Fantastic performances from Clark Gregg, Edward James Olmos and the always lively Kyle MacLachlan. In fact, there wasn’t really a weak link. Amazing throwbacks, references and reveals. Plot twists upon plot twists that set up what we think is going to be one hell of a finale.
Some minor inconsistencies in performances between camera angles and overplayed delivery of a few lines ... but that's really all.
If Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. were a roller coaster, we’d have lost our lunch with the jarring twists and turns of this episode. We know this—things are going to get messy before this is over.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — It seems only fitting that Raina’s (Ruth Negga) gift allowed her to become the Clairvoyant she was so disappointed not to find in the first season. When her gift reveals S.H.I.E.L.D. has a terrifying Kree weapon capable of destroying the Inhumans, she and Gordon (Jamie Harris) confirm it’s true aboard Gonzales’s (Edward James Olmos) carrier. When the intrusion aboard the carrier allows S.H.I.E.L.D. to track Gordon’s movements, Coulson (Clark Gregg) sends Skye (Chloe Bennet) and Lincoln (Luke Mitchell) to arrange a meeting with Jiaying (Dichen Lachman) in Afterlife. Meanwhile, Kara (Maya Stojan) reveals her true plans by impersonating May (Ming-Na Wen) and ambushing Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) aboard the early reconnaissance quinjet sent to scout Afterlife while Ward (Brett Dalton) awaits their arrival.
When Raina’s gift predicts S.H.I.E.L.D. will rain fire down on Afterlife, she and Gordon hatch a plan to have Coulson meet with her instead of Jiaying. The council however has different plans and to begin S.H.I.E.L.D.’s healing process, Coulson relents and let’s Gonzales go in his place. Following the advice of Cal (Kyle MacLachlan) that Raina can’t be trusted, Jiaying turns the tables and the meeting with Gonzales is set. When Gonzales offers a genuine olive branch in the form of Jiaying’s lost pendant taken from her by Whitehall (Reed Diamond) hope for peace seems possible. Jiaying, who has other plans, ruthlessly kills Gonzales and frames him for an attempt on her life. With more twists and turns than we could count, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has set up what will no doubt be an epic finale with countless surprises ahead. Let’s dig in to this episode’s shocking events that may lead to all-out war between the Inhumans and S.H.I.E.L.D.!
Scars, fears and decisions of conscience.
With so much that happened in this episode, there’s no way to cover it all. But if there was a common theme many of the characters acted upon, it was how they’d all react to a world where beings with powers existed and could be a threat to everyone. Coulson, as the central figure in this moral argument ultimately made the right play and so did Gonzales even though at first it seemed both were on completely different ends of the spectrum from acceptance to xenophobia.
Coulson’s reveal of the helicarrier and Theta Protocol at first seemed a vindication of his secrets, but the writers flipped that on its ear. Secrets and going it alone were too much for one man to bear. Gonzales agreed lamenting Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) creation of Ultron (James Spader) as an instance where too much power residing in one man’s hands can have devastating results. But Tony may have learned a valuable lesson from Ultron and even if it takes a while to ferment, Coulson took that lesson to heart. One can’t go it alone and only a dramatic flaw of enormous hubris lets one believe they can save the world by themselves.
By accepting the guidance of the Council, Coulson displayed a wisdom he’s earned the right to bear. He scoffed at the group approach before Ultron and now sees things from a different perspective. Those with powers are out there and his track record concerning them hasn’t always been the best display of judgment. He admitted as much. His actions also supported his belief both with his understanding of Mack’s (Henry Simmons) resignation and his stepping back from the mission to Afterlife.
