Fresh off the controversial Avengers: Age of Ultron, we return to the TV side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where everyone is a horrible, inconsistent person that refuses to learn anything from the past.
Albert Einstein described insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. By that definition, Ward might be the only one not insane, because he at least changes his methods. Despite a global war breaking out with thousands of casualties last week in this universe, SHIELD, or at least TV SHIELD, seems content on starting another war for no other reason but because they’ve caught a heavy dose of X-Men human syndrome: where everyone becomes racist, ignorant, bigoted, frightened children with violence as their recourse.
This is something we’ve of course seen all too often in human history, and the allegory is clear, but we’ve come to know most of the people that are now getting swept into this. They’re different. Or at least, I thought they were. AoS seems intent on making nearly every one of their characters awful in some fashion. Flawed and human heroes is a worthy goal, but that’s not how this show reads.
In Age of Ultron (SPOILERS for the movie ahead), Fury and Hill’s SHIELD shows up with a Helicarrier at a climactic moment in the battle against Ultron on Sokovia. While the Avengers are focused on the Ultron bots, SHIELD focuses on the human element, committed to minimizing human casualties. This is SHIELD at their finest. At one point, Quicksilver, the one man who’d be hardest to convince of this fact, admits “SHIELD is not so bad,” thanks to their full scale rescue efforts to help the little people.
But he’s clearly not watching the TV show, because SHIELD, or Second SHIELD, or now-merged SHIELD or whatever asinine way you want to put it, is evil. At least Hydra admits it. The inconsistencies between characters and full-on organizations is getting hard to balance; it’s almost as if there are THREE SHIELDS. There’s Coulson’s, there’s Gonzales’ and there’s Movie-SHIELD where Fury and Maria Hill actually have a big part of the MCU. Because of this, it’s getting increasingly hard to take a SHIELD without Fury and Maria Hill seriously after having such an impact in the movies. Especially since they’re doing it right.
Fury’s back, but he’s nowhere to be seen here, but that’s one of the only limitations I won’t blame on the show as we head into “Scars.”
We begin a year previously, with an obligatory Patton Oswalt cameo, as Sam, one of the many Brothers Koenig, in his Star Wars PJ’s and Star Wars bed. If you want to, you can view this as a nod to Oswalt’s Star Wars filibuster on Parks and Recreation or if you’re nuts, you can see this as full-blown proof that Disney is planning a Marvel/Star Wars crossover. OR, it’s just Patton Oswalt wearing what Patton Oswalt wears to bed. When he gets up after a rude wake-up call from his “brother Billy,” Sam looks through his closet of identical suits and sifts through his collection of nerdy ties. While he grabs a robot tie (Ultron alert!), he ends up wearing a boring old tie that a Republican would wear. In many ways, this reads as a parody of Kingpin’s morning ritual in Daredevil.
Sam’s preparing for an arrival: that of Coulson, as they rundown what was happening a year ago on this show. Trip’s still alive, May doesn’t know Coulson’s lying about his recruiting missions, and Coulson gets another lanyard and access to “Theta Protocol.” We finally figure out what the hell that referred to: the construction and repair of a Helicarrier, one that makes an aforementioned appearance in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. The Helicarrier is an awesome thing to behold on this humble ABC show, but I don’t think the mystery/subplot of “Theta Protocol,” that really just came out of nowhere a few episodes ago, was handled properly. It’s piled on Coulson to make him look more villainous than he really was and added evidence to drive a wedge between May and Coulson, something that happened startlingly easy.
But enough of the past: the show zooms back to the present, fast forwarding through what would’ve likely been an exciting episode, with AoS dealing with the cataclysmic events of Ultron. Instead, the SHIELD tribunal meets in its aftermath, deciding on a new status quo. Coulson admits that he failed as Director, that he thought he had to do it all alone, and that was a mistake (as we learn this episode, May’s allergic to apologies).
Coulson suggests just one SHIELD (thank God/Ultron), retaining his post as Director, but with the Council (Gonzales, May, Morse, Weaver and Oliver) acting as his advisers. Gonzales quickly accepts the terms, knowing that Coulson’s “Theta Protocol” saved thousands of lives in Sokovia, and more importantly, that he has sway over the council, and can pretty much strong-arm Coulson anyways, as we’ll find out in this infuriating episode. But as Gonzales says, we have more pressing concerns, “closer to home.”
In other words: Inhumans.
Skye hasn’t left Lincoln’s side since his bout with Hydra’s scientists, and thanks to the time jump, he manages to wake up just in time for this episode, unfortunately for us. Lincoln’s not happy to be in SHIELD custody and is not grateful for Skye’s life-saving. She needn’t have bothered. Now that SHIELD knows about his race, they won’t stop until they find Afterlife. Lincoln sucks, but he’s completely right about this.
Meanwhile, Simmons reports that Agent 33 has apparently checked out: her mind is now her own. This might not be such a good thing for SHIELD.
