In the cold open, S.H.I.E.L.D. extracts an "Agent Shaw" from his cover in Siberia among some paramilitary toughs; they take him and his intel to "The Hub," which is -- as you'd imagine -- a huge S.H.I.E.L.D. station. Coulson has to inform his team that they can't know what Shaw gave him because it requires Clearance Level Eight; also, with so much S.H.I.E.L.D. information in such close proximity, Skye wonders if she could find anything on the redacted file concerning her parents, but since she's still bracelet-ed, Coulson promises to look into it for her.
At The Hub, we meet an Agent Sitwell (who makes me think the staff writers unsurprisingly are Arrested Development fans) and Agent Hand, who's apparently something of a legend and informs Coulson, May, and Ward -- the three with Level Seven clearance, which is okay for the general briefing -- that a separatist group has built something called the "Overkill Device," which they plan to use in the next day to declare their independence from Russia and Georgia. The belief is that it creates sonic vibrations that can trigger faraway weapons and since an overt attack might result in, say, the U.S.'s nukes going off, Hand needs a two-person team to sneak across the border, break into the stronghold and disable the weapon. The catch is that someone on the team needs to be able to work with the weapon on-site, so instead of the twin ass-kickers May and Ward, it's going to be Odd Couple Ward and Fitz. After their connection last episode, Simmons is loath to see Fitz go on such a dangerous mission, but he's pretty excited to prove himself in the field, which makes you wonder if Coulson isn't the only one who's been replaced with a robot.
Skye and her clearance level of minus sixty-seven freak-out with worry over Ward and Fitz and pull Simmons into a plan to get information on the mission despite their lack of authorization, which leads to Simmons zapping Sitwell with the night-night gun and Skye discovering that Fitz and Ward are not actually scheduled to be extracted. Coulson catches her, but this time she's got righteous anger on her side, so they bicker about secrets and protocol and thinking outside the box. Even though Coulson tells her to trust the system, he turns right around and chews Hand out for keeping him in dark before taking the rest of his team to extract Ward and Fitz.
Speaking of, Fitz talks Ward's ear off as they go to see an old contact of Ward's; when it turns out the contact is dead, they get taken prisoner in a bar, but Fitz gets them out of it by repairing the place's dodgy electricity -- which as it happens he had shorted out himself. That doesn't stop the two of them from fighting, but despite the death of Fitz's favorite sandwich, they make it to the compound -- whereupon Ward also figures out there's no extraction forthcoming. Ward tries to send Fitz to safety once he's gotten far enough on the Overkill Device, but Fitz won't abandon Ward or the mission, so he rejiggers the thing to take out a bunch of the separatists' weapons while Ward just kicks a bunch of ass like he's generally meant to. In the end, after Coulson's rescue is successful, Ward gains new respect for Fitz, which is nice and might lead to the weirdest bromance in history.
Coulson tells Skye he looked into the file and a female S.H.I.E.L.D. agent was the one who dropped her off at the orphanage. She hugs him in gratitude, unaware -- as we later see from a photo May examines -- that there's what appears to be a murder tied up in Skye's circumstances. Coulson asks May if she'll help him find out what really happened, and she points out what he's asking will send them into dangerous waters, but she still agrees to try.
In the end, Coulson calls S.H.I.E.L.D. to try to get information on his own death and recovery -- only to be told he doesn't have authorization to access that file. He's helping Skye, but who's going to help him?
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In a gulag-looking indoor setting, two paramilitary types lead a cuffed and hooded man into a chair, whereupon one of them removes the hood to reveal Coulson, who tells them he thinks they may have a mole problem. I'm sure he's congratulating himself on the double entendre that will soon be revealed, but the tough in front of him merely punches him before sneering that Coulson won't be so amused when "The Interrogator" gets there; on cue, a large, forbidding man strides up and selects a torture tool from a tray of them that looks so standard I have the feeling they sell it at Target now. Apparently, though, there's only so far Coulson is willing to play this game, as after referencing some intel he tells "Agent Shaw" that "they" know and they have three minutes. Also on cue, May and Ward come out of nowhere and kick some ass while Coulson loses his trick cuffs, and then Agent Interrogator Shaw throws a blade into another of their assailants. They escape out a hatch that leads them up to a snow-covered landscape and hop snowmobiles pointed toward the plane, and you can make your own Catskills joke about how cold an open this is.
On the plane, Shaw is looking nervous, which is understandable given that Simmons is preparing a little grabbing tool that can only be headed up his nose. My sister once shoved a pea up her nostril when she was a kid, but I don't think the thing they used to remove it was quite as sophisticated. Count your blessings, Shaw. After rather too much talking from Simmons about whether Shaw should or shouldn't breathe ("try not to," it seems to boil down to), with the aid of a live X-ray image next to her, Simmons succeeds in using the tool to extract a small cartridge that apparently contains all the intel Shaw gathered on his mission, and Coulson amusingly allows a hint of "ew" to seep into his thanks for Shaw's service. Coulson then announces that they're going to "The Hub" to deliver both Shaw and the intel, and given what we see of the place later, Simmons' resultant excitement would seem overblown if that weren't her default setting.
Coulson emerges from the lab with the data in his hand and Fitz and Skye both offer to do their thing with it, but he informs them access to the data requires Clearance Level Eight. When he's gone, Skye's like wait, what… he can keep secrets now? And while I'll admit a hacker probably isn't used to such boundaries it still seems a bit rich to be genuinely surprised here, so I thank Fitz for replying "No need to get started on one of your socialist riffs." Hee. Ward duhs that any one agent having too much information would make the entire organization vulnerable, and May pipes up that the way Coulson runs things on the plane is one thing, but "the Hub is different." Skye: "What's the Hub?" I've complimented the show for its call-and-response setups before, so I'd like them to note that the pattern of using Skye's audience-surrogate questions as calls is a decidedly inferior effort.