Don’t Look Back in Anger. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: “Aftershocks”

Let’s get EXCITED for the latest episode of Agent Car…oh, these guys again.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is back and it would like you to know that it is not going to just forget how it gave SkyeQuakes some superpowers via the Terrigen Mists. It is going to dig deep into this phenomenon and we know this because Skye spends the entirety of “Aftershocks” in a tiny room doing nothing.

Superpowers and the weirdos who have to deal with them—something we’ve only been waiting to see for 32 episodes—may now be the ongoing focus of the show, as demonstrated by our opening scene. It is 1983 and inside an expansive bunker room we witness a guy teleporting jarringly around the place. He can’t seem to control what is happening to him, but also he’s purposefully running into walls a lot, and that can’t help. The significance of this soon becomes apparent to us. This is the eyeless guy from the stinger in the mid-season finale and he has just received his superpowers.

Agents of SHIELD: Aftershocks

Nearly Dead Dichen Lachman enters and calls him Gordon even though he is clearly John Linnell from They Might Be Giants.

Agents of SHIELD: Aftershocks

We learn that John Linnell traveled through the mists only hours ago and is suffering through terrigenesis which, along with giving you superpowers, makes you highly emotional post-transformation. Makes sense. You’re going through massive biological changes so your hormones would naturally be a little off. Makes me wonder if, in general, people with Terrigen-based powers end up more aggressive than they were previously. It would square with how the temple made Mac all angry and mean back in “What They Become,” and how he still seems to be a little temperamental. It would match up with why Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch seem somewhat irrational in the Avengers: Age of Ultron trailers. We’ll just have to wait and see if SkyeQuakes starts yelling about feelings later on in the episode.

Nearly Dead Dichen turns out to be a sort of shepherd to those who find themselves transformed by the Terrigen Mists, which makes me curious how people wander into the mists in the first place. Is there some kind of valley deep in the mountains of western China that looks misty but is actually full of Terrigen? How long has the Terrigen been there? And since only a select few develop superpowers from the mist, does that mean there is a valley FULL of petrified humans in various states of agony? Yikes.

Terrigenesis sucks, is the point the show is trying to convey here, and no one knows that more than Gordon, who used to be a quirky accordion player but is now an eyeless teleporter who can’t even cry and who may now never write that song about the birdhouse in his soul…

Back in the present day Skye seems to be doing okay with her situation but that’s mostly because nobody knows what happened down in the Temple. She preoccupies herself with feeling bad about Tripp’s death and looking at boring magazines that Bobbi half-heartedly brings her. (“You’re a rock star,” says the Craigslist Ad For Unpaid Sales Internship pretending to be Bobbi.) No one brings her a Nintendo 3DS or a laptop, even though last season she was a bangs-less computer hacker and probably still likes those things.

Coulson also feels bad about Tripp’s death but consoles himself by clinging fiercely to his belief that Tripp saved the world by stumbling after Skye. SkyeQuakes and even the episode itself poke a million holes in Coulson’s justification, most notably with a shot of Tripp’s shattered face being wheelbarrowed away.

Agents of SHIELD: Aftershocks

You can tell that Coulson doesn’t really believe his own justifications, either, considering how angry he gets after only five minutes talking about it with Skye. (Although I imagine that there are many people who would come away angry after spending five minutes with Skye.) Coulson has a lot of feelings to sort out. He’s happy that Skye is alive, and that makes Tripp’s death worthwhile, but he can’t quite bring himself to paper over Tripp’s life with Skye’s continued existence. Especially not when Skye flat out admits that they bungled the Temple mission and lost. Coulson freely admits that each death of a teammate just makes you want to retreat all the more within yourself, and in a roundabout way this reveals a little about why Coulson so insistently nudged the Avengers into existence. It’s okay to die if you’re doing it for a greater good. If you’re doing it for reasons beyond yourself. This is how Coulson wants to remember Tripp, as a superhero. Even if Coulson acts like a maniac in doing so.

