In the cold open, the French Mr. VanChat – he was briefly mentioned way back in the pilot as the guy whose safe Ward burgled for the Chitauri artifact – is closing a Chitauri deal when the S.H.I.E.L.D. team, minus Coulson but plus Agent Hand and a bunch of backup muscle, capture him in hopes he can lead them to Centipede. We learn it's only been a day and a half since Coulson was taken, and Hand is all about finding Centipede but is less worried about Coulson and even less than that is she inclined to let Skye stay aboard the plane given what she pulled back at the Hub. Ward sticks up for Skye, but when Hand asks May if she thinks Skye will be an asset, she says no. Cold! Before Skye goes, though, Fitz and Simmons surreptitiously give her a SAT phone for emergency use, and Ward urges her to escape and keep looking for Coulson. VanChat is not super-cooperative until Ward lets him get a glimpse of the view from outside the plane firsthand; the information he gives up leads Hand to send the plane to Sydney. She then tells Ward that the interest she's getting from above about Coulson is unprecedented and difficult to comprehend, but Ward replies that Coulson's that important. Later, he confronts May about her apparent betrayal of Skye, but May was in on the idea that Skye would do better working rogue. She was right!
Po is using some machine to try to extract Coulson's memories of what happened after he died and what is making him different now; we also learn from Po via the Clairvoyant that Coulson apparently saw his father die in front of him when he was a boy. When Po gives him some time to himself, though, Coulson contrives to get his handcuffs off and escape – only to find himself in a tiny town in the middle of the desert before being recaptured.
Skye has to get creative with the bracelet still hampering her ability to hack, so she latches onto ROB HUEBEL, who's playing some rich dude accused of securities fraud or tax evasion or something. Skye poses as May and threatens to freeze all his assets if he doesn't cooperate, and I'll explain in the full recap, but basically she uses him as a surrogate hacker to gain access to VanChat's and then Raina's transactions. Skye relays her findings to May, who takes Coulson's team to the desert location to meet her and retrieve him.
When Raina turns up from attending to their "other subject," the Clairvoyant calls, and apparently dissatisfied with how long Po is taking with Coulson, he asks to speak to Raina; after a brief chat, Raina hands the phone back – which then somehow zaps Po to death. Raina then tells Coulson that the Clairvoyant gives them formulas for a changing world, but the one thing about their super-soldiers is that they can't bring them back to life – which is why they want Coulson's secret. Raina's honey, including Clairvoyant-fueled information about his lost love, does much better than Po's vinegar in convincing Coulson to stop resisting the machine, and when he revisits the memory, Shepherd Book/Dr. Streiten appears and asks who ordered "all this," and the Tahitian masseuse, who turns into a doctor, says it was Fury himself. We then see a nightmarish vision of Coulson, his brain exposed, begging them to let him die as a robot that looks kind of like the monster from Alien pokes and prods at his brain. Coulson doesn't pass this info on to Raina before he's rescued, nor does he let on to the S.H.I.E.L.D. team what happened, but even though Raina is taken into custody, she and Coulson share a Meaningful Look. Hand tells Coulson they were able to strike blows against Centipede all over the world, and Coulson removes Skye's bracelet after sincerely thanking the team, so all's well, right?
Well, not quite. Coulson accosts Dr. Streiten, who spills the beans – Coulson was dead for days after New York, but Fury "moved heaven and earth" to come up with crazy procedures to bring him back, even though it meant keeping him conscious through excruciating pain, which explains the entreaties from Coulson to let him die. They gave him pleasant memories to restore his will to live, which don't completely seem to be working at the moment.
And oh, guess what "other subject" is still alive, burned all over, missing a leg, and with an eye device? Mike Peterson! He's not begging to die yet, but it's early.
I rarely comment on previouslies, but they really underscore how few episodes were really needed to get here. Only four episodes had significant bearing on the Centipede plot, and I wouldn't necessarily begrudge the others if they'd actually done any meaningful character development. But however long it took, here we are, and we start with a close-up of a Chitauri artifact in an open briefcase. A wider camera angle then reveals that we're witnessing an exchange, as a young woman approvingly asks "Vanchat" – who, as I mentioned in the recaplet, owned the safe Ward robbed in the pilot – how he got hold of it, and Vanchat tells her finding "alien scrap that no one else can" is his vocation. The woman tells him to name his price, but just then a black disc that would look like an air-hockey puck if not for the lights around its edge and its S.H.I.E.L.D. emblem slides across the floor into view. The woman quizzically asks if it's a Roomba – hee – but it emits a blinding burst of light, after which May and Ward come rushing in and get with the fighting.
Ward gets tangled up momentarily with some henchthugs (he also gets hit in the general area in which he got shot, which is our only small reminder that even happened), allowing Vanchat to make it out a side door, but May's after him in a flash, and Ward soon gives chase as well. Vanchat fires off a few rounds at May, but she successfully takes cover; he then heads into a stairwell and down, but May calls to Fitz/Simmons that he's coming their way. In a control van, Simmons asks Fitz if he's sure this will fly (sorry), but he shows some steel as he tells her to embrace the change. When Vanchat gets out of the stairwell, he runs into several of Fitz's drones that emit some blinding light; unable to pass that way, he turns around and boards an elevator, whereupon Ward calls to Skye that it's her turn. She and her laptop send the elevator careening up at breakneck pace, and when Vanchat soon alights on the roof, he runs straight into a bunch of commandos who can only be from Big S.H.I.E.L.D., and that's completely confirmed when Agent Hand steps forward from behind the men. "Mr. Vanchat? We were hoping you could help us find a friend." I may not have had much use for her last time, but that's a hell of an entrance. Title card.