Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. opens on General Hale’s (guest star Catherine Dent) capture of Coulson (Clark Gregg). But we don’t stay there long, because “Rise and Shine” needs to share a lot of backstory with us in order to explain why Hale thinks it’s time for S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra to unite.
A young Hale (skillfully played by Alyssa Jirrels) attends a special Hydra school 28 years ago, where she teases a young Sitwell (my favorite cameo this episode!) about being stuck in middle management. The idea of kids being trained to go into Hydra from the start, at a school run by Daniel Whitehall no less, is incredibly creepy and perhaps hard to believe. How did this school keep their agenda hidden from the rest of the country? No matter, it is here that we learn Hale has long held the desire to seek answers from the stars and that Hydra has plotted to build another super soldier for decades. She gets into an ugly fight with young Von Strucker, which screws her chances of getting a good placement… Instead she is sent to be artificially inseminated with Hydra’s so-called perfect human, only utilizing her other talents for deep uncover in the Air Force until it’s time for her to serve the cause. Who would have thought that even evil secret organizations are rampant with sexism?
Next we fast-forward to two years ago, where Ruby (Dove Cameron) is at school and kicking all the boys’ butts. The new Hydra authorities believe Ruby has some glaring weaknesses, which means they’re still unsure on where to place her in the wake of Whitehall’s death. Hale is called away from a shockingly civil mother-daughter lunch in order to be briefed on alien contact: apparently Hydra has made a deal with an alliance of alien races called the Confederacy. Before she can learn more, Talbot breaks up the party with the goal of taking out what’s left of Hydra – too bad he hasn’t figured out Hale is a part of it. Left to her own devices, Hale kills Ruby’s teacher before he can indoctrinate her via dog-murder, leaving herself and her daughter as the last two Hydra members left. After Talbot is shot by Daisy’s LMD, she also manipulates his family into agreeing to have him sent to a “more comprehensive” hospital. When he next wakes up, he’s in isolation and being blatantly ignored by Ruby. Soon enough, Hale is revealing her Machiavellian plan to team up and get one over on the alien Confederacy.
“Rise and Shine” may feel like an unnecessary detour at times, especially when the fans are concerned about Fitz’s mental state, Yo-Yo’s arms and Coulson’s life, but it does a good job of laying the groundwork for Hale as a strangely sympathetic villain. She posits that she was born into Hydra just like Talbot was born into American patriotism, which is an unfortunate comparison and can’t lead to a legitimate discussion when one party is suffering from brain damage. He refuses to talk, declaring that Phil Coulson is coming for him… Which brings us to 24 hours ago, when Coulson does show up even if he doesn’t realize Talbot is there and in need of rescue.
Once again, Ruby is wearing headphones and ignoring Coulson while he grabs his continental breakfast and returns to his room. Hale shows up shortly after and presents him with her alien communication device, brokering a meeting with the Confederacy so Coulson may learn the price of siding with them. Furthermore, Hale wants them to work together to create a gravitonium-infused human and prove to the aliens that Earth is not to be messed with. Isn’t Captain America still around? Guess he won’t help Hydra…
Apparently Ruby is a perfect physical fit to enter the chamber and be transformed, but since she lacks the temperament perhaps Daisy could do it? Coulson knows this will go sideways because of the future he just came back from, but Hale merely sees his warning as the delusional rantings of a sexist who won’t let her be the hero. Ruby comes to ask Coulson for specifics, but he isn’t about to give her details she needs to defeat Daisy. So she brings him a raving Talbot, who wasn’t able to hold out long enough for S.H.I.E.L.D. to save him.
And now we’re back at present-day, where Daisy (Chloe Bennet) and May (Ming-Na Wen) are trying to figure out how to save Coulson from Hale. May talks her through her new leadership position, which is a nice reminder of their close bond even though we haven’t seen it as often this season. Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) is still locked up, but May understands what it’s like to be Hydra in the Framework and tries to reason with him. He still doesn’t regret his actions, but she’s not looking for an apology this time – merely for him to embrace his new mindset to help them save the day. Fitz asks for a few hours’ access to the lab and computers, but Daisy doesn’t want to let him out yet. I’m glad she’s afforded the time she needs to forgive him, but it’s a little strange to see the team so at odds and trying to decide who has betrayed the others more. Nonetheless, Fitz inadvertently gives Daisy the idea to reach out ot to Robin in order to decide their next move.
Mack (Henry Simmons) tries to explain to Jemma (Elizabeth Henstridge) what it’s like to be both part of the Framework and still exist outside of it, but she’s already on her husband’s side as it is. As happy as they both are that Yo-Yo’s (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) surgery was a success, Mack also confides in Jemma that he’s afraid Yo-Yo considers herself invincible because she sees the future as set. We see how this has affected Simmons when she visits her husband in his cell and assures him they will get through their current rough patch. How does she know? Because Deke is their grandson, which means they make it to the Lighthouse and raise a daughter who then gives birth to him. Fitz’s reaction of “But he’s the worst!” is hilarious, and it’s kind of heartwarming how Jemma can take Mack’s concern about Yo-yo and turn it into a strength for herself and Fitz. But I would posit once more that none of them should want to make it to the Lighthouse. Let’s try to avoid the apocalypse first, shall we?