Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Mid-Season Finale, “What They Become”

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Marvel just dropped the mic. Again. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s second season has spent its first half exploring a post-Winter Soldier world where Hydra is everywhere and nobody can be trusted. However, the good ole’ House of Ideas is too smart to let that single story line dominate the field when there’s a universe of source material to explore. The mid-season finale revealed that the Hydra threat, while completely engaging and entertaining to watch, was merely a springboard for a much broader direction for the show: Inhumans.

Yes, the city Coulson and his team have been hunting for the past few episodes does seem to belong to the Inhumans. Along with this revelation, we also learn Skye’s true identity in relation to Marvel comics. Her true name is Daisy Johnson, and her father is Calvin Zabo, aka “Mister Hyde.” Before we dig into the episode, lets take a quick look at Daisy Johnson, aka “Quake”… and how much of her character we can expect to see in the back half of season 2.
Quake isn’tquake2 the most well-known Marvel superhero, as she was created fairly recently in 2004’s “Secret War”, but in the way that writer Brian Michael Bendis used her in the story, she ended up being kind of a big deal. She can generate seismic vibrations, often using them to induce earthquakes, as well as other effects. For instance, in a massive battle between the X-Men and the Avengers, she takes down the most powerful mutant alive, Magneto, by creating miniature vibrations in his brain and rendering him unconscious. She’s a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, much like Skye, but with a level 10 security clearance. In comics canon, the only agents with level 10 clearance are Black Widow and Nick Fury himself. At one point, she even becomes Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. after Fury steps down. So have you ever heard of Quake before? Probably not. So why should you care? Because looking at all the comic material available for her character, there are so many cool things on the potential horizon for Skye.

Obviously we probably won’t see a whole lot of the comics make it on screens, since Marvel has consistently taken different spins with well-known characters and story arcs. We’ll see a different, but hopefully equally cool version. We already have a huge difference right off the bat: Daisy Johnson is an Inhuman in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It has long been speculated that the highly coveted “Diviner” or “Obelisk” of this season contained a Terrigen crystal. This was confirmed when Skye and Raina finally made it to the heart of the Temple and placed the Diviner on its pedestal. The Obelisk shed its outer casing and revealed the crystal, which then released Terrigen mists, awakening the latent powers within both Skye and Raina. In the Inhumans mythos, the alien Kree race genetically altered Earth Neanderthals with the Terrigen technology, giving birth to the line of superpowered Inhumans. S.H.I.E.L.D. has been building up to this moment since the very beginning of the series, as Coulson’s resurrection is directly linked to the Inhumans. It’s been a long, complicated web. Coulson had been running trial experiments with a dead Kree body, attempting to use its genes to give regenerative abilities to test subjects. Once Coulson died, Fury used the technology to revive him, and then wiped his memories and replaced them with pleasant ones to prevent an unfortunate side effect that caused Coulson to condemn the project: genetic memory from the Kree that compelled the test subjects to obsessively carve blueprints of an alien city. Now, we’re finally there at the city, and seeing just exactly what it’s all led up to.

The episode starts off with an overly cliche plane sequence showing May outmaneuvering the couple of Hydra jets ordered to blow them up. May releases some decoy dummies for the missiles to target and then activates the Bus’s cloaking to hide in the clouds. It’s a quick thrill, cool, but not worth the cliffhanger from last week. If the show’s writers had been more willing to take risks, the mid-season finale could have been much more exciting. Why not blow up the Bus? What have they got to lose, really? They’re trying to create a high-stakes atmosphere and the loss of the Bus would be take a huge toll. It would also establish Whitehall as a more effective villain, seeing he’s barely had any moments to justify his position as a malevolent Hydra leader. His mysterious age and his heartless dissection of Skye’s mom makes him a definite bad guy, but the only truly menacing moment he’s had is when he first stepped out from behind the curtain and confronted Raina, ordering her to retrieve the Obelisk. He’s unlikely to top that now, since he was unceremoniously shot in the back by Coulson.

