Agents of SHIELD Season 2 Recap, Episode 17: ‘Melinda’
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 learns more about her family, Melinda May learns more about Coulson's secret plans, and we finally find out what happened in Bahrain, and how May earned her nickname "the Cavalry." Hooray, no more oblique Bahraiin references! 'Melinda' was directed by Garry A. Brown and written by DJ Doyle.
Hey, did you hear about Bahrain?
Since the very first episode of Agents of SHIELD, we've been hearing tell of that time Agent May (Ming-Na Wen) saved aSHIELD team in Bahrain, and experienced something so terrible that she quit the field. But on the bright side, she earned a crappy nickname, 'the Cavalry'!
Much of this episode is devoted to filling us all in on Bahrain, and it's actually a tale worth telling.
Here's the short version: May and Coulson (Clark Gregg) tried to bring in Eva Belyakov (Winter Ave Zoli), a woman with suspected super-strength. SHIELD tracked her to Bahrain, but a group of men pulled guns at the scene, abducted a child, and holed up with Eva inside a building.
The SHIELD team sent in after Eva did not return, so May went in alone. She found that the agents were being mind-controlled. Believing Eva to be responsible, May fought her and had to kill her --- only to learn that the actual guilty party was Eva's daughter, the little girl. Her touch enthtralled people to her will and allowed her to feed on their pain, and eventually their lives. In order to save herself and the SHIELD agents, May killed the little girl.
The story simultaneously illustrates the intensity of May's bond to Coulson as she considers turning against him in the C plot, and the precarious situation of Jiaying's people in the mountain retreat of Afterlife in the B plot.
Jiaying (Dichen Lachman) tells May's story to Skye (Chloe Bennett) as an example of why Inhumans activated with proper oversight are treated as dangerous. Skye is such an Inhuman, but Jiaying has protected her (and Raina) from the consequences of their transformation because, dun dun dun, Skye is her daughter. (We knew that; Skye didn't.)
Perhaps to illustrate how potentially dangerous Skye is, she sets off an avalanche on a distant mountain and is weirdly delighted about it. Is that cool, setting off avalanches? There were probably bunnies on that mountain. Skye also plays water glasses, and smashes them all, and I bet she expects the maid to tidy up afterwards.
Meanwhile, present-day May learns from the New SHIELD crew that Coulson was establishing a secret base for a superhuman army, while refugee Fitz (Iain DeCaestecker) opens Fury's little black box and makes contact with Coulson.
May's origin story is very effective; it neatly accounts for her state of mind when we first meet her; so much so that I assume that the outline was in place from the start. Adding to the pathos, we learn that May was planning to start a family with her husband Drew (Blair Underwood), but after this encounter she can barely stand to be touched. The rot claimed her marriage, her dreams of a family, and her field agent status in a very plausible way.
It's such a good reveal that I wish the show hadn't waited 39 episodes to deliver on it. Ming-Na Wen is the most compelling of the original cast, and this builds out her role very effectively and gives her so much to perform. But better late than never, and it's always nice to see May jumping up walls, taking down dudes, and catching their bodies before they hit the floor. (Or tumble down the staircase.)
Also, I should give the show credit for really making May doubt Coulson in the revelations about his secret plans, dubbed Project Theta. One of my big problems with Coulson is that he's presented as a better, kinder, cuddlier man than I think he's written. We don't know if Project Theta is real, but if it is, and if Coulson is going to be treated more ambiguously, I'll stand up and cheer.
Gordon (Jamie Harris) tries to browbeat Raina (Ruth Negga) into accepting that she's not a monster, and his bedside manner is distinctly lacking. Raina, you are a strong, beautiful cactus woman, and it's time for you to become the maniacal villain you were always meant to be. Kill them all, Raina. Kill them all!
But instead of killing them all, she talks about a dream she had about Skye having a happy family meal, and Gordon offers to show her the world, shining shimmering splendid.
If Gordon isn't much of a pep-talker, it's because class and tact are not in high demand in the Inhuman city. Later in the episode, Raina's dream comes true (ooooh) when Jiaying stages a family meal for herself, Skye, and their crazy murderous husband/father, Cal (Kyle MacLachlan). This is insane. I think Skye probably gets that it's insane, maybe, but she doesn't run screaming from the room. The guy is an actual monster, and not because he theoretically turns into an actual monster. (And only theoretically; I've almost given up on the idea that we might ever see Cal's full Mister Hyde persona, but he has to break out of this mountain somehow, right?)
Anyway, Raina is ironically clairvoyant now (ironic because she used to hang with the... never mind), and that's actually pretty funny, but any time we're with the Skye family we're not with Melinda May, so, lowlight.
News broke recently that ABC and Marvel are planning a new SHIELD spin-off show, which will be set up in the final episodes of this season. With only a handful of episodes left, many are speculating that the spin-off could have something to do with Coulson's plans to build a secret superhuman army. 'Secret Warriors', if you will.
On the one hand, I'm always excited to see the Marvel universe expand further on television, and I think there's a strong statistical chance that a spin-off could improve on the parent show. On the other hand, my major problem with Agents of SHIELD has always been the modesty of its ambition. A show that's "this again but with superpowers" would seem to dilute the potential of both shows, by making the new show a retread and by limiting the old show's ability to grow. For that reason, I think it's unlikey that the spin-off will be another SHIELD show, even in the Secret Warriors mold. But I can offer no better guesses, and I won't be surprised if the Project Theta characters are involved. (If they exist.)
Eva Belyakov has super-strength, her daughter Katya can control minds, and they both died years ago, so that's the end of that.
When this show came back from winter hiatus, I made what I thought was the modest estimate that it would be able to introduce maybe seven Marvel characters in its back eleven episodes, given that it had introduced (a) terrigenesis and (b) rival factions racing to collect powered people like whatever kids say now instead of Pokemon. We're more than halfway through those elven epsidoes, and so far we've only had Angar the Screamer and Karla Faye Gideon, who isn't really anything to do with the obscure comic character of the same name. I love Angar, I do, but Angar only goes so far!
I have not given up hope. Five more episodes. You can do this, Agents of SHIELD! Coulson's building a secret army, maybe; let's see it! I believe in you!
Was Skye surprised to learn how old she is? Skye is four years older than the actor playing her, so maybe this is a plot point that suggests Skye's parents are lying to her, or maybe it was just a weird beat. Time will tell.
Is Project Theta real? We only really have the word of the people who want to discredit Coulson that Project Theta exists, and it's not like we haven't spent a lot of time hanging out with the guy. But it does seem like a thing he'd do.
What do the Inhumans call the Inhumans? I know they're Inhumans. You know they're Inhumans. But what do Jiaying's people call Jiaying's people? Shouldn't that have come up at some point? They're a clearly defined group. Wouldn't they have a collective name that they use to distinguish themselves from others? Wouldn't it have come up in one of Skye's conversations? My suggestion, if they refuse to use 'Inhumans', is Kreeople.
Next week: Avengers: Age of Ultron is really close, so... please watch Agents of SHIELD?