Tonight on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Science! So lets start with a question: If secret organization H starts scheming 5 minutes into the plot and secret organization S starts scheming 7 minutes into the plot, is the power of good enough to make up for the 2 minute differential? Hypothesis: Yes.
Tonight’s episode certainly set out to show what makes our particular group of agents the best S.H.I.E.L.D. can offer, and I’ve got to admit to being pretty wowed at the level of complexity they pull off to get Hydra out of the picture. Coulson shouldn’t be allowed to write dialogue though. Not ever. I seriously rewound my DVR three times to make sure I was hearing his, “You’ll never take us alive” line correctly. That along with some really classic moral grey zone, and these spies are on top of their game, even if part of the game isn’t necessarily about being straight with each other.
Meanwhile at the beginning of the episode, we see a boy teleporting—though I will always prefer the term “bamfing” because that’s the sound effect comic books gave me—around a room. It breaks my heart a bit to admit that my first thought was “YAY NIGHTCRAWLER!” followed shortly by “Oh yeah, Marvel doesn’t have the rights to the X-men.” Still, there’s a boy with no eyes trapped in a red room in 1983. Obviously it’s not Black Widow’s infamous Red Room, but seriously, what interior decorator is walking around the Avenger’s universe advising all this red paint? Jiaying (Skye’s mother) is here, and in a few minutes we’ll talk about how helpful she is to kids like Gordon (No-Eyes) who come through the mist. For now, I have serious concerns about her counseling skills. Why does he have to come to you, Jiaying? Can’t you help a newly no-eyed boy out and go to him? Also it’s a bit callous to tell a kid with no eyes to cry. Just saying.
Back with our agents, we recap last episode’s aftermath. The temple’s destroyed, Skye’s in quarantine, Tripp died a hero, everyone is coping the best they can, and Raina is missing. Skye feels a bit guilty about all this, but rather than letting her actually deal with this, Coulson is there to tell her it’s not her fault and that she shouldn’t feel like she messed up by putting herself at risk. That’s a pretty hard sell when our immediate next image is the rocky remains of Tripp’s face being pulled out of the destroyed temple.
On the villain front, Hydra has decided that Mr. Ominous should take over their North American branch, but in his absence they’ll just have a battle royal to see who can destroy S.H.I.E.L.D. first. Basically, Hydra’s got all sorts of extra heads and they’re all dicks. Oh, and we found Raina. She’s murdering people in dark tunnels now. It’s kind of gonna be her thing.
Real quick side note. During my broadcast this was immediately followed by a commercial break for “Run All Night,” which I genuinely thought was a joke. It’s not. But Common and Robocop are in it, so I approve.
Anyway, Simmons does science, Raina does murder, and then Simmons shoots Raina. It’s nice to see spy training in use. Unfortunately, this is immediately followed by Bobbi visiting Skye with a quarantine survival kit, and a conversation in which Skye is once again presented to us as the show’s favorite character. It’s bad enough when characters who we’ve seen interact with Skye before exhibit a strange soft spot for her, but a battle hardened coworker like Bobbi has no reason to absolve Skye of her guilt. She’s not a rockstar, Bobbi, she’s a Mary-Sue. Heart-to-Heart Marvel? Skye should feel guilty and other characters should stop telling her she didn’t mess up. It would be a much stronger choice for us to watch her feel that guilt and work through it, than to have any character with even a passing relationship to her rally behind her and absolve her of her faults.
And it’s not as if the writers at Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. don’t know this. Take Mac for example. He’s clearly struggling, and quite frankly he’s less culpable to his actions than Skye. Watching Fitz reach out to him without empty absolutions, watching Mac be weak and angry and fall apart a bit is 100 times more interesting than Skye’s never-ending parade of cheerleaders. Tripp died. They’re all at least a little bit to blame. Nobody should be okay.
Back to S.H.I.E.L.D. Manipulation 101, which is definitely this episode’s highlight. While watching, my thought process was as follows: Looks like Mr. Ominous (Bakshi) is going to be given up to Talbot, so Coulson and May will just drop him off. Why are we talking about sensitive tactical details in front of Mr. Ominous? Have we learned nothing from the villains! And car crash. Why are we playing right into Hydra’s hands? Car pushed into dead end warehouse, nice logistics work Hydra. Yay Ming-Na pulling out some Mulan moves! They +*&!ing shot Mulan! And Coulson! Wait what did he yell? Did he just say, “You’ll never take us alive”? Oh okay… so this is a set up then. Nice S.H.I.E.L.D., very nice. Fooled me.
Though, they also fooled Mr. Ominous, so between that and his later behavior when dealing with undercover Hunter, I’m going to be a little judgmental and say he’s way too dumb/wimpy to lead Hydra. Lucky for him, S.H.I.E.L.D. participates in a little murderous subterfuge, so there’s not much Hydra to lead.
And speaking of Nazi ideology, Simmons is walking a tight line between grieving friend and Marvel’s definition of racist bigot with how she talks about Raina’s extra macromolecules. We might wanna keep an eye on that. I mean, when generally kindhearted Simmons starts thinking Raina’s death sounds like a good idea, we’re probably looking at a pretty heavy paradigm shift. Also, I really want to see mini-Lola fly. I didn’t know I wanted it until Mac wanted it, but now I definitely do.
We haven’t’ quite cleared the air of Skye’s dad either. Raina tracks him down, attacking him in a dark tunnel. Told you it was her thing. This is where we get our first good look at what she’s become. She’s half-cat, half-porcupine (Porculine? Catine?) and all pissed. Her new gift is painful and disfiguring, and you have to feel a little bad for her, even if she is a villain. Here again Skye’s perfection is harped on. One of the qualities that define a Mary-Sue is that all who see them, despite cultural differences or subjective preferences, find that character to be beautiful. Beyond the fact that such a dialogue choice doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, Raina could simply have said that Skye emerged from the mist still normal or unscarred, it’s a rather disingenuous thought coming from a character who’s never commented on Skye’s appearance before. Cal’s own feelings about his daughter’s perfection, while psychotic and obsessive, at least have character motivation and history to support them. He’s violent and cruel, but Skye is his blind spot. He’s even going to dump Raina, now that Skye’s in the picture. If you didn’t feel bad for the newly minted mutant before, her pleas for help have to move you a bit. In the end she says it quite simply: She can’t live like this. Cal’s response of “Then don’t” pretty much makes him the worst doctor ever.
The final revelation of tonight’s episode is Fitz’s discovery that Skye is no longer human, that she survived the temple’s destruction because she caused it. There’s a half second before he says it where we see Skye may have suspected this already, I wish they’d played this a little heavier throughout the episode. In the end he helps her hide her new mutations. When she finally breaks down, Fitz (who really always gets the best lines) gives us this: “No, you’re just different now, and there’s nothing wrong with that.” It’s a beautiful sentiment, and would have had a lot more punch if every character in this episode who spoke to Skye hadn’t been so committed to comforting her.
We end tonight with two moments right out of a comic book. First, we see a suicidal Raina rescued by a blind, but still bamfing Gordon. I think I’m going to like him. Second, we get the ultimate in spy craft as we see that mini-Lola is actually Mac and Bobbi’s way of searching Coulson’s office. Did I ever mention how much I love S.H.I.E.L.D.’s moral grey zone?
Katherine Siegel is a Chicago-based freelance writer and director and a regular contributor to Paste. You can find out more by checking out her website, or follow her on Twitter.