As the "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." rookie season gears up for its final stretch, Joss Whedon has done a great job of keeping the audience guessing.
After the chaos from "Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier," the agents were left on the run. Now, with the new episode "The Only Light in the Darkness," the group is falling apart at the seams. Agent May is having trouble regaining Agent Coulson's trust after lying to him three or four episodes ago to the point she feels compelled to leave the group without so much as a good-bye.
And now Ward, who, as far as Coulson's team is concerned, is coming back to rejoin his mates, has his own secret agenda, gets mixed up with Skye again; the two of them end the episode on a jet plane leaving the newly discovered secret base found in last week's show.
What has been interesting to witness is how agents both rise to and shy away from the big occasions. Coulson has displayed quality leadership at times, but there are times he has unraveled (with solid acting from Clark Gregg), and he let out a doozy of a lecture to May, who was supposed to be a confidant of sorts.
An intriguing side storyline that has been lingering in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was flushed out when we got to see Coulson's love interest. The cellist, previously referred to during "The Avengers, plays a key figure in the episode.
Ironically, Coulson, who encourages his team not to allow personal feelings get in the way of its performance, is the one who has conflicting interests. His cellist lady, Audrey (played with refreshing buoyancy by Amy Acker) is at the center of a stalking by the episode's villain, Blackout (more on him in a moment), who has incredible anti-energy powers. Coulson shows his constant anxiety while running a protection operation that involves using her as bait, something with which he has great discomfort. Fitz has a strong moment as he turns out to provide comfort for Coulson in a twist of role reversal.
What's interesting about the story with the cellist is how Coulson still feels strongly for her. To me, this suggests Coulson's Tahiti experience might not run as deep as previously thought, though there's still a lot to be hashed out with that. That's why I believe that Coulson secretly is going to be the key figure to watch down the stretch. He hasn't been himself lately, and the Tahiti likely is the reason for that, especially since he's felt a little unhinged since the discoveries he's made about that operation earlier in the season.
Quick note: Blackout, at one point, was a member of the villain group Masters of Evil that was led by Baron Zemo, who was a heavy-hitting enemy in Captain America's storelines. Blackout apparently has had his superpower enhanced to the point he can shoot out "darkforce" energy bursts as we find out in a quick, but exciting action scene late in the episode.
In the grand scheme, S.H.I.E.L.D. has continued to dwindle. The first of probably several casualties to come was suffered this week, and it's anyone's guess as to who will and won't make it through.
As for who will join the fray, Agent Hill (who debuted in "The Avengers" and was in "Cap 2") is set to appear in next week's episode, and she undoubtedly will hint about Nick Fury's status and shed more light on the direction the team and the agency will take in the final weeks.