Back in the temple, Coulson and crew try to figure out how to deal with the Evil Mack situation and how to stop Hydra from reaching the heart of the Temple before they do. Fitz gets to show off how clever he is again, by hypothesizing with Simmons that the Temple could have incorporate Mack as a defense mechanism. Mack may not be dead, simply brainwashed by the Temple to attack them. It was lovely to see the two of them working side by side again as the team’s brains, despite all the awkward hurt feelings. When Simmons brings it up, Fitz actually dismisses his feelings entirely, opting to focus on the mission instead, reminding me why Fitz is my favorite. Other characters are not so forthcoming, as Hunter figures out that Bobbi is definitely up to something when she roots through Mack’s things to find a thumb drive. Bobbi and Mack are in on a secret together, so with Mack out of the picture it seems that she needed to get her hands on important data. It’s unclear whether this will end up being something cool, or if this is just the writers scrambling to introduce new mysteries after they’ve wrapped up all the old ones. I’m waiting for Bobbi to really come into her own as Mockingbird, instead of a watered down Black Widow. She even used the whole “kiss me to hide from the bad guys” trick, that is not only cliched, but also used by Black Window in The Winter Soldier. More badass staff fighting, less “sexy agent” tropes. I have really grown to like Lance Hunter however, and I think the exact moment I decided this was within his line, “Join S.H.I.E.L.D.! Travel to exotic, distant lands, meet exciting, unusual people… and kill them.” As he shoots down enemy Hydra agents.

One of the stand out moments of the episode was Skye finally meeting her dad, Cal. Ward keeps his promise and takes her to see him, while calling her out on employing all of the training practices May taught her. It’s still super cool to see Ward as this twisted Jason Borne character, and it reminds us that we really don’t know much about how his brain works at all. It’s super sharp and calculated, but dark and frightening in a “kill-your-entire-family” kind of way. Cal’s main message to Skye was “I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you.” Despite her prejudices against him, calling him a monster, feeling as though death follows him everywhere, I think that one sentence really did a lot for his case. Skye has been orphaned all her life, and as much as it may suck that her real dead is a terrifying murderer, Kyle MacLachlan’s performance really sold the idea that he never meant to be a bad guy. All he wanted was to be reunited with his family. And, you know, tear the man who killed his wife to pieces. He’s a character you can easily sympathize with, but then he goes and does something uncomfortable, like singing. Or snapping necks. Granted, the song was “Daisy, Daisy” which is an obvious allusion to Skye’s true name. I’m very, very glad that Calvin survived this episode. He’s a wild card who was only working with Whitehall to get his daughter back, and to awaken her true potential. He’s poised to become a deadly villain now that he was a two-fold vendetta against Coulson. Not only is he Skye’s surrogate father figure, but he also killed Whitehall before Calvin got the chance to exact his long-awaited revenge. So when he got the chance, Calvin beat Coulson within an inch of his life and it was so painful to watch. Skye stops him while holding him at gunpoint, and though she can’t bring herself to kill her own father, she does disown him and tell him to get far away from here and never let her see him again. After a second confrontation, Coulson allowed him to escape, so I look forward to seeing more fits of rage and neck-snapping from daddy dearest.

Skye and Ward have been an interesting duo to watch this season, with the audience never being quite sure what to make of Ward, and Skye being very obviously against his existence in general. Ward has been promising to deliver Skye to her father and to help her achieve her destiny, and according to Raina, he does all of this in the hopes of convincing her that he really does love her, despite however messed up he is. Once Ward helps her escape Whitehall’s captivity, Skye promptly returns the favor by shooting Ward like six times. Holy crap. She leaves him to bleed out with a cold “Never turn your back on the enemy”. After Coulson kills Whitehall, Agent 33 is left distressed and directionless, and stumbles upon Ward. Turns out he was wearing some type of bulletproof armor that saved him from at least a few of those shots, but since he’s still badly wounded, Ward convinces Agent 33 that they’re similarly lost without a mentor, and she agrees to help him. We’re left off with that unlikely, and frankly disturbing pairing. Remember, Agent 33 is still wearing May’s scarred face, and we all know Ward/May was once a thing. Now Ward will be running around with a disfigured May doppelganger. Think of the inevitable sex. You know it’ll happen. You’re welcome.

