SPOILERS for the Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3 episode “Many Heads, One Tale” follow.
You’ve been warned.
“Many Heads, One Tale” was a fast-paced thriller of an episode. The episode gave FitzSimmons shippers a moment they’ve been waiting on for three years, and that wasn’t even the biggest surprise of the evening.
During FitzSimmons’ kiss, a book was knocked to the ground, conveniently opening to a page explaining the history of a symbol the agents had been researching in relation to the NASA mission that sent Will to another planet. The pages shows the progression of the goat symbol that Fitz and Simmons were originally searching for as it changed in stylization over generations, until finally becoming an inversion of the modern Hydra insignia.
Meanwhile, Grant Ward – who had, up until this point, been propping himself up as the new head of Hydra – broke into the vault of now-deceased Hydra head Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker. The vault was said to house Hydra’s true power. Gideon Malick, the industrialist who serves on the World Council and advises the President of the United States, was already waiting for Ward in the vault. Malick showed Ward this great source of power – a miniature version of the monolith that both Will and Simmons had passed through.
Malick explained the true history of Hydra, how the organization went back much further in history than the rise of the Red Skull during World War II. It underwent many different names and structures, but it has always had a single purpose – serving the creature exiled to the other side of the monolith’s portal. He also revealed that creature to be an ancient and incredibly powerful Inhuman.
Fitz and Simmons discovered that the ram’s head symbol that eventually became Hydra’s symbol was used in blood sacrifices. We’ve seen the symbol in the flashback to the castle in England, where a young man was sent through the monolith portal. The symbol was also inverted and became the insignia of the NASA project that sent Will on his mission, a project that we now know Gideon Malick was involved with. Both the young Englishman and Will’s research party were sent as sacrifices, to serve the Inhuman on the other side.
So Hydra’s entire purpose has always been to find a way to bring this Inhuman back to Earth. Red Skull? He was following the “principal that Hydra was built upon, that ultimate power is not of this world,” but he was certainly not the true founder of the organization, as we had been led to believe. Now, Hydra is manufacturing an Inhuman army to serve its master, and looking to figure out how S.H.I.E.L.D. managed to bring someone back through the monolith’s portal.
This answers a few questions we’ve had about the monolith and Will’s mission. How was NASA planning to get Will’s team back? They weren’t. The team was always intended as a sacrifice for the Inhuman. How did the monolith end up leaving NASA and falling into the hands of S.H.I.E.L.D.? We don’t know the exact details, but both organizations were infiltrated by Hydra, so it shouldn’t have been too hard.
This is a major change to how we understood Hydra in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it’s one that has roots in the comics as well, specifically in Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver’s still unfinished S.H.I.E.L.D. series, which began back in 2010 (Hickman is the same writer who penned the Secret Warriors series for Marvel). The series traces the roots of both Hydra and S.H.I.E.L.D. back to ancient times.
In the Marvel Comics universe, per the Hickman/Weaver series, what is now Hydra began as the Brotherhood of the Spear. The Brotherhood of the Spear involved itself in various aspects of society, becoming a mutli-headed organization immersed in magic, science, and politics. Similar to what Malick described in the MCU, the Brotherhood went by many names, including Thule Society and Cathari, and seemingly disappeared during the French Revolution. As in the MCU, the organization first resurfaced, formally named Hydra, during World War II.
There’s an interesting question left unanswered by Malick’s tale. He says that the Inhuman Hydra serves was banished through the portal to another world, but he doesn’t say who was responsible for doing so. Considering the monolith’s Kree origin, we could probably assume it was the Kree who did it, as part of their larger attempts to terminate their Inhuman experiments. Perhaps the birth and ascendance of this powerful Inhuman is the reason the Kree decided the experiments needed to be terminated in the first place.
But maybe there’s more to it than that, and that brings us back to the Hickman/Weaver series. The Brotherhood of the Spear originally broke from a larger organization formed in ancient times to deal with an alien invasion. Afterwards, that organization split in two. One half became the Brotherhood of the Spear, which went on to become Hydra. The other half formed the Brotherhood of the Shield.
This is going exactly where you think it is.
The Brotherhood of the Shield was considered an occult organization. It was formed by Imhotep in ancient Egypt, and its ranks have included such historical luminaries as Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, and Isaac Newton. Because the series is still unfinished, we don’t know exactly how the occult Brotherhood of the Shield became the organized intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D., but it’s a fascinating reworking of the group’s history either way.
So if Hydra was founded following the Inhuman’s exile in order to bring it back, maybe S.H.I.E.L.D. was formed at the same time. Perhaps the first members of S.H.I.E.L.D. were responsible for banishing this Inhuman, and the organization has been tasked with preventing Hydra from ever allowing it to return. This raises questions about how S.H.I.E.L.D. seems to have forgotten its initial purpose, but that’s the kind of question that would be fun to explore on television, and the idea that S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra were are sibling organizations that have been feuding since times forgotten is the kind of mythic concept I’m into.
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.