Thursday, April 09, 2015

TV Recap: AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D - Season 2 Episode 16: "AFTERLIFE"

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Season 2 of AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D has now reached the point where episodes seem to be almost-entirely made up on plot points and comic/movie-universe references, which means it's all very exciting but we probably won't know if it adds up to anything until the finale on May 19th (or sooner, since it's looking more and more likely that some of this is going to tie into AGE OF ULTRON, which hits on May 1st.

This makes appraisal of quality fairly difficult, because there's no real way to tell (for example) whether the presence of the season's first "Oh, come ON!" plot twist is head-scratchingly dumb or makes some kind of sense. Frustrating, but entertaining. For more (including SPOILERS) hit the jump:

So Jaiying, aka Skye's Mom, is actually alive. Alright, then.

Seriously. How this is supposed to work is lost on me. Fine, we already knew she had super-longevity, and in Marvel Science that usually means an off-the-charts healing factor a'la Wolverine so it's not outside the realm of possibility that she could've come back even from being dissected by Daniel Whitehall. What doesn't work for me is where this revelation is meant to fit in dramatically: Her death (and the brutality of it) was the main thing making Mr. Hyde (Calvin, aka Skye's Dad) vaugely sympathetic as a character and driving the bulk of his actions in the plot. So the idea that she's not only alive but that Calvin has (apparently) known this the whole time seems to render his characterization thus far completely nonsensical - are we now back to square one in terms of who this guy is, what he wants, etc? Because at some point that's one mystery two many for a season that only has 6 episode left.

But okay. To recap this part of what is now a two-story narrative: Skye is actually an Inhuman (still not yet named as such in the series), a race of people genetically descended from early humans who were experimented on by Kree alien interlopers who develop superpowers and/or monstrous appearances when exposed to chemical mists from Terrigen Crystals. Her real name is Daisy Johnson, her mother (Dichen Lachman) is a near-immortal Inhuman named Jaiying, her father (Kyle McLachlan) is technically human but is also known as "Mr. Hyde" because he augments his strength to superhuman levels with chemical experiments. She (Skye) has been spirited away to "Afterlife," an isolated retreat for potential/recently-transformed Inhumans seemingly located in the Himalayas a'la Shangri-La. Also onhand is Raina, the super-power obsessed female villain from Season 1 whose Inhuman transformation has left her looking like a human porcupine.

The idea is that Skye is here so that Jaiying, Gordon (the Inhuman teleporter who serves as the only way in or out of Afterlife) and a sexy guy with electricity-powers named Lincoln are going to help her "transition," i.e. wax-on, wax-off her way to mastering her Inhuman super-vibration powers (in the comics, Daisy Johnson's superhero name is "Quake;") but there are murkier issues afoot: Calvin is being held captive(?) somewhere nearby, Jaiying elects not to tell Skye who she is (or that she's keeping company with Calvin) and there's a troubling tinge of elitism to how The Inhumans (or this arrangement of them, see below) conduct business: Most denizens of Afterlife are still "normal" people who come there to be evaluated by unseen elders who have final say over who actually gets to go through Terrigenesis. Hm...

Back in the "main" story, Coulson and Hunter are still running their two-man (or now three, since Deathlok get's a triumphant reveal as Coulson's newest ace in the hole) war against "Real S.H.I.E.L.D," whose director Agent Gonzales (Edward James Olmos) is holding everyone else in soft-captivity trying to get them onboard with his program. I bemoaned last week the possibility of the show dragging out the tension-less question of whether or not status-quo busting fuddy-duddies in a comic book storyline were going to turn out to be evil, so I was pretty giddy that Gonzales is wasting no time tipping his "bad guy" hand by referring to Skye as "that thing."

The rest of the S.H.I.E.L.D vs S.H.I.E.L.D story continues to be a mixed bag, but mostly because it's plot turns are telegraphed too early, too often. I can't imagine that anyone didn't see it coming re: Fitz/Simmons pretending they disagreed about opening The Toolbox in order to let Fitz "quit" and get out into the wild with the real one (though points if it turns out that Simmons actually pulled some sort of double-cross with a tracking-device or something, her established bias against superhumans having driven her fully to Gonzales' side) but it's hard to dislike that bit because the actors play it so charmingly. Likewise, there's not much in the way of story-momentum with Coulson and Hunter hanging out at the Hulk Cabin to get over on Other S.H.I.E.L.D, but the character's play off of eachother well.

