Gender Flail. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: “Yes Men”

Last night’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode “Yes Men” saw the world of Asgard intersect once more with our puny Midgardian pebble and the results were catastrophic, although probably not in the way viewers had hoped they would be. The fill-in-the-blanks plot was a parade of missed opportunities, one of which was particularly egregious, and what resulted was one of the lowest points in the show’s struggling first season. Let’s recap where it went wrong.

Lorelei, a scourge of Asgard 600 years ago, has broken free of her confinement and traveled to Earth in order to build a new base of power for herself. Her sorcery enables her to control men with only the power of her voice, and she utilizes this immediately, ordering a groom to abandon his new bride and drive her to the nearest seat of power. So naturally, they stop at a biker bar.

Sif arrives and our agents are on the scene, having already tracked Lorelei’s arrival. Sif knows S.H.I.E.L.D. is her ally and teams up with Son of Coul and his cohorts in order to re-capture Lorelei, whom they track to the bar. In response to Sif warning that Lorelei exploits an “inherent weakness in men” Coulson basically replies “I’LL SEND MY BEST MEN IN!” and Ward is captured by Lorelei pretty much immediately.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1, episode 15 "Yes Men" recap

Then they go to Vegas because fuck it, who cares, love is only here for such a short time let’s get married. Actually, they go to Vegas because Lorelei wants “a palace.” Then there is a really, really, really inadvisable scene of them going to town on each other. (You know, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., maybe what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas because we DON’T WANT TO SEE IT.)

S.H.I.E.L.D. knows that Vegas is where Ward takes all of his dates, though, and goes to capture them. But it was all part of Ward’s wily plan! He just wanted to lure S.H.I.E.L.D. to him so that he and Lorelei could take over the plane and…wait, why would an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. need to lure S.H.I.E.L.D. to him when he could just go to S.H.I.E.L.D. pretending he had captured the bad guy and a.u.u.u.u.g.h.t.h.e.p.a.i.n.

So, Ward and Lorelei have the plane and she seduces Fitz into locking Sif in the interrogation room and then ejecting her from the plane. Coulson runs around trying to fix everything while May fights Ward. Earlier, May was telling Sif that she knows Ward wouldn’t kill her, leading Sif to warn May that even if Ward loved her he would still kill her under Lorelei’s influence. Instead of saying something in-character like, “I’d kill him first” May just kind of repeats her earlier statement. In an episode full of nonsensical dialogue, this exchange stood out in particular. May doesn’t have much of a character, but she still has some character. There’s no way she has feelings for Ward aside from thinking that he is an agreeable sack of human.

Anyway, Sif gets back into the plane on account of she’s Asgardian and has been clinging to its skin this whole time, and manages to snap a magic collar on Lorelei that negates her power. The show makes some half-hearted pretense at pretending Lorelei shook some personal revelations out of the team, but the episode and the series itself don’t really support that. As the episode closes, Coulson essentially tells Skye that now that this fun interlude is over they’re going to go after the people that did “that” (he points to her stomach wounds but it doesn’t look like he is hey Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. what are you implying) and take them down.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1, episode 15 "Yes Men" recap

You know a television show is in a bad place when you can summarize an episode with “It features a warrior goddess and is a total let-down.” Introducing a manipulative character like Lorelei gives you some wonderful storytelling opportunities. Since the main cast is evenly divided by gender it gives you an excuse to play them off of each other in a way that you couldn’t do naturally, thereby exposing new tensions or discovering new ways for those characters to appeal to one another. The show sort of attempts this in regards to the May vs. Ward freak-out, but it’s trying to draw tension from a relationship that has been mostly off-screen, so there’s no impact to their clash. Because of the out-of-character botched dialogue between May and Sif that I mentioned earlier, the episode doesn’t succeed in establishing that May even has feelings for Ward, so her wounded nature at the end of the ep feels like it comes out of nowhere.

In contrast, Ward has been established in previous episodes as someone who has deeper feelings for May, so there’s potential there to bring that to light. Imagine if Ward had actually succeeded in giving May a grievious injury right before he comes to his senses. He would be devastated, he would be forced to question himself where before he was unquestioning (something else the show is slowly starting to develop since “The Well”) in short, he would grow as a character as an organic result of the plot development.

While the episode half-tries at using Lorelei to develop May and Ward, it completely abandons everyone else. Fitz gets easily turned by Lorelei but the only thing that results in is his getting punched by Coulson.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1, episode 15 "Yes Men" recap

God, that’s so satisfying. Let’s look at it again.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1, episode 15 "Yes Men" recap

Afterwards, Coulson doesn’t even apologize to Fitz for punching him. And while my darker nature is thrilled with that, it’s yet another indication of how this episode didn’t seem to know what to do with itself. Coulson would apologize, but that’s an incidental development of the plot. Where the episode really missed the mark was in putting a Lorelei-worshipping Fitz up against Simmons. We still don’t really know what’s up with them. Sometimes they really seem to hate each other, sometimes they seem like they’d be holding hands into death and beyond. Altering Fitz’s affections and stolid nature was the show’s opportunity to teach us a little more about their dynamic. What is Fitz like when he doesn’t give a care about Simmons? Is this it? We have no idea.

And the missed opportunities just kept cropping up. We never got the chance to see if Lorelei’s power would have even worked on Coulson. How scary would it have been if they had? Coulson is a steady enough personality that he could have ordered the team to their deaths under Lorelei’s influence without them (or us) batting an eye. And even if the team knew that Coulson was compromised, they still would have had to struggle with their own feelings to justify removing him from play. It would have given Skye something real to struggle with instead of her “But I really want to get out of bed” plotline.

