Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S2E16 Review: Afterlife
So let’s get the big things out of the way first: Skye’s mom is not dead. She’s covered in scars, but with her abilities, it’s not a total shock. The question, of course, is how. Cal was originally introduced to us as “The Doctor” and his first scene was as a street surgeon. It’s certainly possible that he went to some kind of insane, Frankenstein-esque lengths to bring her back to life, and she rejected him for it. That’d still explain why he blamed Whitehall for separating them. But it still has some problems matching up with what we’ve seen so far this season about her, and about their relationship. Is it possible that he didn’t even know she was still alive until he was abducted by Gordon a few weeks ago? She does seem to be quite ominous in the episode, but whether that’s a sign of ill will from her, or simply a knowledge of the Elders’ inevitable judgment against her daughter and how she will have to obey it isn’t clear. I really wasn’t sure what to think of her (or if it was even supposed to be the same character) for quite a ways into the scene. I even considered it might be someone impersonating Skye’s mom, Mystique-style, before considering she might actually be alive. So yeah, that definitely took me by surprise.
And the other big surprise, of course, was the return of Deathlok. While I know a lot of people weren’t terribly happy with his appearance and costuming at the end of season 1, I was very excited to see him back. Revealing that he’s been working on difficult missions for Coulson instead of just off helping little old ladies cross the street and wandering the earth was an excellent move, and it’s instantly clear from his scenes on the quinjet that he’s become more comfortable with who and what he is now, while still taking steps back to his old self. I went through a lot of possibilities in that second before his reveal, and I still didn’t expect it (even with Twitter reminding me of his existence not 30 seconds prior!). I’m really impressed they were able to keep it a secret as well, as it completely made the moment. That absolutely would’ve been ruined by putting his face in the commercials all week. So great job on that front, too.
To the episode as a whole, then. Excellently written throughout, with enough going on to keep you on the edge of your seat without feeling overwhelmed. They also managed to withhold some information for the sake of making dramatic reveals without feeling like we’ve been lied to or wishing they’d just get on with it. Just great all around. Lincoln makes for a good introduction to the Inhumans and their little society, and the use of Gordon’s powers to set up a town that’s all but inaccessible to anyone who’s not welcome is an extremely practical and intelligent move that makes sense in-universe. Mundane utility, if you will. While, from SHIELD’s point of view, rescuing Raina and later Cal might make Gordon look like a bad guy, the show itself has a done a good job of making him look quite amicable, and I’d been hoping to keep away from setting up the whole secret Inhuman society as the next set of bad guys to be dealt with. That’s starting to look more suspect now, as the rumblings that indicate both Skye and Cal (and quite possibly Raina) could be killed to keep their secret. We also haven’t really seen much of the Inhumans’ perspective on regular humanity. I initially feared they might be rather reactionary, hating ordinary humans because ordinary humans hate them, but given that people like Lincoln seem to spend most of their time outside the compound, that may not be the case. The fact that even this far into it I’m still very unclear as to whether they’re good or bad is a great sign.
On the other front, “real” SHIELD keeps up the talk about not wanting to fight and how they should coexist and so on, but their actions are really, really starting to diverge from the rhetoric. They’re taking a no-exceptions approach to powered individuals, it seems, willing to do anything and everything to take them out of the picture without giving any consideration to circumstance. I expect it’s people like Gonzalez and Calderon who were responsible for listing someone as lame as Karla Faye Gideon, aka finger-blade lady, on the Index in the first place, especially if they feel Coulson belongs. And it’s becoming clear that Bobbi, at least, is recognizing that their behavior is crossing the line. Given Mockingbird’s roles in the comics, it’s more likely that she’ll make a turnaround at some point. But Mack, well, there’s no telling quite yet. He’s still pretty dedicated, as we can see from his interactions with Fitz, but he does care about Fitz and that’s a problem for him. What I expect will become more of a problem is when he’s inevitably called into question by “real” SHIELD about being taken over by the Kree temple. After all, he’s been as influenced by alien technology as Coulson, right? Probably even more so. If Mack ends up opposed to “real” SHIELD, I’m almost certain this will be what drives it.
Scenes with Fitz and Simmons did a great job of establishing the plan, I thought (and that marks the second time Simmons has pulled one over on Bobbi). It looks like, much as long desired, this might finally be the beginning of their rekindled team efforts. The sandwich made for an excellent callback to really seal the deal, too. Fitz being in a position where he’s now one of the most important and valuable players on the team is a huge turnaround, too, and the thing is he’s been so busy he hasn’t even had a chance to notice it yet! Coulson and Hunter made for a surprisingly great duo. Calling the Inhuman settlement “Afterlife” and then revealing some previously-thought-dead characters are alive was a pretty nice touch. Even Trip gets some post-mortem assistance in through that briefcase kit. There are some interesting parallels to be drawn between the way both “real” SHIELD and the Inhumans insist that our protagonists aren’t prisoners, either, but this is getting too long already.
Next week, we finally learn why May’s called “The Cavalry” after it’s been brought up these last few episodes, so come back next week for “Melinda.” The idea of this team of Deathlok, Coulson, Hunter, Ward, and possibly Agent 33 or even a brainwashed Bakshi that’s going to be running around has so many ridiculous possibilities to it!