“A magical place.”
That’s how Clark Gregg’s Agent Colson has characterized his recovery in Tahiti, the location were he was supposedly shipped and rejuvenated following his “death” at the hands of Loki in The Avengers. Of course, the makers of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. knew that the “I was holding my breath” excuse would not fly,” so they quickly began seeding a greater mystery. In the pilot, Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill and Ron Glass’s S.H.I.E.L.D. medical physician Dr. Streiten acted like everything was hunky-dory in Colson’s presence; it was only after the agent had left a room that you realize how much they were walking on egg shells around him.
“The Magical Place” promises to reveal the secrets of Colson’s resurrection. And it does—sort of. As with any major mystery, however, the answer just manages to yield more questions. It also doesn’t help that the answer is not exactly satisfying.
But we’ll get to that. First, how does the episode work?
From the pilot episode, the major appeal of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to me has always been Colson. The other characters—well, not so much. And I’m certainly not the only critic to hold this opinion. All the other characters—from stodgy, by-the-numbers superagent Grant Ward to stoic fighter Melinda May to comic relief duo Fitz and Simmons to audience conduit Skye—feel like basic variations on archetypes we’ve seen far too many times. As a writer, co-creator Joss Whedon has always excelled at taking these traditional archetypes and flipping them on their heads. S.H.I.E.L.D., however, has yet to demonstrate such subversion or even an attempt at deepening the characters beyond the basic “sad childhood” shtick. Perhaps it’s because Whedon is busy with the new Avengers movie, or perhaps there are just too many cooks in the kitchen here. Either way, S.H.I.E.L.D., while certainly fun at times, just seems to lack that certain spark that has helped position shows like Arrow or Sleepy Hollow as consistently exciting, must-see genre excursions.
But, yes, all this is to say that the episode was a big split for me. I found myself loving the interplay between Colson and his Centipede captor Raina, that devious beauty in the flower dress. This dynamic is easily the episode’s strong suit, especially when the two debate why Colson pledges allegiance to an organization that has hidden so much from him. Rarely do we see the cool-as-cucumbers Colson at a loss for words, but it happens here and Clark Gregg sells it with great gusto, particularly in a later scene when he’s utterly inconsolable. In a world where a show like S.H.I.E.L.D. could afford to experiment and play with structure, I would have loved nothing more than to have a bottle episode of simply Colson and Raina’s conversations, with the team conducting their investigation off screen.
That sounds harsher than I mean it to. Yet, the S.H.I.E.L.D. team’s race against time to find Colson should have yielded a situation where, devoid of their leader, the team is allowed to bounce off each other and combine their unique talents and resources. It’s the chance to demonstrate that, even without Colson, they have grown strong as a team. Instead, due to the ship’s takeover by Victoria Hand from the previous episode, the episode just becomes another excuse to demonstrate how awesome Skye is at everything. Pretty much single-handedly, Skye locates Centipede’s money man (a thoroughly wasted Rob Huebel) and tracks the paper trail to Colson’s location. She even assumes the identity of Melinda at one point to intimidate a suspect because … comedy? I have no qualms with Chloe Bennet as an actress, but I just don’t find her character as interesting or as fun as the show seems to think I do.
Anyhow, the team rescues Colson but not before he learns the (semi-) truth about his death. After their aforementioned debate, Colson is convinced to explore the parts of his memory that S.H.I.E.L.D. has wanted to keep hidden. As it turns out, Colson’s memories of reclining in Tahiti were actually implanted memories to help him forget the trauma of his “resurrection.” The machine proceeds to show him visuals of his forgotten past—namely, being in agonizing pain and begging for death as surgeons drill through his brain with lasers. This begs the question—there doesn’t appears to be any mirrors for Colson to see his reflection in; so, how does he have any visual notion of what they were doing to his brain?
Wanting to known the full truth, Colson tracks down Streiten, who worked to complete the miracle revival. Although Gregg and Glass try their absolute hardest to make this revelation scene work, what it all essentially amounts to is:
“You were dead.”
“How did you bring me back?”
“It was really, really, really, really hard.”
Of course, there’s more details to it. Specifically, Streiten speaks of Fury “moving heaven and Earth” to bring Colson back, which appears to amount to a great number of painful, intensive surgeries. So I guess that means—science can now cure death? What made Colson so different than probably thousands of other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who lost their lives in battle? Not sure. Also, not to judge the show’s logic against that of the Marvel movies, but explaining Colson’s continued existence to the Avengers is going to be quite awkward considering it was his death that brought them together.
Ultimately, I come out of “The Magical Place” more bewildered than moved. I feel like the writers were trying to go for the latter, but the reveal simply didn’t meet the demands of the build-up. This hopefully is not some indication for how the show will handle the eventual reveal of its other major mystery: the identity of the all-powerful and all-knowing Big Bad, The Clairvoyant. Fingers crossed.
Post-note: You know how we saw S.H.I.E.L.D.’s superpowered ally Mike Peterson killed in the previous episode? Well, once fulfilling that adage that a film/TV character is never dead until you see a body, Peterson is shown to be alive and well and, unfortunately, with one of those controlling eye implants from “Eye Spy” planted in his cranium. This guy really can’t catch a break.