Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Origin Stories in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Part 1

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Remember how disappointed everyone was when Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1 featured a cast exclusively consisting of ordinary people?  Remember how people complained that a Marvel TV series needs to have superheroes facing off against supervillains?  In looking back at Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seasons 1 and 2, I think we can all agree that the complainers spoke way too soon.  Don’t believe me?  Let me take you through AoS and show you what I mean.

Both AoS seasons have included a number of supervillains and superheroes who were introduced as such—or had a single-episode (or 2-3-episode) story arc.  However, both seasons have also included season-long arcs (and multi-season arcs) showing the origin story of at least one superhero and at least one supervillain.

Season 1 – Deathlok and Hydra (Centipede)/John Garrett

Deathlok Mk. 1Image Courtesy
The first hero we were introduced to in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was a man named Mike Peterson who rescued a woman from a burning building by climbing the building’s wall and then jumping out a high window.  However, not everything is right with this budding superhero.  He suffers from erratic behavior and sudden mood changes, which we discover to be related to the super junk concoction filtered into his blood through the “Centipede” on his arm—a combination of every substance known to give superpowers.  Among other things, this includes the Extremis formula, which is going to make Mike explode.  On top of all this he has a son who looks up to him and who doesn’t have anyone else because his mother is out of the picture.  Because of all of these factors, Coulson has to race to save Mike—by having Ward shoot him with the newly-developed Icer gun.

Mike reappears in the midseason finale, “The Bridge” (1x10), as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who has spent the whole first half of the season at a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility training to become an agent.  However, over the course of the episode, Mike is injured, presumed killed, and revealed to have been captured by the mysterious “Centipede,” the organization which was originally responsible for the experimentation that gave Mike super strength in the first place.  Centipede replaces one of his eyes with a mechanical eye that gives him targeting and backscatter abilities—with the tradeoff of an eye-bomb that can be remotely detonated.  Over time Centipede continues to upgrade Mike’s weapons and armor with a mechanical leg, arm-mounted missile launcher, visible and sub-dermal body armor, and the like—turning him into the latest example of their Project Deathlok.  He is forced to work for Centipede not only by the eye-bomb, but also by blackmail when they kidnap his son.  One of Deathlok’s missions involves attacking S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent John Garrett.

"Hail Homicide!"Image Courtesy www.facebook.com/AgentsofShield
Garrett first appeared in the episode “T.A.H.I.T.I.” (1x14) as a Senior S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent and Ward’s former Supervisory Officer.  In the episode Garrett and Coulson work to save Skye’s life after she had been shot—later, it was revealed that Garrett himself had orchestrated the events so Coulson would show him the method by which he was brought back to life.  In reality, Garrett is revealed in “Turn, Turn, Turn” (1x17) to be a Hydra agent working within S.H.I.E.L.D.  He is the “Clairvoyant,” the leader of Centipede—now revealed to have been a shell organization run by Hydra.  A series of flashback scenes in “Ragtag” (1x21) reveal that Garrett has been working against S.H.I.E.L.D. in secret ever since S.H.I.E.L.D. left him to die after being injured on a mission.  He survived his injuries by becoming the first subject of Project Deathlok, and now he needs the same substance that saved Coulson to survive, as his biological components (meaning his body) are failing.  Mike Peterson is merely a pawn in his efforts at survival.

In the season finale, “Beginning of the End” (1x22), Garrett begins feeling the effects of that substance—later revealed as Kree blood—and going insane.  He essentially declares war on the U.S. government along with the remnants of S.H.I.E.L.D. and begins producing more Deathlok soldiers.  However, Skye succeeds in freeing Mike’s son, removing the blackmail and freeing Mike to act according to his free will.  The moment he is free, Mike attacks Garrett, pummels him to a pulp, and all but kills him, before walking off on his own to seek redemption for his crimes while under Hydra’s control.  Garrett, meanwhile, attempts to rebuild himself using the Deathlok equipment, but is obliterated by Coulson immediately upon completion of the process, ending that threat for good.

Deathlok Mk. 2Image Courtesy
Since the end of season one, Mike Peterson, aka “Deathlok,” has been working for Coulson as a secret weapon tracking down Hydra leads while receiving upgrades from S.H.I.E.L.D.  He assisted Coulson in his escape from the “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” in “Afterlife” (2x16), and went undercover to assist Sunil Bakshi in infiltrating Hydra in “The Frenemy of My Enemy” (2x18).  He was taken by Hydra and experimented upon—resulting in the dismantlement of his cybernetic leg.  After “The Dirty Half Dozen” (1x19), Deathlok was transferred to another facility to have his leg repaired.  It is likely that he will return again for Season 3; he is one of the likely candidates for Skye’s “Secret Warriors” team (in my opinion).

