Edward James Olmos

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The West Wing: An Oasis From Political Madness

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

The worst kept secret with my affection of television is that I believe The West Wing is the greatest achievement in television history. I would gladly debate that point with anyone brave enough to try. That line in and of itself seems to be a microcosm for the political landscape we find ourselves in. Let’s be clear, the notion that I am right and you are wrong if you disagree with me in the slightest, is not a new idea when applied to political dialogue. For at least the last 50 years (maybe even longer) the two-party system has created a divisiveness among its electorate, suggesting that there is an absolute right and absolute wrong way to see things, depending on which side of the aisle you sit.

At some point the narrative changed. From the ‘I believe this and give me a moment so I can explain that and see if you feel the same way’ that eventually gave way to the ‘I’m right, you’re wrong and until you agree with my stance, you’re an idiot’. We are going to try to use The West Wing as a vehicle to explore what the problem really is at its core while still maintaining some sense that we can always get better. And secondly, that the gold standard of modern scripted fictional television can provide the ideals of government that we should continue to strive for.

The nature of democracy, specifically our democracy is that we are never going to get there. We will never wake up with 100% of the country completely in agreement about everything. So the next most logical goal to reach for is to create a political landscape where we keep talking. Not to slam the other side. Not to create further division. Not to widen the gap but instead, to narrow it. When it comes to politics and the practical sense of the governing of a nation’s people, we should act like intellectuals, not school yard bullies. As articulated by Jeff Breckinridge (a Black Civil Rights Lawyer from Georgia) debating reparations with Josh Lyman (a White jewish man from New England) in the episode, “Six Meetings Before Lunch”.

Jeff Breckinridge: You got a dollar? Take it out. Look at the back. The seal, the pyramid, it’s unfinished. With the eye of God looking over it. And the words Annuit Coeptis. He, God, Favors our Undertaking. The seal is meant to be unfinished, because this country’s meant to be unfinished. We’re meant to keep doing better. We’re meant to keep discussing and debating and we’re meant to read books by great historical scholars and then talk about them.

Sadly, it seems, this 2016 Presidential Election campaigns have been worse than I’ve ever seen. I’ve been following the political process and Presidential Elections specifically since the first George Bush. Every year it seems the popular cliché is that this election is a “lesser of two evils” situation. It’s always been popular to say, but this year I’m afraid the sentiment is more accurate than in past years. For the first time I can remember, there are more people wishing there were other options than those set on who they will vote for. While choosing who to vote for is every American’s right, there is a great deal of vitriol being tossed around from both sides. When the very nature of our system is to keep talking, keep evolving the debate. As opposed to spewing hatred for ‘the other side’.

Disclaimer: If you are waiting for the portion of this article where I divulge my political allegiance. Explain why my candidate is better than the other side. You are misunderstanding the point of this exercise. I have no intention of getting into the meat and potatoes of the political debate. The point to be had here is that neither side is right or wrong, but that the process was never intended to be this angry or combative. Something to consider the next time you get into a political discussion with someone who doesn’t share your view. In the “Game On” episode when President Bartlet faces off against Governor Ritchie of Florida many things are said, but one thing rings out stronger than all the others. A quote I think of every time I hear a politician or pundit drop the “partisan politics” line as a means to create animosity for the other side.

Jed Bartlet: I don’t think Americans are tired of partisan politics; I think they’re tired of hearing career politicians diss partisan politics to get a gig. Partisan politics is good. Partisan politics is what the founders had in mind. It guarantees that the minority opinion is heard, and as a lifelong possessor of minority opinions, I appreciate it.

Politicians will be politicians. In order to be one, the individual has to engage in a game of sorts. This plays out in every election cycle. One elected official cannot possible appeal to all voters. So, they play a numbers game. Using whatever resources at their disposal they will identify trends, tipping points, hot button issues and hopefully present themselves to fall on the winning side of those issues. For the politician, it’s about serving their best interest which generally means doing what is required to get re-elected. The day we discover a politician that is willing to fall on the grenade, throw away his lifestyle, security and career away for standing up for an issue they believe in is the day that politician decided to stop being a politician. My more pressing concern is that of the electorate. The people need not adopt the attitude and persona of the politicians they vote for. And that my friends is the crux of my issue.

I am sure it hasn’t always been this way. I remember watching my grandparents around election time. My Grandmother was a blind democrat. Put simply, she grew up the daughter of farmers and believed Democrats were for farmers. She really needed no other criteria. My Grandfather who did lean Democratic at times was much more open. He took the approach of “Show me what you’ve got, you have to earn my vote” and he would have no problem voting the other way. So by the time I was 10, they would not even speak to each other about politics. If the conversation had the potential of going south, they’d prefer not to talk about it, then vote however they were going to vote. That sense seems to be gone now. They both paid attention, both took in the debates of the issues of the day, but never dug in their heels to belittle or attack someone who disagreed.

Take a step back from the details. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Trump supporter, Clinton supporter, or even a steadfast Sanders or Johnson fan . Maybe it’s the 24 hour news cycle. Maybe it has something to do with how social media and technology have made the world smaller. I think the clear takeaway is that no matter who you think you’re going to vote for, it is a lesser situation. Despite popular belief, I do not think Trump’s attack on political correctness would fly 50 years ago. Similarly, I can’t imagine anyone 50 years ago voting for a candidate with real trustworthiness issues. I’m not going to so far as to call this a lesser of two evils, but it is less. Less than we should expect. Less than what came before them. We are not raising our expectations for our future President we are diminishing it. We are so used to looking at the landscape and thinking, “That’s the least crappy candidate. That’s my pick. The one I hate the least.” When did we decide this was good enough. Both parties want to believe they are rolling out Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. It may not be a choice of lesser of two evils, but there is no doubt the expectation has become lesser.

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Idealistic as it may seem, we should expect more. For the moment, forget the issues. Forget the economy, forget foreign policy, forget education reform, forget national defense. We should expect more from the candidates. College educated shouldn’t be enough. Serving two terms as a Senator who took a vulnerable seat shouldn’t be enough. To be completely transparent about it, this aspect of the conversation isn’t left to Trump or Hilary. I’m sorry to be so harsh, but no President I’ve been legally of age to vote for fits that bill. Not Trump or Hillary. Not Obama, not George W, not Bill Clinton. Maybe George Herbert Walker Bush, maybe. Ask yourself if any President in the last 25 years even comes close to measuring up to what you once believed a President should be. The one thing that Herbert Walker on back had (Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon, Kennedy, etc not even talking about the Lincolns, Roosevelts, and Washingtons of our history) was gravitas. The moment they spoke there was a reverence. The idea that issues aside, we are in good hands. Intelligent hands. Hands of a leader in control. We can debate the subtle merits until we’re blue in the face, but the bottom line is that these candidates in today’s politics lack most of that. The sensibility of intelligence, leadership and gravitas.

Sam: Before I look for anything, I look for a mind at work. No one’s saying a President has to have a tenured share in symbiotics, but you have to have

Ainsley: What

Sam: Gravitas.

Ainsley: And how do you measure that?

Sam: You don’t. But you know it when you see it.

Political correctness made its way back into this discussion.  Again, with no intention of pumping up one or discrediting the other, this needs to be addressed.  When did we decide treating all people with the same level of reverence or respect was a bad thing?  Political Correctness is necessary.  It sets a guideline for acceptable language in scenarios that call for it.  Am I going to request political correctness when I’m watching Monday Night Football with the fellas? No, but I do think it has a place in dialogue by governmental leaders.  And when did we decide telling it like it is was anything other than excusable bad behavior?  To take that further, when did we decide we wanted average Joe’s in positions of power and leadership?  Despite what some said years ago, Joe the Plumber would make the worst public servant imaginable. To quote a completely different Sorkin show, “I’m a fan of credentials”.  I want my leaders to at the very least create the illusion that they are more educated than me, more cultured than me, more aware than me, more adjusted than me, and better at working with people and solving problems than me.  We all really, should want the best the country has to offer.  And being just another guy/girl, ‘being just like the rest of us’, or being plain-spoken are not good things to look for in the leader of the free world.  At the end of the day, if our leaders are just like the rest of us, then get everyone in the mix and work off shear numbers.  If the sample size was larger, maybe the cream would rise to the top.  Barring an asinine theory like that, give me the smartest, most qualified, engaged people this country has.  Or in other words, I want a heavyweight.

