'Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D' Rises As Skye Falls

An agent goes down, and Deathlok rises, on an all-new episode of the Marvel TV series.

Clark Gregg's comments about fans who abandon "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." being "losers" make a bit more sense now, considering the high levels of awesome experienced on this week's episode.

Titled "T.R.A.C.K.S.," the latest round of "S.H.I.E.L.D." saw the fall of two heroes and the rise of a new villain. The hero-turned-villain is none other than Mike Peterson, the Extremis-powered S.H.I.E.L.D. trainee thought dead in a recent explosion. Instead, he's been corrupted by the mysterious Clairvoyant and put on the path to becoming Deathlok, a dangerous cyborg from Marvel Comics lore.

Peterson's transformation is far from complete; as of now, he only boasts a cybernetic leg with a "Project: Deathlok" emblem, and the ocular Backscatter implant implemented by the Centipede group. Will we get to see a full-blown, green-skinned, red-tights Deathlok at some point down the line? That remains to be seen, but for now, the arrival of Deathlok is a step in the right direction for die-hard Marvel fans.

Even more important, however, is what "T.R.A.C.K.S." pulled off with its main cast. From Coulson all the way down to FitzSimmons and everyone in between, all of the series regulars had moments to shine. There was levity (Coulson's reaction to Simmons' "prostitutes" accusation was priceless), there was romance (May and Ward's relationship is starting to feel more earned, while Fitz's schoolboy crush on Skye became even more apparent) and there was badassery aplenty (May taking out her interrogators, Ward head-shotting every bad guy in his path, even Fitz putting a villain to sleep with uncharacteristic ruthlessness).

There was heartbreak, too, as the episode ended with one of the agents down for the count: Skye. The first bullet fired by Ian Quinn was a shock in and of itself. The second bullet? Did not see that coming. Skye ended the episode in a cryostasis of sorts, badly injured and at the mercy of her grieving teammates. Given the clues that there's something special about Skye, it feels likely that the S.H.I.E.L.D. rookie will rise again — but when and how is anyone's guess.

There's some delicious, meta-level irony in the fact that an episode called "T.R.A.C.K.S." is the same episode that proves "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." is on track toward something great. It wasn't just a solid episode by "S.H.I.E.L.D." standards; it was a solid hour of television, full-stop, and easily the best hour of the series to date. It strengthened the show's perceived weaknesses, took full advantage of the characters and stories already in place, and upped the ante with the arrival of an important character from Marvel mythology. It was, in a word, a winner.

In fact, the biggest frustration leaving "T.R.A.C.K.S." is that it's the last episode of "S.H.I.E.L.D." until March 4. Thanks for that, Olympics. On the bright side, with so many weeks between now and a new episode (which, by the way, sees the arrival of Bill Paxton), there's plenty of time for all you losers everyone who gave up on "S.H.I.E.L.D." to give the series another shot. Yes, much of the front half of the series was a bit of a slog, but "T.R.A.C.K.S." marks the third great episode of the series in a row — if the rest of the season follows suit, then the first episodes' slow pace will have been worth the effort.

What did you make of the latest "S.H.I.E.L.D." outing?