Reaction: Agents of SHIELD – “Aftershocks” and “Who You Really Are”

Skye in "Aftershocks"

Agents of SHIELD is back!  Actually, it was back last week, but due to other plans I was unable to post a reaction, so tonight you’ll get two for the price of one.  First up is “Aftershocks,” the Spring premiere, written by Maurissa Tancharoen & Jed Whedon and directed by Billy Gierhart.  We were left with quite the cliffhanger in the fall, with Trip dead and disintegrated, Skye and Raina transformed, Whitehall killed, Ward shot (by Skye) and teaming up with Agent 33, and everything having changed for our heroes, even if they don’t know it yet.  Well these past two weeks gave us some answers while raising more questions, and the drama and the tension within the group has risen to new levels, so let’s jump right into “Aftershocks,” while you’ll find “Who You Really Are” on page two.

(Note: I’m changing my recap/reaction posts again.  For season one I simply wrote recaps, but in the fall of season two I wrote recaps and instant reactions, and it was simply too much to handle.  It burned me out to the point where I neglected other aspects of my blog and completely turned me off to the idea of recapping Agent Carter.  I love discussing the show far more than simply regurgitating it, even if it’s fun to dive into the details and relive each episode.  So I’ll be posting reactions to each episode instead, in the style of my “instant reactions” from the fall, but perhaps not as instant.  I’d love to post they immediately following each episode, but I’m not going to force the issue.  The reaction format allows me to hit the highlights of each episode, breaking it up into more digestible chunks, while giving me more time to focus on theorizing or analyzing the episodes.  I really appreciate those of you who regularly read what I have to write, and I hope you understand why I want to make a change to how I do things.  Thanks!)