“You’re really gonna let Captain Ahab just waltz in there and have a fireside chat with Skye’s mum?” ~ Hunter
“I am, though that is a really, strange way of putting it.” ~ Coulson
“What if the Council is wrong? I mean, Gonzales has never–“ ~ Fitz
“It’s not the Council versus us, Fitz. Not anymore. And they’re right. I haven’t always made the right call, especially when it comes to Skye. If I don’t put my faith in them, then S.H.I.E.L.D. will fall apart all over again.” ~ Coulson
By realizing he needs the advice and support of those around him, Coulson showed an internal growth that his character wouldn’t have displayed in the first season and also a release of hubris that Stark won’t have as easy a time relinquishing. Coulson wasn’t ready to share the responsibility of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the beginning. Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) handed the Toolbox to just Coulson and in many ways he acted alone since. He always had good intent, but things didn’t always end with good results.
The council appeared bent on destroying the Inhuman threat. But now we know that may have been a slight exaggeration to keep us thinking that was the case. In fact, Gonzales surprised us in the end and proved that May’s assessment of him was largely correct. He was a good man. His olive branch to Jiaying was genuine. But so was his intent to catalog her entire people on the Index.
Her terrible and swift act of vengeance toward him for those that had sought to catalog and oppress others throughout history seemed like the actions of someone younger and more naive, but perhaps that was the real Jiaying we just hadn’t seen until now. Perhaps she’d always been a fierce protector of her people and she had more in common with Cal all along.
Robert Gonzales, despite his flaws, didn’t deserve to be the first casualty in a war he didn’t seem intent to start. He wasn’t attempting to fire the first shot, but we know he was likely ready to finish a war if one erupted. He was right about one thing. Both good and bad people gain powers. Jiaying’s actions, and the reactions by everyone that are sure to follow, will catch all those people, good and bad, in the middle. In the end, everyone, especially Skye, will have to decide on which side of the conflict they stand.
Revenge is a dish best served—at 30,000 feet?
Well, just when we were starting to have feelings and show sympathy for poor Ward, he does an about face on us and we’re back to being certain that if he’s not evil, he’s one-hundred percent self centered. That’s not terribly shocking, but dragging poor Kara into that dark pit just felt slimy. She still feels like an innocent follower in many ways and looked like a lost puppy without him.
We genuinely thought Ward was attempting to do the right thing by leaving Kara with Coulson to help her find herself again. Heck, we were even scolding Simmons (Elizabeth Henstrige) in our heads (and a perhaps out loud to the television) for attempting to kill Ward. Heaven knows we’ve got enough questionable characters on this show. We don’t need a Darth Simmons too. We certainly had ourselves convinced that she was only hurting herself in letting Ward walk away.
But how wrong we were and credit for that goes to several places. Brett Dalton was so genuine in his heartfelt words to Coulson that, yes, we believed there was some good in him too. Point for Dalton. And at the same time we fell right into Kara’s web of innocence too. Maya Stojan hasn’t had anything this complex to pull off and she did a masterful job. Perhaps we underestimated her because she sucked us in right along with the S.H.I.E.L.D. team. Point for Stojan.
We’re now guessing that revenge against Bobbi was the endgame for Kara all along. We wondered what noble promise Ward made Kara. We thought maybe pictures of home, her S.H.I.E.L.D. badge back, some new friends or redemption might all be possibilities. Not so it seems. No, it would appear a gift-wrapped Bobbi to torture and kill was the last little bit Kara needed to feel whole again. How sweet.
“You did good, baby. Fooled every one of them.” ~ Ward
“It was hard being away from you. It’s better when we’re together. Why can’t we kill her now?” ~ Kara
“Closure’s about so much more than that. It’s about digging in, doing the work. I’ll show you what I mean. And then we’ll kill her.” ~ Ward
We really didn’t see this betrayal coming at all. Point for the writing team. In fact, the editing and careful direction between two quinjets through multiple scenes and conversations was so well done that it wasn’t until May was standing in an empty cargo hold that we suspected something was up. Points for Editor Kelly Stuyvesant, Director Bobby Roth and Director of Photography Feliks Parnell. That’s S.H.I.E.L.D. creative team six and audience zero if anyone is counting.