And then there was the “Men have an inherent weakness” remark.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1, episode 15 "Yes Men" recap

This is not a statement that I have a problem with within the context of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Lorelei’s power affects men, and while that’s pretty cornball on the face of it, Sif’s remark is nonetheless an attempt to explain the logic behind that power.

What the episode utterly, catastrophically, fails at is engaging with the logic behind this remark. Instead of the silence that this line was greeted with, we should have gotten an exchange akin to this:

Sif: “Men have an inherent weakness that we [women] do not share.”

Coulson: “What is the inherent weakness?”

Sif: “You allow your lustful urges to overcome your sense of the greater good.”

May: “Right on!”

Coulson: “All men do this? Every single one?”

Sif: “Yes.”

Coulson: “That’s half the entire population of this planet. And you’re saying 3.5 billion people are all alike?”

Sif: “From my experience, it is no different than the assumptions you make of the women on your world.”

Coulson: “Are these assumptions correct?”

May: “No way!”

Coulson: “Then maybe the assumption that all men have an inherent weakness is also incorrect. Maybe the more likely answer is that Lorelei’s power only affects the Y chromosome?”

And so on. The point of such an exchange isn’t to definitively arrive at a singular truth. Rather, it brings up an opportunity to discuss different perceptions of gender and the validities or fallacies behind them. And while I understand that this is not really the intent of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., there’s still a Whedon at the helm of the show and this was an opportunity to speak on the issue of gender in a way that fit organically with the characters, Marvel mythology, and the larger story of the episode. That they didn’t gives me the impression that the show runners aren’t paying as much attention as they should to what they’re producing.

The consideration of gender could have also brought variety to Lorelei’s actions within the episode. If the episode is going to assert that men have inherent weakness that makes them vulnerable to Lorelei’s manipulations then it should also assert that this also makes women all the more a threat to Lorelei.

Eliminating the male characters as responders to this particular threat gives the show a chance to highlight that it features highly capable women who Lorelei really needs to watch out for, not just amongst the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. but out in the real world. The episode almost realizes this after Lorelei takes over the biker gang, only to discover that the wife of the gang’s leader isn’t going to allow that without a fight. The show could have used this moment to depict Lorelei as more strategic and forward-thinking than the straightforward seductress she was ultimately presented as by having Lorelei realize that she will encounter this type of resistance repeatedly from Midgard’s women and that she thus needs to develop a way to control them as she does Midgard’s men. “You will grant me the use of this bar,” Lorelei could have said. “Or I will tell your husband to kill himself in front of you.” Instead, she just tells the husband to choke his wife to death, making Lorelei completely unsympathetic as a character and therefore less of a threat to us as viewers. We don’t care about Lorelei’s motivations after that, we just want her taken down and every obstacle to that goal just becomes annoying instead of exciting.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1, episode 15 "Yes Men" recap

By the end of “Yes Men” I just felt bad for the show and the folks working on it. This was one of their worst outings, but thanks to Sif’s guest appearance there were probably more people than usual watching it.

Despite the failure of the episode’s story, there were two things it did that I absolutely loved.

1.) The “reclassification” of “Tahiti”:

Agent Sitwell: “How was Tahiti?”

Coulson (shades up like a mofo): “It sucked.”

2.) Asgard’s in trouble:

At the end of the episode Sif reveals that Lorelei isn’t going back to Asgard to be imprisoned. Rather, she’s going to join Asgard’s army as per Odin’s orders. [Spoilers for Thor 2, highlight to read] Except Odin isn’t Odin anymore. Odin is actually Loki. [End spoilers] It sounds like dark days are coming to Asgard and Sif is torn between her loyalty to Asgard and her sense of what is right. Especially in the absence of Thor. I want to watch that story.

 

Tidbits:

  • Sif gives a handy rundown of blue aliens in the Marvel Cinematic Universe:  the Levians, the Sarks, the Centaurians, the Kree (!), and the Frost Giants.
  • Skye knows she’s probably an alien baby now. She’s cool with it.
  • Coulson: “Two men died to protect this secret.” Yeah, because you kind of killed them? Well, you were put in a position where you had to kill them even though you tried not to kill them. It’s so debatable! We can certainly understand why you’re upset. Let’s go kill more people.
  • Nick Fury is a “top agent,” and not the director of S.H.I.E.L.D.? That seems like a script error.
  • The post-credits scene: May is informing on Coulson to S.H.I.E.L.D.. I wish that was more surprising than it is.
  • I thought Sif recognizing Coulson as someone who should be dead was pretty cool, actually.
  • It was also cool how Coulson specified that he wanted to tell Thor that he’s alive. Although it seems weird that S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t know Thor is on Earth for good now. I guess they wouldn’t if he’s just kind of chilling with Jane Foster and not out superheroing? I wonder what their dates are like? Imagining them, like, going to the zoo makes me giggle like crazy. THOR PUT THAT GIRAFFE DOWN. Also I feel like Thor would hate pizza. I don’t know why.
  • This episode’s writer Shalisha Francis was also responsible for my other least favorite episode “The Bridge,” which also suffered from being a flat, by-the-numbers story. I’m not sure if this is her style or if it’s just luck of the draw, since television episodes tend to get worked on by an entire writing staff and not just one sole voice.
  • Who does Ward actually care for? Is it his abs? It’s probably his abs.

Chris Lough is the resident Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. voice of doom and doesn’t dare reveal what he actually cares about it’s whiskey. Send him some on Twitter.

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