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Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Review: “Afterlife” (Episode 2.16)

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<i>Marvel&#8217;s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.</i> Review: &#8220;Afterlife&#8221; (Episode 2.16)

This week on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., we ask the eternal questions: What is the meaning of true love? Can nature or nurture determine who we are as individuals? Does anyone have the patience to tolerate pushy car dealers?

While I have no concrete answers for the first two, I’m pretty sure we’ve proven the answer to the last to be “no.” Coulson, it could be argued, is the most patient person ever to walk Midgard (I’ll wager you could expand that to Asgard and Jotunheim if you wanted to), and even he shoots—with a tranquilizer—“Honest” Eddie under this week’s circumstances. Those circumstances being Hunter stealing Eddie’s own car to help put mission “Take Back the S.H.I.E.L.D.” into action.

And while the pre-title sequence snark is flowing, we can’t hang around with the dream team for too long. We have to see what’s up with Skye and—Hello Non-Threateningly Attractive Nurse! I mean, Lincoln, his name’s Lincoln, and technically he’s almost a doctor, but I’m getting ahead of myself. So Lincoln and Gordon are going about getting Skye settled into “Afterlife,” a kind of sleep away camp for Inhumans and Inhuman applicants. No seriously, apparently there’s an entire assessment and training process that Skye and Raina skipped when they went, to quote Lincoln, “old school with a diviner in a Kree temple.” This means that Skye (who is so totally the only person we know who’s here, because they wouldn’t dare hide her and Raina and Cal all in the same place and—AH, pay no attention to that ominous transition room we don’t use anymore!) is a bit of an oddity among the odd. This warrants her a few Mean Girls-style glances from the competition, but not Lincoln. We should probably like Lincoln. Lincoln is very understanding in a Disney Channel kind of way.

More on that later. That nauseous feeling from last week still hasn’t left Bobbi, and to her credit she spends a lot of this episode visibly uncomfortable with everything that “S.H.I.E.L.D.” is up to. It doesn’t help that as she tries to defend Skye, Gonzales decides to continue on his jerk path to Jerk Town. His assumptions that Coulson is collecting high-powered people are completely unfounded (though not, we will later find, completely untrue) and if he’s trying to recruit the elusive and easily made snarky hybrid FitzSimmons, he’d do better with a softer approach. Cupcakes would help. Basically it boils down to Coulson being dangerous because his people are loyal. That’s what happens when you treat your coworkers like human beings, Gonzales. And include dental with their corporate Blue Cross and Blue S.H.I.E.L.D. insurance. I’m not apologizing for that pun.

It is my gift, it is my curse, and if it feels like I’m not the only one cribbing from outside cannon, that’s because Lincoln and Skye have virtually the same exchange about Skye’s powers. A tiny part of me is disappointed Skye didn’t follow up with “I am Spider-Man.” It’s in no way appropriate, but it just feels like we’ve abandoned a connection. We also learn that Lincoln is none too impressed with Jemma’s super-powered carpal tunnel sleeves, and in case we haven’t figured it out by now—because apparently Skye hasn’t—the transition is irreversible. No worries though because Gordon is bringing deep-dish pizza in from Chicago for dinner. I adore Gordon. You’ve gotta respect a man who knows the value of good pizza.

And whiskey! That would be Hunter, who is currently hiding out with Coulson in the Hulk Cabin. Coulson is a bit too understanding about Bobbi and Mack’s betrayal. I’m all for wise, forgiving Coulson, but when Hunter is pointing out that they stabbed you in the back (you know, like Loki) it’s okay to be a little grumpy, Coulson. You could even argue it’s emotionally healthy. Oh, and Hunter, as you’re about to learn: vaguely encouraging responses to the phrase “There are no good options,” will result in Coulson taking you a little too literally. As in he’ll invite the people hunting you to come break down the door of your new hidey-hole.

And so we go from breaking down physical barriers to breaking through emotional ones. Lincoln tries to get Skye to open up about her powers by showing off his. Turns out his whole body is electrically charged, and the results are a bit…unbelievable. Seriously, while it’s cute to pun “Sky’s the limit” and then make Skye literally float using static electricity, I’m calling bullshit on your magic science powers. Static just doesn’t work like that, and Tony Stark would be ashamed that you even tried to say it does. That being said, Lincoln’s powers do point us to that whole meaning of true love thing. If he can control energy, and she can control matter, and if neither matter nor energy can ever be created or destroyed, does that make Skye and Lincoln a perfect couple? Or at least a potentially eternal one?

Speaking of potentially eternal people, Gordon plays the pronoun game with a mysterious “they” when Skye asks him to get a message to her friends. Basically “they” won’t like it. This sentence has never in the history of storytelling been said out loud and then resulted in “they” being anything good—a thought further confirmed for us when it’s revealed that the mysterious “they” are the even more elusive and mysterious “Elders.” Stupid Elders, they never mean anything good.

And just in case you were worried that Cal might be in cahoots with these Elders, he’s not. In fact, he’s imprisoned in a windowless room, and while he’s never been exactly stable, I believe the phrase “all locked up in crazy town” best conveys his mental state. This doesn’t improve at all when he receives a visit from Gordon who tells him he has sealed his and Skye’s fates. Elders? Sealed Fates? Oh, this really is a bad combination.

You know who wouldn’t be a bad combination? Hawkeye and Coulson, because that’s who I’m crossing my fingers turns out to be Coulson’s mysterious back-up. Sadly, no Hawkeye, but Mike Peterson is back. Gun—I mean, Mike is back everybody! And not a moment to soon. Now our two-man dream team goes to a three man fighting force, and if their plan to bring Ward back into the mix works out, they’ll be able to start a barbershop quartet. An evil-rotting-it-away-from-the-inside barbershop quartet, but at least it won’t be a Creed cover band.

So Lincoln may be pretty and understanding, but he’s also a bit dumb. By which I mean, he’s too busy flirting with Skye to not let Raina’s presence at the compound slip. Skye is understandably furious and wants to beat Raina silly. While there are points in this series where I think we would have been all for it, the Raina she finds is miserable. She’s become the hardest thing to be in the Marvel Universe, a monster we can’t route for, and that makes her pitiable at least. Not that Skye cares. She almost manages to kill Raina, but Jiaying steps in. “But Mom…you never let me viciously kill my archenemies.” Hmmm, I guess Skye has more in common with her dad than I originally thought. Of course, Skye doesn’t know that Jiaying is her mother, though Jiaying wants to be Skye’s guide. I feel like keeping this secret will prove way more difficult than you think it will, Jiaying.

In the end, this episode full of mysteries and manipulation comes down to the two best scientists turned field agents any covert intelligence agency could ask for. While Lincoln, Gordon and Jiaying manipulate Skye, while Gonzales tries to curry favor with May, while Coulson tells Hunter only what he absolutely needs to know to not die: it’s snarky cupcake loving FitzSimmons that manage to smuggle Fury’s toolbox out of S.H.I.E.L.D. hands. As Fitz escapes with the cube, presumably in search of Coulson, we see that Jemma has not only masterminded a brilliant con, but also sent him on his way with the ultimate of homemade sandwiches. And that’s love, true love. Because while love may mean squabbles and parting ways to protect your on-the-lam boss, love also means never having to say you’re hungry. PUNS!!!

Katherine Siegel is a Chicago-based writer and director, and a regular contributor to Paste. You can find out more by checking out her website at www.KatherineAnneSiegel.com or follow her on Twitter