Friday, September 11, 2015

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2, Episode 10, "What They Become" RETRO-REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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I have to say, the last five minutes or so of “What They Become” might be the best part of the entire half-season—and better than anything in the first season, too, for that matter!  And seeing it all for the second time I noticed several things that I hadn’t seen the first time.  Not only did this episode give us a satisfying conclusion to the alien writing/alien city plot, but it also offered several hints at the second half of the season.  Oh, and did I mention that it introduced an entire race of super-powered people from the comics, a race which will be getting its own movie after Infinity War?  Because it did that, too.  Sweet!

Reminder:  Retro-Reviews contain potential spoilers for everything to-date.

The episode picks up right where the previous episode, “Ye Who Enter Here” (2x09), left off, with Whitehall having ordered the destruction of the Bus.  May assumes from the get-go that Ward is planning to double cross them, so she already has a plan in place:  she dives for the cloud cover, followed by a pair of Hydra quinjets.  The quinjets launch missiles right after the Bus passes through the cloud cover, and May ejects their pods and cloaks while the quinjets can’t see them.  The missiles detonate on the pods, and Hydra mistakes those explosions for confirmation that the Bus had been destroyed.  I really liked the action in this scene, and I thought the effects were very good—actually I liked the effects for this entire episode, and especially in the alien city.

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Meanwhile, Coulson has Fitz and Simmons working on a method for them to get into the city and plant explosives (detonated by a few of Trip’s old Howling Commandos mechanical detonators).  I really liked the Fitz-Simmons moments in this episode.  While they are working on this problem they also talk about Mack, which gives them some time to bond and mend fences.  They aren’t quite the seamless team from season 1 here, but you can see definite improvement over even the previous episode.  Naturally this can’t possibly last (this is Joss Whedon we’re talking about, after all), but it is definitely nice to see.  They also have a moment in the tunnels where Simmons expresses genuine concern for Fitz going off on his own.  I don’t think there was ever a question as to whether she cares about him, but I still found it to be a nice, touching moment.

Hunter and Bobbi also have a few moments together in this episode.  The first is when she is going through what I assume is Mack’s things and takes a thumb drive out of his bag.  Hunter comes in and finds her and offers some comfort for Mack’s presumed death.  This gives us some interesting insight into their relationship as well as Hunter’s character.  Hunter clearly cares for her, and he wants to trust her, but there still seems to be some suspicion on his part.  They also go on a mission together to meet with Bobbi’s local contact, which leads to them kissing to avoid the suspicion of the Hydra agents with whom the contact was meeting (Seriously, is there some sort of Female S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents’ Handbook where this technique is described, and all the male S.H.I.E.L.D./Hydra agents haven’t read it?  That’s as good an explanation as any for Black Widow and Mockingbird both using it to avoid Hydra agents’ suspicion.).  It’s interesting to see the two of them on missions together, especially now that their spinoff series, Marvel’s Most Wanted, has been announced.  They also work as a team while infiltrating the Hydra base above the alien city’s temple.  I liked their scenes together and how they managed to develop their relationship a little more even in an episode that was already extremely packed.

Skye and Cal finally get the opportunity to meet, which is a very interesting scene.  I like how incredibly awkward the whole thing is:  Skye really doesn’t want to be there because she was taken at gunpoint and wants nothing more than to get the Obelisk from Hydra and escape; Cal wants nothing more than for Skye to go back to being his baby daughter and is terrified that she will pull away from him.  We learn quite a bit about Skye’s parents:  Cal ran a clinic in China and Jiaying was his translator, “S.H.I.E.L.D.” (really Hydra) dragged Jiaying away and claimed she was dangerous, and Cal followed them to Europe but arrived too late to save Jiaying.  Considering that in the first season Skye wanted nothing more than to meet her real parents, her reaction here was extremely understated.  Of course, considering that she’s heard nothing about her father except that he’s a murderer and a monster, I think that is to be expected.  Sadly, their reunion is cut short when Whitehall summons them and the plot really starts moving.

Whitehall’s meeting with his coconspirators (Raina, Cal, and Ward) is a cool and fun scene.  It turns out that Whitehall has known who Cal was all along; he recognized him as the same man who had come for Jiaying.  He also knows who Skye is:  the daughter of Cal and the woman he had butchered.  He forces her to pick up the Obelisk, which she immediately uses to kill a Hydra soldier.  And that’s when Whitehall starts to show his real villainous side:  Ward double-crossed him by pulling a gun on Hydra to protect Skye, so Whitehall orders him tied up and indicates that he will have him brainwashed into compliance at a later time.  He then tells Cal that he’s already killed Cal’s wife; now he’s going to kill his daughter before finally killing Cal himself.  Raina is completely left out of his plans and I’m not sure why.  Whitehall knows that Raina can also hold the Obelisk, so is he planning to let her continue helping as long as she’s useful and then butcher her?  I’m also not sure what I think of the portrayal of Whitehall in this episode:  he doesn’t have much motive for hating Cal so much; is it just that he knows Cal hates him and he’s planning to do whatever it takes to keep Cal from taking his revenge?  He was an interesting villain because he was so driven to uncover whatever alien artifact was in the alien city, but his plans once he had it were never entirely clear.  To be honest, I think the best think you can say about him is that he had a major role in Skye’s story and also set both Jiaying and Cal on the paths which culminated in their season 2 stories.

