In its second season, Agents of SHIELD is a whole hell of a lot more streamlined and focused, and it feels like this show is finally becoming that we were all hoping it would be when it premiered a little over a year ago. Season one was plagued with sub-par dialogue and an unwillingness to play wholeheartedly in the universe that the show actually inhabits. All that’s changed with season two. Agents of SHIELD took its time off to grow into a much more confident and exciting show, happy to pace itself a bit more smartly and tell a story with more depth to it. Last season saw SHIELD shattered, its pieces thrown to the wind. Not only was this a big surprise for the Marvel Cinematic Universe in general, but also surprising was the personal level on which it impacted Agents of SHIELD. The HYDRA reveal finally gave that show some emotional weight to throw around, and drew clear lines to how much each member the Coulson’s team had come to view each others as family members.

The family dynamic has been an important theme in the second season, and was especially highlighted during “Hen in the Wolf House.” (Seriously, sometimes I can’t believe how this show has gone from something hate-watchable to something whose thematic conversations are actually worth thinking and talking about.) Skye is struggling with the stories about her father, and struggles even further with her adoption of Coulson as something of a surrogate father figure. Their relationship really shows how much the two have bonded as Coulson has taken her under his wing...but this relationship has also been complicated by Coulson’s new position as SHIELD’s director. He’s got a lot more responsibility now, and part of this now involves finding that goddamn Obelisk. Other parts of his new responsibility involve keeping a lot of information to himself, which bothers Skye as she gets used to these new dynamics.

“Hen in the Wolf House” opens with a wedding toast that makes a bunch of really on-the-nose mentions of “change into something better.” There’s been a lot of speculation online that the Obelisk/Diviner is somehow related to the Terrigen Mists and/or the potential upcoming addition of the Inhumans to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Perhaps that opening speech is Marvel tipping its hand just a tiny bit. Immediately after said toast (which is utterly awful, aside from the parts about change, which are only interesting given what they seem to indicate), a ton of people at the wedding party die in a way that resembles Lucy Lawless’ fate when she touched the Obelisk in the season premiere. This turns out to have been an attempt on HYDRA’s part to reverse-engineer and weaponize the Obelisk’s effects.

As Coulson briefs his team and tries to figure out how they’ll respond, Skye pushes him to stop withholding information. At first it’s a scene that comes across as stupid, and poorly-conceived; Skye doesn’t seem to comprehend that she’s working on some super high-stakes shit, or fully comprehend her position as a newly-instated field agent in a spy organization. On some level, this makes sense: her presence in the field seems odd, since there's absolutely no way she’s had the time to properly train and internalize what it takes to be a solid field agent.

But SHIELD doesn’t really have a choice. It’s an organization in tatters, a fractured and wounded version of what it used to be. Skye’s kind of the best they can do right now, which is evidenced by Coulson’s struggle to effectively balance his genuine affection for her, his role as the newly-instated director of SHIELD, and his close work with his newest field agent as they track the Obelisk together. Everybody's adjusting to new roles, and nobody's having an easy time doing it.

As for the Obelisk/Diviner, Skye’s dad has his hands on it now, and finding out what that guy’s all about is easily the show’s most compelling current mystery. Multiple characters have talked about how badly he’s capable of fucking shit up, but other than seeing him physically rough up a couple of guards, his powers have been left completely undefined. The same goes for both Raina and Skye, which indicates that Agents of SHIELD is about to show us even more of its corner in Marvel’s universe.

Elsewhere, Simmons struggles to maintain her cover at HYDRA. When Raina (working for Skye’s dad) threatens to out her in a play to get Coulson to hand over Skye, Coulson calls her bluff. Turns out he’s had Agent Bobbi “Mockingbird” Morse planted within HYDRA the entire time, keeping an eye on Simmons and ready to extract her if and when shit went down. Mockingbird’s introduction was both a great character reveal and a thrilling action sequence — yet another illustrating how much this show has stepped up its fight choreography during this second season. With the exception of a really stupid battle pose, it was a great moment that culminated in a blind leap from a building onto an invisible jet. Immediately, it becomes really clear that everybody loves Bobbi, and she really easily fits in with the team. This becomes a lot more interesting when we learn that Bobbi is the she-devil ex that Hunter has mentioned a few times, and her contrast with Hunter’s general unlikability is actually pretty fun.

Coulson’s alien writing is another of the show’s most interesting central mysteries, and provides the characters with some trust and secrecy issues. Ward complicates this issue even further when he tells Skye that the alien writing was a clear indication that Garrett was on the immediate verge of going completely crazy. We don’t know whether he’s playing Skye or not, which makes this news a pretty interesting wrinkle. Learning it prompts Skye to push Coulson again, and she gets a bit more than she bargained for when Coulson basically tells her that his leading theory as to why she didn’t react to the introduction of the GH compound into her system is that it was probably already there, which would make Skye an alien.

Skye gets a lot to process this episode. She might be an alien. Her dad can basically murder the shit out of anyone. She’s working a lot more closely with her new mentor and father-ish figure, but this is also happening at a time when he has more secrets to keep than he’s ever had. After such a shaky first season, it’s fantastic to see how sure Agents of SHIELD has become of itself by giving its character such an intimidating wealth of identity issues.

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