  • So I lied, because the first thing I’m actually going to is talk about Agent Carter.  I thoroughly enjoyed SHIELD‘s filler show, which managed to both feel like it belongs as part of the MCU while also striking out on its own path.  More than anything I loved Hayley Atwell as Carter, but the rest of the cast was also great, especially James D’Arcy (a personal favorite) as Jarvis.  The show had some great moments, including Carter kicking ass at any possible chance, the complicated relationship between Carter and Howard Stark, and Carter’s boss diving out a skyscraper window and exploding.  The post-war time period was the perfect setting for a show like this, which both allowed us to reflect on the gender politics of today through the lens of the past while also giving us an outlet for fantastic clothes, music, cars, and style.  However, I did have some issues with the show in general, which I hope might get resolved if the show comes back in a similar capacity next year.  I felt the overarching plot of Stark’s stolen weapons and Stark branded as a traitor was not particularly interesting.  It had its moments, but the recurring motif of “why would Stark have invented this?” got a little old.  Things picked up in the last handful of episodes, particularly once the Black Widow program made an appearance and a larger conspiracy emerged, but in all I feel like the show needed a grander or at least more interesting threat driving the plot.  Still, I very much want the show to return, if for no other reason than it makes SHIELD much more enjoyable by giving it a more predictable schedule.
  • Though, as a last thought on Agent Carter I have to say that I was really disappointed, particularly early in the show, by the press’s focus on the mystery of Carter’s future husband.  We got references to a husband (with some credit given to Steve Rogers for setting the two of them up) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but it seemed it was all anyone could talk about during the first two episodes.  Here is a kickass agent, who is fighting against the sexism embedded in the system and is a feminist icon, but all anyone can talk about is her husband?  Some things seemingly never improve, I guess, but we should live in an age where a woman (real or fictional) is not defined by whichever man to whom she chooses to attach herself.
  • Ok, finally onto SHIELD.  “Aftershocks” opened with a really intriguing scene, set in 1983, where we saw the immediate after effects of Terrigenesis, the transformation triggered by the Terrigen mists that come out of a Diviner.  We watch as a boy flashes around the room, teleporting in the style of Nightcrawler.  Skye’s mother, now called Jiaying, is brought in to help the boy, who she calls Gordon and seems to know.  She’s there to help him and “show him the way.”  She tells him that it’s ok to cry and he says he’s trying but he can’t, because he has no eyes.  This is a familiar face from the fall finale, as we saw him telling an unnamed person on the phone that he was on the case regarding Skye and Raina.  Jiaying and her colleague discuss Gordon, saying that he’s the ideal age for the transformation, in that he’s old enough to understand what’s happening but young enough to adapt, but Jiaying seems weary of the entire process.  She says that she won’t be around forever to help them, despite her gifts.  We’re left with a lot of questions from this scene, including exactly what’s going on here, what their goals are, and who they’re answering to.  Clearly they’re trying to help people who transform, but are they causing the transformations?
  • Favorite Quote: Skye: “I feel like a leper.” Bobbi: “Leper?  I think you’re a rock star.”
  • This episode was full of some big emotions, and one of the first emotional moments was right near the beginning.  Simmons is down in the city, doing research and preparing to drown it at the bottom of the ocean, when a cleaning person goes by with a wheelbarrow full of debris and a fragment of Trip’s solidified face is resting on top.  It’s pretty horrifying, made all the more so by the callous way the nameless scientists coldly deal with the situation, leaving Simmons to suppress her emotion for the time being.  It was quite the punch to the gut to start the episode.
  • So “Aftershocks” had two main, parallel plotlines.  The first, and more emotional, involved Skye and the immediate reaction of what she’s going through, but the other was more complex and perhaps more shocking.  In the aftermath of Trip’s death, Coulson was on the warpath, taking the fight to HYDRA.  He set up a deal to send Bakshi to Talbot, and then staged a car crash, hijacking, and his own death in order to make Bakshi think he had escaped, allowing them to track him back to HYDRA.  Meanwhile, we got a look at supposedly the leadership of HYDRA, now one man short with the death of Whitehall.  The coming of Bakshi caused a rift that allowed two of the HYDRA heads to take out the other three, fearing a betrayal, leaving only two for Coulson to deal with.  He sent in his team to take out Bloom and recover Bakshi, leaving only one HYDRA head, Dr. Levy, in place, and seemingly silencing the HYDRA threat for the moment.  It was a pretty bold stroke, but it was also remarkably cold blooded of Coulson, who never seemed to have a problem taking out HYDRA agents (he did kill Whitehall), but who never actively sought them out and assassinated them.  The entire finale to this plotline was straight out of the end of The Godfather, when Michael Corleone had the heads of the other five families killed (in similar ways).  I wouldn’t have expected it of Coulson, but it felt in character, and like a big step as Coulson grows into fully becoming the director of SHIELD.
