‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Review: ‘Scars’ Ignites War With the Inhumans
Recap and review of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Season 2 Episode 20 – Scars:
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is riding on the momentum of Avengers: Age of Ultron, first with its setup episode from last week, and now with its postscript. Granted, it’s not as if “Scars” is predicated upon the viewer having seen the movie, but it certainly helps to create a more fun, fully-involved experience, as this showed us just how much “it’s all connected”.
Of course, I’ll avoid spoilers for the movie, in the event you haven’t seen it (you can read a spoiler-free review of the movie by clicking here), but put simply, the show is building off of the film in ways that suggest a war on the horizon. Granted, the war for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is on a far smaller scale, but with stakes that are arguably just as high. This is especially true when you consider that the show is pitting the Inhumans against S.H.I.E.L.D. by turning Jiaying (Dichen Lachman) into an all-out villain, albeit one with an ideology where you could kind of see where she’s coming from. If the Inhumans are able to topple S.H.I.E.L.D., that essentially undoes all of the hard work that Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his team set out to accomplish this season. Naturally, the endgame of this season appears to involve a certain amount of predestination, as Raina (Ruth Negga) has a vision of QuinJets raining fire down on Afterlife. She tries to get Gordon (Jamie Harris) to work with her, helping transport her to the helicarrier where Gonzales is storing some sort of liquid version of the Monolith, but her plans don’t exactly work out. And her attempt at a power play against Jiaying fails just as badly as S.H.I.E.L.D.’s attempt at a truce with the Inhumans. In short, the different factions of this season are gradually splitting, and the further destruction of S.H.I.E.L.D. would also have implications for the Avengers as well, so this is no small matter.
But how was “Scars” as a narrative?
For the most part, I enjoyed the episode, particularly the continued moral quandaries that are dividing the team. Skye (Chloe Bennet) has her loyalty divided between S.H.I.E.L.D. and her parents, Jiaying and Cal (Kyle MacLachlan). She sees the good in both of them, and is simply trying to have some semblance of a relationship with them, even if S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t necessarily understand why she’d want to. Coulson, in particular, seems bothered that Skye doesn’t really consider herself a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent anymore. She outright admits, “I don’t know what I am,” and it’s a line that is a microcosm of the larger conflict at hand, because it’s not just Skye who’s caught in the middle. For one, May (Ming-Na Wen) seems to slowly be moving towards the side of Gonzales (Edward James Olmos) and the “real S.H.I.E.L.D.,” as her relationship with Coulson becomes more frayed by the moment. It leads to a scene in which May compares Coulson’s gradual slip away from sanity with her necessary actions in Bahrain. She didn’t want to have to put that little girl down, but she did, in order to prevent a larger crisis. However, when faced with the same choice of whether or not to put down Coulson during his Kree enchantment, she couldn’t bring herself to do it, and now she’s facing the consequences. This internal S.H.I.E.L.D. conflict is one of the driving forces of the episode, as it also results in Mack (Henry Simmons) resigning, under the principle that he simply can’t work for Coulson anymore. Meanwhile, Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) ends up being taken out by Ward (Brett Dalton) and Kara/Agent 33 (Maya Stojan), who reunite because…well, because of course they would. With May on the outs with Coulson, Mack on the outs with S.H.I.E.L.D., and Bobbi in the clutches of two ex (current?) Hydra agents, the team is more fractured than ever before. And that feels somewhat poetic in a season that started out bringing together one of the strongest S.H.I.E.L.D. teams we’ve ever gotten. Say what you will about what a blow the loss of Ward was to the group, but Bobbi, Mack and Hunter (Nick Blood) were no slouches, and they added a lot to the team in their brief stints. Hopefully, the finale will bring all these disparate teammates back together.
But if it does, it won’t be without calamity. In the episode’s most shocking moment, Jiaying murders Gonzales by smashing a homemade Terrigen crystal during a negotiation between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Inhumans. The crystal contained particles from the Diviner, which are lethal to normal humans. Jiaying does this in order to prove a point: S.H.I.E.L.D. is nothing like them, and their scars are in no way comparable. It’s a moment of rage and lunacy from Jiaying, but it’s almost understandable, given what she knows about S.H.I.E.L.D.’s practices. Gonzales proposes adding the Inhumans to the Index under the guise of protecting the world, but she knows from Cal just what being Indexed means. So while, yes, she does turn Cal over to S.H.I.E.L.D. as a show of good faith, she essentially reneges by poisoning Gonzales with the Terrigen crystal, reducing him to a pile of ash. She then shoots herself in the shoulder to make it look like Gonzales tries to kill her. When Skye and the other Inhumans come to her aid, Jiaying declares her intentions: “This is war!” And just like that, Skye now has to pick definitive sides, whether she wants to or not. I like that dilemma as a narrative choice, although I feel it’s not as powerful as it could be, considering Skye is operating off of bad information. If she was forced to choose between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Inhumans, and had all the facts at her disposal, then that eventual choice would mean more. But right now, she’s being tricked into believing S.H.I.E.L.D. has gone rogue, which isn’t the case at all. So if she does choose the Inhumans, it’ll be less out of true belief than out of a sense of having been betrayed by S.H.I.E.L.D. and her former teammates. Still, I think if she chooses the Inhumans next week, that will reveal just as much about her apparent lack of faith in S.H.I.E.L.D. as it is. She really ought to know this isn’t the sort of stunt they would pull, but she’s desperate to believe her parents, deep down, are good people. It’s a fundamental flaw in her character that anyone would share, and it makes her more human, no matter how Inhuman she becomes.
“Scars” is a very good setup for the two-hour season finale next week, and even if that finale doesn’t stick the landing, I would still argue that Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2 has largely been a success, owing to tighter, more serialized plotting, and a greater emphasis on ensemble storytelling. I’m looking forward to seeing how it all ends, and how/if it will tie into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in light of Avengers: Age of Ultron.
But what did you think of the episode? Sound off in the comments!
And for future reviews, follow me on Twitter: @NickRomanTV