Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2, Episode 16, "Afterlife" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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At some point, I will probably have to stop saying that the most recent episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the best one (or one of the best) yet.  But that day still has not come.  “Afterlife” (2x16) continued every plot line I’ve been looking for and did so very well.  I did not feel as though things were disconnected through the episode.  And perhaps most importantly, I think I finally have a good idea of how the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. tie-in with The Avengers: Age of Ultron is going to work.  I will touch on that briefly in my review, but if you want the full idea, come back on Friday.

The episode picks up where the last episode (“One Door Closes”) ended:  Hunter and Coulson off on their own trying to pick up the pieces.  Over the course of the episode, Hunter and Coulson upgrade their transportation and their team, and they also give us some further insight into both of their characters.  They start off by stealing a jeep; they end the episode in a quinjet.  They start as just the two of them and experience a setback when they discover from surveillance camera footage that Gordon teleported Skye away; they end the episode with Mike Peterson, aka Deathlok, making a reappearance and helping them escape from Gonzales’ team.  That last bit was my favorite part of that particular subplot.  Ever since Skye and Mike had a chat at the end of “Beginning of the End” (1x22) and Mike disappeared into the darkness, I’ve been waiting for him to show up again.  He was the first genuine superhero on the show, and all of Season 1 served as his “origin story”:  He went from a confused father to a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent to a co-opted weapon to a man trying to atone for his previous actions.  What had he been doing during Season 2?  We find out that he was working for Coulson all along, and as such had spent the past six months trailing one of the Heads of Hydra (Liszt, “the one that got away”).  We also find out that he received a few upgrades, including a pretty impressive new wrist-mounted rocket launcher (better than the one Garrett gave him in Season 1).

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Coulson and Hunter also had a couple of very interesting conversations.  Hunter is just about ready to throw Bobbi, Mack, and Gonzales under the Iliad for what they did, especially for their betrayal.  Coulson, however, is not so sure.  He keeps telling Hunter to “see it from their perspective.”  Bobbi and Mack are good S.H.I.E.L.D. agents; they think they are doing the right thing.  Gonzales is a brilliant tactician and a loyal S.H.I.E.L.D. agent; Coulson suggests that Gonzales may even be right about him being a danger.  This is not enough to make Coulson deviate from his plans, but he does question whether he is doing the right thing.  The next confrontation between those two will certainly be a thing to behold.

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Continuing with the S.H.I.E.L.D.-vs.-S.H.I.E.L.D. plotline, we also saw a couple scenes of May being interrogated by Gonzales.  She refused to break throughout, even with Gonzales berating her for helping Coulson escape despite numerous people hesitating to trust him.  We had a couple of interesting moments when Bobbi objected to Gonzales’ treatment of May:  I really think Bobbi is starting to rethink her involvement in Gonzales’ coup.  In fact, when Coulson returns to take on Gonzales, I wonder if Bobbi won’t switch sides.  Even though Gonzales is a believer in what he is doing, his methods are leaving a lot to be desired.  Bobbi reacted very vehemently when Gonzales attempted to dehumanize Skye; if Gonzales were to execute a powered person who was not a threat to anyone (something I actually expect to happen before everything’s done), it might send Bobbi over the edge.

I am very curious about how May will respond to Gonzales offer of a seat on the board.  After all, this would put her in an excellent position to help Coulson in the future, but would she really consider to doing something so obviously disloyal to Coulson?  Given that next week’s episode is entitled “Melinda,” I suspect we do not have very long to wait to get those answers.

