Agents of SHIELD, Season 2, Episode 8: “The Things We Bury”
Written by DJ Doyle
Directed by Milan Cheylov
Airs Tuesdays at 9pm (ET) on ABC
WARNING: This review contains major spoilers this episode of Agents of SHIELD.
The best way to sum up “The Things We Bury” is Grant’s observation that, “Nothing stays buried forever,” and wow, this episode finds some dark stuff buried in the past. Hydra’s human experimentation in Nazi Germany, Grant’s troubled family history, and what exactly happened to Skye’s mother is all revealed in full, gory detail. Agents of SHIELD is generally a family-friendly show, but “The Things We Bury” is violent and disturbing in a way that audiences have not seen before. It also might be the best episode of season two.
Season two of Agents of SHIELD tied in significantly with Agent Carter in “Shadows” and “The Things We Bury” is where that ground work pays off. The Obelisk is now officially identified, and its true name, the Diviner, is revealed. Coulson’s team discovers that Daniel Whitehall and Dr. Werner Reinhardt are one and the same, even if they have not put together Reinhardt’s connection to Skye’s past. The writers also drop in a clue about Bobbi’s time undercover at Hydra- she might have done things to make her Hydra superiors trust her, things that Coulson’s team wouldn’t like to hear. This is an important development for Bobbi because it makes the audience question how her character is framed by the show itself. In “A Hen in the Wolfhouse” and “A Fractured House”, Bobbi is introduced as the agent who has it all. She is smart, beautiful, a sharp interrogator, and more than competent in a fight. She is easy for audiences to like and viewers want to believe that she is one of the good guys. On the other side, Hunter is easy to dislike, and I initially pigeonholed him as a jaded ex-husband who needs to get over his hang-ups and move on. “The Things We Bury” makes me re-think my view of Bobbi and Hunter. Did she sleep with Hunter because of their lingering sexual tension or because of the questions he asked about Hydra?
Meanwhile in another subplot, Kyle MacLachlan steals every scene as Skye’s father. Like Bill Paxton in season one, he is fantastic and elevates every scene he is in, but unlike season one, everything going on around MacLachlan is up to snuff. His performance is evolving from murderous madman to something closer to Walter White, a man with an oversized ego and a death wish. Reinhardt/Whitehall is responsible for the death of his wife, Skye’s mother, and Coulson is responsible for turning Skye against him. He is manipulating both SHIELD and Hydra in hopes of destroying both of them and his desire to be reunited with his family in the afterlife makes him more dangerous than most of SHIELD’s enemies. He isn’t someone who can be bargained with or placated. He wants to leave everyone dead, including himself, and MacLachlan manages to capture all of this perfectly while also infusing charisma and humor into the role. His conversation with Coulson is unexpectedly hilarious with some great deadpan deliveries. “Tesseract-level power?” “Sure. I don’t know what that is.”
The episode needs these moments of humor because it also apparently has Grant murder his entire family, right after dangling his brother over the infamous well and forcing him to confess. I expected the storyline with Grant and Christian to last until the midseason finale at least. The way that it plays out, however, the audience gets a peek into Grant’s past and understands how he ended up this way without sympathizing with him. After all, he does kill his own family.
Grant’s subplot is mild however, when compared to Whitehall/Reinhardt’s backstory and how it connects to Skye’s father. Skye’s mother is butchered by Reinhardt. He slices her open while she is still alive and guts her until there is only a shell of her left. While it is nothing compared to the blood and guts on Dexter, this is distressing, especially when an unborn child is removed from her body. If this level of violence was a regular occurrence on Agents of SHIELD, I would say it is excessive, but here it gives the appropriate weight to Reinhardt’s actions. What he did to Skye’s mother (and by extension, her family) is horrifying. It is more than enough to transform someone like Skye’s father into a monster. As disturbing as this scene is, it’s the shot of Kyle MacLachlan cradling his wife’s body that really got to me. It is the villain origin story viewers have been waiting for, one that MacLachlan deserved, and it sets a very high bar for the rest of season two.