What we still don’t know is Ward’s endgame. Kara wants revenge, but what does Ward want? Surely he’s not capable of truly loving Kara and giving her what she wants out of the goodness—or evilness as the case required—of his heart. Ward is as self-centered as they come it would seem. His actions have repeatedly demonstrated that fact. Even his pitiful apology to the team was telling. It was all about him and not the people he’s hurt.
So, what final selfish desire does Ward have hidden away behind that scruffy beard and casual smile? And how does it impact the chaotic mess that’s going on everywhere else? Two hours of season finale should answer that question nicely. The real question might be how far down the path of darkness puppy-love Kara is led before she really remembers and discovers what is happening to her isn’t really her at all.
What? You didn’t see that coming?
If the theme of a story can be revealed by the actions of its characters, then Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. may very well have played its biggest thematic cards in the penultimate episode of the season. That’s not a huge surprise considering all the threads of a season usually converge at the season finale, but boy did this writing team save some serious twists for the end that changed our view of the characters who put those twists into play.
No character has been more central to the second season than Skye and her choices, and the choices of all around her, will ultimately reveal the themes this season sought to explore. In the case of Skye, it’s the same one she’s struggled with from the beginning. What defines a family?
Is it blood? Shared experiences? Common heritage? Trust? An alignment of beliefs? A similar view of the world? That question of family has haunted Skye since the first episode. The difficulty for her has been, that each time she thinks she’s had it figured out, the axis of her world gets shifted and she’s had to figure it out again. That’s about to happen again boys and girls.
Scars had as many character defining moments as we can remember. We’ve teetered on the edge with Gonzales and his final moments showed his true character. Yes, he would have destroyed Afterlife if he felt it threatened the world, but his olive branch to Jiaying in the form of her lost heirloom signaled he’s been a man of moral integrity the entire time. Just like Jiaying he’s been scarred by Hydra. Has he always made the best choices? No, but who has? Was his intent good in the end? Yes. And tragically that worked right into Jiaying’s favor as she broke the Terrigen crystal and ended his life.
“How dare you compare your scars to mine? You’re nothing like me, like us. Whitehall cut me to pieces. He ripped out my organs and stuffed them in jars! I will never let that happen to my daughter to any of my people!” ~ Jiaying
“You’ll get everyone killed, you crazy–” ~ Gonzales
Her dramatic betrayal says volumes about where her heart has been from the beginning and how untrustworthy she is to anyone that is not Inhuman. We can’t say we entirely blame her. Being sliced and diced by Whitehall after being imprisoned by people you believed to be S.H.I.E.L.D. agents wouldn’t exactly endear you to either side. But killing Gonzales and shooting herself to start a war? That’s a level of conviction toward her revenge we didn’t see coming. That’s some Wrath of Khan level hate that’s been brewing in that woman for a long time.
The question will be if Skye recognizes what really defines family when the chips are down. When the shooting starts, which side will she be on? We have no doubt that she’ll side initially with her mother. And quite frankly, we’re itching to see Cal go berserk and smash more than furniture, but will Skye recognize in Coulson what it means to be family or will she be blinded by blood and a heritage she feels she’s been denied? The answers should be fascinating to watch as the two-hour season finale plays out. Until then, Skye is stuck in a bizarre, life or death version of Family Feud where there’s far more than a new car at stake.
FINAL VERDICT: No, we didn’t see the events of this week playing out the way they did. That’s high praise for the writing team of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. We almost know everyone’s true colors, but can we salvage this box of broken crayons?
Boy did this writing team have one hell of a story to tell once they began to plan the arcs and themes they wanted their characters to reveal as the season unfolded. The true nature of characters that unveiled those themes became clear as the story was told. We started to see who it was we could really trust from the beginning and who has been our enemy all along. Sometimes those things are easy to see, but when a great creative team takes hold of the material, the best stories save the most shocking twists and true reveals of character until the end.
