Monday, May 25, 2015

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 2.20: "Scars"

“I never lost control.”
“Skye’s living proof that you did.”
-Coulson and May

The penultimate episode of “S.H.I.E.L.D.” felt very much like a Shakespearean tragedy to me. I mean that in the sense that there is this foreboding permeating everything. You can see the players in the game all making choices that are inevitably leading towards destruction and conflict. I suppose Raina’s visions add to this sense, because she’s warning people of the bad things that are coming (even if they are no longer listening to her). Listening to her warnings, the viewers can see all the events clicking into place to make her visions come to pass. Many of the characters have been scarred (nice tie-in to the episode title, right?) by the events that have taken place since the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. and those circumstances are affecting how they all proceed forward in making contact with the Inhumans. It’s really quite sad to watch it all unravel.

This episode deals with the fall-out of Lincoln being rescued from the Hydra base. He wakes up at S.H.I.E.L.D., and he’s not happy about it. He doesn’t trust them, and probably for good reason. S.H.I.E.L.D. wants to index anybody with powers, and the Inhumans very much want to remain under the radar. I can easily see that they would rather not have a big behemoth of an organization like S.H.I.E.L.D. knowing details about them. Skye tries to convince Lincoln that her S.H.I.E.L.D. friends, at least, are cool, but it becomes apparent that she is starting to believe that less and less. Her loyalties are truly torn between her S.H.I.E.L.D. family and her Inhumans family. It also becomes clear as the episode progresses that if forced to choose, she would probably choose the Inhumans. Blood is thicker than water, after all, and S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t doing much to retain her loyalty. They sort of just expect it of her. Or they expect her to not be loyal.

Importantly on the S.H.I.E.L.D. front, Coulson and Gonzales arrive at a détente. They agree that Coulson will remain Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. while Gonzales and his crew will act as an advisory counsel (apparently Fury had a counsel as well). Gonzales seems more inclined to put up with Coulson now that he knows (spoiler alert for Age of Ultron) that Theta Protocol was basically just keeping a helicarrier in mothballs out of sight in case of emergency. Coulson could use a base, and Gonzales could use a helicarrier, so the agreement is mutually beneficial. Not everyone is happy with the new arrangement, though. By the end of the episode, Mack has resigned from S.H.I.E.L.D. He is still traumatized from his own experience being under alien control, so he refuses to work under anyone else who has been under alien control. Coulson continues to insist that he is in complete, control, but it becomes more and more apparent that isn’t the case.

The event that brings the conflict between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the INhumans to a head is, unsurprisingly, the product of one of Raina’s visions. She sees a very dangerous stone of Kree origin. As we later learn, that stone is the mysterious object Gonzales had in storage that Coulson essentially used as a bit of blackmail. Raina, Gordon decide to go look for the stone. When Gordon teleports, we discover that the stone is actually on Gonzales’ ship, where most of our gang is located right now. They confirm that the stone is in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s possession, and that freaks the Inhumans out almost as much as Gordon’s teleporting ability freaks out Gonzales and his cronies. Gonzales and Weaver especially are very, very wary of the fact that Gordon was just able to teleport aboard their ship with no trouble. It makes them even more determined to index all the Inhumans.

Clara appeals to Coulson to let her try to talk to Jaiying first before S.H.I.E.L.D. barges into Afterlife to start indexing. Both Coulson and May are shocked when Skye tells them that Jaiying is her mother. Gonzales and his minions had been questioning Skye’s loyalty for a while, but I think this is when Coulson and May really start questioning. Simce they have been serving as Skye’s de facto parental figures for the past couple years, I think they take her discovery of her biological mother as a sort of personal threat. I think this may somewhat cloud their judgment. It makes May more mistrustful of the Inhumans (I guess because Jaiying is usurping her role), and it makes Coulson less likely to interfere, because he doesn’t want to outwardly appear partial.

In Afterlife, Raina tells Gordon that she has had another vision. She sees Quinjets firing on Afterlife. She tells Gordon that Jaiying should not be the Inhuman to negotiate with the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who are on their way. Raina thinks that Jaiying will be the cause of the S.H.I.E.L.D. attack. When Gordon asks Raina who she thinks should talk to S.H.I.E.L.D. instead, she suggests herself. Throughout the episode, Jaiying and Gordon have been told by people like Cal that Raina, in her pre-transformation life, could not be trusted. She is characterized as a master manipulator. Of course, then, when she suggest herself as negotiator, this sets off alarm bells for Gordon. Instead of going along with Raina’s plan, he warns Jaiying, who locks Raina up and insists on continuing on as negotiator.

Coulson had planned to be the negotiator on the S.H.I.E.L.D. side, but he gets outvoted by Gonzales and the rest of his cronies in favor of Gonzales himself being the negotiator. Because choosing a paranoid bigot as your negotiator will always end well. May is among those who vote in favor of Gonzales. She’s still holding a grudge against Coulson, which I think is ridiculous. She has certainly withheld information from him in the past, big time. It’s not like Coulson was seeing Andrew to gossip about May – he needed a therapist. May needs to get a grip or she will no longer be one of the characters that I like on this show. Anyway, Coulson backs down and lets Gonzales be the negotiator because he’s really trying to mend fences and continue with a functional S.H.I.E.L.D. at this point. With both Jaiying and Gonzales appointed negotiators, this is where everything starts to take on that Shakespearian tragedy feel.

Several Quinjets head for Afterlife with the S.H.I.E.L.D. team. One of those Quinjets appears to contain Bobbi and May. As they’re approaching Afterlife, Bobbi notices that the autopilot seems to have been changed. The place where they’re landing isn’t anywhere near where they are supposed to be. We then find out that May is actually Agent 33, wearing the May setting on her nanomask. Bobbi figures this out too, and a rather epic fight ensues. Unfortunately for Bobbi, 33 has arranged for the flight to meet up with Ward, and she and Ward between them manage to tie Bobbi up with some duct tape. Agent 33 feels betrayed by Bobbi, and she is definitely ready to enact some revenge.

Gonzales arrives in Afterlife, and things seem cordial enough at first. He presents Jaiying with a gift – a charm she had made for Skye that got left behind during the big attack back when Skye was a baby. Jaiying seems to be grateful for this. Gonzales then points out that he uses a cane, and he tries to compare the scars each of them bear from their contact with Hydra. Jaiying takes great offense to this, because she was brutally tortured by Hydra, while Gonzales basically suffered one battle wound. She offers him a gift in exchange. It is a crystal used for Inhuman transformation that still contains traces of Diviner metal. This isn’t a problem for Inhumans, but it kills humans. And it kills Gonzales. He tries to point a gun at Jaiying, but he turns to stone too quickly. Jaiying then takes the gun and shoots herself in the shoulder with it. She then rushes outside, claims Gonzales attacked her, and declares all-out war on S.H.I.E.L.D. And so the tragedy begins.

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