Thursday, March 5, 2015

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2, Episode 11: Aftershocks

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is finally back from its three month-long vacation. Would that we could all take off that much time each year!

This episode marks a turning point in the series, as it moves in a completely new direction. When it first started it was all about non-super powered secret agents struggling to keep the world safe. Unfortunately that turned out to be pretty dull, as most viewers were expecting to see The Avengers-level excitement on a weekly basis. The producers finally seem to realize this and at long last are giving us actual superheroes in their superhero show. Was that so hard, guys? I definitely think this is a good thing. Whether it comes too late to bring viewers back and save the series, we'll have to wait and see.

One thing that troubles me a bit— the producers have stated in recent interviews that the show's going to get much darker in the second half of the season. Really, darker? It hasn't exactly been a laugh fest up to now. I really hope this isn't true. If anything this show needs more fun, ala The Flash over on The CW.

They finally use the "I" word in this episode!

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
We start with a flashback to the 1980s, where we see Nightcrawler, er, I mean Gordon, the eyeless man from the previous episode, trying desperately to teleport out of his cell. He's talked down by Skye's mother, who we learn is named Jiaying, is alive in this time period, and is apparently specializing in the care and feeding of Inhumans.

In the present day, Skye's in quarantine after coming out of her shell (literally!) in the last episode. Meanwhile Simmons is still in Puerto Rico, cleaning up the mess in the underground Inhuman city, including sweeping up what's left of Trip. Ew! A shadowy figure creeps around the city, and we see it's Raina, who's been transformed into a some kind of vicious porcupine woman. She attacks several S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, including Simmons, before escaping. Coulson orders the city to be flooded, so HYDRA can't get their mitts on it.

Raina's upset because the Terrigen Mist transformed her into a freak but left Skye's looks untouched. She tracks down Skye's dad Cal and asks him to help her. He coldly tells her that she wanted to become an Inhuman, and she got her wish. If she can't stand the heat, maybe she should just kill herself. Harsh!

Now that Whitehall's dead, several HYDRA members meet and agree that whichever one of them destroys S.H.I.E.L.D. will win his position. Coulson realizes that HYDRA's leadership is in disarray and the time is right to strike. He contacts General Talbot and says he's handing HYDRA agent Bakshi (who I could have sworn died last year) to him. During the transfer, Coulson and May are ambushed by HYDRA agents and are seemingly killed, freeing Bakshi. Lance Hunter appears and tells Bakshi he's decided to defect. He then takes Bakshi to the home of Octavian Bloom, one of HYDRA's senior members.

Unknown to Bakshi though, the whole thing was a ruse. Coulson and May aren't dead, and Hunter kills Bloom. Meanwhile, the other HYDRA leaders kill one another as they try to win Whitehall's position, effectively doing Coulson's work for him. That was easy!

Simmons tests some of Raina's found DNA and discovers it's been totally transformed. She then fears there may be a super-powered epidemic threatening humanity, and wants to wipe out all traces of Inhuman activity, which seems a bit overkill. She tests Skye's blood to see if she's been infected as well. Fitz examines Skye's DNA and realizes she's become an Inhuman, but falsifies the records and lets her out of quarantine.

Mockingbird and Mack continue their secret little scheme, and the Team holds a wake for Trip.

In the final scene, Raina does indeed try to kill herself, but is rescued by the now adult Gordon, who teleports her away to... somewhere.

Thoughts:
• According to the internet, the eyeless teleporter Gordon is most likely supposed to be Reader, a relatively new Inhuman from the comics. I'm not familiar with the character, so I'll have to take everyone's word for that.

• Good: It was nice to see Skye's mom again, even if it is just in a flashback.

Bad: When she says, "I won't live forever." That's definitely an ominous line, knowing what we know about her future.

By the way, I'm not sure exactly how old Skye's supposed to be, but this flashback probably occurs before she was born.

• Bakshi figures prominently in Coulson's little HYDRA ruse, which surprised me. I could have sworn Bakshi died last year, while being interrogated by Mockingbird in the episode The Things We Bury. I guess he got better.

