Last week, “F.Z.Z.T.” premiered and demonstrated that while the series may stand on some wobbly legs a good chunk of the time, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is more than capable of producing some solid and entertaining television. That being said, with the continual ratings slip and the less than favorable response from much of the Marvel fan-base, it was paramount that this week’s episode could keep up the decent level of quality in order to stay on the air. Well, while I can’t say this episode doesn’t have a couple of distinct rough patches, this week’s “The Hub” does manage to weave a pretty good and rousing yarn in its own right.
Shortly after an entertaining extraction scene framed by some interrogation snarkiness and a few rocket-powered getaway sleds (yeah you heard me right), Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his crew take the data secured from that to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s highly secret facility called, “The Hub.” Upon study, the data reveals that an advanced weapon disruptor possessed by a separatist group in Eastern Europe will be detonated in the next 24 hours, producing a blast radius apparently big enough to detonate everything from airplane missiles to dormant nuclear warheads upon activation. Agents Ward (Brett Dalton) and Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) are chosen as the unlikely pair to infiltrate the area and disable the device, but the level of secrecy and withheld information raises suspicion amongst Skye (Chloe Bennet) and Agent Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge). Going against both S.H.I.E.L.D. protocol and Coulson’s attitude of “trust the system,” the pair take matters into their own hands, seeking the truth behind the mission in order to best ensure Ward and Fitz’s safety.
Much like last week’s episode, the greatest strength of “The Hub” is its exploration into characters and certain relationships that have at most been barely glanced at. On the field, the pairing of ultra-serious Ward with the bumbling intellectual Fitz greatly highlights the different skills and worlds that these two characters come from and especially demonstrates some great field improvisation on the part of the previously lab-confined Fitz. To a lesser extent, I similarly enjoyed the pairing of Chloe and Simmons in that it further allowed the latter some freedom from her box of “quirky scientific exposition” and developed her relationship with Fitz through the physical lengths she goes to in order to ensure his safety. Admittedly in both cases, particularly the latter, there is a sub-focus on comedic banter that came off with more misses than hits in my opinion, but the strengthening of these relationships and the subsequent tightening of these bonds within the team is something that I enjoyed a lot.
Threaded underneath and through these relationships is a theme of secrecy and misinformation that is all the more augmented by the Hub itself. A clinical environment of discriminating doors and security clearance levels, the Hub is a foil to the jet headquarters of our heroes. Despite both being from the same organization, the former more highly values authority and discredits “outside thinking” in ways that even Coulson at his stuffiest would never encourage. This, and the actual truth behind Fitz and Ward’s mission, casts S.H.I.E.L.D. in a darker light that was really only hinted at during the whole Shadow Council-style scenes in The Avengers, as the bottom line is placed above the lives and rights of those who work for S.H.I.E.L.D. Subsequently, these themes produce some cool confrontations between Coulson and Skye, as the latter’s arguments for the team’s safety and her right to know about her parents despite the information being classified shakes the former’s faith in the system.
I’ll admit that there is some fat to this episode that could’ve been trimmed. Besides some of the poorer attempts at comedy in spots, I thought the actual climax felt rushed and highly convenient. Also for an action show, I don’t think the action sequences themselves were particularly that good. That all being said however, the character and story explorations really do engage you enough to overlook those shortcomings. A good story is more important to have than anything else in any series, and “The Hub” certainly had that in spades.