Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. began with six core cast members, but it’s been quite a while since the original team worked together. The character dynamics have dramatically changed since then, and the evolution of this series in its second season is highlighted by this week’s big reunion, which puts the old gang back in action to save Mike “Deathlok” Peterson and Lincoln from a Hydra laboratory. It’s an episode with overt ties to the upcoming Avengers: Age Of Ultron—“the twins” are mentioned by Hydra’s Dr. List and Raina foresees “men made of metal” tearing cities apart—but those big-screen connections don’t interrupt the focus on relationships, which is what has really helped this series blossom this season.
Coulson turned himself in to Gonzales’ faction of S.H.I.E.L.D. at the end of last week’s episode, and in exchange for Fury’s unlocked toolbox, Gonzales allows Coulson to assemble a small infiltration unit for his rescue operation. Recent revelations have May siding with Gonzales and doubting Coulson’s motives, and Coulson’s current alliance with Ward unleashes the vengeful side of Simmons, who hatches a plot to disintegrate the man that betrayed their makeshift family. These characters are in a very different place than where they were a year ago, and these big changes introduce a lot of tension when they get back together.
No character has changed as much as Skye, who is now a sharp-shooting S.H.I.E.L.D. agent that can fire concussive blasts and revive still hearts with her hands. Skye ended up back in Afterlife last week, but thanks to Raina’s visions of the future, Gordon teleports Skye away to join Coulson’s team and save Lincoln. The script by Brent Fletcher and Drew Z. Greenberg has to take some shortcuts to reunite the original team, but the momentum picks up considerably once everyone is in the same room.
The new tensions have created fuller relationships with more layers, which have in turn helped the six actors become a cohesive ensemble. When everyone gangs up on Ward during a briefing, there’s a group chemistry that wasn’t anywhere near as strong in the past, and it’s there because the writers introduced conflict within the team. Surprisingly, the person that is most enraged by that conflict is Simmons. Everyone’s mad at Ward for his deception, but Simmons is the only one that plots to kill him when they’re in action, and she almost succeeds before Simon Bakshi jumps in to save the man that brainwashed him. There’s a moment of shock for Simmons, but she doesn’t seem all that frazzled by the killing when Bobbi mentions Bakshi later. She may not have gotten her target, but Simmons still wiped out a bad man, and she’s not sad about it.
The Inhuman stuff has been fun in the second half of the season, but after “The Dirty Half Dozen,” I want to see a lot more of Skye, kick-ass Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Kevin Tancharoen is the one director on this series that is really going out of his way to create memorable action sequences, and he makes Skye a bigger threat than ever before with a single-take shootout/hand-to-hand brawl pitting her against a room full of Hydra agents. The camera stays tight on Skye as she makes her way through the environment, and showing it all in one sustained shot spotlights Skye’s cool precision and quick thinking under pressure.
A great action sequence can make a character significantly more attractive to the audience, because if a character can be in one great fight, she can be in another one. Up until this point, I believed that Skye was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent because people kept telling me she was one, but after this scene, I believe that Skye is a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent because I’ve seen her in action and she’s impressive as hell. I never viewed Skye as a major action asset on this show, but that changes this week. Seeing Skye knock people out with her superpowers is cool, but there’s not much to admire in terms of fight choreography during these moments, so they don’t truly showcase Skye’s potential as an action heroine. In order to do that, Tancharoen details what Skye can do using just a gun, her body, and her surroundings, staging an intricate sequence wows the viewer while showing a side of Skye that gives her new value to the series.
While the original six cast members are occupied, the script checks in with the rest of this show’s ensemble for small scenes resolving some plot points and setting up new ones. Lance and Mack make up, Bobbi reveals that she knew Kara before she lost her memory and wants to help her transition back into being a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, and Jiaying becomes increasingly wary of Raina, who is starting the question the power structure of Afterlife. As much as I enjoy Raina’s character and her thorny new look, her clairvoyance feels too much like a convenient plot device to put certain pieces in place, like sending Skye to Coulson, or tease future events, like when she sees Loki’s scepter at the end of the episode and starts delivering ominous warnings of future consequences.
“The Dirty Half Dozen” is fully aware that it is leading into Age Of Ultron, and considering the major changes that came after Winter Soldier, I’m excited to see how this series adjusts to whatever new developments are in store for the larger MCU. What new storytelling avenues will be available to Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. after the Avengers have defeated their robot foe? Raina says the world will be altered forever, but how? And into what? The specifics will be clear after Friday, but if this second season has shown us anything, it’s that Coulson’s team is at its most interesting when swept in the winds of change.
- I’m getting really excited for Age Of Ultron, and the clip played at the end of tonight’s episode just intensifies my anticipation. It’s so close!
- At this past weekend’s C2E2, Marvel announced five new one-shots in celebration of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s 50th Anniversary, and three of the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. women are represented with Mockingbird, Agent May, and Quake. The other two books are Fury and Agent Carter.
- What is Ward up to? I’m pretty sure that Kara has been planted inside S.H.I.E.L.D. for a specific purpose, and I’m intrigued by his mysterious endgame.
- I wonder if Marvel has reached out to Cobie Smulders about joining Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. or the forthcoming spin-off. I certainly wouldn’t mind a regular dose of Maria Hill on my TV.
- Any guesses on the company making Deathlok’s new leg? I’m going with Stark Industries.
- “He was the only person I could talk to about my alien writing impulses.” That line is ridiculous and it sounds like Clark Gregg is about to burst out laughing after he says it.
- “I thought her gift was spinning really fast to collect gold rings.”
- “He’s like Candyman.”
- “And Ward, just…no more talking…to people.”
- “She’s manipulative, dangerous, deceitful. We had good times.”