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

I know that it flies in the face of what we’ve been programmed to believe, politically. We now live in a very divided America. Granted, I could suggest any number of topics from Black Lives Matter to the 2nd Amendment to Military Funding to the Economy. Chances are pretty good that anyone chosen is likely to fall any number of ways on those issues. As if we use the issues to define us. To say, I am different from you because of this. Why has that become the approach we take? Why is our default position to be combative? Black Lives Matter ALONE seems to have divided the nation in half. There is no middle ground. At least 20 years ago, two adults could discuss the issue of Abortion or Gay rights or Government spending and they could have that conversation with it never getting anywhere near the verbal violence such debates incite now. The fact of the matter is and has always been that what we are arguing about are slight. We all support free elections. We all believe that all of our citizens deserve certain rights. We all want our children to grow up in safe schools where education is a priority. We all want a strong America. We just disagree on some of the nuances of how to get there. A sentiment that is beautifully articulated by Sitting President Walken (played wonderfully by John Goodman).

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

This brings me to a point that is bound to rub some people the wrong way. The fact that any subject is given the distinction of being an ‘issue’ generally means it is important to enough people who it is worthy of the discussion. However, I have always seen ‘issues’ as rankable and not just some grocery list absent of order. Towards the top, we are always going to have ‘issues’ like the economy, education, taxes, citizen’s rights, foreign policy, right to choose, and military issues. Those and some others have always inhabited the top. In sports rankings we tend to refer to that as the top tier. Grouping certain things of like importance together.

It may not be an important first step, but it seems logical that certain issues should take a back seat. To cite specific instances from The West Wing (just for the fun of it), changing the name of North Dakota to just “Dakota”, Topography Equality, Legal protection against the burning of the American Flag, campaign finance reform, a ‘wolves-only’ highway, all should not be the thing that derails your opinion of a would be public servant. Now yes, some of that is done to make light of the point I’m trying to make. But I have run into many of the “Amy Gardner’s” or “Lt. Commander Jack Reese’s” of the world. Those who will weigh one thing that is particular or special to them allowing them to rationalize the derailing of bigger issues.

Yes, the amount of money set aside for Military spending would be important to someone like Lt. Commander Reese. But should that really be the deal breaker? Reese in the show cites military spending as the end all be all for why he planned to vote for Ritchie (Bartlet’s opponent in the re-elect). Similarly, Amy Gardner. Amy is actually one of only a handful of characters among the 250 some recurring characters on this show I admittedly ‘hate’. Mary Louise Parker is a very attractive woman, but politically speaking, I have a problem with anyone who has that one ‘deal breaker’ issue. In Gardner’s case the ONLY issue that existed was that of a pro-women’s issue agenda. Now that is an important and worthwhile issue to support. However, any deal breaker issue becomes a problem when it derails other positive legislation.

Referencing the show. Gardner does her level best to sink a bill that would provide revenue to the education system along with a few other very important causes because the language of the bill did not advance Gardner’s women’s issue enough. To some degree these deal breakers become weighted just as much as issues like the economy, education and foreign policy. Now I’m sure one could argue they are just as important. I would just politely argue that cannot possibly be true from an objective logical perspective.

Not all issues are equal in weight. That’s factual. How Donald Trump feels about Daylight Savings Time or how Hillary Clinton feels about Congressional Term Limits should not in any way come close to say the economic state of this country. Yet there are people who seem to put too much value in smaller issues. Maybe even issues that aren’t an urgent concern. We should be able to focus on the bigger issues and find ways to seek common ground there before tackling some smaller issues or even issues that really might not be urgent issues to begin with. A notion that was addressed shortly in an episode called, “20 Hours in LA”.

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

 

Let’s be perfectly clear, issues are and should be the driving determining factor for any voter. By no means am I suggesting that the issues important to me should overshadow what is important to you. What I am proposing is that we all accept that there are some macro issues that should always take priority. Consider your own financial/bills situation. There’s no one reading this I’m sure that is going to consider their Netflix bill as being more important than their mortgage. Yes after a long and stressful day at work, maybe knowing you can unwind and binge watch a little West Wing is monumentally important. But if you don’t have a home to watch it in, how important really is the Netflix subscription. Yes, I may be underselling the importance of secondary issues with that analogy, but the bigger point should be obvious.

While we’re considering the difference between big universally important issues and those that have a particular significance to an individual, can we also look to shed the combative nature of American Democratic politics? As has been mentioned previously in this article, “the things that unite us are greater than the things that divide us”. Using that idea, it’s high time we take a step back and see the bigger picture. Like an artist painting from six inches away, sometimes taking a step back can re-calibrate our perspective.

At times, the electorate are divided among issues like foreign aid, military involvement, economic bailouts for suffering countries, base closings, support of allies and potential military presence in countries that may or may not appreciate our presence. These issues and questions can often be just as divisive as social issues like a woman’s right to choose or gay rights. At the end of each of those conversations, one very obvious question needs to be asked. Are we for Freedom or are we not? Because if we are for freedom, it can’t be limited to…well anything really. The very nature of the concept of freedom is devoid of limitations.

To say that we’re for freedom within our borders or as long as it doesn’t cost us anything is contradictory to the very notion of what freedom represents. So if you think pulling out of conflicting nations is strategically recommended, don’t think we should put troops in harm’s way, or take the approach that we need to completely fix 100% of our own problems before we put even a single resource on someone else’s soil, then you have a fundamental conflict with being the democracy we are. That is perfectly fine by the way, but call it what it is. When you can realistically identify that a person is against those things just mentioned, then that person needs to come to grips with the reality that they are not for an American Democracy.

The fact of the matter is that if America is the leader of the free world. If America represents what it is supposed to represent, then every one of its citizens has to be in support of Freedom. And not just conceptually. You have to be for Freedom everywhere and for everyone. Now that same Freedom that allows us to choose our own religion, where our kids go to school, what we do for a living, also has to extend to less admired Freedoms. Burning of the flag, saying whatever one wants, the freedom of assembly. Freedom only works if its free across the board. It must also extend to Freedom for all of its citizens even if you don’t agree with other citizen’s choices. It must extend to all religions, even those absent of any such a faith at all. It must extend do those who disagree with you. And yes, it must extend to those countries and peoples who are not quite there yet. Those countries that have yet to break free from the oppressive rule of a mightier and less Freedom loving power.

Never has such a sentiment been more adequately portrayed than in the episode “Inauguration Part II: Over There”. In this fictional masterpiece, one very obvious theme is that this particular President does not, will not put American lives in danger lightly. Often there have been points of conflict. The reluctance to put soldiers into the equation almost always is overshadowed by the greater good of the pursuit of Freedom. Which absolutely is a prime virtue of this American Democracy.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Television

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Television

As the episode progresses, it is clear that Jed Bartlet’s epiphany on whether the troops should be used to ensure those that want Freedom can pursue it, is not the end of this motif. While the President battles over to do it and risk lives vs not to and let tyranny prevail, his staff deals with a similar angle. Senior staff being what it is, is naturally concerned with the political fallout of the decision either way. Regardless of what side of the fence you may be on, Aaron Sorkin (as he does often in this series) provides a very simplistically beautiful way to see this issue. Sometimes, you just have to back up and see the whole picture. And sometimes that picture is very simple and lacks complexity.

C.J.: The guy across the street is beating up a pregnant woman. You don’t go over
and try and stop it?

TOBY: Guy across the street is beating up anybody, I like to think I go over and
try to stop it, but we’re not talking about the President going to Asia or the President
going to Rwanda or the President going to Qumar. We’re talking about the President
sending other people’s kids to do that.

C.J.: That’s always what we’re talking about, and in addition to being somebody’s
kids, they’re soldiers and sailors, and if we’re about freedom from tyranny,
then we’re about freedom from tyranny, and if we’re not, we should shut up.

