Aw man, “ghosts did it” was my go-to excuse! Thanks for ruining it Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The ninth episode of the show, “Repairs,” teased that we would finally find out more of Agent Melinda May’s mysterious back story and boy did it…kind of forget to do that then suddenly remember at the end. While I like the sentiment behind why May is the ice cold kickpuncher that she is, this episode didn’t convince me that the showrunners even know why she’s that way, aside from simply wanting that to be the case.
“Repairs” takes an odd route to May’s history, starting out as an investigation as to whether a particle accelerator technician manager by the name of Hutchens has telekinetic powers. It turns out she doesn’t, and she’ll be the first person to tell you that if you’ll just believe her story about thinking capital-G God has sent demon ghosts to punish her.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. very nearly tries to Handle That Jelly but wisely backs off before it creates a mess that a show this young couldn’t possibly handle. This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t enjoy a story about The Scientist Who Loved God, I just don’t want it to be used as a zinger. The reconciliation between the work that we do and our personal beliefs is something that everyone deals with at one point or another, so using that as a “gotcha!” moment betrays a lack of perspective that is uncomfortable to watch. It throws you out of the reality that the show is trying to create.
That kind of plot device also brings up a whole lot of big, big questions about the interplay between science and faith and the episode quickly veers towards a definite answer by revealing, hey, the lady is right, her particle accelerator opened a portal to hell! Then it exploded.
Hutchens blames herself for that explosion and it appears that one of the technicians killed in that explosion, a murderous wrench-wielding ghost by the name of Tobias, does too, since he spends long, boring stretches of the episode trying to take out our agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. one by one-ish. He’s a ghost, see, except he’s not. He’s actually stuck between our world and the one accessed by the particle accelerator. So he can materialize wherever he wants and vanish whenever Ward tries to punch him and repeatedly cry, “I’m in hell!” Oh, are you? Get in line, pal.
Also, as if I wasn’t already having a hard time taking this plot seriously…Tobias.
May drags Hutchens off the plane and into a barn so she can use her as bait to draw out Hell Tobias and really beat the…hell…out of this…hell guy. But wait! Skye has determined through the Power of Feelings that Tobias is actually crushing on Hutchens super hard and is trying to protect her, not kill her. Also he rigged the safety violations that led to the explosion so she’d have a reason to visit him constantly. It was the brightest part of his day, this horrible endangering of lives it was!
(Which, all creepy lunkhead behavior aside, I actually liked as an explanation since the justification for the explosion up to that point had been that the particle accelerator had “a few loose bolts” which…NO. Accelerators are so finely tuned and take such an insane amount of engineering, electrical, programming, and even robotics know-how that even something as seemingly innocuous as a loose fitting would halt its entire operation. Unless someone is being an idiot to a psychotic extent, like this episode’s ghosty guy.)
This is where May remembers that she needs to explain something, anything, about her character, and tells Tobias that he can’t keep sticking around here on this Earthly plane pretending that he’s still just a fun-loving guy who breaks things so the people he loves will notice him. He killed a bunch of people and is now a different person because of that sin. Trying to remain the same person as before only brings pain.
Tobias seems to accept this level of non-explanation and disappears. Skye heard May, too, and now has a better understanding of our cockpit queen. It turns out that May used to be just as warm and fun-loving as Skye is now, but all of that changed the day she was forced to take on an entire cult, killing them all hand-to-hand, person by person.
As reasons for her stoic nature go, it feels pretty hurried. I’m not sure what Coulson means by “welcome wagon” when he describes the threat May went up against, and the circumstances that we are given are still too vague for us to really visualize. If we’re going to sympathize with May, or even actively dislike her, then we need to be immersed in the same situation that she was. “Repairs” was very much not that kind of episode. (For one thing, May’s not even the one being haunted. I mean, come on.)
This episode caps off the Getting To Know Everyone grand tour, since we’ve now gotten a peek at the motivations for Skye, Simmons, Fitz (Sorta), Ward, and May. Hopefully this is just round one of that, because as it stands now the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. still come off pretty flat as characters. (Although I’m starting to wonder if some of that is just the set design for The Bus. They spend an awful lot of time in it and while it looked cool in the first episode, it’s become a pretty muted setting since then.)
Tidbits of S.H.I.E.L.D.
- Coulson getting rid of his tie before meeting the telekinetic was a nice touch. Smart! Always think on your feet when you’re facing down weird superpowers.
- For a little bit I thought the culprit was going to turn out to be Graviton.
- I was on board with FitzSimmons’ pranking idea at first, but that didn’t really pan out, did it? The post-credits scene was sweet, at least.
- Man, Fitz is a jerk. He goes from zero to Yelling when Skye touches the hologram and immediately defaults to just pranking Simmons instead of Skye.
- Roxxon gas station! Those first showed up in Iron Man 3, didn’t they?
- Wouldn’t it have been way cooler if this episode had been set in a particle accelerator? With the team trapped in tunnels with a whole bunch of dematerializing dudes running around and random portals to hell opening up? I would have found that scarier, too.
- I also love the implication that the accelerator was trying to duplicate the Fun With Portals sequence from the beginning of Thor: The Dark World.
- As thin as the episode was, I thought book-ending it with short scenes of May actually expressing her desires was a nice touch. You could make a case that her sleeping with Ward and ninja-pranking Fitz is her making exploratory attempts to achieve some sort of balance between who she was and who she is. She does both on the DL, which gives me the impression that she’s still trying to figure out what works.