Reviews

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.: “One of Us”

MING-NA WEN

One thing I love about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is that lately, it’s not just writing episodes. It’s weaving mythology, and giving our characters grounding, and building a world in which we can understand them better. For example: tonight’s episode centered on the showdown between Skye’s real father, Cal, and her “adopted” father, Coulson, as Cal attempted to extract the revenge he’s been promising Coulson since he took away his chance to kill Whitehall. Cal’s assembled a team of special and gifted individuals from The Index, which is also where we find out Coulson wants Skye to be placed because of her powers. And suddenly, we’re looking at sweet, innocent Skye in the same vein as we’re supposed to look at “monsters” who can’t control their powers — or who want to use them for evil. The episode title is “One Of Us” because that’s what Skye is and has become: one of the people in the world who will forever be changed by her powers, and who will potentially have problems deciding how to use them. But as May told Garner, the group is Skye’s family. She’s one of them. And they’ll stand by her and protect her for as long as they believe in her. It’s really a great layer to the story, proving that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is not just about building up the comic book world and about flashy action sequences.

While having grilled cheese lunch with Coulson, Skye is trying to convince him that she’s got her powers under control. She’s convincing, but not so convincing that Coulson doesn’t believe that she could use a proper psych evaluation. After talking with May, they enlist none other than May’s ex-husband, Andrew Garner (Blair Underwood), who apparently isn’t happy with S.H.I.E.L.D. — part of the reason why he left. I guess someone wasn’t into Nick Fury’s way of running things, but then again, I can kind of see why. Garner agrees to see Skye, and it provides a nice little aside in an episode filled with a lot of action and high stakes. We have high stakes in these moments too, with Skye — and we see it when she almost takes down the Bus by unconsciously releasing her powers while sleeping — but they’re so finely constructed they don’t feel as intense.

Skye doesn’t need therapy. Skye doesn’t want therapy, and it’s understandable — it’s something she’s used to at this point. She tries to get Garner off the subject by asking him about his marriage to May, information which he does end up sharing, in order to gain her trust. Suffice it to say that the moments of the episode I enjoyed the most, aside from the end fight, were the ones that we got to see more of this history explored. May’s a complicated character, but not so complicated that we can’t keep digging into her and finding more layers to peel back. And it’s clear that while the two ended on less than ideal terms, they don’t hate each other (Andrew’s calling her mother!) I hope that the show will allow him to come back in some capacity, especially since they certainly left the door open for future opportunities.

Cal’s recruits include Karla Fay Gideon (the talented and lovely Drea de Matteo, who plays her role with ease and skill), a woman with bladed finger tips, as well as Francis and Levi, two other men he’s already convinced to join his crusade. Getting Karla to join up with him is easy enough once he proves he has no association to S.H.I.E.L.D., and soon Cal and his Traveling Caravan of Misfits are stealing trailers and holing themselves up in fancy mansions like they’re students of Charles Xavier. (Okay, it’s a mental institution they break into. But it’s still mansion-like. And we can still use the Xavier School analogy because MARVEL!)

Quite honestly, the best part about this episode was seeing more of Cal’s “Mr. Hyde” side emerge. Kyle MacLaghlan is such a deliciously wonderful antagonist for this show and he brings so much to the role, and I love any chance he gets to fully dig in to his character. The scene on the football field, when he started baiting Coulson, was pure villain — and yet when Skye got in front of him, presenting herself to her father, you could see the softer side of him trying to sneak in underneath the hurt and the pain. Speaking of the football field — how amazing was that fight scene? May getting down and dirty and showing why she is a force to be reckoned with, Bobbi being her awesome kick-ass self and besting Karla with a towel (darn right) and Coulson taking on some action in his hometown. Couple that with the atmosphere, Skye, and Cal, and you’ve got yourself a pretty awesome third act that really gets at the heart of why Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been so on the ball this season.

And then there’s Bobbi and Mack and Hunter. Hunter, after last week’s mishap, has been handcuffed to a room in an undisclosed safehouse. I’m sure there are other places he wants to be handcuffed to (and other people he wants to be with) but that’s besides the point. He’s upset that Mack is keeping secrets from him, and Coulson, meanwhile, calls Bobbi out for rekindling her relationship with Hunter. At least Bobbi owns up to it pretty easily. It’s clear that she’s still emotionally compromised about leaving Hunter out of her business, but by the end of the episode, at least one thing is clear: Bobbi and Mack are willing to open up about who they’ve been working for: the real S.H.I.E.L.D. Which is…something we’re not sure of yet. Possibly S.W.O.R.D. (Sentient World Observation and Response Department) though that remains to be seen — though as S.W.O.R.D. was introduced by Joss Whedon in Astonishing X-Men, it wouldn’t be a far off guess.

Odds & Ends:

  • Absolutely adored all the girl talk tonight, especially between Bobbi and Simmons, a pairing we don’t see enough of. More of that, please!
  • So Gordon (the faceless man from the premiere) took Cal. And why was Cal taken? He was apparently making “too much noise.” Cal’s not the supervillain he thinks he is — he’s just a science experiment. And I think this is going to provide a very interesting path for him as we get deeper into the season.
  • Marvel easter egg alert! Angar (the screaming man) and Karla are both related to the Daredevil comics. It’s interesting that Marvel chose to feature those two in this episode, and it makes me wonder if there’s another tie-in coming down the line. I mean, Karla was in New York…
  • Cal and his buddies at the diner — shades of “damn fine coffee” all over again. Truly, I enjoyed how these random Index people could sit around without anyone paying them much mind, but let’s just roll with it. Besides, maybe they liked the pie.
  • I love how Garner brought out a bit of mending in the rift between Fitz and Simmons. God, it’s been forever since I’ve been able to call them FitzSimmons, hasn’t it? And really, that’s a big difference between seasons one and two. The first season, the duo were very much joined at the hip in many ways. Fitzs’ injury aside, season two has forced them to examine who they are as individuals — what they want and how they react to situations around them. It’s really helped their character growth.

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