TOBY: On Sunday, he’s taking an oath to ensure domestic tranquility.

C.J.: And to establish justice and promote the general welfare. Stand by while
atrocities are taking place, and you’re an accomplice.

TOBY: I’m not indifferent to that, but knuckleheaded self-destruction is never
going to burn itself out, you really want to send your kids across the street into the fire?

C.J.: Want to? No. Should I? Yes.

TOBY: Why? And don’t give me a lefty answer.

C.J.: A lefty answer is all I’ve got.

TOBY: Why are you sending your kids across the street?

C.J.: ‘Cause those are somebody’s kids, too.

Now while that may be a little lefty heavy, the sentiment remains. The very foundation of Freedom suggests that the pursuit is never over, especially when “Someone is getting beat up”. As a free nation of power and influence, we are inherently compelled to assist when Freedom or the pursuit of Freedom is threatened. An idea that is made clear yet again in the same episode. This time President Bartlet finds a way to promote Will Bailey to Deputy Communications Director and drive home the bigger point at the same time.

BARTLET: Will, I think some of these people don’t know who your dad is. Will’s the youngest son of Tom Bailey, who’s the only guy in the world with a better title than mine. He was Supreme Commander, NATO Allied Forces Europe. We didn’t know we were going
to do this. I would have asked you to invite him.

WILL: Well, you got quite a response from him watching on TV, sir. I think he’s going to reenlist.

BARTLET: Actually, I meant he could be here now when I tell you Toby’s asked me to
commission you as his deputy.

WILL: I’m sorry, sir?

BARTLET: Toby wants to make you deputy.

WILL: Pardon me?

BARTLET: I’m appointing you Deputy Communications Director. It covers a wide range
of areas of policy and execution and counsel to me.

WILL: To you… the President?

BARTLET: [to the gang] That’s what you want to hear from your new Communications–
WILL: I-I accept.

BARTLET: There’s a promise that I ask everyone who works here to make. Never doubt
that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world. You know why?

WILL: It’s the only thing that ever has.

BARTLET: …and affixed with the Seal of the Unites States. And it is done so on this day and in this place. Congratulations.

BARTLET: [holding a piece of paper in his hand] You know, it’s easy to watch the news
and think of Khundunese as either hapless victims or crazed butchers, and it turns
out that’s not true. I got this intelligence summary this afternoon. “Mothers are standing
in front of tanks.” And we’re going to go get their backs. An hour ago, I ordered
Fitzwallace to have UCOMM deploy a brigade of the 82nd Airborne, the 101st Air Assault,
and a Marine Expeditionary Unit to Khundu to stop the violence. The 101st are the Screaming Eagles. The Marines are with the 22nd M.E.U., trained at Camp Lejuene, some of them
very recently. I’m sorry, everyone, but this is a work night.

The final point I’d like to drive home and reinforce with context from the West Wing is the nature of how we view politics in this country. The founding fathers of this country and the framers of the Constitution had a few things at the forefront of the construction of this country’s government. 1) Most decisions structurally were made in a reactionary manner to reject anything adopted from the British model (let that marinate for a moment-might alter the way you see ‘how this country was made) 2) Freedom of its citizen’s will be paramount to almost anything else. 3) The party system wasn’t instituted to divide the country but to allow the electorate the opportunity to be heard, view or debate the minority idea. Yet in 2016 within this American Democracy, we have grown not only divisive but almost angry and combative. The divisions are stark and clear. With the addition of the 24 hour news cycle and social media making the world smaller, we have taken a structure meant to encourage debate and the sharing of ideas and have replaced it with emotion filled, borderline verbally abusive tactics to convey that I am right and you are wrong.

Cable news might be the worst contributor to this notion. Any number of networks claiming to be fair and balanced or always in pursuit of the truth, when in fact, those ideas are conceptually false. Fox News is not fair and balanced as they admittedly support a strict adherence to the Conservative agenda. CNN is not the most trusted name in news either as they can’t be completely trusted if they are slanting left consistently. Ever want to have a great bit of fun during an election? Watch the cable news coverage of that election based on who is losing. Watching those anchors and analysts fidgeting in their chairs as if they are actually watching the end of the world is entertaining no matter who you are. So instead of shaping our news coverage based on a model that would more likely mirror the sense of the founding fathers encouraging debate and the explanation of perspective…our news media takes sides.

Now the influence of news media may not mean a great deal to each individual’s decision. It is fair to assume that most of the electorate can read between the lines. However, the presentation of this ‘sharing of ideas’ (if we can even call it that anymore) has illustrated just how far we’ve fallen. For me it started with the McLaughlin Group back in the 1980s and it continued from there from everything from Meet the Press to Face the Nation to each and every hosted program on cable news. Go watch Anderson Cooper or Bill O’Reilly (no spin zone, that’s funny) without noticing one person disrespectfully talking over the other. From a tv production standpoint, what we see now unconditionally assists more than anything else into this condition we find ourselves in. My beliefs are what’s right in the world while your beliefs (if they differ at all from mine) are stupid and therefore what’s wrong with the world. The day I hear a cable news anchor/host say, “That is a fair point, no allow me to counter.” is the day I will get off this news soapbox.

The 24-hour news cycle, social media, advances in technology and a society that is often fearful that the world is getting progressively worse and worse with each passing year all contribute to an angrier electorate. Now while I’ve heard “worst election ever” each and every election I’ve witnessed since George Herbert Walker Bush, I do believe that this 2016 election is actually the worst. Now, again, I am not referring to the candidates themselves. Granted, I could make that argument as well, but that isn’t the focus of this piece. The shear vitriol that the voters seem to be throwing at each other is the bigger issue. I am a dog person. However, I can absolutely understand and grant the notion that there are people who would prefer to be cat people. Not my choice, but cat people are not lesser people. They are not heathens for preferring cats. They are not sub-human for not wanting to choose dogs over cats. While the analogy is simplistic is it really that unrealistic? Of course not. It only seems ridiculous because of how we approach political conversations amongst ourselves. We have conditioned ourselves somewhere in the last 25-50 years that those that disagree with us are stupid and a detriment to this country as opposed to viewing the conversation as an opportunity to evaluate all perspectives.

The perspective extends further than conversations at the work coffee machine or the danish cart. It is apparent that the voters are not the only ones taking an adversarial view. The very leaders we elect also subscribe to this idea of Party over Country. At every step we should be asking “is this best for the country” and the sad thing is that question is never asked in all honesty. The question generally comes down to “is this best for the party”? The two-party system has become a contact sport. Democrat vs Republican and there needs to be one clear winner and one clear loser. Thus, is our problem.

I will give one very hot bed example. Apologies in advance, this is not the political portion of this piece either just a random issue that is very divisive and should identify the point. The slight alteration to the second amendment to hopefully decrease the number of mass shootings and violent crimes or refusing to even talk about the second amendment because no one wants to make any sort of legislative compromise even if it means saving American lives. Now I’m not saying that gun control will eliminate violent crimes. I am also not saying that to fix the problem we must remove 100% of guns. However, the bigger point to be made is that even an issue such as gun control that has very clearly drawn lines of support vs opposition should still create some level of compromising discussion. However, I dare you to bring that up in a public forum and count the seconds that pass before people resort to name calling and profanity.

We have become angry and party-centric. The two-party system wasn’t created to inspire adversaries. It was created to appropriate all perspectives into the dialogue. Yet, the government and the people who vote them in all seem to be on the same page. It’s almost brand loyalty at this point. If party A is not the winner, then they must be the loser. That’s where the concept needs to change. We all, from voters to The President need to all get on board with the idea that we collectively should be making decisions that benefit all and not just those that belong to one party over the other. The West Wing has been a beacon for what we should strive for, not what we currently are. And yes, I know, some of what is seen in this series is unrealistic and ideological. However, a great deal of it is not that far-fetched and should be the inspiration for what we hope to be.

Both sides should see ways to identify with the other. We should be able to shed the party-centric mentality and give credit where credit is due. Not everything needs to be an opportunity to advance one party past the other. Never should ‘beating the other side’ be a motivating factor, but it often is. We should in every way, every conversation be trying to advance the country not the party. Anything less than that is irresponsible.

