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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