Friday, April 3, 2015

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2, Episode 15, "One Door Closes" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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“One Door Closes” helped to flesh out all of the new “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” characters’ motivations, particularly those of Bobbi and Mack.  In this episode we learn how they came to work for Gonzales, why they believe that his S.H.I.E.L.D. is the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.,” and what Gonzales stands for in this conflict with Coulson.  At the same time, we also see Skye make enormous strides in her development as a superhero, giving us just a tease of what is going to be coming sooner than later on that front.  All in all, I thought this episode moved the plot along very well and really laid out the three groups and their motivations.

The episode begins with a flashback to “The Day S.H.I.E.L.D. Fell.”  Mack and a couple of his fellow engineers are being held hostage by Hydra agents in Gonzales’ ship (which Coulson calls the Iliad—if I have time this weekend I will write an article about that).  One of Mack’s friends is shot just before Bobbi appears and takes out nearly all the Hydra agents in a sudden and devastating assault.  Hartley appears and takes out the last agent, at which point Bobbi explains to Mack that they had been sent by Fury to “save S.H.I.E.L.D.”  Cut ahead a bit, and the four of them (Bobbi, Hartley, Mack, and another engineer) find Commander Gonzales critically wounded in the conference room, surrounded by dead agents.  Bobbi convinces him that she is under orders from Fury (“Protocol ATLA06”—is that an “Atlas Comics” Easter Egg?).  After they bandage Gonzales up, Bobbi and Hartley begin evacuating the others before Bobbi scuttles the ship to keep its dangerous cargo out of Hydra’s hands.  However, by the time they reach the ship’s core, the others (except Gonzales) are in favor of retaking the ship because loyal agents have succeeded in holding key sections of the ship.  We do not see the full battle to retake the ship, but it clearly succeeded.  We are left with the sight of Hartley, Bobbi, Gonzales, Mack, and the other engineer in a line with guns blazing, facing the oncoming hordes of Hydra denizens with nowhere to run and no exit strategy except “win.”

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I really enjoyed all of the flashback scenes, and especially the five-(plus)-on-one fights by both Bobbi and Hartley.  I think everyone was expecting Bobbi to go off on those Hydra agents spectacularly and take them out before they could really mount a defense.  However, we really haven’t gotten a lot of Hartley, so it was fun to see her and Bobbi fighting together.  I would guess that they are both about as skilled as May, with Bobbi getting a slight edge over Hartley.

The in-depth exploration of Bobbi’s and Mack’s motivations really helped to flesh out their characters.  At the beginning of the season they were fun new characters who interacted with the characters we’ve know for a year.  Then they were the rats who were betraying S.H.I.E.L.D. to some other nefarious organization.  Now we know why they are doing what they are doing.  They believe that they are working for the right S.H.I.E.L.D. and that Coulson is dangerous and a threat because of the alien experimentation Fury ordered on him.  Bobbi arrived as a loyal agent sent by Fury to clean up shop and prevent Hydra from acquiring the dangerous cargo the ship was carrying.  However, when she saw the dedication of the other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents—fighting back against Hydra in the face of overwhelming odds and succeeding—she decided that it was time to go against orders and throw in her lot to take the ship back.  After all of this—nearly carrying out her suicide mission, Fury’s death, finding Commander Gonzales who gives her orders and insists on seeing them through—it makes sense that she would choose to follow Gonzales:  He is a believer.

Mack for his part saw friends shot in front of his eyes.  He was nearly killed—because he would have been killed when he refused to cooperate with Hydra.  Then Bobbi showed up and gave him a new lease on life and a new purpose.  I suspect that Mock’s loyalty to Gonzales now has as much to do with Bobbi as with having served on Gonzales’ ship.

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The second key subplot was the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” invading the Playground.  Coulson and May suspected Mack from the start, but did not confront him until after Bobbi returned and started making her move.  By the time Coulson realized Bobbi was in on it, she was able to retrieve the toolbox (which was revealed to be made of vibranium) before May could get to Coulson’s office.  I think Bobbi and May’s fight was one of the best of the series—at least rivaling the May-vs.-May fight from “Face My Enemy” (2x04).  They were perfectly matched up until the end when May got back-up and Bobbi resorted to the “EMP.”  Things moved really fast in this episode, from Simmons tricking Bobbi and stunning her, to Mack escaping from Coulson before going to the breach point and saving Fitz, to May finding Bobbi’s gas mask and evading the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” assault team.  The intensity level was really high for the entire episode, and especially with all of the S.H.I.E.L.D.-vs.-S.H.I.E.L.D. action.  Fitz and Simmons’ reunion with Agent Weaver was almost heartbreaking as both sides believed the other to have betrayed S.H.I.E.L.D.  I think that moment more than anything encapsulates both the “S.H.I.E.L.D. Civil War” storyline and the Hydra reveal from Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  Here we have agents who respect each other very highly, all of whom believe they are doing the right thing, and all of whom believe they are part of the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.”—but they are on different sides.

