Cold Open: In Stockholm, a group of twenty-five men in red masks and sporting briefcases handcuffed to their wrists march out of a building, and some of them board a subway; a youngish woman who's been tailing them and who also looks perhaps not quite right kills the lights in the car; when the police later inspect it, they find all the men incapacitated or dead and, in one man's case, his arm severed at the wrist and his briefcase (which we soon see contained a large quantity of diamonds) gone. In Belarus, the woman sells the diamonds (thirty million dollars worth) for a simple proximity card, which seems like maybe she got the exchange rate wrong?
S.H.I.E.L.D. is brought in because a casino hired the men to transport the precious gems (there had been a rash of diamond thefts across Europe recently), and they went to such lengths that no one, not even the casino people, knew which of the twenty-five briefcases contained the diamonds – yet the thief figured it out; also, she seems to tap into some great power when she closes her eyes. Skye suggests the woman has some kind of second sight, and Coulson soon confesses that he got them this assignment because the thief, "Akela Amador," is someone he trained. She was presumed killed on a mission seven years earlier on which two other agents died, but Coulson was never convinced. He also confesses to Skye that he pushed Amador hard and might be responsible for whatever she's become.
With Coulson and Ward off looking for Amador, she attacks the van (nicknamed "Short Bus," hee) in which Skye, Fitz, and Simmons are waiting, but she only shakes them up. Skye then figures out how to back-trace the feed Amador was using to monitor them, and they realize that one of Amador's eyes is actually some kind of tiny sophisticated camera (including a backscatter X-ray feature) that's beyond any technology S.H.I.E.L.D. has. Coulson then realizes Amador is being controlled, or at least coerced, somehow, so over the objections of May and Ward, who want to take her out, he says they'll watch Amador in shifts to figure out where she is. May takes the first watch, only to go rogue and confront Amador herself, who tells her now that she's there, either she kills May or her controllers will kill her via a switch in her eye. They fight, and when Amador kills the lights and turns on her X-ray vision, she's ready to shoot May – but Coulson arrives just in time and knocks Amador out with a new version of the night-night gun. When she comes to, Coulson tells her they hijacked her feed, so as far as her remote captors know, she's off on a mission for them. They have a little heart-to-heart in which Amador confesses that "VanChat" (from the pilot, you might remember) wouldn't have caught them if she'd done her job and trusted her team like Coulson taught her.
Ward takes on Amador's mission to keep the feed going while Fitz and Simmons race to extract the kill switch from Amador; Ward eventually finds his way into a room in which there's something on a chalkboard that even S.H.I.E.L.D., once they later see it, can't recognize. But whether it's design plans, alien writing, or some kind of equation, Ward gets a message from Amador's handler saying the mission is complete, and with Skye's help, he escapes. Fitz/Simmons are also successful in removing the eye before the handler (a former MI6 agent, as it happens) pulls the kill switch – but when Coulson then confronts him, his own kill switch is activated and he drops dead right there. In the end, Amador gets taken off to trial – but not before telling May that Coulson is different and wondering what S.H.I.E.L.D. did to him. Whatever it is, it seems to be making him and Skye bond, which is a solid emotional development even if Coulson is a robot.
At "Sergel's Square" in Stockholm, there seems to be some kind of celebration going on; people are dancing, drums are being beaten, that sort of thing. So it's possible people think it's all just part of the fun when a number of men in identical suits, holding identical briefcases, and wearing identical masks appear and start marching through the place. I mean, I've certainly seen less accessible displays of performance art, so I probably wouldn't bat an eye either, although I'm not sure I would have gone with blood red as my choice of mask color if I cared about people remaining calm. But I should add that this is my favorite so far among a group of pretty excellent cold opens, it really taps into this visceral uncertainty you feel when you don't even know who, if anyone, is the good guy.
Speaking of the parties involved, the processional passes right by a young African-American woman sporting some requisite-for-this-day-and-age ear buds; the camera pans around so we can see her face, whereupon she closes her eyes for the kind of length of time that suggests either she's got a migraine or she's engaged in some serious thought. (Maybe both!) Once she reopens them, she turns and menacingly regards the backs of the oblivious red-masked men, whom we then follow into the subway. Away from the square, I'd think the random travelers might be a little more likely to get freaked out by the masked men, but I've heard the extreme latitude there does weird things to people. Anyway, not all of the masked men head for the same track, but several of them end up getting on one subway car onto which the woman follows them. After the train pulls out of the station (named "T-Centralen," if Stockholm public transportation is of interest to you), the woman steals a look at the handful of masked men to the other side of the car, and at least three of them are alert enough to note her intense interest.
As ominous music builds to a crescendo, she looks at the briefcases, and it's there we can see they're all handcuffed to their carriers' wrists, and then she closes her eyes again and throws an elbow into a glass-covered control board (I guess), at which point the lights go out. There are screams, fight noises, and brief strobe-like glimpses of men in masks being attacked, and when the train pulls in, all the non-masked passengers rush off, as well they might. Inside the still-darkened car, a lone transit policeman warily makes his way on to see all the masked men unconscious at best, and as the camera pans down, we see one of their hands has been severed at the wrist… that guy's briefcase is gone. Bone is not the easiest substance to cut through, so I wonder how in the allotted time she -- you will forgive me for this eventually -- pulled that off.