Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S2E17 Review: Melinda
May’s backstory is revealed at long last, and it turns out “the Cavalry” wasn’t quite the badass nickname it always seemed to be. More traumatic, really. We also get to see more of Skye, Raina, and the Inhuman encampment they call Afterlife. It’s not the strongest episode of the season, but last week was a tough act to follow.
Based on everything we thought we knew about May, this seemed to be set up as an action-heavy episode, but the reality was far from it. That’s not to say there weren’t fight scenes, but May blowing through an army of superpowered villains alone, as some of the rumors about her would have us believe, was a far cry from what we saw. Instead of being a moment of asskicking, the incident that spawns her nickname is a dramatic one, full of misunderstanding and regret. The decision to reveal the events in Bahrain now serve to support and explain the decisions she makes in the present of this episode–namely, taking “real” SHIELD’s warnings about Coulson seriously and digging into this Theta Protocol, which might actually be dangerous. Keep in mind, there were a number of scenes early on of Coulson flipping through that holographic interface and communicating with people through it, almost always dismissing it before anyone else could enter the room. He’s definitely hiding something, but for the audience to sympathize with May’s second guessing of him, this kind of justification was absolutely necessary.
It’s interesting to see how the old May of 7 years ago (you know, right before Iron Man) compares to our modern character. The obvious difference is that she’s less guarded; the ice queen exterior that was her only character trait at the start is completely absent. She’s also less certain of herself, which seems like an odd choice at first glance. But it seems that rather than allowing the Bahrain incident to shake her confidence and cause her to second guess herself, it actually led to the opposite reaction, where she’s trained herself to be ready for every situation–to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. It also provides context for a lot of earlier episodes, particularly her bout with the Berserker staff in “The Well.” I’d be willing to bet watching season 1 will be a different experience after this. The young actress who played the girl did an amazing job, and I can only imagine how intimidating it is to act against Ming-Na Wen as a kid. All in all, the flashback sections are well-structured and engaging, something that’s not always seen in flashbacks, so it’s definitely the highlight of the episode.
The B-plot of this episode involves Skye and the Inhumans, with her mother Jiaying coaching her through the development of her powers. The parallel between Skye and her mother and the woman in May’s flashbacks and her child are pretty clear, and indeed are spelled out explicitly. It is a bit of coincidence to have the May flashbacks be the same story that Skye’s mother tells, but it’s the kind of thing that’s forgivable in fiction; conservation of detail and all that. The parallels go a bit farther than they appear to in the episode, however. In season 1 episode “Seeds”, when discussing Skye’s parents, it is stated that a SHIELD team (likely HYDRA in disguise) who entered the town where she was found were completely slaughtered, along with almost all the residents. Could it have been Cal, or possibly Jiaying herself? While this was stated to occur in 1991, and Skye’s mother was killed in 1989, we also know Cal put her back together not long after she was killed. 2 years is definitely enough time that she might have healed. Ward did once claim that Cal had killed the the entire village, but Jiaying admits that she was once as obsessive and dangerous as Cal, too, so it’s entirely possible she held some responsibility for what happened there. And if so, that’s a very close parallel to the lengths gone to by the woman in May’s flashbacks. No wonder the Inhuman elders are worried about Skye.
The other aspect of the Inhuman side of the episode is Raina’s powers and the subsequent revelation that she possesses precognitive abilities. It’s interesting to note that Raina spent most of season 1 trying to get close to the man going by the name “The Clairvoyant,” specifically to find out what she would become, he turned out to be a fraud. Now that she’s undergone that transformation, it turns out that she’s become a true clairvoyant after all. That also leads one to wonder whether her nightmares might also be visions of horrible things to come. Beyond that aspect, Gordon and Raina’s relationship is always a delight to see. As someone whose experience with the Terrigenesis process was no doubt difficult and, at least initially, caused him to suffer, there’s no better character than Gordon to mentor Raina and help her come to terms with her own. Hopefully, he doesn’t share any of her disdain for humanity, although that still remains to be seen. I’m really looking forward to how her arc progresses.
All in all, it’s a good episode, but it did feel like a little bit of a stall. There was no progress towards… whatever goal Coulson and Hunter have right now, as they were pretty much relegated to a brief spot at the end. So while it was entertaining, it did place the story arc on the back burner and not everyone’s going to like that. As for next week, we saw practically nothing in the preview; it was basically just Avengers 2 footage. We do know Ward and Agent 33 will appear, but little else. What does that mean? Come back for “The Frenemy of my Enemy” next week to find out.