Friday, July 3, 2015

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1, Episode 12, "Seeds" RETRO-REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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The next episode up in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season one is definitely not the strongest story-wise, but it actually does a lot to develop the main characters and their relationships.  “Seeds” introduces us to one of the more interesting plotlines for season two—Donnie Gill—and gives us a very brief tease of his incredible powers.  This time, however, the episode takes the time to develop his character and turn him into a very sympathetic villain.  I wouldn’t say that Donnie Gill is the Loki of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but his character arc does follow Loki’s:  rough childhood, dismissive father, pushed aside… at the end of the day you find yourself just feeling sorry for the guy (but not quite as much as at the end of “Making Friends and Influencing People” (2x03), his episode in season 2).

Note:  Retro-Reviews include potential spoilers for all of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. through season 2.

Before he was a Macguffin in season 2, Donnie Gill, aka “Blizzard,” was a cadet at the S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy’s Science and Technology Division.  He is their youngest recruit since Fitz and Simmons, and he is also something of a loner who doesn’t fit in with the other recruits.  However, his one “friend,” Seth, convinces him to construct a working ice machine which they will sell to Ian Quinn.  Unfortunately, though they can design a working prototype for their machine, the power source is unstable, and when they increase its size it overheats and melts down.

In order to solve their problem, they concoct an elaborate scheme to lure the most brilliant cadet in Science Academy history back to the Academy to troubleshoot their power source.  Who is this incredible genius?  Fitz, of course.  And how do they intend to lure him back to the Academy?  By nearly freezing themselves into solid ice…?  They first use a prototype of their ice machine to freeze the academy pool, getting Seth’s leg frozen into it.  This leads Agent Weaver, the director of the Academy, to call in Coulson’s team so Fitz and Simmons can talk to the cadets and calm them down.  During their lecture, Donnie activates a second prototype ice machine which starts freezing him.  Fortunately Fitz and Simmons manage to keep him alive until Ward and Skye can destroy the ice machine and save his life.  This all leads to Fitz stopping by Donnie’s room, looking at his various designs, and helping him figure out the problem with his power source.

Donnie and Seth fix their full-scale machine and take it to the parking garage, where they call Ian Quinn, who asks them for a demonstration in the middle of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy before flying off and leaving them there.  The boys start the device, which freezes water in the atmosphere, creating a super storm.  Donnie tries to reverse the device and stop the storm, but it gets struck by lightning, killing Seth and knocking Donnie back.  At the end of the episode, Donnie is on his way to the Sandbox when he discovers that his body now has the ability to spontaneously freeze water into ice.

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This primary plot has a whole lot of plot holes—foremost among them the fact that they almost killed themselves on the off chance that Fitz would come to the Academy.  And they attempted to lure Fitz to the Academy on the off chance that they would get close enough to him to be able to show him their power source and ask for his help.  And they were putting all their hope in Fitz’s ability to solve their meltdown problem.  If any one of these things went wrong—or if Fitz and Simmons had been unable to save Donnie’s life—their whole plan would have fallen apart.

However, the main plot really takes second place to the character development in this episode.  We learn a little more about Fitz and Simmons:  they were the popular kids at the Academy.  However, when he first arrived, Fitz was a quiet loner who didn’t really fit in with the other cadets—similar to Donnie Gill.  We don’t get a lot more than this at this time, though later episodes fill in some of the details of Fitz and Simmons’ history together.  I find it interesting that in this episode we first see Fitz as being one of the popular kids, and then at the end he reveals that he was not always so popular.  How did that change?