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The other major S.H.I.E.L.D. plot involved Fitz and Simmons.  From the first moment they were onscreen, it became clear that they were not happy with Bobbi, Mack, or Gonzales.  In fact, as soon as Gonzales said that they were free to leave if they so desired, Fitz immediately walked out to start packing.  Bobbi then tried to convince Simmons to help them open the Toolbox, and Simmons seemed to agree—with the understanding that getting into the Toolbox would help prove that they are all on the same side and help things get back to normal.  When he sees what’s going on, however, Fitz goes to confront her.  Shortly thereafter, he leaves her behind with Mack and Bobbi.  The “post-credits scene” for the episode offers one of the biggest twists in the episode when it is revealed that Simmons and Fitz planned the whole thing out:  Simmons switched the real Toolbox for a fake, placed the real one in Fitz’ bag, and even took the time to pack him his favorite sandwich.  In case you didn’t get the “Mozzarella on Prosciutto with just a hint of Pesto Aioli” reference, it’s a call back to “The Hub” (1x07) when Simmons packed Fitz that same sandwich just before he left with Ward on a mission.  Essentially, the sandwich just seals the deal that this whole incident has helped to bring those two back together.  Now Simmons is on the inside within Gonzales’ organization, while Fitz is on the run with the real Toolbox, and will probably be trying to link back up with Coulson and Hunter.

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Of course, the most exciting storyline in this episode revolved around Skye.  We learned a lot more about the Inhuman culture this week:  how they are governed, how their hidden bases operate, how Terrigenesis works.  We also met Lincoln, the Inhuman who serves as Skye’s “Transitioner” (the guy who helps her through the process).  He is a med student from Cincinnati who is brought in when needed to help someone through the transition process.  Also, he has the ability of electrical manipulation (like DC’s Static), to the point that he can even make Skye levitate by manipulating the static electricity in her body

From this episode we learn a Busload of new information about Terrigenesis.  Lincoln reveals that the Inhumans have not used Diviners and Kree temples to effect Terrigenesis in thousands of years—something that makes sense of everything from “Aftershocks” (2x11) and “Who You Really Are” (2x12):  In “Aftershocks” it is clear that the Inhumans have been practicing Terrigenesis for many generations; in “Who You Really Are” it is clear that the Kree can detect the Diviner activating, and that they have not detected that signal since they left Earth.  How can those two facts be reconciled?  Apparently the Inhumans can either synthesize the Terrigen Mists or have an alternate supply which they can use without a Diviner being present.  Lincoln also reveals that the Inhumans have an intense screening process by which they prepare “descendants” (of the earliest test subjects; in other words “Inhumans”) to undergo the transformation.  Following the transformation, they are assigned a “Transitioner” who gives a treatment resembling acupuncture which facilitates the transformation process and helps make it less painful.  They also have a “Guide” assigned once their powers are better understood—someone to help them learn to master their new gifts.  Interestingly, according to Lincoln only one person every few years undergoes the Terrigenesis process.  I find that to be a little surprising in a people group with probably numbers in the thousands to millions, though it might just be so in his experience with the process.

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We also learn more about the Inhuman culture.  They do not live apart from the regular humans fulltime.  There are apparently Inhuman cities and sanctuaries spread around the world, but most Inhumans only make use of them when it is necessary, such as when they are being hunted like Skye or else either in preparation to undergo Terrigenesis or in the process of adjusting following the transformation.  The Inhuman sanctuary they are at is inspired by Chinese architecture and may be located in the Himalayas.  The name is Chinese (“Lai Shi”), but they also call it “Afterlife.”  The Inhumans seem to be run by a Council of Elders which is responsible for protecting the Inhumans and their culture, overseeing the Terrigenesis process, and preserving their secrecy.  This may be a nod to (if not the outright introduction of) the Inhuman Genetics Council from the comic books.

When Skye told Lincoln that she had heard straight from a Kree that they were originally designed to be weapons, he did not appear at all phased by the revelation.  This tells me that the Inhumans know their own history very well (unlike in the comic books where Ronan “enlightened” them); they have just chosen to abandon their original purpose.  The Inhumans understand their history but do not seem to allow it to affect them.

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One of the most interesting features of the Inhuman culture is Gordon’s place in it.  From what we understand so far, he is not one of the elders, but rather a messenger.  He essentially acts as the intermediary between the Inhumans.  He uses his teleportation gift to bring Inhumans to the sanctuaries and back home.  As such, he knows where they are, he knows where their cities and sanctuaries are, and he is the only one with any of that information.  This means that as long as he is around and only loyal to them, they are perfectly safe.  However, if he were to be captured by one side or the other, the Inhumans would no longer be safe, their cities would no longer be secret, and they could be made to fight for one side or the other.  Given the end of the episode where Coulson and company suspect that Hydra knows about Gordon, I wonder if Gordon will become an important plot element in future episodes:  if Hydra were to capture or turn Gordon, they could use him to capture and brainwash all the Inhumans they want, giving them an overwhelming advantage over the S.H.I.E.L.D.s.