Agents of SHIELD: Aftershocks

You know who Coulson isn’t going to remember? The two S.H.I.E.L.D. techs who get slashed up by Raina, who is now some kind of, I don’t know, fish monster? Nobody’s playing any violins for these guys. Probably because their deaths are kind of pointless. Why did Raina feel the need to kill them when all she wanted to do was get in the lift and leave the Temple? It’s not clear. All we have to go on is that being terrigenesis’ed makes you HIGHLY EMOTIONAL. Also, for plot reasons, Simmons needs to encounter Raina so that the team back home thinks to ask Skye if she has superpowers now. (Even though Skye’s iPhone has her under constant medical surveillance.)

Nobody’s really on their game in this episode, but that’s the point. Coulson is eager to take his anger out on Hydra and Mac is eager to take his anger out on Coulson and Lance Hunter is eager to take his anger out on himself in the mirror I assume and everyone is just SO ANGRY that SkyeQuakes starts SkyeQuakin’. She cannot deal! But then she remembers how much she loves Cactus Cooler.

Agents of SHIELD: Aftershocks

Coulson wins the argument by telling Mac that he’s just “bitching” and no, Coulson, stop saying that. He has this great and terrible plan, you see. He killed Whitehall but he wants to keep murdering Hydra so he offers Bakshi as a trade to General Talbot to lure Hydra out onto the killing floor. In ways both logical and meta, Coulson’s plan is flawed. We as viewers barely remember this character, so what makes Coulson think that anyone in-world cares about his fate? The apathy over Bakshi is so large, in fact, that were it to take physical form, it would be a huge truck that smacks right into Agent May as she drives Coulson and Bakshi to the rendezvous point.

Agents of SHIELD: Aftershocks

Somehow this doesn’t kill them, which is okay, because they get shot anyway and, oh wait, this is all a set up, isn’t it? Coulson even yells “They’ll never take us alive!” It’s funny because, see, this episode was pretty dour up until this point and it needed a little levity. Also it’s funny because Coulson is still forging ahead with his stupid plan even though Mac and the team strenuously objected. You follow Coulson’s orders, S.H.I.E.L.D.! But hey, he’s a reasonable guy. He won’t take your opinions into account but he’ll at least make it seem less like cloak-and-dagger and more like community theater. Sometimes you have to make your own fun, you know? Coulson stoppppp.

Really the only reason I’m so convinced that this is a bad plan is because Coulson’s anger is going to come up against the other heads of Hydra, who we see convened in reaction to Whitehall’s death. They’re from all around the world, with interests so varied and expansive that S.H.I.E.L.D. is a small concern, only even worth mentioning because they managed to take Whitehall down. Coulson, it seems, has Hydra’s full attention now. If only because taking him out will earn the assassin a place in Hydra’s inner circle. And all the fine wine that this entails.

Hail wine-dra!

Agents of SHIELD: Aftershocks

Back at the ranch, Simmons has kind of an amazing breakdown in regards to this dawning age of heroes. Raina is a monster now. Blizzard is dead. After seeing Tripp get ground under by this new age, she’s reached her breaking point. She’s at the forefront of the biological science of giving people superpowers, but it’s not something she wants to explore anymore. She just wants to kill it before it kills anyone else. Skye naturally has a vested interest in not being a member of a race of humans that Simmons has suddenly decided to eliminate, so she offers that there are good things about this brave new world, too. Such as the Avengers! But Simmons has an answer for that, too. There wouldn’t need to be an Avengers if there weren’t an increasing number of super-powered threats. Her justifications are as flimsy as Coulson’s were earlier in the episode. Captain America wasn’t created in response to super-powered threats, for one. And the Chitauri invasion was caused by gods and aliens mucking around on Earth, not humans. Simmons would eliminate the only people capable of responding to these threats. Just like Coulson, her anger over Tripp is leading her down a bad road.

