Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2, Episode 12, "Who You Really Are" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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This week’s episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. showed us why this TV series needs to exist.  It gave us a massive data-drop on the Inhumans, the Kree War (in the comics it was with the Skrulls), and the dangers which the team (and the Inhuman civilization) face.  And this is so far the only place we’ve seen characters from the Thor corner of the universe interacting with characters from the Guardians of the Galaxy corner of the universe—and doing it with humans.  Where else would that really make sense?

Like “Aftershocks,” “Who You Really Are” follows up on narrative threads from the midseason finale—in this case specifically the signal sent by the Diviner when it activated.  That signal was picked up by an eyeless Inhuman we now know to be “Gordon,” but it was also detected by a Kree (Vin-Tak), who came to Earth to investigate it.  Heimdall saw him arrive and sent word to Odin (whom I assume is still Loki), who sent Sif to investigate, intercept, and bring the Kree back to Asgard.  Sif confronted him, fought him, and when she looked to have the upper hand, he hit her with his weapon to wipe her memory.  This sets up several amusing moments where an amnesiac Sif doesn’t recognize or remember the S.H.I.E.L.D. team, doesn’t know who Thor is, and has no idea who she is or what she is doing on Midgard.  Coulson’s mention of “Thor” actually sets up an amusing moment when Sif doesn’t know who he is, but can’t hide a reflexive smile.  Coulson plays it off with “Who can understand the Asgardian mind?” to which May responds “I can.”  It somehow doesn’t surprise me that Sif would have feelings/a previous relationship with Thor (something Thor: The Dark World strongly hinted at), or that May would be able to interpret Sif’s smile.  Of course, all of those light moments were necessary to keep the episode from being too dark because most of the rest of the episode was deathly serious.

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For starters, Skye is still struggling to control her powers, as evidenced during her fight with the Kree when she vibrated her gun apart (an ability which would probably prove to be more useful if someone else were holding it…).  However, we saw it even during her fight with May when May confronted her about holding back.  Chloe Bennett actually does a really good job of letting us experience that tension she’s feeling:  there’s something dark inside her which she doesn’t want to let out.  It came out against the Kree in a singularly unhelpful manner.  It started coming out when Sif and the Kree confronted her, finally exploding out of her in a cascade of shattered glass.  When she ran off and couldn’t make the earth stop shaking, the pain and fear felt very real.  Even in the containment room she couldn’t get her emotions under control enough to stop it—even before Sif rammed her sword through the wall!  The final scene when Skye walked in on the team discussing her and then walked off to shut herself into the containment/interrogation room made her inner turmoil even more real and visible.  It’s maddening for us as the audience to see this character with an amazing gift shut it away, hide it, fight against it, when all we really want is to see it in action taking down the bad guys.

As an aside on that previous statement:  Do you realize who Skye is?  Personality-wise, she’s Tony Stark:  all quips, wisecracks, and nicknames.  But abilities-wise, she is Bruce Banner:  she doesn’t think that this is a gift but a curse, and she wants to get rid of it and bury it where it can’t harm the people she cares about.  You can almost see this episode as a re-envisioning of The Incredible Hulk, particularly the parts when the government is trying to hunt Bruce down.  The one difference is that Bruce didn’t have any support until Tony Stark in The Avengers; Skye has May.

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This entire episode was written towards a single moment:  the conversation in which Vin-Tak and Sif rapid-fire revealed virtually everything there is to know about the Inhumans.  They were an experiment by a “vicious faction of the Kree” a very long time ago.  They were meant to be soldiers (“cannon fodder” in May’s words) in a great Kree war.  When the “peace-loving” faction of the Kree discovered what had happened, they moved to end the experimentation and get rid of the products of it.  Clearly they did not succeed; in fact, from what we can piece together there is something of an Inhuman civilization on Earth, though it is hidden away from the regular humans.  There were six Diviners left on earth (meaning that there are four more out there excluding the one that was destroyed and the one which Gordon has)—could that mean that there are five different tribes out there?  Could Hydra have one of them?  We may find out sooner than later.  However, there is something about this whole situation that I don’t get, and which I’m sure they will have to explain in a week or two:  We know that there are Inhumans out there, and that Terrigenesis has been happening all along (Jiaying guided several generations of Inhuman children through the process, after all), so how is it that Vin-Tak or another Kree didn’t pick up the signal of the Crystal activating all those other times?

