"The Writing on the Wall" is another episode of two clear, distinct parts, a common situation that Agents of SHIELD has found itself in these last few weeks. Half of this episode deals with the teaser at the end of last weeks episode, where we saw a strange man having Coulsons's carvings tattooed onto himself, and progresses the mystery of the carvings significantly as Skye, Coulson, Fitz, Simmons and Mac learn an awful lot about SHIELDs past and the GH-325 formula. The other half of the episode deals with the fact that ex-agent Grant Ward is finally on the loose again after escaping at the end of last weeks episode, and has Agents May, Hunter, Triplett and Morse attempting to track him down.
We've been following the mystery of Coulson Lives for a long time now, and although it hasn't always been a plotline that was particularly gripping or well paced it would be hard to deny that season 2 has done a great job of making it more interesting. It is in this episode that we get another milestone in the on going mystery, potentially the most important reveal of the show so far in regards to this story - and naturally, a reveal that I am not going to spoil here.
This portion of the episode is pretty great, developing quickly as the team race against the clock to try and identify which of two known people is the killer and which is the soon to be victim. We get a look at Coulsons involvement in the T.A.H.I.T.I project, the lengths he is willing to go to solve the mystery of the carvings and a few great scenes where we see Coulson at his worst, his most unhinged, scenes that add weight to a storyline that could have come across as too cheesy if handled differently.
The reveal itself is actually pretty small when taken at surface value, but when combined with the GH-325 formula, the blue alien at the heart of T.A.H.I.T.I and the idea that Skye is an 0-8-4, it lends itself fairly easily to some pretty big theories about the direction that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is headed based on what we know from comics. Although only future episodes can tell us just how big an impact this will actually have on the larger MCU (and being as Agents of SHIELD isn't all that popular, I would unfortunately imagine minimal), there is a clear direction to push in and a link to the larger MCU that the show hasn't had since the "Turn, Turn, Turn" episode of season one.
The other half of "The Writing on the Wall" is equally interesting. Grant Ward is one of the most interesting characters on the show at the moment, having gone from a seemingly model agent to a sympathetic villain to an unhinged manipulator, and the fact that he is out of SHIELD's basement can only mean bad things for the characters involved and good things for the show itself, adding another potential threat to an organisation that is already in over its head. And it doesn't seem that his motivations are as clear cut as you may think - he takes some surprising actions in this episode that leave his loyalties a mystery to both the audience and SHIELD, while still ensuring that we realise that he is a dangerous man.
A complaint that could be made about last seasons episodes was the tunnel vision of one plot per episode and a lack of season wide story telling led to a show that was mostly unengaging, a criticism that cannot be said about either this episode or season 2 as a whole. "The Writing on the Wall" seems to be sticking to the template of recent Agents of SHIELD episodes, not only in the idea that there will be two separate stories in each episode, but also in the way that the teams are split, with the more adult characters taking on a serious plot on one side and the more comic-booky characters tackling a more unbelievable story on the other, and if this is the new template for the show then I'm not complaining. It's entertaining, keeps the show moving and continues to develop the MCU outside of the films, and that's exactly what Agents of SHIELD needs to be.