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‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Season 2 Episode 16 Recap: “Afterlife”

agents of shield afterlife

Before I get to loving and hating this week’s “Afterlife,” let’s attack the news that ABC (and Marvel) are working on an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. spinoff. It’s being developed by Whedonverse All-Star Jeffrey Bell and fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. writer Paul Zbyszewski. There’s no word yet on the content or characters featured, and we know it won’t have a backdoor pilot this season, but the story elements of the potential spinoff (it still has to be written and picked up, after all) will come to light by the end of AOS‘ second season. The article also mentions that Agent Carter has a roughly 60% chance of returning for a second season, which is enough to give reason for optimism. Given that they’re working on a spinoff for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the chances of a season 3 look pretty damn good.

With Daredevil hitting Netflix today and the whole Defenders initiative slowly unfurling, Marvel is certainly trying to combat DC’s widening TV empire and be as ubiquitous as they are on the big screen. But is it a good thing? I hear great things about Daredevil and am excited for Netflix to allow Marvel to loosen up and appeal to a more adult audience, but AOS has been such an uneven show that already feels watered down, that it’s hard to be too optimistic about a spinoff venture. That said, there are certainly enough characters that they’ve introduced or are in their stable (Deathlok: The Show?), and perhaps splitting the ensemble in two could streamline and focus the narratives, while simultaneously upping the fun quotient with crossover potentials. In many ways, this feels like Marvel’s first (panicked?) reaction to CW’s Flash/Arrow/Untitled Team-Up show bonanza that’s delighting us all. Regardless, I’ll be interested in following this story.

But onto “Afterlife,” which would’ve been a wildly disappointing, mediocre, on-the-nose episode if not for three moments that saved it from being a complete mess.

Last week, (Ex?) Director Coulson escaped from the clutches of “Real S.H.I.E.L.D.” co-director/board member/whatever the fuck Gonzales, and is now on the run. He finds himself at a used car lot, with a delightful hick salesman professing to have a “gen-u-ine” superpower in finding the car a person really needs. Coulson’s about to buy a SUV, when Hunter pulls up with a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon (the product placement is super blatant), and Coulson ends up having to “ice” the poor salesman. WHY? I suppose because Coulson’s assets are frozen, they need to save the cash, but Coulson shooting an innocent civilian, stealing his car and saying, “the tiger’s been loose for awhile” all feels like a bad joke.

Speaking of bad jokes (or inappropriate ones), Skye wakes up, covered in acupuncture needles (and not much else), naked-ish and in an unfamiliar place. Gordon’s there, but not really, as he spends the entire episode having to leave Skye and being kind of a prick, despite seeming so friendly and helpful last week at the Hulk Cabin. Instead, Skye’s in the care of Hot-CW-guy Lincoln (Tomorrow People‘s Luke Mitchell), who introduces himself as Skye’s “transitioner” and has been healing her for the past two days. Skye’s understandably confused as F.

Back at the “fake” (our) S.H.I.E.L.D.’s base, now taken over by the “real” S.H.I.E.L.D., Gonzales has taken proud ownership of being a dick, perhaps because without Calderon/Kirk Acevedo, who’s recovering somewhere off-screen, someone has to be unlikable. And it hurts when it’s Edward James Olmos, who seemed so appealing to begin with, but now it seems obvious that he’s the villain, and the biggest hypocrite ever, despite having some valid points about Coulson’s leadership and the nature of SHIELD’s secrets. But now he’s gross, grumbling about Skye and how dangerous she is despite the fact that he attacked her entirely unnecessarily. Bobbi tries to defend Skye, and fails, and this whole second S.H.I.E.L.D. “twist” has taken a lot of bite out of her and Mack’s character. I just don’t buy that Bobbi would ever really believe that betraying Coulson and spying on his S.H.I.E.L.D. would be the right move, but since it happened, I’m forced to grapple with the fact that Mockingbird just isn’t as awesome as I want her to be, and that’s a massively disappointing development for AOS.

Gonzales needs Fitz to open Fury’s Toolbox, but thankfully FitzSimmons show a united from against the man, refusing to help. While they’ve locked up May, Gonzales says, “there are no prisoners here,” hinting that they’re both free to leave. There’s so much double talk here it’s ridiculous, especially considering the guy professes to be transparent. Fitz calls his maybe bluff and starts packing his things, because Fitz is the best character on the show, and it’s not even close right now.

Coulson and Hunter arrive at Skye’s cabin, and hilariously find a camera with footage of the fight they just missed, including Gordon teleporting Skye away. The two decide, or at least Hunter decides, that whiskey is a good idea, and hole up in the cabin, which seems like an entirely too obvious place to hide. But then again, that proves to be the point.