AINSLEY: Well, it President Bartlet, I’m on the government payroll. And I believe that politics should stop at the water’s edge. To be honest with you, I think it should stop well before that but it turns out there’s no Santa Claus and Elvis isn’t cutting records anymore. See, I don’t think you think the treaty’s bad, I don’t think you think it’s good, I think you want to beat the White House.

KEENE: Yeah.

AINSLEY: You’re a schmuck, Peter. Today, tomorrow, next year, next term, these guys’ll  have the treaty ratified and they’ll do it without the reservations he just offered to discuss
with you.

Every now and then, there is a moment where the above is not the sentiment shared. Go to any travesty, any devastation that befalls this country because it befalls all of it equally. 9/11, mass shootings (at least before they became so frequent that we are almost desensitized to it), or any natural disaster. Americans come together. Without hesitation or qualification. Why does it take tragedy to bring out the inner American in most Americans? Well, the artistry in some of what Sorkin creates is Art imitating Life almost literally. We won’t even mention how the young, engaging minority democrat wins in a Presidential election over the old white republican Congressional stalwart and go straight to a story line commonly referred to “The 25th”.

In “the 25th” we discover the President’s youngest daughter has been kidnapped. The President is so beside himself over the issue at hand that he acknowledges that he is unable to preside over the country objectively. He does what he must and invokes the 25th Amendment turning over the office of the President to the next person in the line of succession. In this case, that would involve turning over his office to the highest ranking official on the other team. Yet, Sorkin again finds another way to articulate the approach we should have and not the current approach we cling to.

Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

The West Wing on its own, in a vacuum is the greatest achievement in television history. Beyond that simple idea it continues to breed more than that. New information presents itself with each viewing. It may have you question your convictions or maybe it will solidify them. It is more than a show. I could go on and on about the genius of Aaron Sorkin, but that’s not what this is about. Ask me later, I have no hesitation in discussing the West Wing on any level relating it to any topic, but for another time I guess. Beyond the obvious form of entertainment which it swings for the fences at every turn, it is the ideology of what we as Americans engaged in the political process should constantly strive for. Even the show is not perfect. It is not a documentary about political utopia. But it does consistently show how people of differing perspectives can come together for the greater good. Or put in other words, “The West Wing can serve as an oasis from our own political madness” or at least the current level of political madness of the 2016 Presidential Election seems to be.

Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Courtesy of ABC/Marvel

Courtesy of ABC/Marvel

Warning: Spoiler Alert

Agents of SHIELD season 3 begins as ominously as season 1 did. A strange apartment with what looks like the remains of a human person reduced to standing ash. Down on the street there are what appear to be random explosions, melting metal and the sound of chaos. One man seems to be the source of the carnage, even though he’s not doing in on purpose. The “authorities” show up to grab the man. After hearing “lethal force” he decides to flee.

From the alley he can see the bodies of whoever tried to take him flung like weightless tumble weeds. Enter Daisy (formerly Skye), she’s here to help. Pardon my fanboy take, but it doesn’t hurt that she grows more and more into this role with each passing episode and season. Mack and Hunter accompany her and clear a small area while she tries to convince “Joey” that they are here to help. Hunter puts something down in the alley and a small white Tardis looking thing lands in its place. Difference being, this box looks exactly the same size from the outside as it does from the inside. The strange almost Tardis makes its way onto a very large jet. Almost looks like the mother ship version of the quinjet.

The “authorities” convene at the scene of the extraction. A woman with a scar above her lip rolls down the window. She is clearly in charge of this team at the very least.

Daisy meets with Joey (with him still inside his mini Tardis) separated by window glass as she tries to explain what’s happening to a frantic man completely in the dark. She eventually talks him down and convinces him to get some rest. As someone who has been through this, the empathy shows through and Joey begins to relax. And with a nod to last season’s finale, she asks him if he takes fish oil. The fish oil thing is going to be a problem for a while.

The woman in the truck walks through a hospital corridor giving orders to her #2. She seems to be in charge of rounding up Inhumans. She is clearly not pleased that one slipped through their grasp.

Coulson’s new toy, the mother ship quinjet lands at an undisclosed location. Joey’s Tardis is lowered into a white honeycomb room. Like the bus’ interrogation room, but less threatening. Bobbi begins to brief Joey on what comes next, mostly medical and sleeping arrangements. Joey lashes out mildly claiming that Bobbi doesn’t know anything about him. Then she schools him on just how much she could deduce just by reading his Facebook page. Joey appears to be a good guy who is concerned with the notion that he may have harmed innocent people. Reports on that end are optimistic. No fatalities as of yet.

Coulson, Mack and Hunter discuss the problem at large and find out that our mystery woman has at least four aliases each working at the highest level of various governmental agencies (CIA, MI-6, CDC). Coulson asks Hunter to take a gun they retrieved from the scene down to Bobbi to have it analyzed. It is absolutely clear that Hunter is sticking to his guns about having nothing to do with Bobbi going forward.

Daisy and Mack pay Joey a visit. No hostility. Joey jumps to the wrong conclusion out of the gate. Assuming that Mack is there as muscle. Mack quickly clarifies that Daisy is the muscle. Joey asks for them to take off the kid gloves and Daisy lays it on him, so she does. Joey’s reaction is muted but hysterical laughter. The laughing stops when Mack and Daisy explain that he cannot return to his old life. Joey rejects this new reality and demands they let him go. Mack uploads news footage covering the damage Joey has caused. Still, he persists and Daisy has to put him down.

Bobbi is on Monolith detail (the boulder that liquefied and swallowed Simmons in last season’s finale). With no Simmons, Bobbi is left to tend to the lab. That is in part because Fitz won’t rest while Simmons is missing, taking time off to research everything he can. Fitz is checking on another ‘last lead’ in Tangiers Morocco. He tries to ‘cool’ his way past the guards to get to a man who apparently has something Fitz needs. He is bagged and roughed up. The case that looks like it has money in it cannot be opened by the man’s goons. They offer Fitz his life in exchange for opening the case. Fitz rejects the offer. Then Fitz in a way only Fitz can turn the tables, explains how this is going down, consequences be damned.

Fitz: I tracked it, not easy…through history. To Mosul’s museum in Iraq. But it was taken by your extremist buddies when they ransacked the place this year. Now I’m 90% sure it’s in this room. So…you can either hand it over in exchange for what’s in that case, or you can spill my guts all over the sand and use the briefcase as a booster seat. It’s totally your call.

The leader of this group eventually retrieves the item Fitz requires. Fitz opens the case to reveal the mini bombs that Simmons tried to use to kill Ward. But did if fact end up killing Bakshi. The radicals thought they would use one of these mini bombs to kill Fitz and leave no remains. When they tried to activate one to use on Fitz, it only created blindingly strong light-giving Fitz just enough time to grab the artifact and flee.

Joey is not taking to his adjustment period very well. Daisy has an idea. It’s not a new one, but perhaps one worth trying. She’d like to bring Lincoln in.

Our mystery lady is from DARPA. Bobbi has found an opening in the woman’s daily routine for Coulson to exploit. He and Hunter get on the subway during the only alone time she has. Or so they thought. Coulson makes his opening statement about her being hard to pin down and she calmly replies that he wasn’t. Then each and every person (except one old lady) on the train reveals themselves as part of her detail. It’s not clear who has the upper hand between Coulson and this “Rosalind”, but they have a very calm and revealing back and forth. As of now, Rosalind plans to detain Coulson and wants to know the location of the Inhumans he has secured. By the end of their back and forth, Coulson and Rosalind both deny responsibility for the dead Inhumans.

Lincoln is anything but cooperative to Daisy’s request to have him join SHIELD in an attempt to help these new Inhumans transition. As tempers rise, the electricity in the building flickers but this is not Lincoln’s doing. All three run out of the room in time to witness a very large deep voiced creature that looks like a long-lost cousin of Raina’s assault a man demanding to know where the Inhumans are.

