Agents of SHIELD – Season 2 Episode 20
Agents of SHIELD has one more week to go on the second season with a double episode next week and has all of the pieces in place for an intriguing conclusion.
First of all I’ll address the second part of the tie in to Avengers: Age of Ultron that comes in this episode. Spoiler alert for that film by the way. It turns out that the mysterious “Theta Protocol” was the restoration of the Helicarrier that Nick Fury uses to rescue the residents of Sokovia during the climatic battle. I have to say that my immediate reaction was “is that it?”. “Theta Protocol” was definitely built up to be some sort of grand plan that Coulson was hatching for reasons unknown so to have it simply turn out to be the Helicarrier being parked in some garage somewhere was a massive letdown.
It also felt a little clumsy to have this be the reason that Gonzales suddenly trusts Coulson and is willing to work with him. Apparently working with Nick Fury and having that Helicarrier handy when it was needed makes Coulson worth a shot in Gonzales’ book. It’s a shame that such a big turning point in an antagonistic relationship relies on stuff happening elsewhere. Maybe if there had been a scene where Nick Fury turned up to collect it and spoke to Gonzales to put his mind at ease it might have felt less contrived but as it sits it felt a little too convenient.
One thing it did allow for was a further exploration into what makes Gonzales tick. Using Ultron as an example of the horrible things that could happen if people are left to do what they want without having to answer to anyone. The Avengers were -according to Gonzales- charmed by Stark’s natural charisma and let him create Ultron under their noses. Those of us who have seen the film will know the reality is far different but Gonzales won’t know that so it’s fine that his lack of in depth knowledge contributes to his opinion. It’s also really hard to disagree with him as Stark made a huge mistake creating Ultron without really having to answer for it, at least not quite yet.
This leads to the creation of a new status quo within S.H.I.E.L.D. which gets rid of the problem of their being two branches of the same organisation opposed to one another. It returns the structure of the organisation to something resembling what it was before. Coulson will be director and Gonzales’ people will make up the new council giving a sense of accountability to Coulson’s actions. He will no longer be working autonomously and all of his decisions will be discussed with others.
It’s a good idea and creates a fresh new dynamic within the show. This is especially evident in the briefing sequence where Gonzales identifies that Coulson is too close to the situation and that promotes reckless behaviour so it should be someone neutral that takes point on the whole thing. As with his comments about Stark it’s hard to disagree with him and I’m glad that these things are being addressed.
Coulson’s close relationship with his people is a great asset in getting them to trust him but it’s also a liability when it comes to being objective about a mission. I find it interesting that May agrees with Gonzales about needing a neutral party and I like that Coulson backed down after realising that he needs to give and take in order for this to work.
My inner fanboy -though it’s probably outer fanboy to be honest- loves that this show casually throws in the word Inhumans on several occasions. There’s no dancing around what they’re trying to do and the Inhumans have become an integral part of the show. It’s also lots of fun hearing Edward James Olmos using the words Ultron and Inhumans but that’s my fanboy self coming out there.
The Inhuman story is still grounded in Skye’s connection to it which prevents it from becoming too large in scope. What it boils down to is her feeling conflicted between her loyalty to her original family (SHIELD) and her birth family. This internal conflict informs the external one and has Skye perform the function of a bridge between the two sides. It works really well as she has a close connection to each side and it’s nicely punctuated by sweet little moments like the reminder of her friendship with Fitz and Simmons. Usually I would find a scene like that fairly insufferable but I thought it felt really genuine and was a nice reminder that Skye always has a place with them.
Skye takes a really important step forward by using the word “we” when describing them indicating that she has unconsciously identified with them and has in some way accepted that she is one of them. It causes Coulson to take a double take and shows how far Skye has developed over the course of this season. There’s a sense of ease about her currently suggesting she’s starting to find some sort of identity.
The heart of the conflict between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Inhumans is based on the innate mistrust of things that are different. This works on both sides as the Inhumans don’t understand S.H.I.E.L.D. -and by extension humanity- so a lot of tension is created. I really like how this comes across in the meeting between Jiaying and Gonzales. It starts off innocently enough with the two of them discussing what they stand for and explaining the reasons for being overly cautious but quickly gets out of hand.