  • Favorite Quote: May: “I count four left, you know what that means.” Coulson: “Not really.” (May leaps over the truck and “kills” the attackers.) May: “It means I do that.” Coulson: “Good to know.”
  • Speaking of HYDRA, there were two offhand mentions that tied into the larger MCU.  Baron Von Strucker was mentioned twice, and we’ve previously seen him in the mid-credits scene of The Winter Soldier, looking over the Maximoff twins in their cages as we get a look at their powers.  They, of course, will have major roles in Avengers: Age of Ultron, due in just a couple months.  Also of note was that Skye’s survival of the Diviner incident was called a “miracle,” a term Von Strucker used to describe the twins.  Marvel is forbidden from using the word “mutant” in the MCU because Fox owns the film rights to the X-Men franchise and mutants, so they seemingly settled on “miracle” for the twins.  But it’s interesting that the word was used to describe Skye, and it makes me wonder if there’s a chance the twins gained their powers through Terrigenesis and are in fact Inhumans.  It might be a good way to set up the future Inhumans movie, particularly if we assume that most MCU fans don’t watch SHIELD.
  • I found Raina’s story in this episode particularly compelling, and it featured some wonderful acting from Ruth Negga under some impressive makeup.  There’s no doubt that Raina got a bum deal as far as her transformation is concerned, coming out covered in thorns and looking like a monster.  She’s strong and powerful, tearing up some SHIELD scientists, but mostly she’s hurt, hurting, sad, lonely, and feeling betrayed.  Her encounter with Calvin, the Doctor, was particularly tragic, with her insisting that Skye got what was due to Raina.  Calvin is simply delighted that his Daisy was there and transformed, but he hates Coulson for robbing him of his revenge on Whitehall and for taking Daisy/Skye away.  But I felt so much sympathy for Raina, particularly when Calvin remarked, regarding her thorns, that she always liked flowers, but Raina simply replied that they hurt.  The way she talked about her insides feeling like gravel, and how she cuts herself whenever she moves, was heartbreaking, and made all the more worse by Calvin’s coldness.  I’m actually hopeful to see what will happen with her and Gordon, as I think Gordon can help her, and that the two will understand each other given the unfortunate aspects of their transformation.  Whether they team up for good or for evil is another matter entirely.
  • Favorite Quote: May: “They’ll never take us alive? Really? Little over the top, don’t you think?” Coulson: “I only had a day to come up with this whole thing. Besides, if I let you write the script no one would say anything.”
  • Coulson’s team seems to be fraying at the edges a bit.  Hunter and Bobbi may be closer than before, but she’s lying to him while she and Mack use Coulson’s model Lola to scan his office looking for Fury’s toolbox.  (Though I loved Mack’s shameful, disappointed look when he admitted to Coulson that he couldn’t make the model fly.)  Mack, meanwhile, is struggling with his anger and taking it out on everyone around him, including Coulson and his previous bff, Fitz.  Fitz is improving, both with his mind and motor skills, but he’s also lying to others, even if it’s to protect Skye.  And then there’s Simmons.  You can’t blame Simmons for being the most broken (after Skye, maybe) over what happened.  Simmons and Trip had a blossoming relationship, and clearly her feelings for him were deeper than she admitted out loud, and for him not only to die but to die as a result of the superpowered, mysterious, alien technology that she was so fascinated by must make her feel equally betrayed and guilty.  The way she talked about how people with powers were a “plague” to be “erased from existence” was shocking and saddening, but also completely understandable.  But it was tough to watch her say those things in front of Skye.
  • And then there’s Skye.  Poor Skye, who watched her good friend die and can only blame herself for what happened.  Skye, who has new powers she has to hide, yet which she can’t control.  It’s much easier to empathize with what the others are going through than with Skye.  We’ve probably all been betrayed, or lost someone close to us, or had someone we love be ill or in an accident, and we can understand the types of anger, grief, and confusion that go with it.  We can see where Simmons is coming from, or understand Bobbi sweetly bringing Skye a quarantine survival kit, or Fitz wanting to protect her secret so much that he’s willing to lie to the others and change Skye’s DNA sample.  But it’s hard to understand watching your friend die while you gain superpowers that you can’t control.  However, the feeling of uneasiness in your own body, of not fully being in control, and of fear of yourself, is probably universally relatable.  I was very worried that Fitz would turn her in or betray her, and so I was so touched when he protected her and she hugged him at the end.  It’s hard to imagine how much it meant to have a friend in that moment for her.
  • Favorite Quote: Bobbi: “Drop the accent, you sound like a douchebag.” Hunter: “Now you know what it’s like for me to live in this country.”
  • “Aftershocks” was full of smaller memorable moments, from the reminiscing about Trip and how he would have replied “Come on, girl” in his familiar accent, to Fitz using the term “inhuman,” and others in between, and while I have more thoughts on this episode, they tie into “Who You Really Are,” so click on to the next page to keep reading!

