RECAP: Now that superheroes are emphatically out of the equation, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." shows its strength is in out of this world spy shenanigans.
In Sweden, a group of men in red masks and suits with suitcases handcuffed to their wrists march through a crowd. A woman follows them onto the subway, turning off the lights, taking them all out and stealing a suitcase. The woman takes a glass case of diamonds out of her new suitcase; cold open!
Coulson reveals to the Agents that the men from the cold open were transporting diamonds, and that they need to find out how they were all taken out. Skye points out that everyone probably Instagrammed the masked men, so Coulson brings up Facebook, Instagram and Flickr to run facial recognition, but holds off when he finds the thief (Akela Amador, SP?) and realizes he trained her. He insists on not notifying SHIELD until they know more about her.
Cut to Amador roughing up a potential buyer of the diamonds. She shows him that they're hidden inside golfballs that disolve in water and should get through customs without a hitch. He presents her with a card key that will get her "inside."
The "short bus" as Agent Ward says, heads out in search of Amador. Coulson and Grant head out as Skye posits the theory that Amador has ESP or precognition, and makes the Obligatory Reminder of Events In The Avengers. Coulson and Ward poke around and meet a Russian woman who also coberates the "ESP" theory. Meanwhile, Amador actually shows up, slamming a rental truck into the van Skye and Fitz/Simmons are using. Commercial!
Back on the actual Bus, Skye starts analyzing a data signal they intercepted before the attack, and they hack into a video signal that turns out to be from Amador's eyes; she's a cyborg. When she asks for permission to sleep, Coulson realizes she's being controlled. He assigns the team rotating shifts watching, and Agent May takes the first. Hours later, Coulson checks up on the watch and finds May has gone off to take Amador in. Amador reveals that either she kills May, or she dies. They throw down, but Coulson busts in and stuns Amador. She's taken in, and it's revealed that they've hijacked the video feed from her eyes so they can find out what's going on.
Amador and Coulson catch up while Ward and Skye arrive at a Russian factory. The eye-handler is determined to be an older Englishman, and Fitz/Simmons are sent to remove the bionic eyeball. Ward attempts to carry out Amador's mission, which turns out to be photographing a chalkboard full of equations. However, he looks in a mirror, making him seconds before Fitz removes the bionic eye and throws it in a metal container to explode. Coulson finds the handler, but as soon as he gets out his SHIELD ID, the handler's eye goes crooked and he falls over, dead.
Afterward, Amador is turned over to "Big SHIELD" for a fair trial. Skye and Coulson decompress, but Amador drops an interesting tidbit to Agent May; her bionic eye had X-Ray vision, and she wonders aloud "what they did to him." When May is genuinely confused, Amador drops it. Post credits, Fitz tries to get Skye to use the X-Ray Spex to help him cheat at poker against Ward.
Best episode yet. I hope I get to keep writing that. "S.H.I.E.L.D." isn't at Must See levels yet, but I can watch it and enjoy the time spent. It's proving that the second "team-building" episode was a necessary evil to set up the characters and relationships more fully. So then we can have funny moments like the poker scene at the end, and they can build up this shadowy evil organization that's been behind the scenes since Episode 1.
Plus, the plot stayed on point and there was only one reference to the Marvel movies (which is always distracting and feels like fan service or an argument to keep watching). Nobody busted out crazy magic technology, outside of the X-ray glasses and wifi-enabled prosthetic eyes, which honestly aren't that far-fetched in a world with Google Glass. Now the Coulson/Skye relationship needs to get more believable, because right now it seems forced. Granted, I know I'm the one who said that Coulson knows Skye is a double-agent and is setting her up, but there needs to be some natural feeling relationship beyond "I decided not to have you arrested." 'Cause right now that be it.
My only new theory for this episode is that Fitz and Simmons are together. Together together.