‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Review: The Real S.H.I.E.L.D. Is Revealed In the Solid ‘One of Us’
Recap and review of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Season 2 Episode 13 – One of Us:
Captain American: Civil War won’t hit theaters until May 6th of next year, but already, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is building up a Civil War of its own. “One of Us” isn’t exactly a perfect episode, but I found myself loving how it builds two separate internal conflicts between opposing factions.
In fact, “One of Us” goes a long way in illustrating that just because two teams are on the same side, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re allies. Case in point, we learn just who Mack (Henry Simmons) and Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) are working for, as Mack takes Hunter (Nick Blood) to an underground facility of some sort that bears a symbol with an eagle and three stars across it. Mack reveals to Hunter that he and Bobbi work for “the REAL S.H.I.E.L.D.,” although he doesn’t specify more than that beyond mentioning that it grew out of the ashes of what Nick Fury built. I suppose this could either be H.A.M.M.E.R. or S.W.O.R.D. from the comic books, although if I had to pick one, it’d be the latter, if only because their specialization is in extraterrestrial threats, which is exactly what the Kree represent. Either way, the existence of an organization with similar goals to S.H.I.E.L.D. that is operating within S.H.I.E.L.D. (through double agents Bobbi and Mack) represents a significant internal division within the good guys. Hunter wants nothing to do with Bobbi or Mack anymore, for one, and Bobbi and Mack seem to have an inherent distrust of Coulson (Clark Gregg), at least enough to side against him. The “traitors” further sow the seeds of discord when Bobbi tells Coulson that Hunter has essentially bailed on the team due to her decision to end their relationship. And Coulson appears to buy it, because…well, he has bigger fish to fry. But by detaining Hunter, Bobbi and Mack have deprived S.H.I.E.L.D. of a valuable team member, as the group is now outnumbered going into a major battle with Cal’s group of neglected metahumans. This internal division has repercussions throughout the episode, and that’s what I like about it. It doesn’t feel like an ancillary part of the storyline. Even when Bobbi and Mack’s actions aren’t front-and-center, they’re still front-and-center.
But S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t the only organization dealing with internal discord, since it seems now that the various metahumans (sorry, I just feel like I have to borrow The Flash terminology here) are at odds with each other. There’s Cal (Kyle MacLachlan) and his group of criminals, which include genius hacker Wendell Levi, psychotic strongman Francis Noche, and Karla Faye Gideon (Drea de Matteo), a woman who had razors grafted onto her fingernails to fend off the abusive boyfriend she worked with in a medical lab. The group frees the insane David Angar (Jeff Daniel Phillips), a.k.a. “Angar the Screamer,” a man with a supersonic scream that can knock people unconscious and knock birds out of the sky. The mission is to bring down S.H.I.E.L.D. for their treatment of metahumans, since S.H.I.E.L.D. has people like them placed on something called The Index, which is a list of metahumans with potentially dangerous abilities. When S.H.I.E.L.D. places someone on The Index, one of two things happen: they’re either contained or they’re put down, at least according to May (Ming-Na Wen), who attempts to keep Cal in line by threatening to put a cap in Skye (Chloe Bennet). It’s all a ploy to get Cal to stop his little Magneto-like revolution, especially since it’s far less about justice for all metas, and more about revenge against Coulson for its own sake. Cal is an inherently selfish character, and even his attempts to get Skye to join his cause are self-absorbed. He doesn’t come from the perspective of “Look at how awful S.H.I.E.L.D. is and how good I am,” but rather from the perspective of “Look at how awful you are for sticking with S.H.I.E.L.D., even though I guess it’s not your fault really, because they brainwashed your weak mind.” Cal is a terrible person, and I’d be concerned that they’re stripping him of nuance if I actually thought he was supposed to be a nuanced character. But MacLachlan plays him as an unhinged madman, and it makes for a really fun performance, particularly when he’s introducing the S.H.I.E.L.D. vs. Metas battle on a high school football field by using their P.A. system. He sounds like an absolute lunatic who doesn’t realize just how far gone he is, and it’s an interesting portrayal since the villains on this show aren’t usually so manically showy.
That battle on the football field results in the best parts of the episode, as we get some stellar fight choreography, with Bobbi fighting Karla, May battling Noche, and Coulson fighting Angar while trying to stop Levi. It’s viscerally-edited and well-paced, with none of that annoying shaky cam fight editing that you see in some other shows and movies. I was really impressed, but not at all surprised, considering how solid the action scenes have been overall this season (although, for me, nothing has topped May vs. May yet from earlier this season). Ultimately, Skye breaks up the fight by inadvertently releasing her earthquake powers, but she manages to control them before they get out of hand. And this leads us right back into the internal division within the metahumans, as a blue dome materializes: it’s Gordon, and this time, he snatches Cal and takes him away. Once again, Gordon’s arrival is an awesome visual, and the character has one of the most striking aesthetics yet seen on this show, even though it’s not much more complex a look than his simply having skin over his eyes. When he finds himself in the room where Gordon was once comforted by Skye’s mother, Cal assumes that they’re all on the same side. But Gordon reveals this isn’t the case. “You’re a science experiment,” he tells Cal, and while I’m not exactly sure what that means, it seems like Cal has lost whatever semblance of control he had. And few things are more interesting on a show like this than a villain whose back is to the wall. Hell, it’s part of what made Ward interesting earlier this season (where has he BEEN, anyway?!).
And yet, the most interesting parts of this episode, even though they weren’t the most exciting, were the bits in which Skye undergoes a psych evaluation as part of her assessment for The Index. May’s ex-husband, Dr. Andrew Garner (Blair Underwood), makes for a hell of an addition to the ensemble. He has a very intriguing dynamic with Skye, speaking with her as a shrink, but getting through to her at the level of a colleague. Skye seems to have a hard time grasping that even if she can control her powers, things aren’t necessarily going to go back to the way they were. And she seems to be the only one who doesn’t realize it, as Andrew straight-up recommends that Skye leave the team, since she’ll never get her powers under control in such a high-stress environment. But May and Coulson are dedicated to helping her through this…even though she’s not really controlling her powers like she thinks she is: when bruises appear on her hands and arms after she contains her eruptions, Skye learns from Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) that she’s not controlling her powers, she’s just directing them inward. The bruises are a result of capillary ruptures in her hands. She’s essentially harming her own body internally, and could potentially end up killing herself if she doesn’t discover a way to control, rather than contain, her powers. And that makes for a great “ticking time-bomb” component to Skye’s story. It’s not just that she has to control her powers if she wants to get back on the team proper, she has to control her powers if she wants to survive the season. And she likely doesn’t have a whole lot of time to get her act together. That’s why it’s such a drag to lose Garner, since he leaves at the end of the episode. I loved Blair Underwood in the role, and I loved his chemistry with Ming-Na Wen, as it made perfect sense how he and May were once a couple. I do hope he returns down the line, since he gave the episode a sense of levity that was otherwise lacking.
All in all, “One of Us” is another strong outing for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., even though it does seem the show isn’t shying away from being largely Skye-centric. Luckily, I find the Skye story interesting, since it ties into why Mack and Bobbi are losing faith in Coulson’s leadership. Then again, next week might reveal that they have different reasons for defecting (if they were ever even truly with S.H.I.E.L.D. to begin with), but for now, I think the show has left enough mysteries to compel interest for the rest of the season, at this point. And that’s a good sign for a show that has largely abandoned “case of the week” narratives for more overt serialization.