Lincoln, the deliverer of Exposition and forced romantic tension, gives Skye a tour of the beautiful Himalayans-y place. He calls it “Lychee,” and it’s not spelled like that at all, but I probably like it better than however it’s spelled, because it made me nostalgic for bubble tea. Apparently, residents call the place “Afterlife,” which has kind of a spooky connotation. Skye is worried about her friends, because they’re clearly in danger, and wants to send word that’s she’s alright at the very least. Apparently only Gordon has the power to do that, and he’s the only one who knows where they are.

agents of shield melinda may

Skye begins to freak out, and Lincoln appears to be oblivious as to why a woman, or anyone, would be unnerved by the fact that she woke up naked (“You weren’t totally naked” he retorts) in an unfamiliar place and is unable to leave or communicate to anyone outside of it. It’s a safehouse (one that nobody actually lives in, but stay there when necessary), Lincoln claims, but Skye sure feels like a prisoner. And she should. Lincoln’s introduction sucks. Just because he’s attractive and makes eyes at Skye (and a hook-up seems inevitable, which makes it that much worse), we’re supposed to be okay with all this? Whether or not that’s the point, it all just feels so forced, and I for one sure as hell don’t care that he’s a pretty white boy.

As he gives Skye a tour of the Shady Shangri-La, Skye asks after a house, and Lincoln clams up and hurriedly says essentially NOTHING TO SEE HERE, MOVE ON, the writers using a blunt instrument to foreshadow that something exciting is in said NOT IMPORTANT house. Like Raina and/or Mr. Hyde?

We learn that Skye’s the first to go through the mists without preparation, that she “jumped the list,” like being given an opportunity to go through the Mists involves a line like for organ transplants. People stare at her because they’re envious, and of course Skye has to bluster several times that she didn’t want this, that she’d gladly trade it to anyone who wants it. It’s a gift Lincoln tells her. “MORE LIKE A CURSE!” she yells, as subtle as emo-Peter Parker. But sorry: the transition is irreversible.

Gonzales comes to May. “Are you loyal to Coulson or S.H.I.E.L.D.?” he asks. “They’re the same,” May answers. She continues, dropping truth bombs, and getting at another reason why this subplot feels so stupid: we’re wasting time, we should be going after Hydra. Yuuuuuuuuuuup.

Bobbi looks like she has some misgivings, but Mac certainly doesn’t. Right now, I might care about Mac the least of any of our main ensemble, something I never would’ve thought before the hiatus.

Well, except maybe Simmons, who’s easily manipulated by Bobbi to stay on board and help them open Fury’s Toolbox. Simmons immediately has a breakthrough, professing that they’re going about it all wrong. It’s a testament to how shitty Simmons has become that I never once doubted her flip-flopping allegiances.

Of all the powers AOS could have gifted Lincoln with, they go with the whole electrical current gig, so he’s basically Electro, and sends shockwaves through Skye, and I’m not even sure if that shouldn’t read as sexual. She ends up floating/flying, and then… he says the worst line of the episode about her powers: “The Skye’s the limit.”

Back at the cabin, Coulson, who during their whiskey session, was having doubts about his mission and saw some truth in Gonzales’ views, now has a change of heart: it’s time to fight. With “icers only” of course, because they’re still S.H.I.E.L.D. agents after all, albeit misguided ones. But said S.H.I.E.L.D. agents brought a battering ram, so despite the cabin being Hulk-proof, they only have an hour before they break in. Which means it’s a pretty impressive battering ram. Good thing Coulson has reinforcements, promising a fun guest star to come. But they don’t need one initially, because they have easy plot devices: Coulson and Hunter appear to be playing cards when S.H.I.E.L.D. runs in, and the real Coulson and Hunter take them down immediately. It makes you wonder why they’ve never used this technology in the past.

Thankfully, turnabout is fair play, and Coulson and Hunter are immediately fooled by their own game, when another jet un-cloaks itself and has them surrounded. Whoops.

In the Afterlife, Gordon comes to be guarded and unhelpful again, professing that only ELDERS are allowed to send messages to the outside world. Thanks for nothing, Gordon/Elders. He BAMF’s away and visits Skye’s Crazy Daddy Mr. Hyde, who’s been pent up in the same room that we last saw him in. The two have a one-sided fight, because Gordon’s teleporting is just too useful. Gordon also teases a helluva foreboding future, telling Hyde that not only has he sealed his fate, but that of his daughter’s. It doesn’t seem like a happy fate for either.

