The Writing On The Wall starts off like one of the spookier episodes of a supernatural crime drama. A creepy man invites an art teacher back to his flat for some emotional bonding and hanky-panky, but he has an ulterior motive. They’ve met before, but she can’t remember him. Suddenly, his chest is out. The art teacher is offended. His entire torso is covered in tattoos, the alien carvings from Coulson’s office. The art teacher is even more offended, and then dead.
Back at S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, Coulson is carving, but he does it on the wall rather than an art teacher’s dead body, cranking out weird alien symbols while jamming to a funky swing record. Skye intervenes.
Way back in Season One, Skye acted as the wild card character. She was unpredictable and we didn’t know whether to trust her or not, but she was also really fun. Now, however, it feels like she’s slipping into the role of ‘sombre spy’, kind of like May but without the cattiness. The problem is that it’s hard to tell if her new personality is meant to be character development or just sloppy writing. It feels like her Season One Skye spunk has been forgotten.
That aside, The Writing On The Wall is pretty heavy on story as Ward makes his great escape from S.H.I.E.L.D.’s supervision. Stalking suspiciously through a bus station in an attempt to shake his former colleagues off, the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew track his movements while throwing out cheesy spy clichés.
“I’ve got eyes on the prize,” says Agent Triplett. “Say the word and I can end this.” At least he has a speaking role this episode.
Ward appears to fall back to his old good-guy self when he helps a mother and son get their bags onto a bus, but that image is quickly stamped out when he threatens to blow up the bus in question. If we weren’t sure what game Ward was playing before, it’s pretty clear now. He’s not a good guy. He’s the villain and we shouldn’t trust him. His loyalties seemed to be on the fence for a while, but once you threaten to blow stuff up there’s no coming back.
It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. A smart move from the writers would be to go the whole hog and make Ward full-blown nasty. Make him into a villain to rival Garrett or Whitehall, wreaking havoc just because he can. But if it’s revealed he’s undercover, just a guy fighting for a greater cause, it would have to be incredibly clever and really, really awesome to justify him acting like such a massive dick. I can’t wait.
The other half of the plot is more science fiction-y that we’re used to from SHIELD. Coulson is put in a memory machine and tortured in an attempt to recover his memories of T.A.H.I.T.I. in a scene involving lots of shouting and stylized white scrubs. A whole load of stuff happens while he tracks down the other T.A.H.I.T.I. peeps and, after a tussle and a bit of a punch up with Mr Creepy Chest, Coulson finds the rest of the pattern he’s been carving and reaches Enlightenment.
As a whole, there are no major issues with episode three – it’s pretty plotty and moves along smoothly – but it’s not especially fun. It feels like we’ve reached that point in the season where the writers forget how to episode while they get psyched up for what the second half has in store.
And while I’m nitpicking: 1) There was a missed opportunity for a fun, on-screen Simmons-y autopsy (that is definitely on my SHIELD wish list) and 2) There is NO WAY ON EARTH Coulson could have whipped up the hologram of the pattern by himself. No. Way. And no one on the team could have helped him with it because they all looked equally shocked. We can believe the memory machine and the satanic carving, but this is just asking for too much imagination.