SPOILER WARNING: This article discusses major plot points from "Avengers: Age of Ultron." Read at your own risk!
Following the end of "Scars," all-out war between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Inhumans appears to be inevitable. Between the "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s" last two episodes and the events of "Avengers: Age of Ultron," a lot has gone down in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Coulson and Gonzales have united under a common cause, S.H.I.E.L.D. is back out in the open thanks to Nick Fury, the Theta Protocol was unveiled, a united S.H.I.E.L.D. found Afterlife, Jiaying incited a war and more. Unlike last season's reaction to the fallout form "Winter Soldier," "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." hasn't dwelled on the "Avengers" events, instead opting to charge forward with its own mythology, marking a positive change in the show's overall direction and maximizing its potential.
Truth be told, "Age of Ultron" barely left a dent in the show's plotline. This makes sense for a whole host of reasons, but particularly because the film didn't have much to do with S.H.I.E.L.D. at all. Sure, Nick Fury showed up with Maria Hill and a helicarrier just in time to rescue Sokovia -- which is a big deal for the state of the show -- but Ultron's robot legion didn't interfere with the underground S.H.I.E.L.D. factions at all; the agency may have helped and reacted to Ultron's threat, but it wasn't involved in the main action.
That said, "Age of Ultron" certainly affected the show's character's mentalities. Aside from Raina's vision in "The Dirty Half Dozen" and Coulson's Theta Protocol reveal at the beginning of "Scars," "Age of Ultron" took a heavy toll on both of the agency's contending leaders. Gonzales challenges Coulson's position as sole director using the fact that one man -- Tony Stark -- could cause so much destruction because his friends trusted him; Coulson, seeing his point, reluctantly agrees. The tragedies inherent in the film enable the two to come to terms with each other and work together. This is an important aspect of "Scars" that goes on to affect the episode's climax, but it's an influence that never overshadows the plot. Last year's "Winter Soldier" almost felt like it put a stopper on the progression of the show, with the series biding its time until it could go all-out with Hydra madness once the movie was in theaters. This season's more nuanced approach has done wonders for the show in terms of its pacing; it feels as though the show has grown into and owns its own potential, making its own waves instead of bobbing along at the mercy of the MCU currents made by its movie counterparts.
In much the same way as the show has adapted to its role in the MCU, an evolution theme -- majorly present in "Age of Ultron" -- has also reared its head in the past two episodes of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." In the film, Ultron spoke about it so often that I was almost convinced that he'd be the one to detonate a Terrigen bomb, using his knowledge of Strucker and List's alien enhancement technology (you know, the same stuff that created the Maximoff twins). Of course, Ultron meant it literally; he wanted people to become better in order to ensure peace and, seeing no way for that to be possible, decided to blow it all to hell instead so a "better" man could rise from the ashes. On a more subtle level, the Avengers had to learn to adapt to a situation completely alien to them, growing and evolving as a found family in order to overcome their foe.
"Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." has been working with this on a literal and metaphorical level as well, particularly in the past two episodes. There is, of course, the obvious element: Inhumans. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has repeatedly denied the Inhuman-mutant connection, but it could not be more apparent than it is now. The Index is nothing more than a dressed up Mutant Registration Act, and the fact that Coulson and Gonzales agree that they need to enroll all of the Inhumans in Afterlife in their database is prime evidence of this. What's more, like I mentioned in my last article, the Inhumans evolve in certain ways based on their society's needs, at least they do in "Inhumans" by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee; if that's the case in the show, the need for a teleporter (Gordon) and a clairvoyant (Raina) is telling. Further, the Inhumans who undergo Terrigenesis are selected by Jiaying, pushing their evolution towards a "survival of the fittest" kind of territory. The Inhumans are all about evolving and working to be their best for the community, to the point where Lincoln is horrified that he was rescued from the Hydra facility by S.H.I.E.L.D.