On the other hand, Coulson's big sign-off about the one nuclear option he has to go to for help being... "Grant Ward" was a groaner moment of near self-parody. I get that we need to slam these storylines back together at some point, but that was pretty clumsy. Surely there are other people he could turn to for help first that aren't quite so dangerous - what about Peter MacNicol's undercover-Asgardian from Season 1? That guy at least had super-strength to offer...


  • So does Jaiying tolerate Cal/Hyde's actions because of history, or is she also not on the up-and-up? There's a sense that things aren't as lovey-dovey in Afterlife as they seem, which one imagines could be a setup for a "See? Told you we've got to put these people down!" moment from Gonzales etc.
  • Since I've already seen people speculating: No, I don't think Afterlife is Attilan and I don't think any of the Inhumans we've met so far are really big-guns like Black Bolt etc incognito. The "Crunchy New-Agey X-Mansion" angle is fine for TV, but I doubt this relatively low-tech vision of the Inhuman's world will be the foundation for the eventual movie - more likely, we'll discover that this is only one of many Inhuman "operations" worldwide and that the marquee names will wait for the feature film.
  • It's weird that after two "this will be important!" super-clunky shout-outs last time, we don't hear any more about the supposedly all-important cargo The Iliad (Gonzale's S.H.I.E.L.D carrier) had and presumably still has onboard. I have a feeling it relates to next week's Agent May origin-flashback, though (see below)
  • It occurs to me that Gordon (eyeless teleporter guy) is filling the same basic role that Lockjaw does for the Inhumans of the comics - I hope this doesn't mean they've already decided that a giant teleporting bulldog is too weird for the movies.
  • Let's get this on the table right now: Is it an "accident" that "transitioning" is the big central buzzword for The Inhumans re: discovering/nurturing their powers? These are supposed to be the MCU's expy-XMen, remember, and that franchise has always been at least partially about metaphors for various Civil Rights issues (racial-segregation in the 60s comics, gay rights in the 2000s movies, etc); so are they going with transgender-rights as the driving metaphor of THE INHUMANS?
  • FWIW, the transgender metaphor would dovetail nicely with the seeming elitism of Afterlife's transitioning-model; as the question of the morality of the tools for transition only being available to those who can financially afford them is a big ongoing topic of discussion in and around that community.
  • By that same token, a prediction: The season finale (or maybe before?) will partially involve a deus ex machina that somehow "activates" nascent-Inhumans worldwide, which would potentially create the hundreds of thousands (millions) of super-powered individuals in a short span of time necessary for this to become the X-Men/Mutants replacement Marvel Studios intends it to be.
  • The lone un-killed HYDRA figure Coulson talks about tracking down (with Ward's help, for whatever reason) is Dr. List, whom you may recall was the guy helping Baron Strucker use Loki's Scepter to experiment on Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver in a post-credits scene from WINTER SOLDIER. Is this going to be our AGE OF ULTRON tie-in?
  • Do we really need to dive back into Ward's story, though? I liked his mini-adventure with Agent 33 in "Love In The Time of Hydra," but I can't help remembering how little I care about his storyline every time he shows up.

NEXT WEEK: "Melinda" promises a flashback-heavy episode finally revealing the details behind the violent encounter with a yet-unnamed superhuman (Winter Ave Zoli as "Eva Belyakov," the trailers suggest) that earned Agent May the nickname "The Cavalry" but also left her to exit field duty for several years.

Easy prediction: This is mainly setting up an eventual confrontation between May and Jaiying, who are too-perfect mirrors of one-another as mother figures for Skye.

Not-so-crazy speculation: "Eva Belyakov," eh? Name is similar to Eva Bell, the civilian handle of time-manipulating recent X-Men addition named Tempus. So there's that.

Totally crazy speculation: Belyakov? Sounds Eastern-European. Wonder if she had any kids?

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