After the team successfully stops Hydra from drilling down into the Temple, Skye finds out Raina took the Obelisk into the Temple and chases after her. Coulson similarly finds out this has happened, and also follows them down there. Seems dumb, but the script writing actually made it endearing. Coulson feels that it’s his fault Skye was set on this path because he involved her in it with his own investigation. He feels like it’s his job to get her out. Throughout the episode, Trip, Fitz, and Simmons had been rigging the Temple with some of Trip’s old Howling Commando detonators, because technology conveniently doesn’t work down there. Once they find out Skye and Coulson went back into the Temple after they set the charges, Trip has to run back and diffuse them all again. Could be thrilling, but again, S.H.I.E.L.D. opts to kill time with cheap tricks instead of putting anything real on the line. Coulson tries to catch up with Skye and Raina but gets beaten up again by Evil Mack. Poor Coulson. So Trip ends up being the one who makes it into the Obelisk Chamber before the walls close.

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Skye, Raina, and Trip are all inside the chamber when the Obelisk reveals its crystals and releases the mists. A dark creeping mold begins to encase both Skye and Raina, and Trip, having no idea what else to do to save Skye, shatters the crystal. In the resulting blast, Trip ends up getting impaled by shards of the Obelisk. The show has spent half a season enforcing the idea of what happens when someone deemed unworthy makes physical contact with the Obelisk. Trip’s skin begins to dry up until he’s nothing more than a withered statue of his former self. When Skye’s cocoon begins to break, the first thing she sees during her rebirth is Trip’s body falling apart into a dusty pile. Meanwhile, Raina’s eyes are yellow and alien, with strange quills on her face. No guesses as to who or what she could end up being from the Marvel comics. Maybe someone totally original? In a graceful sequence of cinematography we see Skye’s grief for Trip channeled in the emergence of her earthquake powers. Her rock-like cocoon shatters and the world around her begins to quake. Outside, Coulson and Mack (who is now released from the power of the Temple) hang onto each other as the architecture starts to come down on them. Topside, Fitz and Simmons cling to each other in another life or death moment that will HOPEFULLY get them to think honestly about their deep-rooted feelings for each other. May sputters around as she struggles to get balance. The show ends on a feeling of instability and chaos, and it reflects Skye- ahem, Daisy’s reaction to the double-edged blade of her new abilities, and we’ll surely be seeing its aftershock when the show returns. On one hand, Daisy’s got some cool new powers and is on the road to being a fully fledged superhero – and on the other, she’s gifted with a tragic origin story that will always make her think of Trip’s death whenever she uses her powers.

Final note: Trip’s death. Antoine Triplett was a great character when he was introduced, because in the wake of season one’s Hydra crisis, you had no idea who to trust. Was he good? Was he bad? We knew his mentor Garrett was with Hydra, but what about him? He formed a unique bond with Simmons during the conflict, which would have continued with season 2 if she hadn’t left. The writers tried to show a similar bond with Trip and Skye in season 2 now that Ward was out of the way, but it never really took off the runway. All in all, Trip never got to function within the group as anything more than a background character, often getting pushed to the side by new characters like Hunter, Mack, and Bobbi. The coolest thing about him was his link to the Howling Commandos, and even that was only used one more time before his death, despite the upcoming Agent Carter series that will take place within the time period of the Howling Commandos. I’m not quite so upset that he died, because I’m all for unexpected character deaths that shake up character dynamics and plot beats, but I am VERY upset that Trip wasn’t utilized anywhere near his potential before his death. Instead of building a character with compelling attributes whose death would impact viewers deeply, the writers looked for a relatively safe character to use as cannon fodder. I can imagine that maybe it was a last minute decision to kill off a character mid-season, but if it wasn’t, then the writers did Trip a huge injustice, and missed out on the opportunity to capitalize on a close bond between Skye and Trip before he makes the mistake of giving his life up to try and save her.

The ending scene gives us a brief glimpse at the show’s future. A man with no eyes and another glowing Obelisk gets a phone call concerning the fact that there’s “another” out there. It’s implied that there is already a network of Inhumans, and Coulson is about to get thrown into that hidden world as he tries to protect Skye, now Daisy, from them. Marvel has shown that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is not only simply a neat accessory to the larger Cinematic Universe, but also a useful tool to explore the rich backstories of their film properties. The Inhumans film releases in 2018, which is roughly three potential TV seasons away, but they’re planting the seeds right now and preparing Marvel fans for its arrival. I say this a lot, but there really has never been a better time to be a Marvel fan. I just really wish the show would focus on devoting more effort into some real heart. We’ll see how they do with the rest of the season, though. See you all next year!

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