After more than two months off the air, Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns to deal with the titular ‘Aftershocks’ of its fall finale.
Let’s bitch it out…
‘Aftershocks’ is the kind of episode that catches audiences up with where we left off with a preponderance of expository scenes and dialogue. It’s not a bad episode, but as a launching pad for the second half of this reinvigorated second season, it’s not exactly a barn burner by any standards.
Part of this is understandable: Skye (Chloe Bennet) spends the episode trapped in quarantine as she waits for the all clear that she (and we) know isn’t coming. She’s unable to interact with the people on the other side of the glass that she wants to comfort. If we’re being honest, it’s not the most exciting development, even if it does make narrative sense. (Side Note: also the glass, as shot by director Bill Gierhart, isn’t always visible, which just makes Bennet look like she’s standing off by herself for no reason).
There’s a lot of blame tossed around in the wake of Tripp’s death, as both Skye, Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Mack (Henry Simmons) struggle with the fatal results of their actions. It’s natural that all of the grief that permeates the episode would make this a more contemplative episode; it’s just too bad that so much of it is so heavy handed. Take Coulson’s opening soliloquy to Skye about how everyone handles the pain in their own way. As Coulson speaks, a roaming camera slowly tracks through the Bus, depicting everyone doing their most clichéd activities: May (Ming-Na Wen) fights, Mack constructs, Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) provides back-up and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge)…sciences. It’s the definition of a perfunctory scene and while I applaud Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. for showing rather than telling, this script from co-showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen is filled with these kinds of emotionally laden scenes that simply don’t resonate as much as you get the impression they’d hoped.
Things get interesting (or laughably bad depending on your reaction) when Raina (Ruth Negga) escapes the underground city in Puerto Rico and tracks down Skye’s father (Kyle MacLachlan). Raina is remiss because she feels that Skye co-opted the gift intended for her and now she’s a freak. It’s an understandable reaction for a girl that has always believed she’s destined for greatness and fastidiously dressed her best. It’s also an inherently petty claim to make, one that the Doctor cruelly and rightfully calls her out on. I don’t believe for a second that Raina would be so dumb as to expect the Doctor to fix her (surely she knew there was no going back), but the resolution of her story line – two near suicides and a last minute rescue by a character IMDb names Reader (Jamie Harris) – is filled with potential.
What Skye and Raina are searching for is acceptance. They’ve changed (in every way, if we believe Jemma and Dichen Lachman’s Jiaying) and they nearly reach their breaking point as they become further and further ostracized over the course of the hour. The cold-open featuring a juvenile Reader nearly killing himself as he adjusts to his Nightcrawler-esque teleportation powers heavily foreshadows the events to come in ‘Aftershocks’. As Lachman’s voice-over clearly intones, without guidance these new Inhumans won’t survive. Raina has that now in Reader, whose first words confirm her beauty and whose actions suggest rescue. With Skye, reassurance comes in the form of Fitz who – as the team outsider – certainly knows how both Mack and Skye feel in their aftermath of their alien encounters. It’s only natural that he would discover Skye’s situation and cover for her, calming her with the soothing statement that she’s simply “different.” Now they have a secret to keep, which for the immediate future, bonds them together and cathartically unites them physically (it’s important that the only person Skye actually touches is Fitz, despite connecting verbally with Coulson, May, Simmons and even getting a grab bag full of quarantine survival items from Adrianne Palicki’s Bobbi).
The problem with being different is that Skye needs to learn how to control her powers. But that’s a tale for next week…
- I found it disappointing that Raina’s powers seemingly turn her into a killer. She’s certainly been a threat in the past, but the somewhat graphic double blood splatter from her initial attack felt uncharacteristic for both her and the show. Are we meant to believe she can’t control her murderous impulses (as Skye can’t control her emotion-fueled quakes)?
- Poor dumb, beautiful Bakshi (Simon Kassianides). That SHIELD set-up was so obvious that it’s a wonder he didn’t spot it the moment that Coulson and May began discussing classified information in front of him. I’m unsure if anyone else’s pulse jumped as a result of the action sequence, but knowing that it was part of Coulson’s plan to eliminate the remaining HYDRA heads in the wake of Whitehall’s death made it feel awfully anti-climatic.
- Side Note: I’m still disappointed that Whitehall was killed so unceremoniously and has stayed dead.
- The HYDRA upper management feels mildly reminiscent of Angel‘s Circle of the Black Thorn: a random group of wealthy, petty aristocrats who sit around talking while the real battle happens around them. I’m also disappointed that they’re dispatched as quickly as they’re introduced.
- No Ward or Agent 33 tonight or in next week’s preview. With HYDRA effectively leaderless, should we assume that those two will step up and assume the reins?
- Now that General Talbot (Adrian Pasdar) has Bakshi, is it also safe to assume that we won’t be seeing him again?
- Hunter (Nick Blood) correctly surmises that Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) and Mack have a secret. She manages to misdirect him into believing they’re in a support group, but the final scene clarifies for us that they’re after Nick Fury’s box, located in Coulson’s desk. The question is who is Bobbi referring to when she mentions calling someone? Obviously we’re meant to question their loyalty, but I think it’s something else entirely.
- Finally, I know it’s all part of the grieving process, but I had some pretty serious reservations about how Simmons reacts to “powers.” It would have been better to tie her irrational response to the fact that she was in love with Tripp because this felt pretty off-character.
- May (during the faked attack): “I count four left. You know what that means?” Coulson: “Not really.”
- Coulson (when May mocks his dialogue): “Besides, if I let you write the script, no one would have said anything.” That’s probably true.
Your turn: how did you feel about SHIELD‘s return? Were you hoping for something a little more exciting? Did you feel that Simmons and Raina’s reactions were off-character? Were you happy to see Lachman’s Jiaying again? Did any part of the episode make your emotional? And were you surprised at how easily HYDRA was dealt with? Sound off below.
Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays at 9pm EST on ABC. Next week Lady Sif returns as Skye’s powers escalate