Agents of SHIELD Season 2 Recap, Episode 16: ‘Afterlife’
Welcome back to the ComicsAlliance post-show analysis for Agents of SHIELD, the spy show set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is where we break down each episode using our unique S.H.L.E.I.D. recap system — recapping the show, looking at highlights and lowlights, and exploring the show’s relationship to both the comics and the wider Marvel movie world.
This week, Skye hangs out in Inhumantown, Coulson and Hunter try to track Skye down (and only get as far as the cabin), and Agent Gonzalez tries to crack open Fury's little black box. Plus, the return of that one guy I'd honestly kinda totally forgotten existed. 'Afterlife' was directed by Kevin Hooks and written by Craig Titley.
Remember when this show was an 'of the week' procedural? Those days are gone. We're just riding the stream now, each episode unfurling into the next. Neither form is inherently superior, and there are shows like Person of Interest that effortlessly manage to offer the best of both, but Agents of SHIELD seems itchily uncomfortable in both forms. It failed as a procedural because it lacks ambition. It fares a little better as an ongoing narrative because it makes fuller use of its canvas, but it still hasn't found its momentum.
So this episode didn't feel much like an episode, more like an hour-long chunk between last week and next week, where we desperately stake rods in the wet mud of the rushing river in an effort to carve out a defined space and say, 'we are here'.
Perhaps I'm being a little unfair; only two of the three plots this week felt so wishy-washy. In the first, Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Hunter (Nick Blood) go to Skye's cabin, get cornered by Other SHIELD, and call in the cavalry in the form of Agent Peterson/Deathlok (J August Richards). They start the episode as two, they end the episode as three. And for plot-convenience reasons, they decide they need Grant Ward as their fourth. No, it doesn't make sense, but it has the force of narrative inevitability behind it.
In the second plot, Gonzalez (Edward James Olmos) is trying to convince Coulson's team to join his team. He also still wants to crack open Fury's black box, because he think it contains the names of 'powereds' who Coulson may try to recruit. (A reasonable position given that Coulson just recruited Deathlok to help him track down Skye.)
This week, Fitz (Iain DeCaestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) are getting along, and then conspicuously not getting along, and Fitz quits. But it's a ruse; he takes Fury's mysterious black box with him, with Simmons' help (and sandwich).
The third plot felt the most interesting because it introduced a location we've only seen glimpses of before; a mountain-top commune called Afterlife, where Gordon (Jamie Harris) has brought Skye to help her with her Inhuman transformation. She's introduced to Lincoln (Luke Mitchell), a CW-brand hottie with some sort of touch-based electro-telekinesis, who will nurse her through her change with acupuncture and pep talks.
Skye runs into her 'sister' Raina (Ruth Negga), who is similarly being helped to adjust to her new self (you can sense that it may not go well), and tries to kill her, because she's a very bad good guy. Skye also runs into her mother Jiaying (Dichen Lachman), who does not actually introduce herself as Skye's mother. But Jiaying later drops in on Calvin (Kyle MacLachlan) in the sealed room where they're keeping him, and they hug to celebrate getting their daughter back, before Jiaying tells him he's not going to get to see her
Oh; surprise. Skye's mom isn't dead. But she is covered with scars from that time Whitehall cut her up. Jiaying's healing factor is next level. Is she a stealth Wolverine replacement? I'm down for that.
Raina, feeling ever so maudlin and beaten up by her cactus-face prosthetic, and counting the days until she can go off and make Preacher on AMC, delivers the best line of the episode; "Children are so afraid of monsters. They should know it's worse to be one."
There's a lot of potential for the show to squander in its mysterious Inhuman retreat, and the dialog has already teed up the idea that most of the people we see wandering around like it's a college campus are potential Inhumans (though they still aren't using that word) and not actual "powereds." In fact, the powered Inhuman count is now at five; Skye, Gordon, Raina, Jiaying, and Lincoln.
In "other flavors of power" news, I was actually pleased to see Deathlok back. Sure, he's an artifact of a time when this show was even worse than it is now, but he's been off the board long enough that the show he's returning to seems readier to embrace having a cyborg running around.
And, hey, the show actually paid off the yo-yoing Fitz/Simmons relationship. Not that they earned how tedious that had become, but I'm glad it went somewhere. And is over. Please. (Simmons has become really good at lying. Is this character development, or did the writers forget that she's terrible at it?)
Worst line: May (Ming-Na Wen) promises Gonzalez that, "When [Coulson]'s ready, he'll find you." No. Really. No. Coulson is not someone you threaten people with.
Worst moment: Lincoln promises pizza and then there is no pizza. Screw you, Lincoln, you monster.
But hey, everyone's a monster on this show, and no-one demands any sympathy. It's...
I'm pretty sure everyone on this show is awful. The episode opens with Hunter stealing an SUV from a sales lot, and Coulson shooting the salesman rather than give him the money he said he has. Now, sure, he shot him with a night-night gun, but the show has gone to some lengths to tell us this is not a pleasant experience, and the salesman literally did nothing wrong. Coulson is just a bad human. A smug, 'smother you with good intentions' middle management weasel of evil.
I can't tell if Gonzalez is evil or not. My fear is that he isn't, because as predictable and easy as it would be for him to be surprise!evil, it's still better than him being no-surprise!beige.
Jiaying and Gordon both gave intimations of possible malice this week with their interactions with Calvin, with Gordon ominously warning that Cal had sealed his and his daughter's fates (ooOOooOOooh!), and Jiaying withholding information from Skye and hinting at a secret agenda.
But this show hasn't had a proper villain in weeks, basically since Cal got captured. Why? Is it trying to do nuance? Why?
Meet Lincoln. The CW does much better superhero shows, so it stands to reason that ABC should start lifting actors out of their stable — Luke Mitchell was in The Tomorrow People alongside the actors now playing Yung Firestorm and Golden Glider on The Flash.
Lincoln does not appear to be an Inhuman from the comics. Not even one of those new ones that, let's be honest, the comics could just churn out to give this show characters to use. In point of fact, we've yet to meet any comic book Inhumans, since Gordon is very different from the eyeless Inhuman in the comics. After Skye's terrigenesis, the show hinted that its various factions would be racing to scoop up superhumans. Did Angar the Screamer eat up all the effects budget for the rest of the year?
I don't understand this show. I really don't.
Are we in China? Thank you Skye, for this dumb question. You know, what, Skye; if the set looks like a Chinese tea garden, you probably are in China. This show isn't subtle enough to set-dress for China and put you in Kenya.
Why does Mack keep calling Fitz 'Turbo'? Is he Turbo, of the New Warriors? That hardly seems fair to Turbo.
What is actually in Fury's black box? No-one really knows; everyone just assumes it's a list of powered people, but it could be his guacamole recipe. What's the least interesting, least plot-propelling thing it could be? It's probably that.
Speaking of lists, how will Dr List tie this show to Age of Ultron? The same circuitous logic that has Coulson chasing Ward also has him looking for Dr List (Henry Goodman), the only survivor of their recent HYDRA massacre. List was also the man seen following Baron Strucker around in the post-credit scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and he's set to return in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Maybe Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are named in Fury's box? That would be suitably anticlimactic given that we know the're already in Strucker's custody.
Will May join Gonzalez's SHIELD? Better question; is there any possibility she won't pretend to join Gonzalez while remaining secretly loyal to Coulson? That is this show's standard MO.
Bahrain? Bahrain. Bahrain Bahrain Bahrain.