Season 2 – Raina, Cal/Mr. Hyde, and Jiaying

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Raina was actually introduced as an associate of Hydra in season 1, specifically in “Girl in the Flower Dress” (1x05); however, her character received its most substantial development over the course of season 2.  At the tail end of season 1, Raina revealed Skye’s location and identity to a mysterious man known only as “The Doctor;” season 2 shows her to be working with him on a secret project to locate Skye.  In “Heavy Is the Head” (2x02), Raina steals the mysterious Obelisk and brings it to the Doctor, who tells her to pick it up.  When Raina bucks the trend by not dying, the Doctor tells her that she is special, and her purpose will be revealed when she brings Skye to him.  Raina is blackmailed by Whitehall, who tells her to bring him the Obelisk, in “Face My Enemy” (2x04).  Raina turns the blackmail around on Coulson in “A Hen in the Wolf House” (2x05) by threatening to expose Simmons to Hydra.  However, Coulson doesn’t take the bait, turns it back around, and forces Raina to work for him to draw out Hydra.  Skye’s father himself brings the Obelisk to Whitehall and offers to team up with him to show him how the Obelisk works.

Image Courtesy www.comicbook.com
The third hero/villain developed over the course of season 2 was introduced in “The Things We Bury” (2x08).  Jiaying was captured by Whitehall while he was experimenting with the Obelisk in 1945.  In 1989 she was recaptured by Whitehall, who vivisected her to discover the secret to her extended life, which he implanted in himself to give himself a longer life.  Afterward, Whitehall left her body on the side of the road, where the Doctor discovered it and vowed to avenge her by killing Whitehall.  As part of his plan, the Doctor arranges for both S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra to go to a secret alien city in Puerto Rico.  The Doctor reveals his name, “Cal,” to Skye after Hydra captures her and takes her to Puerto Rico.  While there, Raina takes the Obelisk into the city, where she and Skye undergo Terrigenesis—the Obelisk housed a Terrigen Crystal.  Raina emerges from the chrysalis with thorns all over her body.

In Puerto Rico, Cal attempts to kill Whitehall, but Coulson shoots Whitehall before Cal can get his revenge, causing Cal to attack Coulson instead.  For most of the second half of the season, Cal is a villain:  he gathers a team of enhanced people in “One of Us” (2x13) to attack S.H.I.E.L.D. and show Skye how S.H.I.E.L.D. treats people who are different.  After being taken away by the Inhumans, he continues to behave erratically.  However, after Skye meets him in in Inhuman refuge known as Afterlife, Cal settles down a little more.  He tries to protect Skye from Hydra.  He fights to preserve his family.

Image Courtesy www.twitter.com/AgentsofShield
Raina also finds her way to Afterlife, where her gift of precognition/clairvoyance manifests—appropriate, considering that when we first met her she was working for a fake Clairvoyant.  She uses her gift to help her people whenever possible.  In the end, she pays with her life for her efforts to protect and preserve her people, the Inhumans.

Jiaying reveals herself to be alive in “Afterlife” (2x16), when she prevents Skye from using her powers to kill Raina.  Jiaying agrees to mentor Skye, in the process revealing herself to be Skye’s mother in “Melinda” (2x17).  Jiaying is the leader of this group of Inhumans, a position in which she finds herself making very tough decisions, one of which leads her to kill Agent Gonzales, frame him for attempting to kill her, and declare war on S.H.I.E.L.D. in “Scars” (2x20).  The season finale, “S.O.S.” (2x21-22), reveals that Jiaying remains young and heals herself by draining the life force from other people, something which she despised before her encounter with Whitehall, but which she takes great pleasure in now.  Jiaying manipulates her people into attacking S.H.I.E.L.D., nearly mass-murdering the non-Inhuman S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, before being stopped by Skye (who had discovered Jiaying’s evil designs after witnessing her murder of Raina) and Cal, whose “Mr. Hyde Formula” is perfected by the (accidental) addition of adrenaline.  Eventually, Cal is forced to kill Jiaying—the wife he loved and put back together with his own 2 hands, a medical kit, and an entire village of victims—in order to save Skye.  For his actions, Cal has his memory erased and is given a new life as a  pet vet.