We also learn a lot about May and Coulson from their interactions while doing their side mission tracking down a lead to Skye’s past.  The lead takes them to Mexico City, where they find former S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Richard Lumley, the partner of Linda Avery, the agent who dropped Skye off at the orphanage and was killed shortly thereafter.  Though the moment he spots May Lumley runs away, fights her, and starts climbing the fire escape on a nearby building to get away, as soon as Coulson uses Lola to hover up to his level and identifies himself as S.H.I.E.L.D., Lumley starts to relax and agrees to come in with them.  Lumley explains the mission:  a senior agent called in an 0-8-4 which an entire village was destroyed protecting, and a team was sent in to get it.  He and Avery were part of the back end team, and when they lost contact with the team, they went in to find them.  The whole team was dead, and the senior agent was found bleeding out from a neck wound and clutching the 0-8-4—which, to no one’s surprise after seeing season 2, turns out to have been Skye herself.  They escape to America, and the members of their team start getting killed.  Avery fakes a Level 8 clearance and puts Skye into the foster care system with instructions to move her every couple of months.  According to Lumley, “Wherever she goes, death follows.”  Then they agree to drop him off somewhere along their route instead of bringing him in to S.H.I.E.L.D. because, Coulson says, “I’m not sure S.H.I.E.L.D. is the safest place for you right now.”

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All of this is a lot more interesting to the main plot than the story at the Academy.  May and Coulson’s banter on their stakeout is an interesting look into their respective characters and their history together.  Coulson calls her out on talking so much, and she turns it back on him, calling him out for remaining silent.  He is pensive because of everything he learned in the previous episode about the operations that brought him back to life.  He doesn’t know who to trust, he’s afraid that they messed with more of his mind than just his memories of Tahiti, and he wants to get rid of all the secrets.  May soothes him, telling him to trust that she would know if they had changed things like his personality because they have known each other so long.  It is clear that Coulson relies on her a lot, and with good reason; we learn in season 2 that he was her handler before Bahrain.  In fact, of all the relationships on this show, I think that in many respects May and Coulson have a much stronger bond than Fitz and Simmons, even though Fitz-Simmons seems like two halves of a single whole (in season 1).  Seeing these close relationships in action is really what gives the mistrust, betrayal, and intrigue from season 2 all of its heart:  we see how it can work at its best in season 1, and that makes it all the more powerful when we see that broken in season 2.

I find Coulson’s comment that Lumley may not be safe with S.H.I.E.L.D. to be interesting.  Does he suspect S.H.I.E.L.D. of some involvement with what happened?  If so, then why?  And if not, then why would he think S.H.I.E.L.D. is unsafe?  I think that at this point Coulson might suspect that someone in S.H.I.E.L.D. fed information to the “monsters” that killed the other agents, but I think that’s as far as his suspicions go.  It is not until later that he realizes that the Clairvoyant is a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (… spoiler alert?).  However, this whole thing is a nice bit of foreshadowing, hinting that all may not be right within S.H.I.E.L.D.

When May and Coulson return to the team at the Academy, the first thing Coulson does it to tell Skye everything that they had found out.  We see her face starting to change as Coulson tells her it is worse than anything she could have imagined.  We see the tears start.  We see her put her face in her hands and start sobbing.  I actually think that scene might have been Skye’s best of the season to-date acting-wise because we could see the raw emotion of having learned that her parents, a Chinese village, and a S.H.I.E.L.D. team were all killed because of her.  Her whole world—or rather, the fantasy parents she had created for herself—was crashing down around her, and we could feel it happening.  However, she surprisingly moves on to find the “bright side” of the situation relatively quickly.  As Skye stands by the Wall of Valor at the Academy and touches Linda Avery’s name, Coulson explains that instead of dwelling on all the death, she recognizes that S.H.I.E.L.D. had actually been protecting her for her whole life.  She belongs with S.H.I.E.L.D. more than she has belonged with anyone since she was first taken to the orphanage.  And it is this personal relationship that she has formed with S.H.I.E.L.D. which makes all the events at the end of season 1 and then at the end of season 2 so difficult for her.

Even though the main plot of the episode felt on the second viewing like a thinly-veiled excuse to get the rest of the team out of the way so Coulson and May could go off on their own, it did introduce a sympathetic “villain” in Donnie Gill.  The episode gave us a lot of good character development by furthering our understanding of some of the relationships.  And we got a huge data dump on Skye’s background, which sets the stage for season 2.  Not bad for an episode that would have fallen flat if Agent Weaver hadn’t called Fitz and Simmons in for a school assembly!

What did you think of “Seeds”?

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