With multiple episodes we’ve loved to their credit, Writers Rafe Judkins and Lauren LeFranc have become two of our favorites. As a duo, they once again pulled off a complex story that had multiple payoff moments in the form of character defining actions and twists they’ve no doubt been holding on to for some time. This must have been exactly like Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) felt in Age of Ultron when bested by Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). We did NOT see Jiaying’s reversal or Kara’s revenge coming at all. In fact, even Gonzales’s olive branch was a mild twist we were certainly glad to see, but didn’t expect.
All of that worked because director Bobby Roth honored the subtext of the script and worked with Editor Kelly Stuyvesant and Director of Photography Feliks Parnell to cleverly set us for some big reveals. It wasn’t a coincidence Gonzales had to switch sides when pocketing Jiaying’s trinket. We were meant to see the gun and keep ourselves focused that firing the first shot was always his intent even though it wasn’t. We were also fooled by Raina’s manipulation into thinking that she would be the cause of all sorts of trouble and then shocked to find she might actually have been telling the truth for once in her life.
Those were just a few examples of many in this episode that led us down one path so that we were shocked when the plot raced off down another. Jiaying was likely right. Her people wouldn’t blindly follow her into a war, but they may very well follow a fallen leader that’s been maliciously deceived and attacked. And with the death of Gonzales, S.H.I.E.L.D. will likely be willing to go right along with that plan for war. It begs the question why, but we have no doubt that Lincoln’s words early in the episode were prophetic. To the Inhumans, S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra are the same and secrecy has been the greatest ally to the Inhumans. Hydra was hiding within the S.H.I.E.L.D., but even now their agendas don’t appear different to the Inhumans. Indexing, testing and putting down threats feels not unlike cruel discovery by experimentation.
The question will be where everyone stands if the truth ever does come out about how things started. In the mean time, loyalties will be tested and blood will likely be spilled. Who can be trusted and who will survive after this week’s shocking reveals? We don’t know, but we have NO intention of missing the two-hour season finale of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to find out!
Questions, Comments, Concerns and My Reaction on Twitter…
- A suit, a #StarWars set of sheets and COD. Plus one LANYARD. A proper nerd.
- That IS a big secret to keep. Theories: confirmed. 😉
- It will be easier if we’re together. Um, yep. That’s the ocean all around. Oh boy.
- A porcupine never changes it’s .. er .. striped thorns?
- From a bus to boat. Looks like Coulson traded up.
- Personally rip out her tainted heart! Old habits die hard Cal.
- Inhumans!!! OMG.
- Did you know? Ouch. It’s all fun and games until someone brings up Baharain.
- So what’s got the shimmy-shimmy shakes in the cargo hold?
- What are you gonna do Cal? #MuslceMilk? We’d kinda like to see that..tbh
- Hey Coulson. Parent Bomb. #SpoilerAlert
- Skye’s living proof that you did. Dat hurt.
- Maybe it should be .. me. And THAT’s the Raina Cal wants to rip the heart from right there…
- Gonzales should go. Dammit May! This isn’t going to go well.
- This one man theory has some weight. Stark did kinda create a mess, but Coulson isn’t him.
- S.H.I.E.L.D. loves to lock someone up! Hi-fives all around! He’s got a lovely view of them doesn’t he?
- What? You didn’t see that coming?
- S2 .. May vs Kara, Skye vs Kara, Bobbie vs May, Kara vs Bobbi, Time for Skye vs Bobbi??
- Did anyone else appreciate the crafty editing that kept us guessing who was on what quinjet?
- Discovery requires experimentation. NOTHING good EVER happens when you quote Whitehall.
- I thought this was #AgentsofS.H.I.E.L.D.? :O This feels much more like #AgentsofWTF???
- Gonzales should go.. May is the Clairvoyant? Whew! o.O
- What was in the vials? *Cal with a shit-eating grin* Are we gonna finally find out?
- WE are all in for two-hours of insanity I think. #AgentsofS.H.I.E.L.D. #Finale
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Review: 2×20 “Scars”