Both Coulson and Rosalind get a phone call at the same time. Coulson suggests that if they are both getting the same phone call, chances are both are innocent of the other’s accusations. Rosalind takes her call in the next subway car over. Coulson convinces one of her goons to answer his phone or it will just keep ringing. This gives Coulson just enough of an opportunity to gain the upper hand so that he and Hunter can escape.

Whatever this porcupine creature is, it is very strong. Able to open holes in walls. Even when Daisy and Lincoln focus their powers on him simultaneously, it only slows him down. He creates a hole in the floor to elude their attack. Instead of joining them Lincoln flees.

The President addresses the nation on the subject of “Alien Threats”. He speaks of an agency to take SHIELD’s place. He’s speaking of Rosalind’s team. “The laws of Nature have changed”. With the address in the background Coulson views a computer simulation of the Terrigen (the element that precipitates the Inhuman mutation) outbreak until the computer reveals 100% contamination.

Fitz returns at a frantic pace to begin work on the artifact he so recklessly tried to acquire. He doesn’t notice Coulson in the shadows of the lab. Fitz is compelled to find the answer. Coulson is trying to redirect his attention by recanting a Thomas Edison like track record of failure. Even references Ant-man, or at least the shrinking procedure. Coulson even listens to this newest theory. Then Fitz is able to find the parchment he was looking for. In it was one word spelled in Hebrew. “Death”. Coulson then transitions to the thing we all (including Fitz) knew he was going to take this. Its time to let Jemma go.

Iain De Caestecker’s acting in the 90 or so seconds that followed, on its own merits an Emmy award. He is able to hold the almost cry face for longer than most people can hold their breath. Coulson invites him to join Coulson as they travel to Simmons’ parent’s home to inform them that she is M.I.A. Fitz makes a b-line for the Monolith. Using a shotgun he blows off Mack’s locks, tosses the gun aside and steps into the Monolith’s chamber. What follows might just be the best frantically, emotionally, angry display of acting I’ve seen in a very long time. Fitz screaming at this large black rock, demanding that it do something. Something like swallow him up as it did Simmons.

After the break but before the “see what happens on our next episode” tease, a woman runs for her life on terrain that most closely resembles the planet seen in Thor 2: The Dark World. Dark, cold, jagged and with dual moons in the distance. That woman is of course Jemma Simmons.

Courtesy of ABC

Courtesy of ABC

Warning: Spoiler Alert

We start this week with a flashback. Both of the Koenig’s, Tripp, Skye in training from May, Fitz showing some improvement, Hunter drinking too much beer (well that’s probably true in present day as well), and Coulson visiting the special base with Billy Koenig to reveal the “Theta Protocol”. Which is dare I say massive. Inside the base, behind a special door is a helicarrier. That’s right, nothing like fitting a flying aircraft carrier in your garage. Think back to the reveal moment when Fury takes Cap down to see the helicarriers in Captain America: Winter Soldier.

In present day, Coulson stands before the new SHIELD. He throws down his clearance lanyard for the h garage and suggests something that in hindsight should have been obvious. One SHIELD. Coulson as director with Gonzalez and his high-ranking agents serving as a relative board of directors. Coulson leads SHIELD under Gonzalez’ advisement.

Skye’s been sitting next to Lincoln since they brought him into the base. He finally comes around and all seems ok. That is until he notices the SHIELD emblem Skye tries to reassure him that these are her friends. Then he says something leading.

Lincoln: You never should have come for me…
Skye: I had to Jiaying wouldn’t have allowed me if I…
Lincoln: There’s a reason for that. The only thing that’s kept us safe all these years is that we were a secret. Now SHIELD knows we exist, and they won’t stop until they find ‘Afterlife’.

Raina has embraced her gift and is using it to help those you are waiting to cross reassurance from her visions. Gordon joins her and she tells him of a vision involving a stone. Gordon already knows of this stone and it is bad news. A weapon of sorts created by the Kree to destroy these people. The Kree of course, viewing the Inhumans as abominations. Jiaying gives Raina permission to travel with Gordon to discover if this rock is a real thing and where it might be.

Gordon and Raina teleport to what looks like the inside of a helicarrier. Inside they search for a red door. Before they find it, Hunter finds them and pulls the alarm. Moments later, they find the red door. And the boulder sized stone behind it. Then they watch as it goes from impenetrable stone to black liquid and back again.

After the infiltration of the helicarrier (or base, still not sure yet) Coulson and May bring in Skye to see what she knows. Which of course is very little and it gets a little testy. Meanwhile in the conference room, Gonzalez and his lieutenants have smiles on their faces. They have found a way to trace Gordon’s transporting signature. They know where the Inhumans are.

Naturally, Gonzalez and his people want to charge in guns blazing. The typical ‘everything that isn’t like us is a threat’ mentality. Coulson tries to talk them down and suggests a meeting with Jiaying. A fact-finding mission. Bobbi suggests using Skye as a liaison. And May thinks this is a great opportunity to see where Skye’s loyalties lie.

Skye is not exactly thrilled with this idea of sending Coulson to their secret location for a sit down. Coulson wants to do things by the book. Skye tells him that Jiaying will listen. When he asks why? She tells him the thing we’ve been waiting for them to discover. Jiaying is Skye’s mother. I’m really getting tired of this recent version of May. She rejects Coulson’s lengthy apology and uses the fact that Skye is still breathing as evidence of Coulson failing the team.

Before Coulson can make his UN like visit, Raina gets a vision of a Quinjet raining fire on the Inhumans secret location. She further tells Gordon that if Jiaying meets with them it will start a war. And nobly suggests she should be the one to meet with SHIELD.

Before departing, Gonzalez questions that Coulson should be the one to go. Claiming he’s too close to the situation. Bobbi steps up in Coulson’s defense. Then Coulson puts it to May. Who once again rears her bad attitude and they side with Gonzalez. Which to me feels like a nightmare scenario. Raina’s vision might actually be accurate with Gonzalez there.

Coulson preps to quarterback the mission from the base when Mack enters his office. Mack is resigning. Having had a brush with an alien element at the end of last season, he cannot bring himself to trust in or work for Coulson. Coulson tries to talk him off the fence but is unsuccessful.
En route to the secret location and two things are very wrong. Gonzalez and Weaver are acting very shady. And May is not May, its Kara who has now pulled a gun on Bobbi and cue the girl fight. Bobbi wins the fight but apparently lost the war. She steps out of the now landed Quinjet. Looks around. Then gets shot in the head…by Grant Ward.

Raina’s plans are foiled beautifully. She’s under the impression that Gordon teleported Jiaying out of Afterlife. But what he really did was inform Jiaying of Raina’s attempt to have her removed.

Upon Gonzalez’ arrival, Jiaying turns over Cal as a good faith gesture. Really its an insurance policy, Cal’s way of protecting his family when he couldn’t before. Gonzalez presents Jiaying with what he called in the Quinjet an insurance policy of his own. This is a small trinket that Jiaying never had any chance to give Skye. Surprisingly Gonzalez has been as diplomatic as Coulson would have. Jiaying in turn goes to give him a gift, something of their history. And I’m not getting a good feeling about this.

On board the Quinjet, Agent Weaver discovers Cal’s ‘viles’. When asked about them, he plays dumb. This entire situation feels like an Inhuman first strike moment. The item is a Taragen crystal. Something gained from melting down a Diviner. However, the Diviner’s metal never really left the crystal. She drops it, it shatters, and slowly turns Gonzalez to stone. The same as Tripp. This is the killing of Franz Ferdinand. Jiaying takes Gonzalez’ gun and shoots herself in the shoulder. She departs the hut holding her wound as Skye and Lincoln run towards her.

Jiaying: He tried to kill me. SHIELD tried to kill me.

Ward and Kara bind Bobbi. She was just hit with a night-night round. They have intentions to kill her, but first one must think there is nefarious plan in the works first.

Courtesy of ABC

Courtesy of ABC

Warning: Spoiler Alert

Raina wakes up abruptly following a vision of Coulson, Ward, Skye, Lincoln and Hydra. Jiaying is sitting at her bedside. Lincoln being in this particular vision was specifically alarming. Then the sound of Gordon’s return is followed by Cal’s angry voice. Gordon departs again to retrieve Lincoln while Cal throws his hissy fit. Gordon returns moments later, this time with a fresh wound. “It was Hydra”.