The episode also explored several other plots and character interactions.  I think the most interesting interactions explored in this episode were Coulson and Sif, May and Sif, May and Skye, and Skye and Bobbi.  I especially think that May and Skye’s relationship will take on a completely different character going forward.  Since May has been Skye’s training officer this season, she’s been responsible for helping her become a better S.H.I.E.L.D. agent:  shooting, hand-to-hand fighting, mindset, and the like.  Now that Skye has these powers which are unleashed whenever she gets angry, scared, or upset, I think May is going to be taking on a role similar to the one that Fury had with Quake in the comics:  May will be the one working with her to understand her powers, control her emotions, and ultimately control her powers so she can unleash them on command and restrain them when necessary.  It’s an interesting connection that they would show the beginnings of this relationship (at least with regards to Skye’s powers) in the same episode which saw the broadcast premiere of the second Daredevil trailer, which included some shots of Stick training Matt Murdock to hone his senses and fighting abilities.  A strong part of me hopes that Skye will have her abilities mastered before the end of the month (3 more episodes); for as interesting as it is to see the “evolution of a superhero”—including her learning to control and harness her abilities—I also just want to see her lay down a world of hurt on Hydra or her father’s “Masters of Evil”-esque villain team, or whoever the punching-bag-of-the-week happens to be.

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Because the main plot left plenty of room for character development and other plots, the subplot with Mack and Bobbi was on full display.  We know a little more about it now than we did after last week’s episode, but we still don’t know anything.  According to Bobbi they are “not Hydra.”  Mack talks about “pulling the trigger” on something which could bring the whole place down.  When they faced Vin-Tak, Bobbi made a comment about calling in “real backup.”  How do we reconcile any of these things?  My guess for this week is that “real backup” refers to one of the Avengers, and that they are working with/for the Avengers to determine what’s going on with this new S.H.I.E.L.D.  “Real Backup” could be a reference to Hawkeye or Captain America if that is the case.  Alternatively, they could be working for Maria Hill, who can send in Iron Man if they need “backup.”  Could this subplot be where the Age of Ultron tie-in comes into effect?  Either way, we’re going to be getting answers very soon, especially after Mack knocked out Hunter with a sleeper hold.  I think this subplot is building to be my favorite one of the series—not least because they aren’t drawing it out as much as they have the other ones.

I thought that in general the effects were as stellar as last week.  They did a good job with Vin-Tak.  The ridges on his forehead made it look like there was definitely something different about him, though they were subtle enough not to notice it.  The only effect that I wasn’t sure about was the Bifrost.  Going back to rewatch how it looks in Thor, I noticed that there's a lot more of a tornado around the beam.  There's something of a tornado this time, but not as pronounced.  However, in rewatching "Yes Men" (1x15), I saw that the Bifrost in that episode looks nearly identical to the way it looks in this one.  So, long story short, it's as convincing on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as it is in Thor; it's just a smaller-scale version.

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One thing that stood out to me was that both aliens were really only there to provide an exposition dump for S.H.I.E.L.D.  However, it actually seemed to work for the episode.  I enjoyed all of the banter between Coulson and Sif and between May and Sif.  The moment between Sif and Skye after Skye’s encounter with Vin-Tak was touching, and I thought it really played into the ending of the episode when Sif decided to leave her with Coulson.  I think Sif actually has some respect for Skye after she confronted Vin-Tak, and even more so after Skye was willing to harm herself (which no self-respecting weapon would ever do) and risk losing her freedom and even her life to protect the people she loved.  It makes me wonder how the two of them will interact in the future once Skye has mastered her seismic powers and has even embraced the good that she can do.  As far as plot devices go, Sif (and Vin-Tak) did a good job of making the journey entertaining rather than just a necessity.

This weekend I will post a follow-up article about the Inhumans and what we know about them so far, and then I will also post an article looking ahead to next week about how we might see Inhumans appearing in future episodes.

So what did you think of this episode?  Did you like this one better than last week?  What other guest stars would you like to see from the movies?

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