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Cal, Skye, and Ward are all left alone with a Hydra guard, but Ward and Cal engineer an escape:  Ward distracts the guard long enough for Cal to get rid of the paralyzing device Whitehall had attached to his neck, and then Ward uses the downed guard’s knife to free himself and Skye.  And then Skye shot him, though 2 shots hit his bulletproof vest and only 2 hit him, knocking him to the floor.  Cal went after Whitehall, but before he could attack, Whitehall pulled a gun… and Coulson shot him from behind, killing him.  Cal then flew into a rage and tried to kill Coulson using his super strength, but Skye stopped him.  I loved how they waited until that moment before Cal finally called Skye by name:  “I’ll always love you, Daisy.”  I already had a good idea that Skye was going to be Daisy Johnson based on her father’s name, “Cal,” but this finally confirmed it.  Cal left, and Skye went to recover the Obelisk and prevent Raina from bringing it into the city through the tunnel which Hydra had drilled through the rock using a plasma drill.  However, this meant that she and Raina were both down in the alien city with the Diviner, and they wound up in the temple together.

S.H.I.E.L.D.’s efforts to destroy the alien city really didn’t get them very far.  Fitz, Simmons, and Trip plant the explosives, but then Trip has to pull the detonators out of the explosives when May tells them that Coulson and Skye are in the city.  That makes it feel like something they could have left out, but at the same time it was an important part of Coulson’s character that he was not interested in using the Obelisk and city but rather wanted to keep them out of Hydra’s hands.  It also put Trip in the wrong place so he was in the temple with Skye and Raina when the Diviner activated—and that was actually necessary to answer the unasked question of “what would happen to a regular human who breathes the Terrigen Mist?”  (Answer:  Nothing really.)

Before getting to the Terrigenesis scene, however, we need to talk about how Trip and Coulson could go down into the city without being taken over like Mack.  I have a theory:  the city was only designed to take over a single non-Inhuman as its protector.  The protector was given super strength and some knowledge of the city in order to bring the worthy to the temple and keep the unworthy away.  This explains why he was set up close to the temple and did not interfere with Fitz, Simmons, and Trip.  It also explains why the city released him as soon as the Terrigen Crystal activated.  It’s not a perfect theory, but it does explain what happened to Mack and why it didn’t happen to Trip or Coulson.

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The Terrigenesis scene itself was absolutely amazing.  Being able to see it on Netflix on my second computer monitor, I was able to pick up on a lot of the details in the transformation effect that I hadn’t noticed on the TV.  For one thing, the chrysalis formed around Skye and Raina like a liquid that almost looks like lava from a volcano.  After they started to break out of the chrysalises, you can actually catch a quick glimpse of Raina watching as Skye goes seismic, though not much about her appearance is clear from that shot (really just a couple eyes in the dust).  Additionally, it is even more clear that Trip was not killed by the Terrigen Mist; he was killed by the shards of Diviner metal that embedded themselves into his chest.  This means that regular humans shouldn’t have anything to fear from the Terrigen Fish Oil tablets (assuming that the Diviner metal can’t dissolve).  All in all, that was a really well-done scene and I really liked it.

As far as midseason finales go, I think this is an excellent one.  It puts the plotlines to the first half of the season to rest while simultaneously hinting at and building up the plotlines for the second half—there’s even a “Theta Protocol” reference where Coulson tells (a) Koenig to return to base and prepare to activate it if things go badly in the city.  I think easily my favorite moment in the episode was the Terrigenesis because it’s so awesome and throws the doors wide open on a completely new world within the MCU.

What did you think of the Terrigenesis/Inhumans reveal?  What are you most excited about now that the Inhumans are going to take a major role in the series moving forward?  Let me know in the comments!

Quick note:  this is the last Retro-Review I’m writing for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (at least for this summer).  If you want to see my reviews of the second half of season 2, check the sidebar with post history and go all the way back to the beginning, back in March.  I’m still going to have Agent Carter Retro-Reviews on Mondays for the next couple weeks before Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns, but I’m replacing my Wednesday and Friday reviews with articles looking ahead to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 3.  Next week will be my theories on Simmons and the Secret Warriors; the week after will be the antagonists:  Lash and the Advanced Threat Containment Unit.  Be sure to check them out!

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