Phil Coulson is getting more obsessed with those alien markings he has been carving for weeks, but so is another man who has tattooed them on his body. It leads to revelations on the TAHITI program, and a surprising solution. The crew also chases after Ward, who’s set up a meeting with HYDRA that also ends in a surprise.
**** SPOILERS BELOW ****
Ever since the end of season one, Coulson has had the urge to carve strange markings on a wall, without knowing what they are. This week’s episode shows others have had the same problem, including the tatt00ed guy (Brian Van Holt) who was revealed two weeks ago. He pops up again after a “chance” meeting with an art teacher named Janice Robbins (Monique Gabriela Curnan) somewhere in New York. He claims they met before, but she doesn’t recall him…until she sees his markings. He winds up killing her and carving her, too.
Skye catches Coulson in mid-carve, since May told her to keep an eye on him, and finds out he’s been doing them practically every day. They still wonder what they mean, if anything, They’re also concerned about Ward escaping, and what he plans to do next. SHIELD’s the only ones looking because Ward’s senator brother is covering it up. Ward does lead them on quite the chase, from Philadelphia to Dallas. He’s quite observant, too, and has a special bag that contains money and a bomb just in case SHIELD has any ideas about capturing him where people are about. That keeps the crew at a distance.
When Coulson and Skye go to Robbins’ apartment, they discover that she had been making paintings with the same alien markings. One of them is signed “a magical place”. It turns out that Robbins was really SHIELD Agent Stevens, who volunteered to join the TAHITI program to get a dose of GH-325 from that blue alien to battle her cancer. It worked for her, along with five other agents, until they got severe side effects, including writing those markings. The blue alien’s DNA apparently transferred its memories to the agents. That’s why their memories had to be replaced, and they had to live new lives outside of SHIELD.
Coulson remembered all of this through the memory machine Raina used on him last season. The agents know this is a bad way to find Tattoo Man, but it’s the only way. Coulson eventually remembers him as Sebastian Derik, an assassin for SHIELD who claims the drug wanted him to know what those markings are. Derik is now after the only other survivor of the TAHITI project, a family man named Hank Thompson (Joel Grestch).
May tells Skye to lock up Coulson, but he tricks her and locks her up instead. Since he ran TAHITI, he thinks he has to settle it with Derik and Thompson himself.
Meanwhile, Ward’s Magical Mystery Tour stops at a bar in Boston, where Bakshi (Simon Kassianides) arrives. Ward says he wants to meet Whitehall, but Bakshi says he wants a face-to-face meeting with Coulson. Ward agrees…by tying up Bakshi as a present to the SHIELD crew. Maybe Ward wants to upset both SHIELD and HYDRA, thinking he’s smarter than both. It’s just a question of how long that will be true.
Coulson does find Thompson, but Derik is there first. He ties them up, and tells them that pain helped him remember who he was, and what TAHITI was. He cuts Coulson, hoping that he will remember, too. Meanwhile, Thompson’s hidden SHIELD skills emerge, and he’s able to escape. Skye and Mac get there while Derik and Coulson fight. Suddenly, they both see Thompson’s model railroad design. It’s just like the markings, and show what they really are… a map of a city. However, is this a city that exists here on Earth or elsewhere? The alien DNA did get the men to understand, at least. That revelation has cured Coulson of his carving obsession, Now, he’s got a new goal: figuring out where this city is, if it does exist, before HYDRA does. It’s safe to say that obelisk is connected.
As for Ward, he has a new, clean cut look. He calls Skye to make sure they have Bakshi, and hints he may have more gifts for them in the future. Right now, he’s got an errand that involves his brother, Senator Christian Ward. Seems like Ward is planning a very awkward Thanksgiving.
One other note: Fitz comments that SHIELD’s decision to “replace” memories of the TAHITI patients may not be permanent. He says that while it’s possible for memories to be disconnected, the brain can provide a back-up. That was true for Coulson using that memory machine to recall the deep dark secrets of TAHITI, However, would it also mean that Fitz’s brain could have a back-up that will slowly heal him, and bring him back to his usual genius self? That’s what Mac is wondering.
Also, it appears Skye is determined to be a junior version of Agent May, and is well on her way. However, Grant Ward is complicating things for her. It looks like she still has a thing for him, which could be a big problem. That is discussed in an interview with Clark Gregg in this story from the Entertainment Weekly website, along with the possibility that Fitz may use the memory machine to cure himself.
Next week: a showdown between SHIELD and HYDRA over the obelisk, and another flashback with Peggy Carter.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs on Tuesdays at 9/8c on ABC. Watch full episodes on ABC.Go.com.