Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Midseason Premiere 2015 – Recap: Queen of Thorns
Recap and review of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Midseason Premiere 2015 – Aftershocks:
For a character’s death to really mean something, it has to affect everybody. More than that, it has to have reverberations throughout the story. So I worried a bit over whether or not Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would be able to handle the dramatic weight of Tripp’s death. Luckily, “Aftershocks” is a midseason premiere that mostly delivers, thanks to tight pacing and a well-written mission.
In short, the mission is one of Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) most ambitious, since it involves having Bakshi (Simon Kassianides) lead them right to the home base of Hydra’s remaining top members without him knowing that’s what he’s doing. I’m going to do my best to recap the plan, but it felt kind of circuitous in places, even for a Coulson plan, so forgive me if I miss a beat or two.
Basically, Coulson stages this elaborate scene in which he and May (Ming-Na Wen) are “killed” by Agent Hunter (Nick Blood), who is posing as a Hydra agent sent to rescue Bakshi. Bakshi has no idea that he’s not actually being rescued by Hydra, so he all too willingly goes along with it. However, Hunter ends up scaring Bakshi into taking him back to the headquarters where Dr. List (Henry Goodman) is hiding. List is part of the cabal in charge of Hydra, and with Whitehall dead, there’s a clear power vacuum in the organization. It’s pretty much down to Bakshi, The Banker, The Baroness and The Sheikh for the new position as head of Hydra, and Bakshi essentially becomes the frontrunner since he can take credit for the “death” of Director Coulson (one of List’s preconditions for earning the title as Whitehall’s successor). So List orders the remaining Hydra execs killed. With that done, all Hunter has to do is storm into the mansion and kill List, leaving just Bakshi, who would be rearrested and traded to Talbot (Adrian Pasdar) in exchange for aid against Hydra. I’m not surprised the plan worked, but I do think leaving Bakshi alive will come back to bite S.H.I.E.L.D., although I’m not entirely sure what choice they had, since they needed to make the deal with the U.S. government, considering how short-staffed they are at the moment. Still, I found the sequences centered on Coulson’s plan to be among the more amusing of the episode, particularly Coulson’s bad acting when faking his death (“You’ll never take us alive!”), as well as the part where Hunter and Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) make their getaway in a tricked out, machine gun-lined SUV.
But the real meat of the episode has little to do with Coulson’s plan, as much of the story centers instead on how the team deals with Tripp’s death. What I loved about this particular narrative direction was that pretty much everything that happens is in some way tied to that tragic moment in the winter finale back in December. On the one hand, Coulson wants to neutralize the remaining top brass in Hydra before they have the opportunity to choose a new leader. On the other hand, it’s a revenge mission every bit as much as it is a tactical opportunity, since Coulson blames Hydra for Tripp’s death. In fact, there’s a lot of blame going around for Tripp’s death, whether it’s Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) blaming herself for studying inhuman physiology instead of just destroying it, Mack (Henry Simmons) blaming himself for allowing the alien to take over his mind, or Skye (Chloe Bennet) struggling to live with the knowledge that Tripp was down there to save her when he was killed. To this end, the episode works as a sort of character study in how people deal with grief.
For instance, Simmons lashes out by declaring that all inhumans need to be eradicated, since their abilities aren’t a gift or a curiosity, but rather a plague. This isn’t how Simmons normally acts, but the death of a friend has prompted her to be ruthlessly pragmatic in a way she’s never been. Seriously, she’s essentially condoning genocide, even going as far as to suggest to Coulson that they shouldn’t try too hard to capture the now-inhuman Raina (Ruth Negga) alive, since killing her might actually be the smarter move. “I’m just saying that if they have to, it wouldn’t be the worst thing.” Simmons’s anti-inhuman attitude horrifies Skye and makes her even more desperate to keep her secret from getting out, not that Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) doesn’t deduce it anyway. In perhaps the most touching scene of the season, Fitz prevents Skye from telling her secret to Simmons and May, covering for her as a way to keep her safe, and presumably as an apology for having flipped out on her earlier for causing the catastrophe that killed Tripp. Skye is someone who knows where she comes from now, since Cal (Kyle MacLachlan) has revealed to her that she’s Daisy Johnson, and that her mother was killed by Whitehall. But that knowledge does nothing to reveal to her who she really is, or why she is the way she is. In essence, she’s more alone now than ever before.
