Agents of SHIELD is a show that finds vitality in constant transition. At first, SHIELD was X-Files lite, focusing on smaller procedurals, before reinventing itself as a war against Hydra, before reinventing itself again as a show about Inhumans. It’s clear that the show mines its best dramatic material from undermining the very nature of the organization. And tonight, SHIELD reinvents itself yet again, as an organization in a war of ideologies.
The flashbacks to the Hydra invasion set a great tone for the episode. Writers Lauren LeFranc & Rafe Judkins use the chaos and brutality of the Hydra war to establish that this SHIELD vs. SHIELD war isn’t about power grabs. David Solomon, a longtime TV vet, makes his SHIELD debut tonight, and immediately stands out as one of the show’s best directors. In just a few scenes, Solomon depicts the chaos and brutality of the SHIELD/Hydra war better than last season, and even Captain America: The Winter Soldier in some ways.
I’m very surprised by how deep Mac’s character has become in the last few episodes. Mac seemed like a less charismatic Tripp in the fall (and it was troubling that SHIELD’s only two black men were the same archetype). But since SHIELD’s return, Mac has become much more vocal and nuanced than Tripp ever was. These flashbacks give him his backstory, a character who was powerless to stop the death of his friend in the face of Hydra. However it shakes out with Gonzales’ motivations, it’s clear that Mac is a true believer.
And it’s pretty clear this episode that Gonzales is season 2’s eventual villain. His very first meeting with Coulson gives him a suspicious backstory (he left SHIELD after the death of his wife and came back “with a vengeance”) and a very questionable motivation (he wants to recover powerful artifacts hidden by Nick Fury). I hope that Gonzales isn’t a deep-cover Hydra plant, since that would just be retreading last season’s John Garrett. Gonzales’ SHIELD seems to include a lot of sincere characters like Bobbi and Mac, as well as FitzSimmons’ former professor Weaver. But he’s also rubbing shoulders with more ominous folks like Tomas Calderon.
The invasion of SHIELD is definitely the most thrilling set-up of the season, even if it’s mostly wheel-spinning. Solomon turns down the lights on SHIELD’s already dingy-hallways, and even though not a single person dies or is seriously threatened physically, the stakes always feel very high and personal. What drives the invasion scenes are Coulson’s confusion at the betrayal, and Bobbi/Mac’s desperation to get out without hurting their friends. It does feel a little easy when Gonzales’ strike team finally pumps in the knockout gas: if they already know where Fury’s toolbox is, why not simply pump in the gas and recover it afterward?
Miles away, in a cabin in the woods, Skye finally meets the eyeless Inhuman Gordon. After being so mysterious and ominous, Gordon is surprisingly chatty. Gordon expands the lore vaguely: he will take Skye to “a place;” he won’t comment on the number of Inhumans there are. He won’t even say the word “Inhuman.” Agents of SHIELD gets to play in the Inhuman sandbox, but still only in a very small corner. I would be unsurprised if Gordon’s sect is not even associated with Attilan or the Inhuman Royal Family, lest it wind up contradicting the eventual Inhumans film.
Still, this episode finally made Skye’s powers cool. SHIELD’s budget doesn’t really do earthquakes well, just rattling the flimsiest objects in the room and shaking the camera. But Skye’s manipulation of the water jets is a great moment of self-discovery; my favorite superhero scenes are ones where heroes use their powers for frivolous nonviolence. And as partial as I am to Gordon’s teleportation, Skye’s shockwave is the VFX highlight of the season, being technically impressive while carrying a ton of emotional and dramatic weight. It’s especially telling that Skye doesn’t believe Gordon when he tries to turn her against SHIELD, but comes to his way of thinking after she almost annihilates them. Chloe Bennett has grown as an actress a lot this season, and she does a great job of selling the body horror of her new powers.
This is SHIELD’s best episode of the spring, serving as a showcase for almost the entire cast (sorry Fitz). With Coulson and Hunter in the wind, Gonzales investigating SHIELD HQ, and Skye affiliating herself with the Inhumans, it’s hard to predict where the rest of this season will go next.
4.5 Bobbi Backflips out of 5. I love how casually bad-ass both Bobbi and May are, and how satisfying it is to watch the two come to blows.
Even if Calderon had fired an icer round at Skye, she still would’ve sent out the shockwave. The bullet was just to show the audience that Gonzales’ team is not to be trusted. We’ll see if a concussed Bobbi picks up on that next week.
Jemma is slowly turning into a very interesting and suspicious badass. It was pretty obvious when she needled Skye to wear the gauntlets, but her unflinching manipulation of Bobbi is one of Jemma’s all-time best moments. It’s weird that we’re probably not far from seeing her become a full-fledged villain. I’m a little surprised that Skye was able to remove those gauntlets after she put them on.
Is there a particular reason May didn’t go with Coulson? And if there is, why didn’t she tell him? It sure seems like May’s the real head of SHIELD most of the time.
Bobbi to Izzy: “I love your whole thing, you know that, right?” We do too, Bobbi. Izzy died way too soon.
“The house that Banner built.” So what do we think: is this the same cabin from the end of The Incredible Hulk?
Gonzales on Nick Fury: “He made you. You’re literally his creation. He thought he was some kind of king, and made damn sure he had an heir to the throne.” It’s interesting how unflinching Marvel is about selling Nick Fury under the bridge at seemingly every opportunity. Since The Avengers, he’s been more of an ambiguous villain than an outright hero.