Fitz has another MVP moment, when he catches wind of Simmons’ experiment, and rushes in to grab the box (to freak everybody out) and to just call everybody out on their shit. He can’t believe that any of them, Simmons especially, would operate out of fear, rather than trust. Amen.

While Fitz’s back is surely hurting from carrying what to this point, has been a pitiful episode (and I can only imagine what it’d be like without him), another man helps shoulder the burden. Someone I’ve been waiting for ALL SEASON: J. August Richards’ DEATHLOK! Or Mike Peterson, if we wanna be lame about it and call him by his real name. He turns out to be Coulson’s only reinforcement, and he’s apparently “taken well to upgrades,” and seems pretty much indestructible, taking bullets, opening ramps with his bare hands, and just kicking ass. Plus: he can just download a flight manual and fly the plane for them, which is nice.

agents of shield dichen lachman

Back at Afterlife, Lincoln the Rapist actually says: “I showed you mind, now show me yours” to Skye in regards to powers. He was already the worst before he slips and reveals that Skye isn’t alone: Raina’s in Afterlife with him. Skye finally loses it and finds Raina immediately (at the aforementioned “not important” spot), who’s still super depressing. Skye’s super pissed, blaming Raina for everything, for Trip’s death, for her powers, and Raina rightfully retorts that she didn’t have to follow her into the Kree temple. Skye’s nearing her proverbial limit, and starts vibrating Raina. She wants Skye to do it, to finish her, to kill her, and it might very well have happened before the second of three great moments in this episode happen: Jiaying, Skye’s Mom apparently ALIVE, interrupts and ends the fight immediately. It’s honestly not surprising that she’s alive; Dichen Lachman is a treasure, and when she was introduced as Skye’s Mom and promptly killed, it seemed like a waste. While it feels a little convenient that she’s alive (now with scars that reminded me of Amy Acker’s in Dollhouse, the show where Lachman joined the Whedon-verse), I don’t care. I’m just psyched she’s on the show, and she immediately cuts the bullshit. Both Raina and Skye are capable of beauty. Skye isn’t “anything like her,” she spits, and can’t stay if Raina’s there. Jiaying essentially says, fine, but I’m your Guide and give me a couple of days before making a decision. Would Skye really get to leave of her own accord anyways?

The other shoe drops with Jiaying when she appears with Gordon in Cal’s presence. You’d think this would elicit a crazy massive reaction from her HUSBAND, the guy who went insane following her death, but he clearly already knows she’s alive, or doesn’t believe it. Jiaying hugs him, thanks him, says that he was right about their daughter. But when Cal asks to see his daughter, to see Daisy, he gets immediately rebuffed.

For awhile, I forgot this was a S.H.I.E.L.D. show, and it was kind of glorious. When we return, Gonzales has a bold new tactic with May, sliding her a gun. “Shoot me now if you think I’m a traitor.” May grabs it and slides it back, knowing he’d be stupid to have given her a loaded gun. But Gonzales takes out a clip. I refuse to buy that May wouldn’t know if a gun was loaded or not just by holding it due to the weight. This impresses May, and then Gonzales unloads some BS rhetoric. We “can’t afford to be enemies,” he claims, but YOU CREATED THIS SITUATION, you prick. He offers her a spot on their board, that he’ll need someone to have Coulson’s interests at heart when they inevitably bring in. Whether or not May’s playing him or not, she seems interested (it beats being imprisoned and likely gives her a great next move).

Back in the air, Coulson, Mike and Hunter have their next move: Doctor List is one of the last active/alive figureheads of Hydra and he’s trying to experiment on powered people. To stop him, they need to explore the “bad option.” That bad option is Agent Ward. I practically cheered, because Brett Dalton brings a unique and necessary energy and vitality to every scene he’s in since he’s gone bad. He’s like Angelus in Angel.

Gonzales, Bobbi and Simmons are disappointed at the base: the Toolbox is junk, Simmons claims. Cut to Fitz taxiing away, with the real Toolbox in his possession, as well as a beautifully made Prosciutto and Buffalo Mozzarella Sandwich, with a hint of pesto aioli, Fitz marvels. It’s the most important sandwich in MCU history, and one of the most effective and simple plot devices the show has ever used. For me, this moment not only saved the episode but (brace for hyperbole) might have saved the season, or at least represented the potential for a seismic shift. It also might have fixed FitzSimmons; she was in on it the whole time, and allowed Fitz to escape with the Toolbox, and best of all, didn’t want him to leave hungry. I think we had all missed FitzSimmons being adorable, so thank heavens for that button.

NEXT: The origin of “The Cavalry.” Can’t wait.