That is, until Fitz hugs her. Skye breaks down while in that hug because she recognizes that she has at least one friend who knows what she’s going through, and who understands how badly she feels about it, even if she’s not even close to being ready to deal with just what her newfound abilities mean. This episode sort of positions Fitz as the empath of the group. He understands Mack’s pain over being unable to control himself when the alien was using him, and defends him against a lighthearted joke from Hunter. Fitz also empathizes with the rest of the team’s horror over the death of Tripp, and what would likely be their shock at learning Skye caused it. And yet, it’s his empathy for Skye’s situation — being forced into an action she didn’t choose, much like Mack — that results in the episode’s most poignant moment. And, ultimately, that’s why I was so happy with how Tripp’s death was handled: it not only catalyzes Coulson’s plan to eradicate Hydra’s leadership, while also forcing the team to become introspective toward one another, it also prompts Fitz to take a more significant role in the narrative, since he’s the only person who knows Skye’s secret. And while it’s pretty reckless of him to keep it a secret when you consider Skye clearly has trouble controlling her quake powers, it makes for a more interesting story, since it builds anticipation for the inevitable reveal. And, as an added bonus, it feeds into the other big storyline of the episode, centered on how Raina adjusts to becoming a thorny, quill-covered porcupine.
Okay, maybe “porcupine” is a bit extreme, but Raina has been changed by her experience in the underground city, so much so that she lashes out in horror at the S.H.I.E.L.D. scientists sent down to flood the alien city. She has long claws now, and the yellow eyes of some sort of feline, and yet, while she’s been the most vocal about embracing change and discovering “who we really are,” Raina doesn’t want to be this thorny person. As she tells Cal, the thorns hurt and her insides feel like gravel. In fact, she isn’t even sure why any of this happened, but her prevailing theory is that Skye absorbed all the energy from the obelisk that was meant for her. Skye became the “angel” and Raina became the beast. It’s a truth she has trouble accepting, so she takes Cal up on his advice to end it all, walking out into oncoming traffic — that is, until Raina finds herself surrounded by an armed task force looking to take her in. Intent on forcing them to kill her, Raina prepares to fight when the eyeless Gordon teleports out of nowhere to take her to safety.
At the top of the episode, we got a flashback to 1983 in which we learned that Skye’s mother, Jiaying (Dichen Lachman), was a sort of matron and mentor to inhumans like Gordon, who was capable of short-range teleportation (but whose powers have apparently evolved far beyond short ranges). His appearance at the end, then, suggests he’s a Magneto of sorts, looking out for his fellow inhuman brethren. “It’s OK, beautiful. I’ll show you the way,” Gordon says, before teleporting her away in a flash of blue, dome-shaped light. It’s one of the coolest sequences of the episode, and it suggests that there could be a far-reaching legion of people like Raina out there. And that opens up the doors for some interesting storyline possibilities in the future, especially if these inhumans are villains. Sure, they’re no replacement for the mutants of the X-Men, but they’ll certainly do well in a pinch. At the very least, Gordon’s appearance should add to the treasure trove of mysteries this season needs to solve. Such as why Bobbi and Mack are searching Coulson’s office for Nick Fury’s toolbox. They make vague references to contacting a mysterious third party about the toolbox, and Mack has blueprints to Coulson’s office that will allow them to steal the item. But why do they want it? They can’t really be double agents, could they? Say it ain’t so! Seriously, I like this team configuration as it is, and it’s the most unified they’ve felt since Ward’s betrayal. So I’d be fairly disappointed to see them lose two solid additions like Bobbi and Mack, both of whom I’ve enjoyed on the team since their introduction. Regardless of what the solution to the mystery is, I thought “Aftershocks” was a terrific midseason premiere for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and I’m pretty excited about the rest of Season 2, almost as much as I was when we last left off in December.