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8 thoughts on “Reaction: Agents of SHIELD – “Aftershocks” and “Who You Really Are”

  1. Glad to have you back! I don’t mind having just these reactions as sometimes they’re more detailed than professional recaps. But these were intense episodes and I hoped you saw them. Personally, I preferred “Aftershock” but I do enjoy the fact that they seem to be moving through their plots now that everyone knows Skye’s secret.

    No one else seems to discuss the fact that Skye will have to meet with others beyond the team at some point, even though they already have Luke Mitchell playing an Inhuman who bonds with Skye. I think she’s going to leave the base entirely at some point, whether it’s for the team’s good or her own. That’ll be when things get interesting.

    As for Bobbi and Mack, the newest theory flying around is the Secret Warriors project, of which Mockingbird is already a member in the comics. It could work with the idea of something like SWORD, but also keep them away from anything like betrayal like HYDRA. Either way, I hope they get on that soon because compared to Skye’s story, their mystery is dragging.

    Ward is coming back soon, a plot with him is mentioned in 2.14, and he may very well appear next week. I am wondering what they’re going to do with him at this point as there’s no HYDRA or SHIELD to fall back on for his character. Perhaps he’ll become a mercenary, much like Hunter was in the opening.

    As for the Inhumans, I have my own theories, mostly to do with Skye’s backstory. In the comics, the Inhumans, both the royal and the mutants, are normally an exclusive group, moving at odds even with superhero groups and not ordinarily helping people. And I kept wondering why they chose to have the flashback take place in 1983 other than to explain how old Gordon is. Then it struck me as odd that someone valued among the group like Jiaying associated with people who have the ability to teleport or more was in the end captured by human HYDRA soldiers. A dark theory crossed my mind that perhaps the group wasn’t too keen on her falling in love and having a daughter with someone who wasn’t one of them (Cal with all his craziness and impressive strength is not Inhuman as far as I can tell). I’m not saying they handed her over to HYDRA, but perhaps they…looked the other way? After all, Skye did end up with SHIELD as well. It’s more of a guess than a theory, but I think that it would provide a grayer portrait for a group that on the surface seems so accepting of others especially if Skye will interact with them in the future. Plus, I recall reading an interview with one of the producers who discussed the intricacy of the Inhuman group along with the unusual quality of Skye’s birth. With an Inhuman mother and human (and crazy) father, can she ever truly belong to one group? And it would give an excuse for Dichen Lachman to come back which is never a problem.

    On a side note, I’ve also begun writing my own review of Agents of SHIELD on moderngafa.com The one for “Who You Really Are” should be up later this week. I’m so glad to have you back!

    Like

    • Thanks for sticking around and for always dropping by to comment! I really appreciate it, and you always know more about the comics than I do. I think you’re right that Skye is going to leave the base completely at some point, and the questions are what drove her to that point and where does she go?
      I’d never heard of the Secret Warriors project, but that definitely is a possibility. I agree that it’s been dragging, but I think we’ll learn more about it this week.
      I could absolutely see Ward becoming a mercenary, and pursuing his own agenda and sense of right and wrong. A wild card character like that can work really well in a show like this.
      Ooh, I like the theory that the Inhumans either handed her over to HYDRA or were at least complicit in it, as a punishment for falling in love outside the exclusive group. I definitely see Skye stuck between worlds given everything that’s happened to her, and it will leave her with some tough choice to make down the line.
      I’ll definitely check out your reviews! Sounds great!

      Like

      • Really quick I wanted to thank you for commenting on my review! I’m still working out the details with the site, so I don’t know if I’ll be able to comment there. Also, since the reviews are mostly present episode-focused, I’ll probably still come back to talk theories.

        Also, I wanted to elaborate on the Secret Warriors, since they’re growing as a theory. The Secret Warriors were a small group founded by Nick Fury following the destruction of Manhattan by the Skrull Empire and the infiltration of SHIELD by HYDRA (sound familiar?) Sometimes they’re mutants but other times they’re just specialists like Mockingbird. Bottom line, they’re another group that answered to Fury but moves outside SHIELD since the fall of HYDRA and certainly aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. Since Bobbi and Mack aren’t evil, this could be a thought as to why they don’t necessarily feel loyal to Coulson (although SWORD would probably give a bigger sense of betrayal).

        But I’m feeling good about this theory considering one of the founding members of the Secret Warriors was…Daisy Johnson! Of course they can’t possibly follow that story at this point, but the show’s usually privy to those inside references. I wouldn’t be surprised if they came out with a version of the Secret Warriors at this point as a wink now that the audience knows who Skye is.

        Thank you for your time!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Wait, you’re not getting Agent Carter? What kind of crap is that? I guess there are always DVDs or streaming options. But she’s British! I figured there’s no way they wouldn’t show it in the UK.

      Like

      • I KNOW! No sign of it. It hasn’t really come up on the streaming sites either. It’s obviously some kind of sexist conspiracy.

        Mind you, Firefly never aired here either.

        Once it gets released on DVD in the US it will be easy to get hold of over here.

        Like

  2. Pingback: Reaction: Agents of SHIELD – “One of Us” | Love Pirate's Ship's Log

  3. Well, I truly liked the detailed recaps: I have to watch a film three or four times to catch all the details, and the recaps laid out those details beautifully. Also, somehow managed to miss the entire friggin season so recap recap recap time. I do understand how Stuff of Life takes over and you really don’t have time and energy to write a mini novel about each episode! (the ABC site has recaps, though, heh heh, not as good as yours). So carry on with the new version, insights always massively awesome.

    And all the background comic book history bits are great, Easter eggs I’d miss.

    Somehow I missed that whole Black Widow thing in Agent Carter. Also missed (fortunately) the blah blah over her future husband. “Some things seemingly never improve, I guess, but we should live in an age where a woman (real or fictional) is not defined by whichever man to whom she chooses to attach herself.” You rule!

    Really wish I hadn’t missed season two, though a few episodes are still up on ABC.com.

    Thanks for the recaps!

    Liked by 1 person

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