28 February 2016

Agents of SHIELD S3E8 "Many Heads, One Tale" review

Do you remember that point in Agents of SHIELD when you pretty much gave up on the show actually mattering to the films? I do. It was part way through the first season of the show, just as Thor: The Dark World was coming out, and we had the crossover episode "The Well" which in no way actually crossed-over with Thor: The Dark World. Set entirely after the events of Thor: The Dark World and having literally almost nothing to do with it, I realised that the events of the show were effectively meaningless to the film, and that thanks to the way Marvel Studios were working it was likely to stay that way forever.

Since then, Agents of SHIELD has done a complete turn around, reacting to the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier in a big way before introduced Inhumans to the world and setting up the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Now, "Many Heads, One Tale" has given us new and vitally important information about Hydra, shining a new light onto the history of the organisation and their ultimate goal while also bringing together all the seasons plots so far under one roof in what may be the best episode of the show so far.

That #ItsAllConnected hashtag doesn't seem so silly now, does it?

"Many Heads, One Tale" is another episode that sees pretty much all of SHIELD working on the same page, this time under Operation Spotlight, which seeks to shine a light into every dark corner of the ATCU and see if they can be trusted once and for all. To do this, Coulson takes ATCU head Rosalind Price (who he is now calling Ros after their... encounter last episode) on a tour around the base while SHIELD use the time to infiltrate the ATCU facility. Meanwhile, Fitz and Simmons continue their research into Will and the history of the Monolith, while Ward searches for the legendary Von Strucker family vault.

Considering how much work "Many Heads, One Tale" has to do to join all these relatively separate plots together, it's incredible how well paced everything feels. A minor criticism I've had with season three of Agents of SHIELD has been how certain stories have felt rushed, but that isn't true here - "Many Heads, One Tale" is smart enough to slow down and really allow certain scenarios to play out when they need it, a credit to episode writers Jed Whedon and Daniel J. Doyle.

Pretty much everyone gets their time in the spotlight in "Many Heads, One Tale" thanks to the way that the episode balances the time spent with each character, but in particular it is the few short scenes we get with Fitzsimmons that really feels like well written and important character work. I've talked before about the way the show seems intent to continuously tear them down, and it seems that I'm right - once again it allows the tragedy of Fitzsimmons to play out, more overt about they way the feel than ever, and both Elizabeth Henstridge and Iain DeCaesteker deserve a huge amount of credit for how damn good they are in this episode.

There is just so much to take in and enjoy from "Many Heads, One Tale", from Hunter's disguise as an ex-hacker IT professional (I need that "Damn the Yanks" T-shirt so badly) to the appearance of Mr. Giyera, who is played by Mark Dacascos (best known as The Chairman from Iron Chef America: The Series), to the sheer unhinged charisma that Brett Dalton gives off as Ward to the game-changing ways that "Many Heads, One Tale" plays with what we know about the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far - and make no mistake, we really are talking about developments and reveals that totally re-contextualise multiple in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date, including Captain America: The First Avenger, Avengers Assemble and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Hell, even the fight scenes in "Many Heads, One Tale" seem to be significantly better than the standard Agents of SHIELD fight scene - there is a physicality and weight to the action that you don't often see on TV, Daredevil excluded.

Potentially the best episode of not just the season but the entire show so far, "Many Heads, One Tale" is a great example of why I love Agents of SHIELD, at once filled with great character moments, a solid story, and palpable links to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe that really feel earned. I've been hoping for a long time that the TV side and the film side of Marvel Studios can start working together more, and although this isn't a definite precursor to that it certainly gives me hope that we might see more cohesion between these two side in the future - something that in my book, can only be a great thing.

This article was originally published on OutLoudCulture.

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