Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Iliad, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.-Style

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This is probably the only article you’re getting this weekend.  If you read my Killing Jesus review from Thursday, then you know why!  It’s not as long as my other articles, but I hope you will enjoy it.  I apologize that it’s not as “polished” as my other articles.  Hopefully next weekend I will be back full-force.

To go along with the reveal of the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” motivations in “One Door Closes” (2x15), we also found out the name of Gonzales’ ship:  the Iliad.  And I think that the ship’s name more than anything else encapsulates the themes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2.  Why?  Take a look.

Homer’s epic The Iliad is one part of a two-part history of the Trojan War and its aftermath (along with The Odyssey).  Though the epic focuses on the actions of the humans involved in the struggle, that is not the whole story.  Homer places the conflict between the Greeks and Trojans within an epic struggle between forces far greater than themselves:  The gods.  In Homer’s understanding, the battle for Troy is one small part of a larger war between the gods, in which they use the humans as pawns.  To the combatants—Achilles, Hector, Odysseus, and the rest—their conflict is purely about the Greeks’ desire for power in the eastern Mediterranean and about Paris’ abduction of Helen.  However, the reader knows that the true conflict is between the gods—Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite, Hera, Poseidon, and the others—who are fighting on behalf of the humans and using the humans to fight their battles for them.

Funny enough, that is Season 2 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.—specifically the Hydra and S.H.I.E.L.D.-vs.-S.H.I.E.L.D. plots—in a nutshell (it’s like they planned it that way or something).  Our S.H.I.E.L.D. team and their antagonists—Hydra and the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.”—are merely pawns in a larger conflict.

The plot for the first half of the season centered on Coulson’s conflict with Daniel Whitehall, one of the Heads of Hydra.  However, neither party was acting alone; both were acting as agents of someone else.

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Coulson for his part was working as an agent of Nick Fury (and by extension the Avengers) in carrying out Fury’s mission of destroying Hydra as a threat to the world.  When Fury went underground at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, he gave up his ability to attack Hydra at its head.  Last we heard, Fury is tracking down Hydra leads in Europe by himself with little to no backup.  This greatly diminishes his ability to do any serious damage to Hydra.  Through his intermediaries, however, Fury can target pockets of Hydra activity.  This is why he put Coulson in charge of rebuilding S.H.I.E.L.D. in “Beginning of the End” (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 1x22).  This may also account for Maria Hill’s decision to go to work for Tony Stark:  She can keep an eye on the Avengers and point them in the right direction to attack Hydra for Fury.

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On the other side, Whitehall, though a “Head of Hydra,” is not working   However, as we learned in the end-credits scene of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, von Strucker is the ultimate Head of Hydra; all the other Hydra Heads work under him.  Von Strucker is not interested in drawing attention to himself by going after S.H.I.E.L.D. directly, so he uses the six “Heads of Hydra” as pawns to move against S.H.I.E.L.D. and expand Hydra’s influence.
alone or working for himself; as we discovered in “Aftershocks” (2x11), he is one of six “Heads” who are working more-or-less independently.

Fury and von Strucker couldn’t face off themselves, so Coulson and Whitehall acted as their pawns.  All of their conflict in the first half of the season—up until Coulson made Hydra cut their own heads off in “Aftershocks”—was just one small part of the fight between Fury and von Strucker.  We will see the main conflict next month when The Avengers: Age of Ultron comes out and Fury and the Avengers face off against von Strucker directly.

The second half of the season is focusing on the conflict between “S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.”—Coulson and Gonzales.  However, unlike the Hydra plot, Coulson and Gonzales are not acting as pawns of others—or at least not that we have seen so far.  Instead, their conflict is ideological:  which leader’s policy for rebuilding S.H.I.E.L.D. is better?

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On the one side, we have Coulson, whose S.H.I.E.L.D. organization was personally established by Fury after the fall of the old S.H.I.E.L.D.  Coulson has begun rebuilding S.H.I.E.L.D. by using the old S.H.I.E.L.D. as a model.  Coulson continues to keep secrets from his team; however, as he explained to Fitz, he only keeps secrets because he cares about his team and doesn’t want them to know things that could hurt them.

He also takes a mediating view on the idea of gifted individuals.  He recognizes that they can be dangerous, but also that they can be useful.  When Donnie Gill was on their radar, Coulson’s instructions were to try recruiting him to their side or eliminate him if it looked like he would join Hydra.  However, when they discovered the underground city which could potentially unleash Armageddon, Coulson’s only thought was to destroy it before Hydra could use it to hurt people.  When he found out that Skye had been transformed, Coulson’s response was similar to his response to Gill:  help her control her powers if at all possible, but plan for the worst just in case control was not possible.  Ultimately, Coulson’s desire for gifted individuals is for them to be given the opportunity to make their own decisions, but to eliminate them if they show themselves to be a threat to innocent lives.

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On the other side is Gonzales, whose S.H.I.E.L.D. began independent of Fury—and in fact from a blatant disregard of Fury’s orders.  Gonzales has no interest in secrecy; he blames the secrecy of the old S.H.I.E.L.D. for its fall.  Instead of secrecy, Gonzales claims to make a point of involving his team in every decision (though he is clearly the leader).  By avoiding secrecy, Gonzales hopes to give Hydra no chance to infiltrate his new organization.

In terms of gifted individuals, Gonzales takes a very hard-line approach:  they are to be eliminated as threats to the world.  The form this is going to take isn’t exactly open to misinterpretation.  Gonzales wants any gifted individuals to be killed and any powerful objects to be destroyed.  From his perspective this makes sense:  gifted individuals helped bring down S.H.I.E.L.D., so gifted individuals must be removed from the equation if S.H.I.E.L.D. is going to survive and continue to protect the world.  We’ve learned already about two S.H.I.E.L.D. bases which fell because Hydra set gifted individuals loose there:  The Sandbox fell to Hydra because they used the brainwashed Donnie Gill; the S.H.I.E.L.D. Science and Technology Academy was all but destroyed because Hydra released an unidentified “enhanced” which Weaver had to fend off.  How many other S.H.I.E.L.D. bases were destroyed by gifted individuals?  How many S.H.I.E.L.D. agents were killed by powers they could not understand or combat?  I think this explains Calderon’s decision to use real bullets against Skye.

Ultimately, the conflict between “S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” is not just a conflict between Coulson and Gonzales; it is a conflict between security and freedom, between secrecy and transparency.  This is far bigger than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  We may get a bigger-picture view of this conflict in Captain America: Civil War, but it may not even be resolved in that movie.

The Iliad ended with the human characters none the wiser to the gods’ interference in their conflict.  I doubt that that will hold true on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  I think we will get some connections to the larger conflict before the end of the season.  And I can’t wait to see how it happens!

So what do you think of my take on the Iliad?  How do you think the “cosmic” battles in the movies will affect the “human” battles on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. going forward?  Let me know in the comments!

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1 comment:

  1. Good analysis. Seems right on. We'll have to see how the season unfolds. I've been rewatching season 1 on Netflix. Honestly, I can't see why there was all the hooray over it last year. It's been even more enjoyable the second go around.