Coulson waits patiently in the honeycomb holding cell. Gonzalez continues to play the “I can’t trust you” card, but Coulson wins out over the mutual goal of stopping Hydra. That and knowing that both men have their secrets, Gonzalez included. Coulson mentions one of those secrets, an enhanced person held on Gonzalez ship, and offers to open the Toolbox free and clear if Gonzalez helps.

Coulson’s team (Hunter, Fitz, WARD, and 33) are given permission to doc the Quinjet with the Bus. Agent May is not prepared for a face to face reunion with Grant Ward, and she’s not the only one. The ranking members of SHIELD on both sides, look on from Deathlock’s retinal feed as Hydra removes his eye. Ward isn’t concerned as he has Bakshi on the inside. A notion that doesn’t instill calm with the others in the room. Coulson sees this is a necessary evil. Gonzalez puts the op to a vote. Agent May is the swing vote, but she wants a moment alone with Coulson before casting her vote.

May is hurt (in her own way) that Coulson kept from her the use of Andrew (her ex-husband). It wasn’t for anything official Coulson used him as his personal therapist during the alien writing segment of this season. May is taking this very personal. Yet no one stopped to consider that May was the one that forced Coulson out, to keep him safe. In that episode, she didn’t care about any such secrets. She knew that it was necessary for the Director of SHIELD to keep secrets. But she chooses now to get on her soap box of trust. Or lack thereof.

Skye wants to attempt a rescue mission for Lincoln and is trying to get assistance or permission to do so. Gordon is against it, very possibly because Jiaying would be against it. Then Raina charges is with what she knows. “Skye can save Lincoln, I saw her do it”. Then Raina says something that brings Skye on board with her ‘gift’s’ plausibility. Why was Coulson working with Ward?

While making preparations for the mission, Fitz and Simmons chat. Simmons brings up a portable bomb that they’ve developed that will vaporize it’s victim. Fitz is intrigued by the prospect of vaporizing Ward, until he realizes she’s not joking.

The team gathers in the payload of the bus when they hear a sound (familiar to us). May and Coulson both and quickly aim their guns on Ward. Ward didn’t make the sound. Gordon did. Skye walks out onto the catwalk, alone.

Skye: Hey guys…
Ward: This is great. Finally got the whole team back together.

Coulson reluctantly turns their meeting over to Ward. He tries to do his part in this debriefing, but the tension is thick. He attempts to address the elephant in the room. And even makes a heartfelt show of contrition. Not an apology, but contrition. The idea being that not being shot, not betraying Skye, not dropping Fitz and Simmons in the ocean, but breaking up their ‘team’ is what he will regret forever.

Deep in the SHIELD base, Hunter walks in on Mack trying to set up a link to allow the rest of the team to observe the op. Hunter forgives Mack for what he and Bobbi did to him in an effort to keep the ‘new’ SHIELD from being identified before they were ready. It’s awkward but works out in the end. They may not be friends, but Hunter is willing to work towards that end.

List and Bakshi watch on monitors as their doctors experiment on enhanced subjects. Bakshi doesn’t believe they will survive past this level of the experimentation. Then List says something that should pique the interest of those anticipating Avengers: Age of Ultron. “No one’s past this point of our experiments. Well no one, except the twins”. The twins of course being a nod to Pietro and Wanda Maximoff. Or Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. A Hydra agent runs in to inform them a cloaked ship is on approach.

Being spotted was always part of the plan. Hydra does successfully hit the SHIELD plane (#661, not the bus). The Quinjet disconnects and May flies it in a manner that would suggest they are just falling debris. They descend on the Hydra base with minimal resistance. Bakshi leads Ward, Skye and Simmons to a room where they meet some actual resistance. List is moved out quickly.

Ward: Just like old times…?
Skye: Not exactly.

Skye moves out ahead, raises her hand, and sends out a pulse knocking out all of the Hydra agents in their path. They find Mike Peterson who shrugs off his own condition to get them focused on finding Lincoln, who is in much worse shape. Skye finds where they are working on Lincoln. It is significantly guarded. Skye neutralizes the entire room like a female Jason Bourne. Without the use of her ‘power’. Lincoln is flat lining. As time ticks, Skye focuses and uses her ability to restart his heart and hopefully nothing else.

Simmons tries to confront Ward but is intercepted by Bakshi. In the struggle she places the ‘bomb’ on Bakshi. He lunges again but before he can get there, he disintegrates to dust. What follows is a Ward like guilt trip that includes yet another person claiming Simmons has changed and ends with “I’m disappointed in you.”

Coulson has broken off and May finds him accessing a computer. May claims that this “wasn’t the plan”, Coulson looks up slowly, “or was it”? Shades of the ocean op in the beginning of Captain America: Winter Soldier where Romanoff was executing something that Cap didn’t feel was the mission at hand.

Once securely in the base, Coulson receives a phone call from Ward. Ward slipped out as to not spend any time afterward locked up or spending time in “T.A.H.I.T.I.” This call is about Kara (Agent 33). Ward is leaving Kara there, with SHIELD, like an orphan on the steps of a cathedral. She deserves better. She was a good agent for SHIELD before Hydra took everything from her. Ward lays it on thick. All of this while Kara is being informed that Ward is not coming back.

As it turns out, Gonzalez really only went along with this plan as a way to secure enhanced people including Skye. Bobbi wants to discuss Gonzalez’ plans for Skye as Coulson walks up. Gonzalez quickly transitions into Coulson honoring their agreement about the Toolbox. Coulson unlocks it and hands it over as promised.

Coulson: There you go. Unlocked and all yours. Go nuts. At least until Fury shows up and asks for it back.
(Gonzalez looks up in disbelief)
Coulson: Ooo. Spoiler alert.
(Coulson’s phone rings, he turns it over to show that it’s Maria Hill calling)
Coulson: I have to take this.

Jiaying visits Raina again in an attempt to slow her down. She’s not pleased that Raina provided the information necessary to ramp up Skye into leaving to save Lincoln. Then this is where Raina questions why exactly Jiaying is the one giving the orders. Then in mid-sentence, Raina is struck with a new vision. Loki’s scepter.

Maria Hill, via video call, appears to be sitting in a room that seems to share a view with Stark Tower (let that marinate for a moment). The intel Coulson was copying from the Hydra base was specs on Loki’s scepter. In Hydra’s hands, it could be catastrophic. It’s location is the same as ‘The Twins’, Segovia. Before the end of call, Hill asks about Theta Protocol and it’s readiness.

Coulson: Yes it is. Time to bring in The Avengers.

The scepter was not the only thing in this vision. Not be awful with the puns, but “The Vision” might have been the only thing she didn’t see in this obvious Age of Ultron foreshadowing.

Raina: I see…a scepter. Beautiful. Dangerous. It isn’t finished yet. So much destruction. It’s terrible. Consequences are upon us. Men made of metal. Tear our cities apart. And the world will be changed forever.

Courtesy of Marvel

Courtesy of Marvel

Courtesy of ABC

Courtesy of ABC

Warning: Spoiler Alert

Last week May forced Coulson out before the other SHIELD could retain him. He was met by the recently escaped Hunter. In the midst of Coulson attempting to negotiate a deal for an old Jeep Cherokee, Hunter rolls up in a new black Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Once the dealer realized they were “in cahoots” he attempts to call the police. Coulson then puts him down with a night-night round.

Skye wakes up in what looks like a “Dollhouse” (Joss Whedon reference) dream sequence. Gordon is there to at the very least bring a familiar calm into this strange place. Then “Gordo” introduces Lincoln, the transitioner.

Bobbi and Gonzalez walk discussing the Skye incident. Gonzalez refers to Skye as ‘that thing’ and Bobbi is not exactly on board. It feels like Bobbi’s loyalties are going to be tested. Soon. In the meantime, they need access to the toolbox. Which means they will need at least Fitz, if not Simmons too. Both of which do not warm to Gonzalez’ charm. Bobbi claims that once they have been debriefed, as agents, they can walk off free and clear if that’s really what they want.

