Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1, Episode 9, "Repairs" RETRO-REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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The ninth episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “Repairs,” offers us our second horror-inspired episode of the series—and along the way provides a potential crossover with either Thor: Ragnarok or Doctor Strange!  Oh, and there are also a few fun teases for what’s ahead in season 3.  What strange (*ducks*) times we live in!

Warning:  Retro-Reviews contain spoilers for all of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seasons 1 and 2.

This episode tells the story of Hannah Hutchins, a quality control engineer at a particle accelerator lab which had multiple reports of damaged or loosened couplings.  She replaced the part, double-checked it, and certified it as safe.  However, shortly before the episode begins, the particle accelerator exploded, killing four technicians.  Afterward, strange things begin happening around Hannah.  She is ostracized by the townspeople, who blame her for the accident.  However, whenever someone threatens her, things begin moving for no reason:  a gas station attendant has things thrown at him before the gas pumps explode; a police car shifts into gear and runs into a crowd of bystanders harassing her.  All of the incidents are centered around Hannah, leading S.H.I.E.L.D. to believe that the explosion has somehow given her telekinetic powers—something which S.H.I.E.L.D. has never before succeeded in verifying.  I remember during season 1 that there were some complaints about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. rejecting the possibility of extreme powers like telepathy and telekinesis—powers which are fairly common in the comics.  However, since then we have been introduced to one of those “impossible” abilities during season 2 in the form of Raina’s precognition and clairvoyance.  Will the Inhumans introduce us to telekinesis during season 3?  I actually like the way that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has introduced the more farfetched aspects of the MCU:  at the beginning the agents believe the same thing we do, that some things are just not possible.  Now, however, we have been introduced to those “impossible” things at the same time that they have.

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S.H.I.E.L.D. sends in Coulson’s team, and Coulson makes contact with Hannah, along with May and Ward.  May sedates Hannah and brings her to the plane, where the team examines all the evidence from the explosion.  Rather than finding evidence of telekinetic powers, however, Simmons’ examination of the data reveals that the explosion somehow opened a portal to a vastly different world.  In fact, all of the strange things happening around Hannah have been done by one of the technicians, Tobias Ford, who has become trapped between Earth and this other world.  He now has the “ability” to pass between the two worlds, but each time he dematerializes and rematerializes, less of him returns to earth.  So what world is this?  There are a couple of possibilities.  The first is that he really is being sent to “Hel” (with one “l”), the Asgardian underworld which is actually one of the Nine Realms.  The second is that he is trapped between Earth/Midgard and Muspelheim, the realm of Surtur—this is the more likely of the two Asgardian realms based on the visual representation we see in the holographic recreation of the explosion.  Regardless of which, either of these options opens up the possibility that this incident could lead into Thor: Ragnarok somehow—perhaps Tobias’ presence on Muspelheim causes Surtur to be released for some reason.  The third possibility is that this is not another world at all, but is instead another dimension entirely—a concept which Marvel is reportedly planning to introduce to the movies with Doctor Strange.  Could Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have given us our first glimpse of either Muspelheim or inter-dimensional travel?  It is certainly an intriguing possibility.

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Over the course of the episode, we also get several glimpses into May’s back story—back story which would be fleshed-out more in “Melinda” (2x17).  Skye asks Fitz and Simmons why May is called the Cavalry, and they spin her a ridiculous story about May taking on 100 bad guys by riding into their compound on horseback, an M249 light machine gun in either hand (now if she actually did have the ability to shoot two M249s accurately by hand, that probably would be a superpower!).  However, when Skye mentions this story to Ward, he “corrects” her, explaining that the story of the Cavalry doesn’t involve machine guns or horses, but rather that May rescued a team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents singlehanded with nothing but a single handgun.  According to Ward, the reason May does not like being called the “Cavalry” is because she just wants to do her job without drawing attention to herself.

