May has half the team on a mission to locate Ward. While they are gone, Skye is tasked with keeping an eye on Coulson. His etching jags are becoming more and more frequent, now on a daily basis. Skye hasn’t had any luck figuring out what the writings might mean, but a friend of hers, a “crime scene photography buff,” sends her some images of a woman, found dead, with the alien writings carved into her skin. The audience actually sees her getting attacked in the opening of the show, by Mr. Tattoo from last week (who we learn is Sebastian Derrick). Coulson believes the woman is or was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, despite the fact that all her information identifies her as Janice Robbins, an artist from Iowa.
Coulson and Skye go on a little field trip to Janice’s apartment. Skye doesn’t see anything even remotely similar between Janice and Coulson, but Coulson does: he finds a huge cache of Janice’s paintings, all representations of the alien writing he has been carving. Back at HQ, Coulson lays out photos of Janice’s paintings to match with his own carvings. Some overlap, but some fill in pieces of the puzzle. Skye discovers that Janice was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Rebecca Stevens, who was said to have died five years ago from cancer.
Mac and Fitz steal Stevens’s corpse and Simmons does the autopsy. She discovers that Stevens died of shock, not of her injuries, and the carvings continued long after she died. Stevens put up a fight, and there is GH 325 in both Stevens and her attacker’s blood. Against everyone’s wishes, Coulson demands that Skye put him into the memory machine and “torture” the memories out of him. He needs to know who else was part of Project Tahiti.
Once in the machine, Coulson is in the interview room of the guest house. He is speaking with six other agents, who were all part of Project Tahiti. Each one seems well adjusted and feels great. But then things go haywire and psychosis sets in. Stevens starts writing like crazy. Other agents scream, drool, talk gibberish. Derrick is among the test subjects, and he is the only one who is remarkably calm, despite the fact that he has begun the obsessive carvings – in his own skin. As it turns out, that self-harm will be what kept him sane (and 14-year-old depressed girls everywhere shout “told ya so!”). Anyway, Coulson wants to shut the whole program down and destroy the host. Unsurprisingly, Dr. Goodman is against this. The host, she says, pre-dates the pyramids. She thinks it may be implanting its own genetic memories into the agents, which is what creates the “psychic schisms.” It is Dr. Goodman who suggests that by erasing their memories, they can lead happy, normal lives. Skye and the team dig deeper, and get to Coulson watching these memory scrubs, and he is able to uncover the new identities each Tahiti member received. The memories are becoming too intense and they pull Coulson out of the machine. He goes a little crazy, until Skye pulls a gun on him. This snaps him back into reality and calms him down. Skye has found that only two of the six agents are still alive; one of them must be the killer.
After his little freakout, Skye suggests they lock up Coulson until May gets back. Coulson agrees, but when Skye takes him to Ward’s old cage, he pushes Skye in instead. She isn’t there very long before Simmons sees her on the security cameras, but it is long enough for Coulson to escape and head towards his target’s house.
Hank Thompson is a family man and welder who built his son a massive train track in the garage. When Coulson shows up, Hank doesn’t want to talk, not even after Coulson tells him his life is in danger. He pulls his gun. “I need to pick your brain.” Hank is scared when Coulson shows him photos of the etchings, urgently begging him to remember. “You have the piece I need.” “I told you both you have the wrong guy,” Hank insists – then Derrick knocks Coulson out.
Derrick ties up Coulson and Hank in the garage, and Derrick reveals that pain makes him remember. He remembers Coulson, while Hank does not. The more pain, the more he remembers. He came looking for Coulson first, but Coulson was dead at that point. He guesses that Coulson is “one of us” now. In Derrick’s mind, he tortured and killed the others to make them remember. Coulson finds a common ground with him. “I’m trying to find out, same as you.” He suggests they work together to find that elusive “it.” Hank frees himself from his binds and rushes from the garage with his family. Coulson knocks out Derrick.
As Hank and his family run to the road, they flag down a car – it just happens to contain Skye and Mac. This sounds like their guy, and head to the garage. When they come in, they find Coulson trying to choke out Derrick. Skye and Mac both pull their weapons on Coulson, and he insists he is not trying to kill him. There is something that they both see from the catwalk that makes them both go limp. Coulson releases Derrick. They found what they were looking for: from above, Hank’s massive train track creates the missing piece of the carving. Coulson realizes they aren’t looking at a map; they are looking at a blueprint.
Back at S.H.I.E.L.D., Hank declines to learn about his “former” life as an agent. He loves his family, loves his life, and thanks Coulson for making him who he is. Coulson’s compulsion is gone. Now he just needs to figure out why the alien was so hellbent on getting to this city. He finally lets the rest of the team in on what has been going on, and assures them he is not crazy. Hydra is trying to solve the same puzzle; they need to solve it first.
Meanwhile, May’s team is hunting Ward, but from a distance: he is strapped with C4 and a dead man’s trigger. They finally track him to a pub in Boston, where he meets with Bakshi. Ward wants to meet Whitehall, and in return, he will make sure Bakshi gets a face-to-face with Coulson. By the time May’s team moves in, Ward is gone, Bakshi’s thugs are dead, and Bakshi is tied up in the back room, with a gift tag taped to him: “For Coulson.” The team brings him in and keeps him in the bunker downstairs, while Skye dumps Bakshi’s phone. A call comes in, and she answers it hesitantly. It is Ward, calling her, knowing she would be dumping the phone. He promises more “presents” for the team, and that he will see Skye soon. Then he packs up his bag, and the newspaper with his brother on the cover suggests he is going for revenge.
I think tonight’s episode was the best of the season so far. We finally got some closure (well, maybe not “closure,” but more like “closing the gap”) on the alien writing thing, and I always appreciate when forward movement is being made. I honestly was a little “meh” about this season so far, but now I am all in.
You can check out the promo for episode 2.08 of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” in the player below. Titled “The Things We Bury,” the episode is officially described as follows:
“Coulson and team find themselves in an epic face-off against Hydra to uncover an ancient secret, while Ward kidnaps his brother, Senator Christian Ward, for a violent trip down memory lane.”
Written by DJ Doyle and directed by Milan Cheylov, “The Things We Bury” is set to air November 18. “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” airs Tuesdays at 9 P.M. on ABC.