She even pushes Coulson to maybe-sorta-definitely kill Raina should S.H.I.E.L.D. come upon her in the field. It’s a good thing they don’t, because Fish Monster Raina is currently linking back up with SkyeDad and they’re having the best scene in the entire episode. Raina is NOT HAPPY with her fate because, like John Linnell back in the beginning of the episode, her gifts have come with a heavy price. She has thorns oozing out of her skin now, and they feel just as painful as they look. And you know who received gifts without having to pay any sort of price? Skye. (Or as the episode calls her “that bitch.” Do the show writers have a quota to meet? Because that word has come up in this episode a lot.)

SkyeDad is overjoyed to hear that his daughter is as special as he always thought, but pissed that she’s still holed up with S.H.I.E.L.D.. He does a crazy dance while explaining that S.H.I.E.L.D. just wants to lock away the special people (and since Skye has been in The Boring Box this whole episode, he kind of has a point) and so what he’ll do is get all those special people and go after Coulson and oh look I’m doing the “touchdown!” thing with my arms because Crazy Kyle MacLachlan in charge of a bunch of super-powered loonies is the BEST IDEA.

Agents of SHIELD: Aftershocks

Problem is, SkyeQuakes doesn’t even know that she’s SkyeQuakes yet, but Fitz does! See, te’s been having trouble fixing Skye’s bio-watch all episode. Each time he fixes it the watch tells him something weird, something “inhuman.” Finally he realizes it’s not actually the watch or his thoughts that are broken; it’s Skye. His own anger over Tripp focuses his mind—something we’ve seen happen before—and suddenly he can see the obvious: That if someone stands unharmed at the epicenter of destruction, then that person is tied to the cause of the destruction, even if it’s someone you care about.

Nevertheless, he lies to the team about what Skye really is, because this team is not doing so great at sticking together at the moment and this would drive them apart permanently, especially when they find out that Bobbi and Mac are trying to steal the S.H.I.E.L.D. box that Fury gave Coulson last season. Good call, Fitz. The agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. shall live to pull victory from the jaws of defeat for another day.

In the end, this is what “Aftershocks” is all about. Skye’s assertion early on in the episode that they suffered a defeat in the Temple is painfully honest, and “Aftershocks” shows us how not just the team, but everyone on this show, deal with defeat. After going blind, Eyeless Gordon dedicates his life to helping the inhuman community, and shows up to rescue Raina just as she’s ready to end her life. Fitz hides Skye’s condition from the team so they can survive long enough to process her change separately from the team’s grief over Tripp. Even Coulson’s shaky plan to go after Hydra ends up being a success. Out of sheer luck, Lance Hunter and Bakshi’s bad acting pushes the Hydra heads to eliminate each other, putting Hydra out of the picture for a good long while.

Because Hydra? They’re old news. The new world is here. Those with powers are heading to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s door and our team is going to have to deal with that, one person at a time.

 

Thoughts:

This will be the final installment of the weekly Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. recaps here on Tor.com. If you’re a regular visitor to the site, you might have noticed that we’ve been slowly throttling back our television coverage over the past few months and “Aftershocks” provides a good stopping point for this particular series. In lieu of weekly recaps, we’ll be popping up now and then with more focused essays about the show. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in particular tends to be stronger in its long game than it is from week to week, and it’ll be interesting to see how it deals with Age of Ultron and if there are any other surprises in store. Coverage of this show (or any other) isn’t going away entirely. When AoS gives us something to talk about, we’ll talk about it.

Thank you for following me this far! This is the squirrelliest show, I swear. Every time I think I’m done it pulls me back in and I’m glad I’ve been able to enjoy it with ya’ll!

My only regret is that I never got to cover the creation of Speedball. He’s gotta be out there. Somewhere.


Chris Lough was made an honorary agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. a while ago, but they insisted on giving him the code name Lance Hu…oh god no.

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