Fitz: Okay…I’ll start packing my things…
Simmons: You should’ve brought cupcakes.

Coulson and Hunter get to the cabin only to find it decimated. A broken security camera reveals who did what to who. They see the footage of Gordon teleporting Skye out of there and Coulson rocks back in his stance believing he’s lost her.

“Afterlife” is the name they give to the place that Skye is in. It appears to be somewhere in China, or at least made to look that way. Skye keeps getting the evil eye from everyone around her. As it turns out, all of the people at “Afterlife” have genetic markers and are being prepped on the off-chance they are selected. Skye essentially jumped the line that they were all standing in.

Gonzalez attempts to interrogate May, never a promising idea. She gives him nothing. Until he asks if she is loyal to Coulson or Shield. Her response is something that Gonzalez, Bobbi, and Mack all need to at least consider. Coulson and SHIELD are the same thing. Fury himself put Coulson in his position. Coulson, at this point has all of the authority.

Coulson and Hunter are safe in the cabin of their own. Hunter begins in with what he will do if he sees either Bobbi or Mack again. Coulson responds in the way you might expect. They’re good agents. See it from their perspective. Hunter suggests lying low in Mexico, which isn’t an option for Coulson.

Coulson: The problem is, there are no good options.
Hunter: Then maybe it’s time for some bad ones.

Hunter wakes up quickly from a noise. Coulson identifies ‘them’ as the other SHIELD. Whom he invited. The plan is not to surrender, but to hold them off until reinforcements arrive, giving them the upper hand to steal a Quinjet and find Skye.

Mack finds Fitz in the hopes of convincing him not to leave, opening the toolbox aside. Mack is trying to make an honest appeal, all Fitz can see is the betrayal. Both by Mack and the one being enacted by Simmons has found a way into the toolbox.

Using a contemporary version of the Howling Commandos kit that Fitz made for Coulson, the two cabin dwellers start playing cards. The other SHIELD breaks through. The card players were holograms giving the real Coulson and Hunter to take out the agents with night-night rounds.

Gordon pays the Doctor a visit who is mid rage at the moment for being locked in a windowless room like a prisoner. Their interaction is more fight than level-headed discussion. Gordon shows more anger than we are accustomed to getting from him. He proclaims to the Doctor that he will never see Skye/Daisy again. He is reckless and has not only sealed his own fate, but the fate of his daughter as well. It’s starting to feel like Skye might not be in a safe place.

Coulson’s plan did hit a hiccup. And by hiccup, I mean they were captured in short order. Back at HQ, Fitz confronts Simmons about her current betrayal. Fitz gives a nice little speech about not believing in fear and then suggests that Simmons wants him to leave. Her response all but confirms that. In the best interest of SHIELD, maybe it is a good idea he left.

With Coulson and Hunter on the plane, it appears that there was no reinforcements coming. Then the payload door stops closing. It’s Deathlok (or Mike Peterson). Mike takes everyone out including the second Quinjet with minimal effort.

All is going relatively well with Lincoln and Skye, including the mild flirtation and the show runners trying to force Lincoln as a potential love interest. But all of that just fell through the floor as Skye caught Lincoln in a lie. He’s avoided any specifics about Raina or her father to this point. He just let slip that she had a total physical transformation. Her anger manifests the earthquakes we’re accustomed to and storms out.

In a hut that Lincoln shrugged off as ‘one they don’t use anymore’ Raina sits calmly. Skye is there to confront her. The shakes come and it does something to Raina, dropping her to her knees. Raina asks her to finish it. And just before she does, a feminine voice rings out, “Stop it!” The voice belongs to the once believed to be dissected and murdered Jiaying. You know her as Skye’s mother.

Jiaying is stern and cold towards Skye’s claims. Skye attempts to leave. Then Jiaying tells her that she has decided to be her guide (not a surprise considering what we know that Skye does not). She lays out a proposition. Jiaying will see her through the transition, teach her to manage her powers, and then if she still wants to leave and finds “no connection worth exploring between them” then she’d be free to leave. Then Jiaying teleports into The Doctor’s room with Gordon. They are much more familiar. In the end, Cal (the Doctor) still cannot see Daisy.

Gonzalez tries a new tact with May. Hands her a loaded gun and suggests she should shoot him if she thinks he’s a traitor. She gives the gun back to him claiming even he is not stupid enough to hand her a loaded gun. He reveals that it absolutely was loaded. This is about SHIELD, not any one person. Gonzalez offers her a seat on the board of this new SHIELD.

In the Quinjet, Coulson reveals that Mike has been working overseas for Coulson chasing down ‘the head of hydra they didn’t cut off’. If they are to get to the bottom of whatever this is, there is only one person on both sides of it. And they need that person. Grant Ward.

At HQ, Simmons is at a loss. She executed everything that should have opened the toolbox. It was in that moment, that I said out loud to no one else in the room, “Fitz switched it”. There was a moment during his “I don’t believe in fear” speech where he tossed the toolbox about. Using sleight of hand switching the actual toolbox for at dummy toolbox. A little part of me is still hoping that Simmons redeems herself. This may be the beginnings of that. Jemma switched the toolboxes and packed Fitz a prosciutto and mozzarella sandwich. With a hint of pesto aioli.

Courtesy of ABC

Courtesy of ABC

Warning: Spoiler Alert

Tonight’s episode begins with a flashback to the day SHIELD fell. Mack is on his knees along with others in a destroyed room. A Hydra soldier is demanding to know who the engineer is, that would be Mack. One of (I assume) Mack’s guys tried to fall on the grenade, figuratively speaking, but Mack wouldn’t allow it. The other SHIELD agent was killed immediately Then Bobbi kicks in the door and takes everyone out, except the guy who starting this to begin with. He’s taken out by Hartley. Mack is clearly affected by the smaller guy that the Hydra agent took out. Maybe that’s some insight into his relationship with Fitz. Then Hartley says something that changes the attitude towards Mack and Bobbi (for the moment).

Mack: What’s the plan? What are you even doing here?
Hartley: Fury left us orders.
Mack: To do what?
Bobbi: To save SHIELD.

On the bus, Coulson lets Mack look under Lola’s hood. Supervised of course. Bobbi shows up with a lazy “no sign of Hunter” comment. This would all be fine and good except, Coulson started suspecting them of something treacherous long before now. After leaving the belly of the bus, Bobbi eludes the security cameras to insert a usb drive into what looks like the inner workings of a main frame computer.

While under the hood, Coulson gradually and verbally walks Mack into a corner. Coulson wants Mack to come clean on who he’s working for. The problem is, that Coulson is phrasing the questions wrong. So when Coulson asks, “Who are you working for” Mack isn’t lying when he says, “SHIELD”. In Coulson’s eyes, Mack prefers the hard way. Then everyone else in the belly of the bus pulls a gun and points it on Mack.

Meanwhile, Bobbi is in Coulson’s office stealing Fury’s ‘toolbox’ from within Coulson’s desk. Before she can get away, May pulls a gun on Bobbi. I sense a big fight sequence. Bobbi tries to explain that she works for SHIELD but May does not. Bobbi even gets away, but May catches up. Bobbi triggers some sort of EMP which allows her and Mack to escape.

Another flashback reveals that Fury’s prime objective with their ‘orders’ was to get Gonzalez (Edward James Olmos) out.

At the cabin, Skye decides to test drive Simmons’ glove prototypes. The internet connection seems to be lost, but Skye is able to leave Simmons a voice mail asking if the gloves are supposed to be as tight as they are. Then troubleshooting the connection issue Skye stumbles upon something. Behind the wood paneling is that honeycomb stuff that lines the bus’ holding cell. She peels away another plank to see what looks like the imprint of the Hulk’s fist. Then she hears the sound of an intruder. After she sees nothing, there is a knock at the door. It’s Gordon. The eyeless man.
She lets him in and he begins to put her at ease with his conversational tone and body language that suggests he’s not there to harm her. He even starts in on his own story. Conveniently leaving out that his ‘guide’ was her mother before asking what the first thing was that SHIELD did upon learning she was different. He eventually offers her a safe place to learn how to manage her powers with others like her. He leaves it as an open invitation before he leaves.