I looked it up and he tried to swallow a cyanide capsule, but was saved at the last second by S.H.I.E.L.D.'s medical staff. See, this is why taking three months off is a bad thing for a serialized show. I can't remember every little detail for months on end.

• As Coulson and May are transporting Bakshi, they're attacked by HYDRA agents. May appears to be killed, and Coulson comes out guns a'blazin,' yelling, "You'll never take us alive!" in the most ridiculous manner possible. That's the point where I knew it was all a ruse. 

• During Bakshi''s little side trip with Hunter, he ducks into a Radio Shack to grab a cell phone. He tells Hunter that all Radio Shacks are fronts for HYDRA outposts.

No wonder they're going out of business!

• Simmons' "scorched earth" policy against Inhumans seems awfully extreme, and seems to come out of nowhere. She's studied exactly one Inhuman, and from that comes to the conclusion they're all dangerous and should be killed on sight. It seemed a bit out of character for her.

• It's pretty much official that the Inhumans have now become the Marvel Cinematic Universe substitute for mutants.

In Marvel comics, mutants like the X-Men are universally feared and despised. Marvel Studios can't use the X-Men or even the word "mutant" due to tangled copyright legalities, so the more noble and royal Inhumans have now become stand-ins for them. Is that a good thing? Time will tell.

• Skye's cooling her heels in quarantine, and is hooked up to at least three or four different machines that are monitoring her vitals. Yet somehow when she "quakes out," none of these machines sounds an alarm.

• Fitz lies about Skye's DNA test to protect her, most likely from Simmons who'd probably put a bullet in her head if she found out what she's become. This is a new dynamic between Fitz and Skye, one that'll be interesting to see play out.

• So we've known for some time that Mockingbird and Mack have some secret agenda. In this episode Mockingbird finally reveals the big secret— she and Mack are in a support group for spies or something. Well that was certainly... lame.

Eventually we find out she was lying, and the two of them are trying to get their hands on Nick Fury's "toolbox" that's stored in Coulson's office. I'm not sure what's in this toolbox, but given the fact Fury was the former head of S.H.I.E.L.D., I'm betting it's not full of screwdrivers and wrenches.

• It seemed awfully easy to eliminate the HYDRA leaders, especially after all the buildup the organization was given in the first half of the season. Are the writers bored with HYDRA already?
  
Despite the fact that Coulson managed to wipe out their front office, I wouldn't count them out just yet. What's that motto they have? Something about cutting off heads?

• Once again, super secret spy organization HYDRA slaps their logo on everything, including their mahogany conference room table.

• Raina's Inhuman makeup was very well done, but it's a shame Ruth Negga's natural beauty's going to be covered up by prosthetics from now on.

I'm a bit puzzled as to why Raina keeps saying she's covered with thorns. They look more like quills to me. Maybe she calls them thorns because she's "The Girl In The Flower Dress?"

• Meta scene of the episode: Lance Hunter kills Octavian Bloom. Bloom is played by actor Fred Dryer, who starred in the 1980s TV show Hunter. So Hunter just killed Hunter!

• They managed to name-drop Baron Von Strucker quite a bit in this episode. He last appeared in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Hopefully we'll see him show up on the series.

• The "Trip's Wake" scene at the end, while well acted, seemed a little... forced. Everyone's sitting around reminiscing about how cool and awesome Trip was, and how much they all loved him. Too bad we never actually got to see any of that on the show. The writers never seemed to know what to do with him, and seemed like a cypher to me. It's almost like they filmed the cast reacting to the loss of their fellow cast mate B.J. Britt.

• During the wake, Skye feels sad that Trip's gone and says, "We're going to laugh a lot less, that's for sure."

Really? I haven't seen a whole lot of laughing up to this point, and I for darn sure never heard Trip say anything funny. How do you laugh less than zero?

• Fitz examines Skye's readings and says during her "quake out," her heart was beating nearly three hundred times a minute. Skye says, "That's very fast," and Fitz says, "No, that's inhuman."


He said it! He finally said it! They've been dancing around the word for weeks now, almost like they were afraid to say it. Nice to finally hear them confirm that the Inhumans are now a thing on the show.

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