This subplot really helped to flesh out Gonzales’ motivations.  For one thing, I thought that the reveal that all the flashbacks were him telling his story to Coulson was a nice twist. This made the narrative tighter than it has been in some of the recent episodes (such as last week’s four simultaneous storylines).  For another thing, it showed his character development gradually enough to be believable, but it still only took a single episode to flesh it out.  When Bobbi first rescued him, Gonzales was fully on board with the plan to blow up the ship and bury its cargo (though he insisted on joining her).  He made his first breakthrough almost immediately when he countermanded Fury’s orders by insisting on joining Bobbi on her mission—“Fury is dead.”  However, that was the only time he really changed his views.  When they were in the core and trying to decide what to do, everyone else made their decision, but he overruled it as the senior officer.  However, when Bobbi broke the chip and they decided to fight, he reluctantly went along with the rest.  Afterward, looking at the decisions and their consequences, he realized that this wasn’t the time to be blindly following orders; they needed to think for themselves.

Additionally, we learn Gonzales’ endgame with Fury’s Toolbox.  Fury hid gifted people and items around the world, and all of their locations are stored inside the Toolbox.  Gonzales intends to crack it open and find out where Fury hid his toys so he can unsure that they are no longer threats to the world.  In other words, I’m pretty sure he wants to kill anyone with powers and destroy any objects with unexplainable properties.  In some respects this makes sense—terrible as it sounds—because S.H.I.E.L.D.’s whole purpose is to protect the world from the unexplainable.  If there are people like Skye around who can crack the earth apart when they have a nightmare, it makes it difficult to protect the earth from them.  However, this is exactly what Hydra wanted:  control.  Eliminate anything that can become a threat and you can rule with an iron fist.  Why else would Red Skull have seen a guy with a shield as the greatest threat to Hydra’s ultimate victory?  I don’t think Gonzales is doing this for the same reason Hydra did, but he may still end up doing Hydra’s dirty work for them.

Gonzales showed in this episode that he believes his to be the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” not because it is organizationally legitimate (as Coulson’s is), but because his S.H.I.E.L.D. has corrected the flaws in the previous iteration of S.H.I.E.L.D.—namely, the secrecy [link].  He makes a conscious effort to avoid secrecy with his subordinates because he believes that the climate of secrecy in the old S.H.I.E.L.D. created the ideal environment for the Hydra takeover:  “Secrets brought down the old S.H.I.E.L.D.”  When Coulson and Gonzales were talking in Coulson’s office, it became abundantly clear how little chance there is of these two coming to an agreement without some outside force intervening.  I don’t think that even Fury’s return would make a difference; Gonzales blames Fury for the Hydra takeover, and since they decided not to blow up the ship he’s been going his own way.  He would not listen to Fury any more than he would listen to Coulson.  I think the only possibility for Coulson and Gonzales working together would be if Hydra makes a resurgence and their two teams need to work together to fight them off.

However, the subplot that we’ve all been waiting for (or at least I have) was the third one:  Skye starting to embrace her powers.  Thanks to Gonzales and his men, we now know that the cabin at which Coulson stashed Skye was originally built by Banner (which would explain the Hulk-fist-sized indentation in the reinforced inner wall) and called “the Retreat.”  This is at least the third episode (out of five) with an explicit Banner reference somewhere.  I don’t think we’ll be getting him as Skye’s therapist [link], but it’s still interesting how much they are setting her story up to parallel that of the Hulk.  At the beginning of the episode, Skye decided to try on her “Gauntlets 2.0” (with the casts from “One of Us” (2x13) as the “Gauntlets 1.0”).  When she had them on she seemed to be unsure of her decision to dampen her powers.  Later on, her decision to use them looked positively foolish when Gordon paid her a visit.

Gordon’s appearance helped to shed a little more light on this Inhumans plot:  There are more Inhumans around than just the few we’ve seen.  When a child is preparing for the transformation, he or she will have a guide to help them through—and the first thing they do afterwards is to hug the child.  By contrast, the first thing S.H.I.E.L.D. did after Skye’s transformation was to put her in quarantine when all she really wanted was a hug from someone important to her such as May.  That was a contrast which they made clear in “Aftershocks” (2x11), but I liked how even the wording in the two episodes made that connection clear.

