Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2 Recap, Episode 9: ‘… Ye Who Enter Here’
My colleagues Dylan and Matt get to trade their recap shows for a crossover this week, with Matt doing Flash and Dylan doing Arrow. I offered to let them do Agents of SHIELD instead -- we'll fake a crossover, we have Photoshop! -- but they demurred. So it's still me, folks. This show may be better than it was last year, but 'better' is a relative term, and the stink of a toxic reputation is tough to shake.
But with the Agents of SHIELD winter final just a week away -- and the show going on hiatus until about March to make way for Agent Carter -- the show is actually edging ever closer to actual revelations, with one nerd name-bomb dropped this episode, and Mack finally given something to do! Which turns out to be both good news and bad. 'Ye Who Enter Here' was directed by Billy Gierhart and written by Paul Zbyszewski.
Ah, Attilan. The cafes, the birdsong; walking the Promenade de le Terrigénne in the moonlight. The fancy boutiques and salons, all occupied by that same one woman getting her hair done. The dogs playing in the streets, and on the rooftops, and then suddenly in your basement. How I long to go to Attilan again.
But we're not going to get there this week.
After locating the mysterious lost city (that doesn't officially have a name yet) in the last episode, Coulson (Clark Gregg) and the team head to said location -- San Juan, Puerto Rico, surprisingly -- with the stated aim of destroying it. Now, Schmattilan is actually underneath San Juan, so this feels like a terrible plan. I mean, destroying ancient cities is a fundamentally awful thing to do anyway, but ancient cities under modern cities should especially not be destroyed. But maybe this is one of those instances where Coulson can articulate a horrible plan without worrying about the consequences because the plan is never actually going to happen.
So was this a full hour of Coulson and the gang exploring the beautiful and mysterious ruins of the San Juanderground? Nope. Despite knowing exactly where they needed to go, the team found all sorts of ways (mostly talking) to pad out the hour and postpone the excitement until next week.
So Coulson and Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) got to kill time by modelling some Americann tourism fashion, and Mack (Henry Simmons) got to kill time by dying.
Yes, after doing nothing for eight episodes, this week Mack descended into the secret access shaft into Attilan, got possessed by ancient runes that turned him evilstrong, attacked his teammates, and fell back down the shaft and died. Just in case he's not really dead, Coulson ordered the team to seal up the tunnel and abandon him.
Bye Mack, it was nice never at all getting to know you.
Meanwhile, in Vancouver -- granted a very rare opportunity to play itself on television instead of playing everywhere else (next week it will be Attilan, maybe) -- an on-the-run Raina (Ruth Negga) is being squired at a coffee shop by some rich-looking guy who doesn't own a Tassimo like I'm told all rich guys do. Raina gets busted by Agent May (Ming-Na Wen), who turns out to be HYDRA's Agent 33 (Ming-Na Wen), trapped in her May suit after her previous fight with May (Ming-Na Wen). Agent 33 now has an awesome/nasty scar down the left side of her face so you can tell the difference.
Raina runs from the HYDRA goons and is saved by one of the Koenigs (Patton Oswalt) -- Bill or Sam, definitely not Sarah -- with an umbrella that turns them invisible, which is the best gadget this show has ever dreamed up. Skye (Chloe Bennett) and Hunter (Nick Blood) are sent in to extract Raina, which gives Skye the welcome chance to do some ass-kicking in a tussle with 33. All of this goes pretty well, despite Raina's "grass is always greener" philosophy of running to SHIELD when she's with HYDRA and running to HYDRA when she's with SHIELD.
But it all goes badly wrong again when HYDRA's gunplanes surround the wingycarrier, and the renewed and refreshed HYDRA agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) shows up to take Raina back. As a special bonus, and for his own reasons (namely that he is awful and creepy), he also grabs Skye. Oh, and Skye's "map of Attilan" app. The mAppilan.
In the kicker, Whitehall (Reed Diamond) gives the order to blow the wingycarrier out of the sky. END OF SHOW FOREVER BYE.
Koenig's umbrella -- which drops a light-distorting sheet around himself and Raina to hide them in the middle of an open alleyway -- was a legitimately great bit of spy kit. Despite the flying car, this show never really goes deep into cool gadgets, but this one hit the right tone.
There were some good fight scenes as well -- Skye vs 33 wasn't as strong as May vs 33 in an earlier episode, but still pretty good, and it was nice to get a sense of the spin-kicky skills Skye has picked up. At the other end of the skills spectrum, I'm enjoying Hunter's hammer approach of ending fights by basically just thumping people very hard very fast. This is the right way to end fights, but not typically very telegenic.
Among the highlights of the many, many, many important conversations in this episode; Bobbi and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) had a serious chat about that time ten episodes and a season ago when Fitz (Iain DeCaestecker) pledged his love to Simmons, and they both kind of ignored it because of his coma 'n stuff. I'm not a fan of that storyline, but I'd rather see it move forward than fester like a dead fish shoved behind a radiator.
