That “previously on” montage did a nice job of reminding us exactly which of the story threads are going to be important tonight, the most immediate being Skye's gunshot injury in the final moments of the last episode we saw before they took the long mid-season break.
May's not much for Miranda rights, is she?
When they made the “big reveal” several episodes back about what had happened to Coulson in Tahiti, it felt anti-climactic. Basically, it seemed like the explanation was “When they needed to save Coulson, they just operated on him even more. They used more surgery.” It was a nonsensical image. But as soon as Coulson started to mention the idea of taking Skye to see the same medical team that worked on him, it became clear that they aren't done giving us the details of Tahiti, and I realized I was genuinely curious to see how they would fill in more information, and whether it would help me accept the explanation more.
It helps that Bill Paxton showed up. Bill Paxton makes everything better, and he had immediate chemistry with Coulson, showing up to take delivery of Ian Quinn as a prisoner. Garrett (Paxton) has a history with Coulson and with Quinn, creating an interesting tension between them. As Fitz/Simmons dig into Coulson's medical file, they immediately start to realize just how bizarre the work that was done to Coulson really was. Garrett's on the trail of the Deathlok program, and it turns out that the Clairvoyant is on the trail of whatever it was that happened to Coulson. The reason they shot Skye was to push this exact situation into happening so that this time, The Clairvoyant is able to watch from a distance to see what they do to save her.
The problem, of course, is that Coulson's file is pretty much a lie. They are able to decipher enough of it to head to The Guest House, which is where Coulson's work was done. It looks like they spent a lot of money on this episode overall, and it makes sense that they started small so they could expand the scope of the show over time. This is still a fairly self-contained episode, all things considered, but the money shots they chose carefully pay off in making the Guest House seem big or giving the Bus a presence in the episode.
Ultimately, the thing that is most discussion worthy takes place near the end of the episode. The thing they go to the Guest House to retrieve is a serum called GH.325, which was one of the things used on Coulson to help bring him back. When they use it on Skye, there's a moment where it seems like it might kill her, but then she stabilizes. Is that because of whatever she is already? Did Coulson just wake up whatever dormant abilities Skye has? If she does wake up, what is she going to be?
After all, this isn't just some synthetic compound cooked up in a lab. The craziest image we see in the episode is what appears to be a half of a Frost Giant suspended in fluid. Is this fluid being created from his dead body? Is the fluid being used to regrow his tissue? And if he's the source of the fluid, then where do all the other GH compounds come from? There are drawers for at least a dozen other compounds, and I'm curious to see what those do as well.
We know now that S.H.I.E.L.D. was not the primary architect of Coulson's return from the dead… so who was? And why does it drive the Clairvoyant so crazy? I'm starting to suspect that The Clairvoyant may be a certain baby brother of a certain Thunder God, and the sting at the end of the episode introduces Lorelei, paying the way for the guest appearance by the Lady Sif (Jaime Alexander) next week. Asgard and Midgard have an uneasy peace between them, one which could be challenged if Lorelei starts any trouble.
Overall, this is a fairly lean episode, with very little narrative fat. I hope Paxton's going to be an ongoing character, and I hope the show continues to move at this pace, with this sort of narrative urgency. It's starting to get to be fun, where I am looking forward to each new episode instead of watching simply out of obligation. It's clear that they didn't just gloss over the Coulson resurrection, but that they are going to keep adding new information as the story moves forward.
“Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.' airs Tuesday nights on ABC.