything about what happened. He claims it wasn’t real, that they were “messing with my head.”
Still, he does visit Streiten, and asks about what happened. Streiten admits Coulson was really dead for days, and at least seven radical operations had to be done to save him from catastrophic trauma. “You lost your will to live,” he tells Coulson, “We tried to give it back.” After that, Coulson leaves, but this isn’t over.
Neither is this episode. A man finds himself in a cell. He is scarred. He finds his right leg is missing up to the knee. He says “Hello, anybody there?” He looks at a mirror, then sees something coming from one of his eyes: “Good morning, Mr. Petersen. Stand by for further instructions.”
While this week’s episode wasn’t filled with action, it did have Skye proving her worth, while Peterson becomes a more vulnerable pawn in Centipede’s war against S.H.I.E.L.D. Coulson’s discovery of what happened to him, at least half of the truth, might affect his faith in his company, but definitely not his need to fight for the good guys. It’s also likely Akela will be back in action, since what happened to her has happened again. “The Magical Place” has opened up a lot of possibilities as we get into the second half.