In last week’s episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, May says to Coulson, “Without you, there is no S.H.I.E.L.D.” That’s technically true: when Marvel was developing their first TV series, they decided to center it around Clark Gregg’s affable agent from Iron Man and The Avengers. But as the show has grown and found its voice, Coulson feels more and more like an artifact from the show’s origins rather than a critical part of its immediate present. The core ensemble of Skye, May, Ward, and FitzSimmons have all grown into great characters with distinct voices. New cast members like Bobbi and Mac have rounded S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ranks into an excellent ensemble. But Coulson remains at the center, charming and inoffensive but not all that interesting, and the lines are beginning to show.
It wouldn’t bother me if so much of this episode wasn’t centered around defining the S.H.I.E.L.D. vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. conflict as a question of loyalty to Coulson. Gonzales’ S.H.I.E.L.D. has a distinct philosophy and motivation. His olive branch to May is a seat on his council, since Gonzales believes in the democratization of security. They want to operate S.H.I.E.L.D. more transparently (for now, since Gonzales is totally a villain). He’s wary of superhumans, believing them to be a source of danger in the wrong hands. Yet Coulson’s S.H.I.E.L.D. has no philosophy: Fitz and May oppose Gonzales because they are friends with Coulson. That’s it. As I said a couple weeks ago, I am interested to see how Coulson defends himself as the man to run S.H.I.E.L.D., but my curiosity remains unabated.
Having said that, Coulson and Hunter actually make a really great team, which surprises me since they’re my least favorite characters on the show. Gregg’s dry Coulson is such a good foil to Nick Blood‘s manic Hunter that it’s a wonder the two haven’t been roped off to go on adventures before. They’re the two most dour characters on the show, but when paired together they breathe a lot of life into each other.
I also audibly gasped when Deathlok’s face popped up outside the quinjet; this episode did a great job of hiding some fun cameos. Yet with Coulson pairing up with a mercenary, a cyborg, and seeking out Ward, it’s interesting seeing him morph into exactly the type of person that Gonzales says shouldn’t be running S.H.I.E.L.D.. Though I doubt the show goes this route, I would love it if the rest of the season was Coulson slowly transitioning into a villain while May, Skye, and FitzSimmons realize that maybe Gonzales is right after all.
Miles away, Skye is taken to Afterlife, an Inhuman resort spa where pizza is only served if you’ve finished your kale. The Inhuman lore rollout is slowly happening, but it’s definitely happening. Skye went through “1,000 years of evolution taking place instantaneously.” There are Inhumans in the world, but no one knows exactly how many. Skye’s and Raina’s transformations are the first of their kind in thousands of years, happening with ancient Kree technology. Afterlife serves as a kind of transition point, sheltering Inhumans before and after they undergo their own transformations.
And most importantly, Skye’s mother is still alive. Yet the reveal plays very flat. It’s not surprising that Skye wouldn’t care who she is, she hasn’t seen Jiaying since she was a baby. But Calvin seems completely unperturbed by her existence; I thought his bloodlust for Whitehall was specifically to revenge her death, not just stealing her organs. If nothing else, Dichen Lachman does a lot with little in that role, so it’s not exactly an unwelcome twist. Hopefully next week gives plenty for Lachman to do as she teaches Skye to use her powers.
At this point, it’s also clear that the Inhumans of Afterlife are not to be trusted. The Afterlifers don’t know where they are, are unable to leave, and subject to the whims of mysterious unseen elders. Lincoln is a charming, doe-eyed member of a cult. Though Afterlife doesn’t seem malicious, it’s definitely clear that they will never align with S.H.I.E.L.D. Skye will have to fight her way out of their clutches, or maybe even turn her back on S.H.I.E.L.D. to stay with her people.
It’s obvious that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has longterm plans, but at this point the writers are playing their cards too close to the vest. Fitz riding a cab into the sunset with the most valuable S.H.I.E.L.D. resource should be an iconic moment, but it doesn’t resonate because we don’t know what the Toolbox does, what Gonzales’ real motivations are, or what he’s going to do with it. The best part was the sandwich. So much of the show is shrouded in mystery that it’s hard to invest in the drama. Right now, S.H.I.E.L.D. needs to give us a few more answers, and I hope filling in May’s backstory next week is a step in the right direction.
2 Wrangler Rubicons out of 5. From now on, I will forever associate the Jeep brand with shooting car dealers in their lots. Thanks S.H.I.E.L.D.!
I still don’t think the Inhuman Royal Family will debut on S.H.I.E.L.D., but Afterlife’s “elders” could very well be the Inhuman Genetic Council.
Afterlife is one of the more intriguing locations employed on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. With the upcoming Iron Fist TV show, it also might be Marvel’s early tests at building the magical city of K’un L’un on a TV budget.
Just in case you still don’t think Gonzales is a villain, his team used the same battering ram that Hydra used against Nick Fury in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
For all my criticisms of this episode, I didn’t mention my favorite part: it wasn’t a Daredevil crossover. Considering the fact that S.H.I.E.L.D. was started to bide time between films, it’s exciting knowing that there will be a big Marvel Television event this Friday and S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t feel the need to deviate from its own agenda (although they will crossover with Avengers: Age of Ultron).
And finally, we’re really excited for Daredevil, which launches on Netflix at 12AM PST this Friday! Our first reviews should go up later in the afternoon.