Friday, March 6, 2015

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2, Episode 11, "Aftershocks" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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In their first episode back, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. deals with the fallout from the midseason finale which saw a member of the team killed, the main villain from the first half of the season killed, a pair of other villains/wildcards escape, a final villain/wildcard transformed into a super-powered “creature,” and a member of their team revealed (to the audience, anyway) as a bona fide superhero and occasional Avenger.

However, the episode does not wallow in the past, simply rehashing what happened; instead, the characters must move forward.  They fight their way through their grief over Agent Triplett’s death before bonding over beers and stories.  Coulson himself finds closure in returning Tripp’s old S.H.I.E.L.D. spyware to his mother and seeing her pictures of Triplett and of the Howling Commandoes.  These somber moments make the action scenes stand out in sharp contrast and give meaning to the episode’s conflict.

The main action of the episode comes from Coulson’s plan to draw out the remaining Hydra forces following the death of Daniel Whitehall, one of the “Heads of Hydra.”  We are introduced to 5 other heads:  “Mr. Bloom,” the “Sikh,” the “Baroness” (speculated to be the wife of Baron Zemo), the “Banker,” and a man who seems to serve as Baron von Strucker’s liaison.  At the beginning of the episode these five discuss possible candidates to fill Whitehall’s position, with the Liaison stating that von Strucker believes Sunil Bakshi to be a good candidate.  They then note that S.H.I.E.L.D. will probably try to move against them—which somehow doesn’t put them on their guard against Coulson’s plan to tear them apart from within.

Coulson offers Bakshi to Col. Talbot as an olive branch in exchange for assistance with Hydra.  He and May then bring Bakshi out into the open where they stage a rescue attempt led by Lance Hunter, who whisks Bakshi away to a “Hydra outpost” (“Is every Radio Shack a Hydra outpost?”  Did Radio Shack actually pay for that namedrop?  I don’t know if I’d be more inclined to shop there because they were called a “Hydra outpost.”) where he retrieves a burner phone to contact “Mr. Bloom.”  Hunter “turns on” Bakshi and says he was hired to get rid of Bakshi and Bloom as soon as they’d made contact.  Bakshi begs for his life and has Hunter bring him to Bloom.  Bloom contacts the Liaison, suggesting that the other heads may be trying to cut Bakshi, Bloom, and the Liaison out.  Bloom agrees to handle the situation and contacts sleeper agents who assassinate the other three heads.  As soon as it’s done, Bakshi sends men to kill Hunter (and Bobbi), who break into the compound, kill Bloom, and take Bakshi prisoner.  As a side note, when is Lexus going to start selling an SUV with armor plating, bulletproof glass, and a row of anti-personnel machine guns built into the sides and rear bumper?  I would definitely buy that!  Give it Lola’s hover capability and it would be the perfect family car!

Hydra is definitely not down for the count after this; they may not even be seriously damaged from a global perspective.  We know very little about the 4 Hydra heads that were cut off in this episode:  Were they responsible for the Western Hemisphere?  America and Europe?  California, Oregon, and Washington?  The south side of San Francisco?  Regardless, whatever region of the world they were overseeing will be seriously crushed by their loss and the resultant infighting as new heads emerge to claim part of the pie.  However, this will only matter within that particular region of the world.  Think of it like the American Revolution:  At one point the British Army controlled 9 of the 13 colonial capitols, but it didn’t actually matter except in those nine colonies/states.  Hydra is still going to be around to combat S.H.I.E.L.D.; the Liaison and von Strucker will see to that.

Of course, the only thing that anyone is really talking about this week is the Inhumans plot thread.  The episode was essentially bookmarked by the introduction of an Inhuman boy named Gordon (whom I will think of as the new Inhuman called “The Reader” until they tell us otherwise).  The first shot of the episode comes 14 hours after he underwent Terrigenesis, lost his eyes, and gained the ability to teleport.  We see him in a full-on panic attack, teleporting uncontrollably around a room.  My first thought on seeing the room is that it must have been designed specifically for this purpose:  newly-transformed Inhumans can experiment with their powers and learn to control them with little chance of hurting themselves or others.  A woman walks in to comfort him, who is revealed to be Jiaying—Skye’s mother.  Her ability is described as very slow aging, a gift which has enabled her to guide several generations of Inhumans through Terrigenesis.  That she is such a caring and nurturing person makes her eventual vivisection by Whitehall all the more unconscionable.

The scene turns from a child learning to control his powers under guidance to two more “children” (Skye and Raina) who are equally terrified by the Terrigenesis and have little guidance in understanding what has happened.  In Skye’s case the rest of the team has little comfort to offer her in terms of what happened to her—they don’t understand it any more than she does.  Simmons is particularly unhelpful; she is under the impression that the Obelisk may have unleashed a plague or contagion of some form which could turn anyone who contracts it into a hideous creature like Raina.  Skye’s only source of comfort is Fitz who, despite his fear of her seismic abilities, hides her changed DNA and comforts her when she breaks down sobbing.

Raina apparently had somewhat more “mental preparation” for the transformation, but is still shocked and horrified by her appearance, taking it out on 5 S.H.I.E.L.D. techs.  When she finds the Doctor, he spends more time gloating and literally jumping for joy at the thought of “Daisy’s” transformation than worrying about Raina.  When he finally turns to her “problem,” he essentially tells her to get lost; she’s not his problem anymore.  Raina leaves him, contemplating suicide.  She actually makes two different attempts at ending her life:  first by walking out into a busy road, and second by telling the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents sent to bring her in that either they will kill her or she will make them kill her.  The situation didn’t exactly turn out the way she wanted, however.  No sooner had she made that threat than Gordon/Reader teleported in next to her, extended a force field around them which knocked the agents back, and teleported away with her.  Side note:  Did anyone else think of Cary Elwes when Gordon appeared, said, “It’s okay, beautiful.  I’ll show you the way,” and whisked her away?  My first thought was his character on Psych:  “Such panache.”

I really enjoyed this episode; the visuals in particular were incredible.  Raina’s transformed appearance is extremely believable, which I actually expected.  What I did not expect was for them to introduce the concept of teleportation so quickly, and especially for them to use it so much.  All of the teleportation visuals were excellent, particularly the force field emanating from Gordon’s shoulder blades in the penultimate scene.  I wonder if they will explain how his teleportation/force field-generation works.

They set up a lot of future plot threads in this episode.  First, the succession for the heads of Hydra is now seriously in doubt:  who will take over the 5 unclaimed seats at the Hydra table?  Second, Skye learning how to control her powers, though she will first need to learn to appreciate the gift she has been given.  Third, the rest of the team learning to understand what the Inhumans are and realizing that this is not a plague or epidemic to be eradicated.  Fourth, Raina discovering what it means to be an Inhuman and learning to appreciate her transformation.  Fifth, and perhaps most pressing, Doctor Cal (a.k.a. “Mister Hyde”) is going to be putting together a team of gifted people from the Index with an axe to grind against S.H.I.E.L.D. to go against Coulson in a desperate bid to win Skye’s approval.  Finally, the Bobbi-and-Mack from last half-season returned as they made plans to steal Fury’s toolbox from Coulson’s desk.

All in all I thoroughly enjoyed this episode; it had many of the visual and story qualities of a Marvel movie along with the added bonus of further setting up the Inhumans’ culture and society.

Next week we can expect to see Lady Sif make her reappearance on Midgard, and hopefully bring us more information about the Inhumans.

Tomorrow look for my thoughts on "Genocidal Simmons."

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