As Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. gets closer to its season finale, the show has become more and more assured. Overall, I think the post-Hydra landscape on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is substantially less interesting; with Hydra, S.H.I.E.L.D. found vitality . Having said that, this episode is perhaps Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s strongest of the second season. It pays off multiple story threads while setting up brand new ones. It delivers emotional payoffs that have been building for weeks, months, and since the beginning of the series. And more than anything, it is assured in its actions, even as it handles cosmic storylines for films more than four years away.
Melinda is an atypical Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode, using a flashback for the main storyline. (This should make all those chronological MCU fanedits more fun.) It’s the story of a mission gone wrong that winds up becoming the defining moment of May’s life. May gets lots of badass moments in this one; my favorite is when she silently knocks down multiple guards, and catches one before he falls downstairs. Yet when faced with eliminating a young girl to save over a dozen S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, May is left broken by the encounter.
Ming Na-Wen brings her A-game this episode. One of the series’ most iconic images comes from May’s blank, haunted eyes at the conclusion of the mission. It had a major impact on her life, ending her field career and her marriage. At this point, Marvel has a veritable pantheon of tragic origins and backstories, but something about May’s particularly stings. Unlike Iron Man or Hulk or Daredevil, May’s tragedy is not something that happened to her, but a choice that she made: she would never be able to have children without seeing the face of the girl that she murdered.
One thing I love about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. this season is that they don’t draw out long mysteries that we already know the answer to. The show could’ve pussyfooted around Jiaying’s maternal connection to Skye, but instead they came at it straight almost as soon as Jiaying was revealed as alive. The moment with the mountain really is excellent: I got goosebumps when Skye realized she could “hear” it. Skye and Jiaying have a great relationship, but it can’t remain in Afterlife forever. I’m sure Skye will be heartbroken once Jiaying inevitably becomes an antagonist.
Or at least I hope she does. Her warning to Skye, “Our people have very strict rules and they could perceive you as a threat,” sounds like Jiaying could be killed to set up some kind of Inhuman antagonist, likely the mysterious “council” alluded to in the last episode. It would be irritating to fridge Jiaying twice in one season, first to motivate her husband and then to motivate her daughter. But Jiaying makes more sense as an antagonist; someone to prey on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s loyalty to Skye vs. her very real need to have a family. Jiaying wouldn’t even have to be a “villain” per se, merely someone to come between Skye and S.H.I.E.L.D.. And depending on what the reported S.H.I.E.L.D. spinoff is, it could very well find Skye exploring her powers with a new group of Inhumans..
The C-Plot of season 2 episode 17 is May investigating Coulson and finding worrying results. The mysterious “Theta Protocol” is mentioned for the first time since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s winter break. As Jemma and May start to realize how many secrets Coulson kept and how strange his actions are since escaping, she wonders whether he’s actually as authentic as he appeared. This is exactly what was missing from the last episode, and I’m so glad to see it here. May and Simmons are no longer just blindly loyal to Coulson. Actually investigating him to make sure that he’s not raising an army of “gifted” makes me like and respect the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. team more.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 2×17 has the rare D-plot. The fourth storyline finds Raina trapped inside Afterlife, still struggling to figure out what her powers are. The character remains morose at her physical transformation, and to be honest, I am a little too. Ruth Negga is one of my favorite actresses on the show, and she’s hamstrung by the prosthetics covering her face. Since Negga is playing a lead role on AMC’s upcoming Preacher, Raina’s time on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is limited. I hope that they bring her to a satisfying conclusion sooner than later.
We finally get a glimpse of her powers tonight, some sort of dream-induced visions or prophecies, a twist I don’t really care for. Generally, visions of the future limit storytelling, either by tipping the writer’s hands too quickly, or creating an expectation that the show simply cannot match. I’ll see how the show plays with her powers before making a judgment.
With only five episodes left this season, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has a lot of plates spinning in the air. Coulson’s true motives and intentions remain a mystery, as do Gonzales’. Though Hunter and Fitz are loyal to Coulson, May and Jemma appear to now be on the fence. Even if the two S.H.I.E.L.D.s are reconciled, it’s hard to imagine a future where Coulson allows Bobbi and Mac to stay. Skye and Raina are discovering their new powers, but remain captives of Afterlife (and there’s no way Cal goes quietly into the night). We have no clue whatever the fuck Ward is doing. And let’s not forget the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron crossover; maybe Coulson’s superhero army will play a role in that conflict.
But despite all the spinning plates, Melinda never feels like an episode lost in its transition. After reviewing Daredevil for the past few days, I’m surprised at how assured Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been this season. Whereas Daredevil often feels like it draws out storylines longer than it should, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. keeps bouncing from plot point to plot point, always trying to stay ahead of the audience. Melinda is in the top tier of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episodes, bringing together multiple story threads while not sacrificing strong characterization or motivation.
4.5 Awkward Simmons Hugs out of 5. When Simmons wraps her arms around May, Ming Na-Wen’s face has a perfect blend of touched and surly.
I haven’t finished Daredevil yet, but do you guys think Matt Murdock is on Coulson’s list? If Coulson is assembling an army of “gifted,” could a certain vigilante be among his recruits?
“S.H.I.E.L.D. is not authorized for any action,” Coulson says moments after sending a team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents into a building?
“After your father pieced me back together…” Ew Jiaying. Ew.
Lincoln is really not a great character. Luke Mitchell is incredibly stiff and wooden, and he and Skye barely have any time together. I really hope that the show doesn’t force a Skye/Lincoln pairing; Skye is so much better as May’s protege than anyone’s girlfriend.
Skye is 26, which means Chloe Bennet is actually younger than her character. I think most MCU characters are born the same year as the actor who plays them. Also, was there a weird moment when Cal revealed she was born in ’88? It looked like Jiaying was studying his face.
I love how Cal’s face lights up when Jiaying says Skye doesn’t know her birthday. ”I do!”