At Afterlife, Raina has embraced her gift and quickly ingratiated herself to the Inhumans community, giving visions to fellow citizens. She’s getting visions all the time now, including a newest one where she sees a stone with deep carvings, and an ocean. This immediately sets off an alarm in Gordon’s head, quickly shepherding Raina to Jiaying. Apparently this stone is Kree, and is a threat to their people, because while the Kree created the Inhumans, they “decided we were a mistake.” Jiaying reluctantly sends Gordon and Raina to find it…and the pair end up on the Helicarrier, the two worlds finally and irrevocably colliding.
In Inhumans Land, Jiaying continues to vet Raina through Cal. He’s watched her since she was a little girl (creepy), and has “never seen her not want something.” What does she want now?
Bobbi approaches May, thankful that everything’s getting back to normal. When did Morse become mentally ill? How is anything normal right now? May, while right, is cruel in response: she just wants Hunter to forgive her. This scene shows how foolish both characters have become, and how AOS has been content on ruining characters. Bobbi’s a moron for thinking anything is normal right now, and ever since we’ve seen May’s Bahrain origin story, we’re led to believe that she’d throw Coulson and her team under the bus for keeping secrets. Which, if we learned anything, IS THEIR JOB (this, of course, is the problem).
On deck, Hunter spots Raina and Gordon, who teleport away and manage to find what they’re looking for behind a Red Door (labeled 47, perhaps a nod to the Marvel One-Shot Item 47): a shape-shifting stone that becomes liquid, like the ocean Raina described in her vision. They teleport away before SHIELD can get to them, but the cat’s out of the bag on Gonzales’ little secret (that word again): this is what he’s been hiding in the cargo hold that Coulson mentions previously. Gonzales doesn’t hold the same standards he holds to Coulson and everyone else to himself, and for whatever reason, everyone is okay with that. It’s so frustrating to watch.
Everybody’s reactionary impulses are dialed up to 11 this week.
Now that they’ve been on their base, Gonzales is immediately planning an invasion of Afterlife, and war. Even Coulson is edgy about their powers and sudden appearance, and he comes to Skye, concerned. She reveals that they call themselves Inhumans, which may be the first time the show refers to them by the term we all know them to be. “We just want to be left alone,” Skye says. Coulson retorts: We?
May digs deeper for information and Skye throws Bahrain into May’s face as evidence for why her people want to be kept a secret. Skye tries to convince them that they’re good people, and claims that she has complete control of her powers now because of their help, after staying on Afterlife for about 3 episodes.
But Gonzales wants to attack. Ugh. Coulson, rightfully, doesn’t want to start a war, so he proposes a meeting between leaders. Gonzales admits it’s a good time to see if Skye is still a SHIELD agent. When approached, Skye “doesn’t know what she is anymore,” and reveals that Jiaying is her Mom. Tactically, if Jiaying and the Inhumans were watching Skye right now, they’d be burying their face in their pillows.
We catch a glimpse of May taking Agent 33 into lock-up. There’s a moment where we wonder if that’s morally right, since Agent 33 is originally, one of them, and if her mind is her own, she should be treated as SHIELD. But the best solution to a problem for SHIELD, as Cal will laugh about later, is to lock them up.
Speaking of Cal, that wonderful man immune to the problems of this show, he’s getting frustrated with Raina, warning Jiaying and company that they’re letting her control them. Gordon bites back, that he’s nothing without his concoctions. As far as I can remember, this is the most on-the-nose reference to his experiments and Mr. Hyde-ness.
Despite the show trying to paint Coulson as a bad guy who screwed up leadership, the audience and Clark Gregg knows otherwise. Coulson goes to May, ready to apologize profusely for his actions. But May is having none of it: “Skye’s living proof that you’ve lost control.” Because everything that happened at the Temple is Coulson‘s fault, guys. If he had done nothing, Hydra and Raina would’ve got there alone, and things would probably be worse. But selective memory!
Raina, as always, is up to something: she rushes to Gordon, exclaiming that she’s seen another vision! SHIELD is going to invade Afterlife. But they can’t tell Jiaying, because she starts the war. The moment is so over-acted that we’re led to believe she’s lying, that she’s obviously trying to manipulate Gordon and make a power play for leadership. Of course, what we learn is that while she’s most definitely trying to convert Gordon to her side and incite a coup, that doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s lying about her vision (every time I type vision, I’m thinking Paul Bettany’s glorious Vision).
Skye convinces Jiaying to have this meeting with Coulson, that he’s a good man and the first person to care about her. But that doesn’t stop Jiaying from packing up their people’s blue crystals as precaution. Clearly these are the Terrigen Crystals.
Unfortunately, Jiaying isn’t going to meet with Coulson. On the eve of the meeting, Gonzales compares Coulson to Tony Stark, that people were blind to his actions because of his charms and that allowed Ultron to be created. He’s not objective when it comes to Skye, Gonzales claims, nominating himself for the meeting with Jiaying instead. The council is split, but May is the deciding vote, and opts to send Gonzales, because she’s a moron. Gonzales is right; Coulson’s not objective. But neither is he. Plus, the Tony Stark/Ultron comparison is laughable, but it’s a great way to curry fear into his favor, like the dictator he is. SHIELD is evil.