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Gordon also enlightened Skye a little about her powers.  She doesn’t simply have the ability to make things shake; she can sense all of the tiny vibrations in matter and control them.  This can be devastating like the end of the episode, or it can be beautiful like the water she manipulated into a spiral in the sink.  Gordon didn’t give her a lot of information about her powers, however:  “You don’t have the tools or the understanding just yet.”  Instead, he offers to take her to someone or someplace where she can learn about who and what she is and how to control her powers.

While Skye is at the Retreat, May makes contact and tells her to flee because someone is coming after her.  Who?  “S.H.I.E.L.D.”  Skye takes off just as quinjets appear overhead.  While searching for Skye, Bobbi and Calderon have a brief conversation in which Calderon tells Bobbi about his experience the day S.H.I.E.L.D. fell:  He commandeered a squadron of quinjets and went to the S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy.  Hydra had released an “enhanced” on the campus, who destroyed much of it and killed many of the students.  Weaver was left alone to fend off the “monster” and protect the remaining students.  My first thought on hearing this was to remember Ward’s story about Donnie Gill at the Sandbox.  It seems clear that in the takeover, Hydra tried to use enhanced individuals as often as they could to wreak havoc among the S.H.I.E.L.D. loyalists.  What other stories of “gifted” or “enhanced” individuals will come out of the Hydra takeover?  I actually kind of hope they will show us some of those, particularly Agent Weaver going toe-to-toe with an “enhanced” by herself.

Interestingly, this brief conversation helps flesh out three characters:  Weaver, Calderon, and Bobbi.  Weaver is loyal to Gonzales because it was his STRIKE Leader Calderon who saved her life.  She is on board with his “no more gifteds” campaign because an “enhanced” killed most of her students and nearly killed her.  Calderon’s actions against Skye are put into perspective because the Academy incident has taught him to shoot first and ask questions later.  Given that he was using real bullets against Skye, I wonder if any of the STRIKE Team members were actually using Icers.  Bobbi’s response to Calderon—“That’s not Skye”—along with her reaction to Calderon shooting at Skye make her a more sympathetic character.  She is actually struggling a little with her betrayal of Coulson, May, and Skye.  She cares about these people, but her loyalty to Gonzales trumps that.  I wonder if we will see her rethinking that loyalty in the future in the face of Calderon’s decision to use real bullets against Skye.

Skye’s escape from Bobbi and Calderon may have been my favorite part of the episode.  This is really the first time Skye has embraced her powers and used them to devastating effect.  She not only stopped Calderon’s bullet and sent it the other direction, but even blew Bobbi and Calderon off their feet (along with shattering half the forest).  I doubt that impaling Calderon with a tree limb through his shoulder was intentional, but there’s always that possibility—especially since Bobbi didn’t get hurt at all.  And after seeing just what she could do, Skye decided that it was high time to go with Gordon and find out just what she could do with her powers and how to control them.

Overall, I loved this episode, especially all the background we got on the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” agents.  They’re not just people anymore; they have motivations for what they are doing.  I think that’s what makes this plot so much more interesting than the Hydra plot was.  Of the Hydra agents, only Garrett and Ward (and Whitehall to some extent) had real motivations and character.  We can relate to Mack, Bobbi, Gonzales, and even Calderon better than we ever could to any of the Hydra agents (apart from Ward).  I also really liked the further glimpses we got into the Inhumans and into Skye’s powers.  I think they are setting us up for a massive reveal on that front very soon.

Looking forward, I expect to see a lot of focus on the S.H.I.E.L.D.-vs.-S.H.I.E.L.D. angle, especially now that Coulson’s team has been split up with Coulson and Hunter on the outside and May, Fitz, and Simmons on the inside.  I think it will focus most on Coulson and Hunter trying to find Skye so they can fight back against Gonzales, though Fitz and Simmons will both be tempted to join the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” by Agent Weaver (seriously, could one of them pick a new name?).  From the preview it looks like we will get some more focus on Skye in the next episode, which will include among other things the introduction of an Inhuman named Lincoln.

So what did you think of “One Door Closes”?  Did you see anything in that episode that I missed or didn’t mention?  Who is your favorite “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” character?  Let me know in the comments!

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1 comment:

  1. Some are speculating that Gonzales will ultimately be revealed to be Hydra. I don't think so. I think this is part of the setup for Civil War. And it's a perfect setup. Hydra is sort of passe at this point.