It was a great discussion and Edward James Olmos turned in a fantastic performance where everything he said was dripping with sincerity. He didn’t make excuses for feeling mistrustful of those with powers and points out that they can be an asset or a problem. As with everything it depends on the people involved. He acknowledges that both good and bad people are given powers and need to be dealt with accordingly.
Jiaying has no reason to trust S.H.I.E.L.D. as far as she’s concerned and her reaction seems sedate at first. There seems to be a rapport building between each of them throughout the conversation but there’s also a building inevitability throughout the conversation. It slowly becomes apparent that Jiaying doesn’t have peace on her mind and takes the gift from Gonzales as a personal insult. She also won’t accept that his scars are any way comparable to hers. I have to say that she has a point as an injured leg is nowhere near the same as having your organs stuffed in jars. I did find her betrayal a little surprising and I’m sorry to see Gonzales go, I was hopeful that he’d hang around for the next season as he and Coulson have a really good tense working relationship going.
Jiaying’s declaration of war is just brutal as she disintegrates Gonzales as well as making it look like he shot her. I wonder if she feels that he people won’t follow her unless S.H.I.E.L.D. are made out to be the bad guys. Using Cal as a Trojan Horse when he’s all dosed up on Hyde serum can only serve as a problem for everyone. I look forward to seeing how this conflict plays out.
Adding another dimension to this is Raina complicating matters by apparently trying to manipulate those around her with her visions. I like that the episode leaves it ambiguous by not showing the visions and leaving it up to the audience to decide if she’s being honest or not. Raina has had moments of honesty and dishonesty in the past so it could go either way but she always looks to benefit herself. Cal’s confirmation of that was a great scene and I found it fascinating that her initial warning seems to come true. She mentions that Jiaying meeting with S.H.I.E.L.D. is where it starts and it turns out to be true. It was a clever bait and switch as I was all for trusting Jiaying and assuming Raina was the liar. Interesting how my expectations were toyed with here.
Bobbi being tricked by Kara into being captured was a little unexpected. Ward’s appearance was a genuine surprise as he came so late in the episode I had assumed that he simply wasn’t in it at all. It’s no surprise that Kara is working with Ward but what they have planned for Bobbi has me stumped a bit.
I really liked the scene where Mac apparently quit. His conversation with Coulson was very raw and honest which showed the respect that Mac has for the guy. He likes and respects him but doesn’t trust him and completely disagrees with his methods so can’t bring himself to work for him. It’s very noble and principled and a really mature walking away scene. I don’t think he’ll be gone but it worked really well for me.
With the finale looming everything is set up nicely between the war with the Inhumans and Ward’s overall plan. I’m also curious to find out what the artifact in the cargo hold is. I’m completely at a loss as to what it could be.
Despite a somewhat clumsy tie in to Avengers: Age of Ultron that wasted the potential of the mysterious “Theta Protocol” this was an excellent episode that set up the finale really well.
The tie in wasn’t a total loss as it allowed the episode to explore Gonzales in really interesting ways. His comments about Stark being left unchecked nearly dooming the world connecting to Coulson’s reckless behaviour was a solid thematic link and a very persuasive point. Coulson’s willingness to compromise and stay as director with Gonzales and his people making up a council that he answers to creates an interesting new dynamic and evolves the organisation.
Keeping the Inhuman story grounded in Skye’s conflict between her allegiance to S.H.I.E.L.D. and her sense of place with the Inhumans is a great choice and prevents the whole thing from becoming too large. Everything stems from Skye’s connection to both sides and she forms the bridge between them. A sweet moment between Skye, Fitz and Simmons helps to illustrate this perfectly.
Gonzales being sent in to meet with Jiaying as a neutral party makes a lot of sense given Coulson’s emotional investment in both Skye and the situation. Edward James Olmos is fantastic in this scene as he shows a lot of integrity in describing what it is he stands for and trying to find common ground with Jiayang. Her declaration of war is a little unexpected and certainly came as something of a shock.
The episode cleverly pulls a bit and switch by leaving it ambiguous as to whether Raina is being manipulative or not and turning it on its head when her prophecy turns out to be true. It’s probably a natural instinct for the viewer to mistrust Raina so playing on that was a clever twist.
Bobbi’s capture by Ward and Kara was a nice touch as well. It was left so late that I assumed that Ward was sitting this one out so it caught me off guard. I wonder what their plan for her is.
I am optimistic about next week and think this season finale is going to promise big things for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole.