Marvel’s Age of Ultron has come and gone, and without spoiling anything specific, the film isn’t looking to leave that much of a seismic impact on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It surely hasn’t left one on the story of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but there are thematic ripples running across this week’s “Scars” episode – one that mostly serves to set the stage for a final conflict brewing since Season 2 began.
And conflict is the watchword of the episode as the various factions and fraying relationships of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team attempt to hold it together in the face of the revealed existence of Inhumans. Skye stands at the center of this. Having just returned to the spy organization in time to aide in the rescue of her new electric pal Lincoln, the upstart agent has to find out where she belongs. Pulling on one arm is a resurgent Director Coulson. Firmly reestablished at the head of the table after an episodes-long subplot turned out to be a Wikipedia footnote for Age of Ultron, Phil is preaching cautious optimism about the brotherhood of mutants, er, Inhumans in their midst. But even as Robert Gonzalez and the rest of the nuS.H.I.E.L.D. operatives back Phil’s ascension on paper, the recent attack of robotic James Spader has them distrusting anyone anywhere with powers.
[Quick side note to point out how lame the reveal of the Inhuman name was. When Skye’s powers were referred to as such earlier in the season, it felt as though the name would be held back for the movies. But this week, she just blurts out “It’s what our ancestors called themselves” in a moment totally lacking in drama or fun. Wouldn’t it have been better to learn this when Skye was at Afterlife struggling with how her powers had changed her for the worst? What a swing and a miss.]
Meanwhile, Skye is getting pulled on the other end by her Inhuman mother Jiaying. While Coulson is fighting off interference from Gonzalez, Jiaying is battling with newly minted precognative Raina – who herself is set on taking a place at the head of the table. According to Raina, Jiaying’s meeting with S.H.I.E.L.D. will cause a great war to begin, and it seems as though she has teleporter Gordon on her side. But certified nutjob Cal (who we’re oh so conveniently told used to carry some kind of serum that certainly won’t show up later on) claims Raina’s lust for power makes her untrustworthy. The whole web does a decent job of sewing some doubt in the viewer, but a lot of this has been hinted at for so long, the payoff is weak. Even the mystery reveal of a massive stone from the Kree Empire in the hands of Gonzalez can’t quite ratchet up the tension.
Though the episode’s weakest material is against saved for Agent May, who largely gets ground up in other character’s plotlines even though she has a perfectly solid character arc to explore in more depth. May’s objections to former best pal Coulson’s secretive ways put her at the forefront of the movement to replace Phil in the Inhuman meet-and-greet with Gonzalez. But before her rather convincing reservations can get their due, Skye throws the show’s ugly “no choice to be made” child murder plot in our face, and then May is soon swept up in an Agent 33 subterfuge story that doesn’t hold water.
To wit: if May and Bobbi were meant to do recon, did no one see them leave together? If they were seen, did no one ask the real May where Bobbi was when she “returned” to base? Not even after May accompanied the rest of the gang to the meet at Afterlife? All of this is just proof that while the idea of Agent 33 and Ward continuing their vendetta against S.H.I.E.L.D. is solid in theory, the practice of it left everything to be desired.
At least the episode wrapped on an earned moment of legitimate excitement. The meeting between Gonzalez and Jiaying had enough question marks floating around it that the outcome was never assured. Gonzalez’s deep mistrust of powers could have meant that S.H.I.E.L.D. would falter in its quest to bring peace. Raina’s supposed vision of a war brought on by Jiaying’s actions could be true or just a power play ruse. So when the Inhuman leader turned the tables on S.H.I.E.L.D. and burns out their emissary with a weaponized version of this season’s early MacGuffin the Diviner, the way the dominos tumbled was just as interesting as the fact that they did.
Like many episodes of S.H.I.E.L.D. this year, this week’s installment was in conflict with itself. Does this drama want to be a superhero tie-in or a spy show. The former promises a cast of sprightly heroic types that we can root for no matter what. The latter keeps us guessing and cast doubt over every action and reaction. With only two weeks left in this season, let’s hope the writers set their focus on espionage, because it’s doubtful that they’ll be able to do heroics better than the Avengers.
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