On the bus, Simmons is arming herself when Bobbi appears. They both lie to each other, not to incite anything further. Simmons tries feverishly to find something she’s looking for while Bobbi gets more and more anxious. Simmons puts a small item in her hand. Then finds what she’s looking for and presses it. Sending a signal to the small thing in Bobbi’s hand, knocking her out instantly.

Fitz tries to figure out what is preventing the bus from regaining its power. He discovers the usb drive just as Mack shows up. Mack approaches slowly and claims he has no intention of hurting Fitz. And only asks that Fitz trust him right then. Meanwhile, May goes through Bobbi’s locker and discovers a secret compartment. Inside is a gas mask. Which is precisely the moment the smoke begins to billow in from the air ducts. As the smoke moves through the bus, Fitz backs up. Knowing what comes next Mack pleads with Fitz to get away from the wall. When he doesn’t, Mack charges and tackles Fitz to the floor just before the wall explodes.

Following the explosion, Gonzalez and the ‘real SHIELD’ descend quickly. Everyone is restrained, including Coulson. The next move is to hopefully, retrieve Skye. In the cabin, Skye begins to slowly see the truth in Gordon’s claim that everything vibrates and she could learn to channel that. Baby steps. She’s manipulating the water running out of the faucet in a zig zag sort of way.

Coulson is escorted to his own office where Agent Gonzalez is waiting to question him. Coulson’s resurrection is the beginning of this questioning. The bigger issue is that this SHIELD doesn’t believe they should operate in the shadows. And they want to find all that do to ascertain whether or not they are a threat. That starts with Gonzalez asking Coulson to open the ‘toolbox’.

May calls Skye to warn her. Tells her how to disable the laser fence, but the power is cut before she can do so.

In another beautifully shot flashback, Bobbi decides to reject Fury’s orders and take back the ship. Regardless of the sensitive cargo it may have. Gonzalez, Hartley, Bobbi, Mack and another unidentified agent fought valiantly against steep odds to in fact, take back the ship.

Gonzalez continues his questioning but to no avail. Coulson insists that all he had to do was come talk. Gonzalez endangered Coulson’s team. Gonzalez hopes that Fitz or Simmons might figure out how to open the toolbox. Coulson questions why his team would help their captors. Gonzalez claims they as SHIELD agents can decide for themselves who to side with. Then a guard falls before May shoots Gonzalez with an icer.

May cuts Coulson free and rushes him to a corner of the room. A couple of hand movements and the brick wall opens. May pushes Coulson in it suggesting he should be safe for a few days.

Couslon: What about FitzSimmons?
May: I’ll take care of them. Without you there is no SHIELD. They know about Skye, Phil. Find her.

Gonzalez’ team including Bobbi set out to the retreat to retrieve Skye. Before she can disable the laser fence, she disposes of an agent in the conventional way. Then when Bobbi and Calderon converge, Bobbi yells out to Skye. Calderon fires a shot. Skye is able to channel her powers to stop the bullet. Instead, she knocks them back a considerable distance and leveled the immediate area of foliage. With a subtle whisper of Gordon’s name, he arrives to whisk her away. “Would you like to go home?” She gestures in the affirmative.

Coulson walks up to a bar on a beach. I’m really hoping it’s not Tahiti. As he’s about to sip from a very feminine drink when Hunter walks up. He apologizes for his tardiness. Then grabs a napkin and signs it.

Coulson: What is that?
Hunter: You offered me a permanent position. Consider that, my contract. So, what’s the plan boss?

Courtesy of ABC

Courtesy of ABC

Warning: Spoiler Alert

Agent 33 and Grant Ward sit in a diner. All seems innocent enough, until the duo execute an armed robbery. All so that one patron in particular could be kidnapped to fix Agent 33’s face.

The SHIELD team seems almost completely divided. Coulson and Fitz in favor of keeping Skye in the fold, May and Simmons more interested in keeping people safe and powers in check. May in particular feels this whole situation could go south any minute. Removing Skye from the equation is the best option.

The kidnapped gentleman quickly fixed the nano-mask, restoring Agent 33’s face to the complete image of Melinda May’s.

Mack escorts Hunter into the headquarters of the ‘other SHIELD’. In a conference room, Hunter finds three superiors and Gonzalez (played by Edward James Olmos) to debrief Hunter on what exactly is going on. The belief is that SHIELD was supposed to operate with transparency, not operate from the shadows. With Fury out of the picture (or so they think), Coulson is the problem. A difference of philosophy it seems.

Coulson and Skye get on a large jet headed to an undisclosed location. Coulson tells the story of spending time with his Dad fixing an old junker and the appreciation gained. That junker eventually became Lola.

Agent 33 is reluctant to receive Ward’s help with nothing to offer in return. Ward sits at a table in a large hotel room. Agent 33 emerges, except this time she is borderline seductive and the nano-mask has switched from May to Skye. This starts out as you might expect, but ends abruptly. There is even a nice moment where Ward eludes to the prospect of them being together would have to include whoever Agent 33 is. Not some image of a different woman who Ward is familiar with.

Ward sympathizes with 33 and tells his own story of woe. Culminating to the conclusion that 33 needs closure. Bakshi is closure. He is being held by the Air Force. Ward gives her a ring to wear as a means to convince Talbot that she is whoever she is. This time, it’s Talbot’s wife. Once inside, 33 transforms into the first woman in uniform she sees. They begin to execute their plan when Talbot get a call from the real Mrs. Talbot, who is stuck in traffic. Talbot knows immediately that this is the work of the nano-mask again.

Coulson has taken Skye to an old Nick Fury safe house. A cabin in a secluded area where Skye can safely try to get a grip on her powers. It’s actually just a really pleasant prison, or at least that’s how Skye is perceiving it. Simmons has been working on special gloves that will decrease the intensity of Skye’s powers.

Mack returns to the bus and is greeted unceremoniously by May. There is still this gap of information and time. Mack was supposedly out keeping Hunter from getting himself killed in drunken bar fights as his go to move when his heart is broken is to drink. The assumption being that Bobbi ended things. May is buying it for now.

Talbot has corralled all of the female personnel on the base into one room (this includes Agent 33) and begins questioning each of them to discover which one is the wolf in sheep’s clothing. He gets really close. He’s pegged the correct mole, but the nano-mask is fused to her face. So as he pulls on her cheek, it’s not going anywhere. A couple moves later and they’re in.

Talbot’s wife (the real one) shows up. Talbot immediately pulls his gun on her and gives her the business as if she were the mole they’re looking for. A reference to taquitos and tears come before he even considers that she might actually be his wife.

Bobbi enters the conference room Hunter is confined to. They have a heart to heart on the scenario and the circumstances that brought them here. It gets emotional and Bobbi asks how she can meet him half way and make it work. His answer is one she can’t accept. Walk away, right now. She declines and Hunter tries to make a break for it. Takes out a number of guards before realizing he is on a base that resides on an aircraft carrier.

Mack returns to the lab just in time to overhear an exchange between Fitz and Simmons. Fitz wants to know what was in the case Simmons took to Coulson earlier. That direction is altered and the conversation moves towards Simmons’ new found fear. Fitz insinuating that it is Simmons who has changed.
Coulson and May have a short conversation about a bad feeling Coulson has as part of the treatment of Skye. Then it turns to Mack. Neither Coulson nor May buy his story.

On the other SHIELD base, it is revealed that Hunter was able to escape using one of the ship’s escape pods. They have twelve hours to retrieve him or he’s a free man. In the wind. Bobbi elects to go back in, to remove the threat that is Coulson.

After their little ‘mission’, Agent 33 stands before a full mirror. With one gesture, she reverts her face back to the way it was following the accident. Her real face with damage. Ward walks up and introduces himself as if it were the first time they met. She replies with her real name, “Carol”.

They have Bakshi duct taped to a chair with his eye lids forced open as he watches what looks like an old Windows ’95 screen saver on a massive flat screen.

Bakshi: Will my compliance be rewarded?
Carol: To be honest, it won’t really matter…