YELLING. EMOTIONS. EVEN MORE YELLING.
This is pretty much what happens throughout the entire episode. Since this is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s first chapter since the midseason finale, it’s pretty much an aftermath episode that tries to process everything that happened before it. This means that we get little in terms of overarching plot developments and more of (attempts at) character development.
For the former, we get S.H.I.E.L.D.’s clever attempt at revenge on HYDRA (or rather HYDRA’s self-defeating protocols) for the loss of Trip. It’s an ok enough distraction that allows the series to set-up a more prominent role for Bakshi as he takes over from the now-deceased Whitehall and a chance for the audience to see how HYDRA handles internal power vacuums. Strange how the heads of HYDRA didn’t even bother to mention Strucker. Sure, he’s in charge of Euro-HYDRA and not a candidate for succession but what about the Sheik? One could fairly assume he’s in charge of Western Asia HYDRA and has no business in American affairs unless the show is trying to defy stereotypes and the Sheik is actually working in HYDRA-America’s projects.
Another plot development on this show is the increasingly intriguing nature of Mockingbird and Mack’s mission. This week, they try to locate the toolbox that Nick Fury gave Coulson last season. Could they be working for HYDRA? The US government? My money is on Secret Warriors even though it doesn’t make a lick of sense that Fury would give Coulson a gift and then try to steal it back from him.
However, like I said, these two things only make up a small part of the episode. The larger part is spent on Coulson’s crew dealing with their trauma post-midseason finale. Every character gets a chance to blame themselves for Trip’s death and Skye/Daisy’s current condition. Sadly, they express almost all of this through yelling. It’s like the director was lazy and just decided that yelling would convey everyone’s troubles easily so that the actors wouldn’t have to trouble themselves with a more subtle approach. Yelling isn’t a bad acting setpiece per se but this episode is a good example of when not to use it. At all. The delivery was so flat and contrived. Especially with Clark Gregg and Chloe Bennet, which is sad considering how much she has improved overall this season.
The only exceptions to this were the yelling scenes of Elizabeth Henstridge and the scene between Kyle MacLachlan and Ruth Negga. The latter one is a standout as it proves once again that Kyle is the MVP of Season 2. Kyle provides the right balance between fun and seriousness in his characterization that the rest of the cast should emulate. He manages to chew the scenery but not be hokey at the same time. The scene actually reminded me of Power Rangers because Kyle’s Cal reminds me of the amusing theatricality of its villains, Zed in particular.
Contrasting all the shouting matches is a nice quiet scene between Fitz and Skye/Daisy. It was an emotionally resonant moment for both characters as they came to terms with the challenges of Daisy’s condition. FitzSkye shippers are going to go ballistic. Honestly, it was like something straight out of an X-Men film/comic. This isn’t an odd coincidence since Marvel Studios is using the Inhumans angle to go around not being able to use most of the mutants. We will probably have more X-Men-Heroes moments like these moving forward.
Another problem of this show is its persistent struggle to look visually dynamic. In other words, the show still looks drab as hell even for a network show and the lighting leaves much to be desired. This isn’t helped by the fact that Agent Carter just finished. Sure, it’s easier to give a 1940s period show a distinct look but it makes AoS look even worse. Dull black, grey, and brown continue to dominate the color palette despite the more inspiring flashes of blue thanks to Gordon, the teleporting Inhuman. The show really needs to hire better cinematographers and production designers. One possible explanation for the show’s dull lighting is that these conditions make it easier for green screens to create CGI effects. It’s a flawed explanation since shows like The Flash manage to look bright but still have copious amounts of CGI.
Overall, it was an alright episode. Aftermath episodes are often a tricky business because showrunners have to balance characters dealing with previous events thoroughly but still advance the overall plot(s) forward significantly. The show decided to focus more on the former but failed to deliver as the Coulson group therapy sessions felt more like manufactured conflict in the vein of Jerry Springer. Hopefully, the show does not repeat that for the remainder of the season.
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.