Shockingly, the two characters who were introduced as villains—or at the very least antiheroes—at the beginning of the season (or in Raina’s case in the first season) turned out to be the real heroes of the season (Cal and Raina).  Meanwhile, Jiaying, who was introduced as a very tender, kind, caring, wise leader and mother, was revealed to be a villain who was putting on a front of caring for others when she cared more for the concept of the Inhumans than the actual Inhumans themselves.


These five characters all experienced season-long story arcs which molded them into their eventual roles as heroes or villains.  The revelation that “Centipede,” the villainous organization introduced in the first episode of season 1, turned out to be none other than a Hydra branch was particularly satisfying for its connection to the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  Unfortunately, only one of these characters is really in a position to return next season (though Cal’s story may not be over yet).

On Thursday I will discuss the two characters who have experienced multi-season story arcs setting them up as a superhero and a supervillain.  I will also give my thoughts on whose origin stories we might see in season 3.  In the mean time, what do you think of all this?  Do you like the story arcs given to these characters?  Did I miss a major hero/villain origin story?  Let me know in the comments!

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  1. I get what you are saying but in my opinion Deathlok is not a superhero. He is a shield agent and Raina was not a real supervillian because all she wanted to do is be Inhuman and Cal was just trying to put together his family and Jiaying was a woman trying to protect her People.Proper superheroes and super-villains would be Daredevil and the Kingpin. AOS is not a place where superheroes don't really belong just people who are morally gray.

    1. The three from season 2 are all morally gray, true, but at the end of the day they do reveal themselves on one side or the other. Raina and Cal start off against SHIELD; Jiaying starts off as a "good guy" who cares about her people. However, Raina and Cal both change their allegiances: Raina gives up her aspirations for herself when she learns that her death is necessary for her people's survival. Cal joins Coulson in rescuing Skye and stopping Jiaying. And Jiaying is revealed for the monster she is. She wants to protect the Inhumans, but she doesn't care if her actions put innocent people--including the Inhumans--in danger. I think Jiaying lost sight of her goal: she is so obsessed with the Inhumans as an idea that she does not realize what her actions could do to the Inhumans as actual people. Superheroes and super villains can and should have motivations; that doesn't negate their evil or good actions.

      As far as Mike Peterson/Deathlok is concerned, I'm using a broader definition of "superhero": someone with superpowers who does heroic things. He's a SHIELD agent, but so are/were Hawkeye and Black Widow, both of whom are also Avengers (heroes).

  2. I guess but you are basing this on the fact Shield is good Organization. Shield in my opinion is not a totally good organization even Skye and Coulson are not entirely good people let alone heroes. Shield makes it definition on what is right and what is wrong. The index for example is wrong but Shield still uses it. Deathlok being a Shield agent means that he follows a morally corrupt organization so that means he can no longer be can be considered a superhero like Hawkeye and Black Widow who left the organization to become proper super heroes who only work work for themselves.

    1. Not necessarily. Would you have considered Cap to be a superhero between The Avengers and Winter Soldier? He was working for SHIELD (which was far more corrupt then than it is now). And yet, his attitude while working for SHIELD was one of protecting people from things they can't understand and stopping evil organizations like Hydra that want to take over the world. Most SHIELD agents have that same attitude: they don't want to take over the world themselves, and they don't want to let anyone else do it, either. They don't want to hurt people, and they want to keep other people from hurting innocents.

      Based on everything we've seen from Deathlok, I still think he fits that definition. The same goes for Skye and Coulson.

    2. Captain America did work with Shield but his priority was always saving people. They addressed in Winter Solider when he went on mission with Black Widow. He always put the people first no matter the cost and did not believe in Shield and it's practices that is why he destroyed it. So he was always a superhero because he put the people first and not the organization. Shield's entire MO has always been about control. Even Coulson's Skye's version of shield utilizes the use of the Index which pretty much a less destructive form of project Insight. Coulson's verison of SHIELD is arrogant enough to think they should always keep tabs on people with powers even though it led to there downfall before. Shield agents are not really good and make up there own definition of what the world is even though they don't have have the right to. Deathlok works with this organization even though he knows all about it. Skye and Deathlok are solider agents for an organization that feels like they should control everything relating to superhuman activity even when its not there problem and they are both totally Ok with the organizations practices.They are not a superheroes.Superheroes in my opinion are Daredevil and the Avengers who only want to protect the city and the world. Shield is good but still wants to control the world just not is the same way as Hydra.There way way just involves for monitoring and information gathering.