On the more metaphorical level, the Inhumans -- or, at least, Jiaying -- are not ready to evolve when it comes to interacting with the outside. Jiaying has a bad history with humans, having been physically dismantled by Whitehall and Hydra. In "Scars," she's willing to resort to drastic measures in order to prevent that from happening again, to her or anyone else, going so far as to incite a war with S.H.I.E.L.D. by killing Gonzales and wounding herself. Though she acknowledges that her people "would never blindly follow me into war," she gives them a reason to fight, and -- if next week's preview is any indication -- fight they will.
Of course, Jiaying isn't totally without cause here, no matter how sinister her methods. After being tracked down by Hydra, it's understandable that she wouldn't want that to happen to any of her people. Plus, S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't exactly have a spotless record, since they were run by Hydra for the better part of their history; sometimes, the lines between S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra are a little too blurred. After all, as Gonzales explains to Coulson, S.H.I.E.L.D. was created to rein in the Enhanced. However, her unwillingness to listen to or reason with Gonzales' best intentions shows just how much resistance she's willing to put up. Jiaying is desperate, and it looks like she's going to make some drastic measures in order to preserve her people.
Conversely, S.H.I.E.L.D. seems more willing to adapt as an organization. The design of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s hierarchy is literally altering in these episodes; as director, Coulson agrees to answer to a board and makes a compromise in order to show his good faith. As mentioned above, Gonzales -- for all his prejudice against the Enhanced -- makes a sincere, if bungled, attempt at making peace with Jiaying. There have been growing pains, considering the coup staged against Coulson and Coulson's secret keeping, but both sides of this S.H.I.E.L.D. war have made efforts to grow together in order to become a better overall organization. Time will tell how long this particular evolution will last; a war between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Inhumans -- Skye's two families -- is sure to damage at least a few relationships, after all.
With only the two hour finale left in "Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s" second season, even more change is undoubtedly on its way. Ready or not, S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Inhumans, much like the show itself, will have to learn to adapt to their new status quo -- but it's going to be a hard road.
Evolutions from the Past Two Weeks:
- Rest in pieces, Bus...
- ...but I've got to admit, I've always loved how it was coded SHIELD-616, in reference to the main Marvel comics universe.
- That tracking shot of Skye as she takes down a room full of Hydra baddies. Hot damn!
- The Koenigs have "Star Wars" bedsheets. Ever working that synergy, Disney!
- The sticky note on Koenig's mirror says, "Call your sister." Hmmm...
- Skye finally namedropped the Inhumans!
- We're about to see Cal go full Hyde. How exciting!
- Cal seems to be in cahoots with Jiaying. Jiaying obviously didn't want to let Cal into S.H.I.E.L.D.'s custody, and it's awfully convenient how his Hyde formula ended up in his system just before he walked onto that quinjet.
- Much like his comic book counterpart, Mac quit S.H.I.E.L.D. In the comics, he even writes a tell-all book on S.H.I.E.L.D. As a matter of fact, that's where this column gets its name. I'm hoping he isn't gone for good and that he'll show up in the spinoff with Adrienne Palicki and Nick Blood.
- Jiaying has been experimenting with the Terrigen crystals. She was even able to weaponize the one she used against Gonzales. Maybe we'll see some more Inhumans among S.H.I.E.L.D.'s recruits.
- Jiaying mentions 5 diviners in her possession. S.H.I.E.L.D. had 7 originally, one of which was used by Hydra in the beginning of the season. Where's diviner #7?
- The Inhumans are probably very much outnumbered by S.H.I.E.L.D. Does Jiaying have a failsafe of some kind to protect the Inhumans? She seems much too rational to leap into a war without a plan.
- I'll be honest: I'm at a total loss about what this Kree weapon is. It's a rock that... isn't quite a rock. Regardless of the fact that S.H.I.E.L.D. knows relatively nothing about it, I'm sure they're going to try to use it against the Inhumans as soon as they find out what it is. I'm sure it will have unintended consequences.