Wednesday, May 06, 2015

TV Recap: AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D - Season 2 Episode 20: "SCARS"

Here's three things I don't often get to say about AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D, all three of which apply to this overally pretty terrific installment:

"I didn't see that coming."

"I'm glad I didn't see that coming."

"I don't know who/what that's supposed to be."

SPOILERS (including AGE OF ULTRON) after the jump...

Though it's played coy with the reveals and teases, AGENTS' second season has spent a solid chunk of it's time setting up what looked like a decent if fairly predictable scenario to lead into yet another new status-quo - either for next season or (some suspect) for CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (next year) and THE INHUMANS (2019). While it still seems like pipe-laying for those films is very much a part of the game plan, "Scars" served to blow the "predictable" part to kingdom come; once more establishing that this offbeat little series has quietly managed to become the most consistently surprising corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

To wit: Season 3 has had two overarching plotlines that revealed themselves in full around the midpoint and have merged as we hit the final stretch. Plotline 1: Agent Skye is actually an Inhuman -specifically the daughter of the leader/protector of a secret Inhuman community. Plotline 2: There's a secondary, better-armed would-be S.H.I.E.L.D relaunch that doesn't think Coulson is fit to be Director. Plotline 3: Coulson is keeping a second set of secrets from his own team, something called "Theta Protocol."

Plotline 3, revealed in full as "Scars" opens, turns out to be our innevitable tie-in to AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON: "Theta Protocol" refers to Coulson having kept a spare Hellicarrier gassed-up and ready should Nick Fury need it, and said "need" arises when Fury used it to evacuate civilians during Ultron's doomsday gambit - which strengthens my position last week that at least some AGENTS OF S.H.I.EL.D characters should've been on the ship in the movie, if for no other reason than the right kind of cheap pop.

But it's Plotline's 1 and 2 that still came front and center, and for awhile looked to be heading in a pretty obvious direction: "Real S.H.I.E.L.D" would turn out to be hostile to the existance of The Inhumans, triggering a conflict (exacerbated by Raina, who's been using her newfound future-telling powers to undermine Skye's mother Jaiying as leader of this branch of Inhumans) that would either mirror, spill-over into or even trigger the events of CIVIL WAR. Simple, effective, and in-keeping with Marvel's no-longer-secret goal of the INHUMANS as a franchise filling in the missing X-MEN spots in their Universe.

And for most of it's running time, "Scars" kept up the appearance of following exactly that path: No sooner had Coulson leveraged his role in thwarting Ultron into convincing Gonzales to integrate the two S.H.I.E.L.Ds (Gonzales and his brain trust becoming the new Security Council, Coulson remaining director) than did the Inhumans plot threaten to make things complicated all over again: Team Gonzales has figured out how to track Gordon the teleporter back to Afterlife (Jaiying's Inhuman retreat) and want to move on them - one of S.H.I.E.L.D's functions, you'll remember, being "indexing" superhumans and keeping tabs on them. Furthermore, Gonzales himself wants to be the one to have a sit-down with Jaiying, not the "compromised" Coulson. 

Meanwhile, Raina is suspiciously warning that if anyone from S.H.I.E.L.D is allowed to meet Jaiying, a war is going to break out. Oh, and the "mystery item" in The Icarus' cargo hold? It's some kind of ancient Kree weapon whose existence terrifies The Inhumans. And so, the stage is set...

...and then everything goes in totally direction. Short version: Gonzales really does come in peace - but that doesn't mean Raina wasn't telling the truth! Jaiying - whom, you'll remember, was tortured and (literally) butchered by one of HYDRA's more unapologetically Nazi-descended adherents - turns out to have very strong feelings about the idea of making lists of "different" people, and not only does she kill Gonzales and wound herself to feign self-defense. And that's after she's already sent Skye's dad Calvin into S.H.I.E.L.D's "custody" having already downed multiple vials of the chemicals that give him his Mr, Hyde powers.

Very unexpected and well-executed, as twists go (though it becomes slightly less-so when you consider something needed to go wrong with Jaiying in order for Skye to come back to the team for Season 3) - it's nice to see things inverted so profoundly and still work out narratively. We're still getting the expected S.H.I.E.L.D/Inhumans fight with the expected people caught up in the middle, but on significantly different terms than were imagined beforehand.

I like where this is going, and it should make for a heck of a Season Finale next week... with the exception of the "Ward and still-evil Agent 33 kidnapped Bobbi" plot, which still isn't interesting and feels too blatantly of existing mainly to launch the already-announced Bobbi/Hunter spin-off series next year. But, maybe that storyline will surprise us, too.


PARTING THOUGHTS

  • Joss Whedon has lately been pretty open about how he's not really onboard with the idea of Coulson's still-living-ness being acknowledged in the movies. Since he's no longer the guiding hand of THE AVENGERS going forward, however, 
  • No, I have no idea what the shape-shifting Kree rock thing in the cargo hold actually is. At the very least, its design and behavior doesn't line up with any relic/object/etc I'm familiar with from the comics' Universe - but, then again, considering they wound up hiding The Infinity Stones inside various other relics throughout the series, it really could be anything.
  • The whole through-line of "May thinks of Skye as surrogate daughter" has paid off a lot better than I think anyone could've anticipated.
  • Jaiying explains that while Terrigen Mist is not harmful to humans, The Inhumans (or her branch of them, at least) use artificially-grown Terrigen Crystals to which exposure is lethal because it contains trace elements of Diviner Metal. This A.) Feels like a pretty-good indicator that the cache of still-missing "pure" crystals will end up being triggered to "power-up" all or most of Earth's Inhuman population to kickstart the plot of either CIVIL WAR, INHUMANS or both; and B.) Is not a plot-hole - Tripp died because a piece of Diviner shrapnel hit his chest, not from the Mist being released.
  • Re: The possibility of a CIVIL WAR lead-in: The CW comic had the push to register powered-persons kicked-off by a superhero brawl setting off an explosion in a populated area. Some kind of "Terrigen Bomb" going off and creating hundreds of thousands of newly-powered people all at once (likely resulting in chaos and plenty of injury/death even beyond an explosion) would likely have the same effect. Keep in mind that it's a (minor but highlighted) plot-point in AGE OF ULTRON that Captain America sees enhanced people like the Maximoff twins as largely indistinguishable from his own situation.
  • Skye calls them "Inhumans" for the first time, saying it's their "ancient" name. This would seem to confirm that the more familiar "Royal Family" characters are either not believed present anymore or not known this sect.
  • While acknowledging that it's likely a budget thing, I'll be really happy if Mr. Hyde goes full Hulk-out in the finale.


NEXT WEEK:
"S.O.S" teases Skye vs May plus everyone vs everyone else, in what I'm guessing will end on some sort of cliffhanger - even though a Season 3 renewal hasn't been officially announced, everyone involved has been talking like it's a given (I can't see Disney not letting the series run to a syndication-friendly length) and even if it doesn't happen the Mockingbird/Hunter spin-off is already in the cards.