Wow. Finally, after weeks of spinning its wheels on crappy one-off stories, the show brings Centipede back into the mix in a way that both advances plot and character, and raises the stakes on many fronts. A few bits and pieces first: Skye has been looking up a "Katherine Shane," whom Coulson once worked with and Skye thinks could be her mother. Of course, Coulson and May feel the need to keep Skye in the dark, but May takes Skye's head off about being more focused on her parents than on their job, causing Skye to cry and Coulson to… not comfort her. Coulson also lets Ward know he had a girlfriend before he died, a cellist from Portland, but he couldn't go back to her after his return from the dead. I mean, a literal broken heart was enough, am I right?
To start the important stuff, three supersoldiers, presumably the beneficiaries of that idiot magician Chan's blood, break the creepy dude Raina asked to contact the Clairvoyant out of the "Havenworth Federal Penitentiary." We learn the guy is an "Edison Po," a tactics/rapid response expert and known psychopath, and Raina asks Po about the Clairvoyant, but Po tells her the Clairvoyant is having trouble seeing the man she's looking for "and his weaknesses." Raina reveals that S.H.I.E.L.D. having them on the run is making maintaining their supersoldiers (i.e. treating their blood so the Extremis won't make them explode) very difficult, so they need a new option. That'll probably mean killing someone, but hopefully not subjecting him to a Smurfy name first. Later, Po reports having spoken with the Clairvoyant, and Raina wonders what he's like. Po basically tells her that he could tell her, but then he'd have to kill her, but that doesn't seem to stop Raina from hoping to work her charms on Po.
To fight Centipede, Coulson brings in Mike Peterson, who you'll remember from the pilot and also Angel. Peterson can now move bulldozers in a single bound, or something, and really wants to prove himself to S.H.I.E.L.D.; however, although it's true that he's been stabilized, the use of his powers is still draining to him, and he also still has the Centipede thingy attached to his forearm, which apparently can't be removed without killing him. In addition, it turns out that being shot with the night-night gun allowed his body to stabilize the Extremis on a permanent basis, so he feels he owes Fitz/Simmons his life and as such doesn't mind Simmons slobbering all over his physique. In investigating Po, Skye discovers that Raina visited him in prison and is able to extract a conversational bit about the Clairvoyant; Peterson also recognizes Raina as the woman who recruited him into Centipede, although I'm not sure how he recognized her given that she's finally ditched the flower dress.
S.H.I.E.L.D. gets a lead on one of the supersoldiers via his sister and a cock-and-bull story about him winning the lottery, they deviously get the sister to contact him and learn he's in Oakland, and off the plane goes. When they get there, Coulson sends a fancy-polymer-wearing Peterson to take the guy on, suspecting he's hanging out at a Centipede lab – but when they get there, all three supersoldiers are lying in wait for them, and worse, one of them absorbs a shot from the night-night gun with no ill effects. The fight goes poorly for a while, but S.H.I.E.L.D. still manages to incapacitate one soldier while the other two flee -- whereupon the first one is terminated using that same device from which S.H.I.E.L.D. saved Akela Amador back in the fourth episode. Seeing an image of Peterson through the guy's eye, Po thinks Peterson -- or is it Coulson? -- is the key to Stage Three, while on the flipside, S.H.I.E.L.D. examines the solder's corpse and realize Centipede was the organization controlling Amador for so many years.
Peterson admits that he hasn't been to see his son Ace since Union Station because of the monstrous way he acted, but Coulson convinces him the way he's acting isn't in the kid's best interests, so Peterson calls his son -- only to hear Raina with him. Raina lets it be known that Centipede will return Ace only in exchange for Peterson himself, on whom they obviously, or so it seems, want to experiment to see how he's managing to cope with the Extremis, and Coulson thinks they have to go along with Centipede's demands -- but Fitz/Simmons devise a non-electronic way of tracking him once the exchange is made. But! It turns out Centipede wants Coulson, not Peterson -- maybe because of his return from the dead? -- and Coulson goes willingly in order to save Ace. Once Ace is safe, though, Peterson runs after Coulson -- but an explosion appears to consume Peterson. On their escape helicopter, Raina confirms that they want to know about the day after Coulson died, and Coulson does not look like he's thrilled about "reliving" that. So Coulson's in enemy hands, Peterson's possibly dead and the team is on their own. After all the crap we've lived through, it could actually be a promising New Year.
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It's a little hard to know how to grade this episode. On the one hand, it gets the much-needed Centipede back in the game, gives us a way in to the mystery of what happened to Coulson (not that there haven't been others the show has ignored.) And it has an excellent mid-season cliffhanger that could lead to some really good stuff. On the other, it's not without its problems (shut up Skye about your parents, shut up May and your perma-scowl, shut up villains who are creepy for no reason), and it feels like the stuff it covers should have happened like five episodes ago. If next year the show picks up the pace at which it reveals the macro stuff in its universe and brings the conflict between S.H.I.E.L.D. and Centipede front and center, awesome; if not, yeesh. Still, I'm grading it higher than it probably deserves, because on some level I still do want it to be good. So:
At a maximum security joint -- that a chyron informs us is "Havenworth Federal Penitentiary" -- inmates wander around with lunch trays in hand. But one who is already sitting is our friend whom Raina, the girl with the flower dress, went to see at the end of that sartorially-named episode. Another inmate attempts to join him, but without looking up, our friend -- in his mannered-psycho way of speaking -- informs the guy the seat is taken. Although twice our friend's size, the guy recoils and withdraws when our friend fixes him with a look, and I'd wonder what our friend did to earn such fear if I didn't already know we're going to find out.
Three men blast through the ceiling to drop into the room, and we see a Centipede device on one of their wrists, so even at this point it seems logical to guess that Centipede has indeed successfully harnessed Chan's blood platelets to make their super soldiers viable. Speaking of the super soldiers, they handle the guards quickly as our friend blithely continues eating, like, obviously we're supposed to be impressed with his calm detachment, but if he's not taking any excuse to stop consuming prison food he really must be crazy. As ropes drop in through the hole in the ceiling, the SAG-card-carrying super soldier informs our friend it's time to go, but our friend is all, it's time to go sir, and again, just because the psycho killer who insists on respectful terms in an entertainment staple doesn't mean you need to include it for no reason. I'm pretty sure he could have made the point effectively on the way out of the building. Find a way to explain why he acts the way he does or don't include the quirk. Regardless, the super soldier amends his request to include the honorific, whereupon our friend -- after daintily wiping his mouth with a napkin -- joins the super soldiers in being pulled up out of the room and into the title card.