After spending a mostly delightful eight weeks in the 1940s with Peggy Carter and company, we’re back with the newly moribund Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., sifting through the rubble left in the wake of “What They Become,” the midseason finale that may very well stand as the show’s high water mark to this point.
“Aftershocks” begins with one of its cooler moments, a 1983 flashback to a teleporting kid with no eyes in a red room. As we learn from a still alive Jiaying (Dichen Lachman), it’s been fourteen hours since Gordon went through terrigenesis, and accordingly, he’s out of control, unable to control his powers, every cell in his mind and body changed irrevocably. The boy’s beyond unstable, and because he no longer has eyes, he can’t even cry. Aw (seems unhealthy). Thankfully, Jiaying is there to show him the way. Gordon’s at an ideal age and he was groomed for the change; he’ll get over it, thanks to Jiaying’s clearly tender tutelage. Without her, a wise Chinese man (of course) explains, his soul would be lost. Considering we know Jiaying dies not long after this, his soul is in question (but he’s alive; we saw Gordon as an adult at the end of the last episode), but what does that mean for Skye and Raina, changed without preparation or without Jiaying’s help?
Considering we cut to Skye in a quarantine zone looking miserable, probably not good things. Coulson’s beside her window, also unable to sleep following the tragic death of Trip, whose lighthearted and warm presence is already missed. Coulson believes the Obelisk triggered the earthquake, while Skye (rightfully) blames herself. She is Daisy Johnson, after all, the woman who will be Quake. This is one of those instances where I feel like the audience knowing more than the characters detracts from the proceedings. We know Skye has changed, that she’s an Inhuman, that she has powers, and that she unwittingly caused the earthquake that killed Trip. I want everybody else to know so we can move forward, instead of wade into vitriolic arguments and a team-wide depression that clings to this episode.
Skye’s the only one who knows the truth, or at least part of it, and she’s trying to hold it together. She blows up at Coulson, that they failed, and it’s all her fault, that she never should’ve gone into the Temple. THE PLOT MADE YOU, SKYE, don’t feel bad. Continuing tradition, Coulson alternates from acting blindly and impulsively to being super compassionate. In this episode, he’s mostly the former. He believes this is the best time to strike Hydra. They’ve cut off one head (Daniel Whitehall); they must use this opportunity before they find another (or two).
This segues to a wonderfully over-the-top secret Hydra meeting, complete with a massive Hydra roundtable and wine. It felt like Dr. Horrible’s Evil League of Evil, without the outfits. They name drop Baron von Strucker (who made his MCU debut in the Captain America: Winter Soldier credits), who believed Bakshi (Simon Kassianides) was the heir apparent to Whitehall. He’s missing, of course, but Dr. Levy (Henry Goodman), who also made his debut in the aforementioned mid-credit sequence with the Baron, suggests whomever removes SHIELD from the equation would win his position. I’m imagining a bunch of low level supervillains all attacking SHIELD at once, and I want that glorious episode. Dr. Levy also appears to be the man to look into Whitehall’s artifact obsession, to keep Hydra in the Inhuman/Obelisk business.
Agent Simmons is still at the Temple, working with a team to study as much as they can (without bringing in technology that will trigger another disaster) before they flood the cave in, closing it off forever (until Namor the Sub Mariner comes to the Marvel Universe). Except, of course, members of her team are being murdered by a hooded figure that’s quite obviously whatever Raina (Ruth Negga) has become (where did she get the hood?). Simmons puts several bullets into her, but she escapes anyways, and now Raina is out into the world. Following Trip’s death and what she sees Raina has turned into, Simmons believes it could very well be a virus, an epidemic, and seems intent on killing to stop it. It’s a troublesome, forced development for such a delightful character. She believes that powers, like what they’ve seen out of Donnie Gill and countless others, only leads to tragedy, that the Avengers wouldn’t be necessary if they didn’t create the problems. So her solution seems like borderline genocide, although HOPEFULLY we don’t get to that.
Mack’s also on edge following being controlled by an alien being and hurting his friends. Understandably so. He flips out at Fitz, something NOBODY should do, and Mack would never have done previously. Fitz is understanding, because he’s Fitz and he gets it; he’s still reeling from his brain problems.
Skye’s also a bit of a bummer:
That .gif hearkens us back to season 1 when Skye was a leprous stain on the show (her transformation and ascendancy mirrored that of the show’s). Now I’m worried that her origin story might clog the narrative.
But I’m getting off track: there’s more arguments! Mack’s outbursts aren’t done, saving his biggest one when Coulson suggests attacking Hydra. Considering Coulson has been acting without letting anyone know his true motives (outside of Skye and May some of the time), it’s understandable, especially since he suggests bringing Bakshi out of holding to use as bait, putting the entire SHIELD team in danger. All the tension and anger clearly stresses Skye out, but everyone’s too absorbed in the argument to notice her entire room shaking. You’d think this would show up in her vitals or something, but you know, peeps be distracted.
But the plan goes in motion despite the kerfuffle. The plan is to trade Bakshi to General Talbot (Adrian Pasdar) in turn for his help taking care of Hydra, which seems like an easy decision for the General. This spurs on a ridiculously cliche car crash (the truck slamming into the driver’s side of the Chevy Tahoe in the midst of conversation), and a relentless spray of bullets when AOS becomes a video game, a bewildering sequence of events that featured the best and worst moments of this episode.