I think the Inhumans storyline was my absolute favorite of this episode.  I like the immersive method they are using to introduce us to the Inhumans:  We are really learning about them through watching Skye learn about them.  I also enjoyed the character development in Skye when she met Raina for the first time after Terrigenesis.  Skye blaming Raina for everything, Raina’s despair and self-loathing after her transformation, and Skye’s attempt to “quake” Raina apart all changed our views of those characters.  That Skye was about to kill Raina was a huge shock, something that she did not seem capable of up until last week.  Now, however, we see that Skye is just as capable of killing as Raina, and that the two of them have far more in common than we realized at first.  Skye’s repeated declarations that they are “nothing alike” only serve to highlight the similarities.  Lincoln’s and Jiaying’s assertions that Raina is “one of us” just like Skye, and that as such she deserves just as much care as Skye receives helped to hammer home the otherness of the Inhumans.  Skye and Raina are no longer separated by “sides”; they are united by both being Inhumans.

The revelation that Jiaying is still alive was surprising—didn’t we see her get vivisected back in the fall?????  Wasn’t Cal crying out in anguish over her lifeless corpse?????—but definitely made for an interesting twist.  My only guess as to how she could survive being hacked open and having her organs harvested is that she must have a Wolverine- or Deadpool-level healing factor.  And if that’s the case, did her healing factor transfer over to Whitehall, who might still be alive?  That’s just one of the questions we have now.  The other is:  when did Cal discover that she was still alive?  If he’d known all along, then what does that say about his motives for revenge against Whitehall?  He seemed pretty sure that his wife and daughter were both gone, but his daughter was still alive, and apparently his wife was, too.  I think it is likely that he knew when Gordon came to take him away; that would explain why he began primping as soon as Gordon mentioned taking him to someone who would decide his fate.  Ultimately, however, I am excited to see how it will affect Skye to learn that her mother is still alive—and (presumably) one of the Inhumans’ Elders.

Overall, I really enjoyed every aspect of this episode.  The Deathlok reveal was awesome; I didn’t have any complaints about his “Deathlok 1.0” costume, but the “Deathlok 2.0” is a clear improvement over Season 1.  I look forward to seeing more of him and his character development, especially since super humans are starting to become more of an issue for Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D.  Watching Fitz and Simmons come back together to pull off an incredible con on Mack and Bobbi was touching, especially the ending with the sandwich.  And I think that even if the rest of the episode had been bad, the Inhumans scenes would have made it all worth it.

Looking forward, I want to see more of Deathlok—and especially his interactions with Ward building off of last season.  I’m expecting a lot more focus on Skye learning to control her powers over the next episode or two, building up to her reemergence from Lai Shi, return to Coulson’s team, and confrontation with Gonzales’ S.H.I.E.L.D.  I’m also expecting more scenes between Jiaying and Skye, eventually leading to Jiaying revealing that she is Skye’s mother.  If I had to guess, Fitz will probably join up with Coulson next episode, and Simmons will remain in Gonzales’ S.H.I.E.L.D. “undercover.”  Lastly, I think we will gain some clarity on how Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will tie-in with Age of Ultron in the next couple of episodes, especially since there are only 3 episodes left before Age of Ultron premiers!

So what did you think of “Afterlife”?  Did you see anything that I missed or didn’t mention?  What are you most looking forward to going forward?  Let me know in the comments!

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  1. One of the best episodes. Enjoyed it. I think next season will explode out the inhumans as they set up civil war between the shields.

    1. I'm on the fence about how long the SHIELD Civil War arc will last. It might be resolved this season with a massive gifted-fueled battle. It could also last all through next season and beyond. I am definitely excited to see how it progresses!