Speaking of reactionary plot devices, Mack comes to Coulson and quits. He wants no part of a SHIELD with Coulson as Director. He knows from experience what a bout with alien blood can do to someone, and doesn’t trust Coulson because of it. While I have a lot of conflicted thoughts about this moment, at this point, I’m pretty much at the “Good riddance” stage. Mack went from one of my favorite new characters to my least through all of this Second SHIELD nonsense. I know we haven’t seen the last of him, but it certainly feels like getting distance from the situation is the only way we’ll be able to appreciate him again.
The Cal and Jiaying moments in this episode are some of the best. It was clear before that Cal will always love Jiaying, but in “Scars,” we learn it’s not a one-way street. Cal figures things have changed because he‘s changed, but Jiaying posits that she’s the one who’s changed, foreshadowing for what’s to come. Cal warns her against SHIELD’s Index, that SHIELD is terrified of powers, and offers himself up as a bargaining chip. After all, SHIELD loves locking people up.
Before the episode’s climactic meeting, Weaver gives Gonzales a small red box, “a last resort.” That can’t end well, I thought.
Morse and May are flying by themselves for whatever reason, but they’re not headed to Afterlife like everyone else. That’s because this May isn’t May: it’s Agent 33! If only Agent 33 has been May this entire time, but we know the other May is still active. Morse and 33 have a sweet fight, and while Morse wins, her victory doesn’t last. As they land, she’s quickly shot in the head. It’s not by a traditional bullet, but it drops her like a sack of potatoes. The shooter? Agent Grant Ward, of course. This sequence and what’s to come is what saves this episode.
Thankfully, Gordon didn’t buy Raina’s visions, seeing through her manipulation. Jiaying comes and tells Raina that they will decide her fate after this meeting. “Something terrible is gonna happen!” Raina warns them, and we know it’s going to be true. Unfortunately, this episode features some of Ruth Negga’s worst acting in the series. I miss her slinky side; with her new look, it seems like Ruth believes she has to over-act to get her character across.
As Gonzales and SHIELD land, Skye has a wave of panic. She asks May why they sent Gonzales. After all, this man tried to kill her a couple weeks ago. May seems to shrug this off, because May has apparently lost all compassion. She never used to show it, but we knew it was in there. Now, I’m not so sure.
Finally, the meeting happens and it doesn’t disappoint. Jiaying sends Skye to escort Cal to SHIELD. Cal and Skye have a wonderful moment, where he calls her magnificent, grateful to have gotten to know her. Skye returns the gratitude, and we know this is entirely too good to be true, the first indication that Jiaying has a trick up her sleeve.
Gonzales and Jiaying both swap Hydra scar stories, and Gonzales offers her the red box… which isn’t a weapon, but a necklace taken from Jiaying by Hydra that they recovered. This seems like horse shit, but even so, Gonzales for once doesn’t seem like the villain: he admits that sometimes good people get powers, sometimes bad people get powers. “Our mission is to stop them.” He wants to meet the citizens of Afterlife, Index them, and only stop if necessary. It almost seems like a fair proposal. Have I been judging Gonzales too harshly after all?
Aboard the quinjet, guards find empty canisters on Cal’s person. Cal, shaky and jittery, has clearly just taken his Mr. Hyde CONCOCTION. Oh baby.
Jiaying, in a wonderful monologue by Dichen Lachman, explains how fear changes people, and colors their actions, the thesis of this episode and half season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s as if the writers are trying to back up the actions and sentiments of some of our favorite characters that haven’t seemed right. That they’re acting differently, and wrongly, because they’re scared. That this is what happens to humanity, even heroes, in the face of great danger.
The Inhumans are no different. She takes out a Terrigen Crystal, and tells Gonzales that they’ve learned to make their own, laced with properties from the Diviner. It’s harmless to their people, but catastrophic to humans. How dare he compare scars? She will never let her people and her daughter be experimented on, Indexed.
Instead of peace, or an uneasy alliance, or a dialogue, Jiaying throws that out the window when she shatters the crystal on her desk, the dust quickly turning Gonzalez into ash, like Hartley before him. The cycle of war and oppression continues. Jiaying shoots herself multiple times, limping out of her home, whimpering: “SHIELD tried to kill me…” As she collapses, she makes one thing clear: “This is war.”
And lest you forget, there is more than just two sides in this war: Ward and 33 are still on their mission of “closure,” not ready to kill Morse yet, needing her for what’s to come.
I don’t think the last few scenes of this episode justifies many of the problems this show has had since its midseason hiatus, but it succeeds to do something arguably more important: get us pumped for the two-part season finale, airing next Tuesday. While I have tons of thoughts on the future of the MCU, I have little idea what to think of AOS going forward. Perhaps that’s a good thing.