The best? Melinda counts four Hydra agents left. “You know what that means?” Coulson: “Not really.” Insane acrobatics and you know…
I laughed uncontrollably when this happened. Then Coulson and May get shot by two more unseen “Hydra” agents and it’s so over the top that it felt like the Omega-13 sequence in Galaxy Quest. As Bakshi drives away, we find out that he was just taken by Hunter, that this was all a staged trick to get Bakshi to lead them to the rest of Hydra. And it works pretty much perfectly, as Hunter manipulates Bakshi into enacting a confusing safety protocol that turns Hydra against each other, killing the Baroness (Kathryn Leigh Scott, who was surely not the Baroness), the Sheikh (Maz Siam) and others we met around the Hydra roundtable, with the fast-acting poison we saw earlier in the season. We learn something else: if you still wear a watch, you’re probably Hydra.
During the mission, Hunter gets some alone time with Bobbi, and brings up her and Mack’s secret. What’s going on? She claims they’re in a support group, which causes Hunter to laugh uproariously, I thought because he smelled bullshit. Instead, I guess he finds support groups hilarious. I’m hoping Hunter didn’t buy the BS, but either way, it’s a lame end to the conversation.
Cal Zabo’s (Kyle MacLachlan) wandering around shipyards in Puerto Rico, when Raina finds him, desperate. “What have I become?” We see her for the first time, an unflattering thorned beast (“You always did like flowers”). The metamorphosis has happened. Raina thought she’d become an angel, not a monster. She blames Skye, who retained her beauty, who stole her powers. News that his daughter went through terrigenesis makes Cal giddy and angry, kind of like everything else, claiming that Coulson is the last person Skye should be with right now, that he’d put her on the Index and lock her away. For once, I kind of agree with Cal, and am psyched to see Cal investigate the people on the Index he references in the future. MORE KYLE MACLACHLAN PLEASE.
Later, Mack apologizes to Coulson, and in the same scene mentions that he still wants to work on Lola. The fun model he made for Coulson has Phil thinking about the possibility, but this is a clear indicator that Lola is a part of the secret.
The whole episode, Fitz is struggling with a bio-reader that Skye had on in the temple (I thought technology was useless in the temple), and he believes it holds the key to what happened to her. He fixes it (off-screen of course), and confronts Skye. Her heartbeat reached “inhuman” levels (oh AOS); he knows that the only way she could survive the earthquake is if she caused it (if you cause earthquakes does that make you immune to their damage?). Flawed logic or not, he knows something is wrong and his realization causes Skye to lose it, finally:
Fitz flees, and May wanders in, acting as if nothing happened. She doesn’t wonder why the lights are off, why there’s glass everywhere. She’s too busy monologue-ing about Trip, a voiceover as Coulson brings Trip’s giant briefcase to his mother. It’s heartbreaking, but kind of marred by the confusion. Then Simmons strolls in, continuing her rant against powers and all things different, as May finally notices the glass and the blood in Skye’s hands.
It feels like we’re about to get a revelation, except Fitz saves her ass. He claims her DNA is an exact match to what it was previously, that she’s clear from the make-believe virus Gemma concocted out of heresy. My first instinct is “Great, we’re dragging this out.” And I stand by that, even if the next scene is the best and most wonderful in the episode, with Fitz promising to keep her secret until everything calms down, worried about Simmons’ murderous streak. Then they hug, which is all Skye really wanted. It’s really what we all want, if you think about it, and Fitz, brain damaged and all, says the perfect thing:
A lesson that Simmons will hopefully learn sooner rather than later, because I don’t want AOS to be bogged down into racism/Inhumanism.
While Skye has the adorable and irreplaceable Fitz, Raina has no one, and this leaves Raina contemplating suicide. She starts walking across a busy highway, asking for death. Instead, armed guards pop out of nowhere. This is exactly what Raina wants: they can kill her now, or she can make them kill her.
Then this happens:
Meet “The Reader,” played by Jamie Harris (TURN). “I’ll show you the way” is exactly what Jaiying says to a younger Gordon to start the episode, and it’s clear that Raina is about to be ushered into the Inhumans, and maybe, for once, has found a home. In the comics, Reader is an Inhuman with the ability to make anything he reads become real, which sounds like the coolest power ever. But because it’s too powerful, the Inhumans removed his eyes. As far as I can tell, the teleporting/force-field stuff is different, and we’ll see if the eyes were a part of terrigenesis or intentional, but Reader’s penchant for finding Inhumans appears to be intact from the comics.
But we still have more, as Mack’s Lola toy replica lights up and starts scanning Coulson’s office, finding Fury’s toolbox, the one he gave to Coulson to help rebuild SHIELD. Mack alerts Bobbi, their plan one step closer as they join the gang reminiscing about Trip, happily (and unfortunately) repeating his ebonics.
“We’re gonna laugh a lot less, that’s for sure,” Skye mumbles, a line that feels too true, one that indicates a darker second half of season 2. There’s a lot to like about this episode (Raina and the Reader! Cal and the Index! Fury’s toolbox! FITZ!), but one hopes they are more tactful with Simmons’ character in the future. There are a lot of moving parts (Ward and Agent 33 are still out there! Where’s Deathlok?), and while Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen and company have shown the ability to juggle them, there were some disturbing signs sprinkled throughout this episode.