And then there's the Raina/Skye conversation, in which Kyle MacLachlan's surrogate daughter and actual daughter get to know each other. (If they're both Inhumans, as seems likely, they may be actual family.) This chat gives Raina a chance to re-outline stuff we already know -- that the "worthy" who can touch the doorstop doohickey can enter into the Attilan temple and... uuuuh... inherit the Earth? But it also sees Raina confirm that the "special people" are determined by bloodlines, and Raina finally gives a name to the "blue angels" who set all of this up; the Kree.
Oh, and she says that she and Skye are "human" with "the potential to be something more". She doesn't say, "if we suck up some gas from a weird alien crystal we can get, like, horse hooves or scaly skin or really really manageable hair; it's a crapshoot, cuz." But it's implied.
I thought the previous episode was an over-extended exercise in set-ups that would lead us into an epic final two episodes of the mid-season. Hoo boy; turns out we needed two set-up episodes for a (please oh please) truly epic one final episode.
I should have known what we were getting into when the episode opened with a dream sequence, in which Skye fantasizes about Coulson and May in the role of her parents abandoning her as a baby. Dream sequences; always a sure sign that you don't have enough actual drama to lean on.
Just as last season this show had a surprising number of villains to play with that it used very poorly, so this season it has a surprising number of mysteries that it's feeding out at what feels to me like a sluggish pace. The show spends too much time fronting about how mysterious it all is, but rarely lands a good reveal. It's all incursion and no secret war, to coin an old phrase.
The show sets up another mystery this episode; Mack and Bobbi have an "other thing" they're colluding on that she doesn't want Hunter to know about. My guess is that they've started a scrapbooking circle.
Among the more tedious conversations in this 'all talk, all the time' episode; Bobbi and Coulson have a chat about what a nice director of SHIELD Coulson is -- this in the same episode in which Coulson wants to blow up an ancient city and seal one of his subordinates in a tomb. It fascinates me that this show doesn't seem to recognize what a soft-spoken fascist Coulson is. He routinely makes horrible decisions, but look, he's so twinkly-eyed and avuncular, so we have to pretend he's a nice guy because that's the lie the show is built on.
Speaking of nice guys, Fitz tells Simmons he's going to go live in the car (well, the wingycarrier) so she can have the lab to herself. He loves her and doesn't want this to be awkward for her, so he wants her to know that he's going to be just outside, forever, pining after her, because he loves her that much. That should be much less awkward.
Men are the actual worst.
And then there's the biggest lowlight of them all...
Early in the episode, Mack shows Fitz his remote controlled version of Coulson's flying car, which he's hoping will convince Coulson to let him work on the real Lola. "Oh, that's nice," I thought to myself. "They're finally trying to make Mack feel like a real person."
I ignored the impending doom klaxon that must surely have been playing over this scene.
I don't know if Mack is definitely dead. We didn't see a body. But I thought Victoria Hand would come back; she didn't. I thought Isabel Hartley would come back; she didn't. I give this show the benefit of the doubt, especially when it's chopping minorities.
But I won't be surprised if that's it for Mack. It suddenly makes sense of the writers' total disinterest in developing him as a character for the first eight episodes if he was always intended as a sacrificial lamb.
And this is crappy.
To use any character so transparently is shoddy -- I've been complaining for months about Mack's under-use, which means the writers were showing me their bad hand this whole time -- but specifically for such a milequetoast show to introduce another in its short list of incidental background black characters just expressly for the pathos of killing them off is the very spirit of tokenism. Of course the black guy dies first. (I mean, once there are no more lesbians.)
Let's hope Mack is back next episode, with superpowers. Maybe he's Gorgon. Maybe he's Triton. Maybe he's Black Bolt. But as it stands, his death is the most embarrassingly trashy piece of writing this show has ever committed to the screen.
And Fitz is right there, just begging to be killed off.
So, the Kree. The Kree are an alien race created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Some of their number -- most notably Ronan (Lee Pace) and Korath (Djimon Hounsou) appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy. Some, like Ronan, are blue. Some, like Korath, have regular human skin colors. Well, OK, in the comics the only human skin color they classically had was pink, but let's evolve past that.
The Kree are a big deal, not just because they further tie the cosmic Marvel Cinematic Universe with the Avengers stuff, but because they're part of the set-up for the Inhumans movie and, most likely, the Captain Marvel movie. There are also a lot of other Kree-related characters that this show could play with or set up, including Noh-Varr and the remarkably queer Vell family, Mar, Genis, Phyla and Dorrek.
Now that I think about it, Kyle MacLachlan could plausibly take the role of Yon-Rogg, and Raina would make a great Doctor Minerva, if those characters were re-purposed as Inhuman hybrids rather than pure Kree.
Is Agent 33 going to keep coming back as May's evil twin? I kind of dig the scar-faced doppelganger thing they've got going on with her. It makes 33 a good resentful hench-villain with a personal agenda. I also wonder if 33 will end up being a known character (though she is already based on an obscure SHIELD agent character).
What are the Koenig brothers, and should we care? I've lost track of how many we've met -- has it only been three? They could be identical triplets, but the show is clearly setting them up to be something more interesting than that, with Life Model Decoys as the obvious answer. So is there a less obvious answer?
Is Mack really dead? :(
What is the dark secret of Bobbi Morse's scrapbooking circle? Is it that her collages are full of pictures of the less interesting One Direction members, Niall, Louis, Harry and Liam?