By the end of the episode, however, the story has changed once more, as Coulson explains to Skye that the mission involved them serving as the “Welcome Wagon” for a potential gifted, whose followers took a S.H.I.E.L.D. team captive along with a local girl.  May defeated the followers or worshipers of the gifted without any weapons, got all the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents out alive, but lost herself in the process.  Coulson tells Skye that May used to be like her—fun, pulling pranks, breaking rules.  After the incident in Bahrain, however, May became more guarded and locked down.  We do not learn until season 2 just why May changed so dramatically:  the girl who was taken was actually the gifted woman’s daughter, and had the ability to control people’s minds.  In the end, May was forced to kill the girl to save everyone from her powers.  We can’t know for certain if they had already decided on what the original incident would be—or that it would involve Inhumans—when they wrote this episode, but it’s cool how closely they tied May’s back story with the Inhumans reveal.  I really liked the mystery behind May, and how they teased it out and used it to tie things together.

The episode makes use of a lot of horror elements.  There is Hannah’s fear of the unknown, and the mystery of all the unexplained incidents at the beginning of the episode.  Then there is Hannah’s (and Tobias’) repeated assertions of being punished by God—demonic possession, or at least demonic activity, is a key element in some horror movies.  Tobias’ first introduction is as nothing but a shadow in the background.  Fitz talks about an unsuspecting victim, even as Tobias is standing behind the unsuspecting Fitz.  Tobias unexpectedly attacks Simmons before plunging the plane into darkness.  He prevents them from calling for help.  The scene with him sneaking up on May—one frame he’s there, the next he’s not—is like something right out of a horror movie, with the added twist of May disappearing right before he would have attempted to kill her.  The fight between May and Tobias in the barn also has horror elements, particularly in Hannah’s terrified screaming.  The horror elements are noticeable, especially after repeated viewings, but it definitely does not distract from the plot.

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Skye also gets a lot of character development in this episode—including some serious foreshadowing of her role in the series going forward.  When Coulson first announces that they are going to be conducting an “Index Asset Evaluation and Intake,” he tells Skye that he wants her to watch so she knows “how to deal with someone with newfound abilities.”  However, who is the next person the team deals with who has newfound superhuman abilities?  Unless I’m mistaken, it is Skye herself after she undergoes Terrigenesis.  And when they were dealing with Skye, she was freaking out almost as much as Hannah was in this episode.  The episode ends with Coulson and Skye talking about her handling of the situation, when Coulson tells her that she is special.  Skye’s response—“Guess I’m full of surprises”—sounds in retrospect like the showrunners are bashing us over the head with a sledgehammer trying to say that she is going to turn out to be someone special.  At the time, however, I just glossed over it as part of their banter.  Coulson’s follow-up is also significant.  He tells Skye that he wanted her paying attention to the process “because someday, you’ll be really good at it.  Even the best.”  Given the way that season 2 ended, Skye is going to have a lot of opportunities to approach people with newfound superhuman—dare I say “Inhuman”—abilities because she will be responsible for approaching new Inhumans along with recruiting members for her Secret (Warriors) team.

This episode showcases both Skye’s compassion and her detective skills.  She has incredible compassion for Hannah, which pushes her to try to help Hannah understand what she’s going through.  When they discover Tobias, Skye is perhaps the only one who thinks of that as a “good thing” because Hannah does not have to live with uncontrollable telekinetic abilities.  Skye is also the only one to realize Tobias’ motivations.  And she actively tries to befriend everyone on the team.  I don’t know if Skye has ever been my favorite character, but she is certainly up there, particularly now that she is a genuine superhero.  And getting to see that progression over the course of the series has been a lot of fun.

I really enjoyed this episode, even though it was very disconnected from the half-season-long story of Coulson’s quest to discover what happened to him.  We can see how the character development progresses through the season, which I think is well done, but I think the lack of concern by Coulson with what happened at T.A.H.I.T.I. would have fit better much earlier in the season, before they started dropping major hints about it.

What did you think of “Repairs”?  Do you like it when Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. adds in elements from other genres?

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