UnSHIELDed: There's Definitely Something in the Water

Way back in its first season, Marvel's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." began to lay the seeds for an Inhuman presence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe when the S.H.I.E.L.D.-Hydra conglomerate decided to revive Coulson with Kree blood. The show stepped up its game in the second season, dropping hints with the obelisk and then going wide with Skye's Terrigenesis and name reveal. Ever since, it's been Inhuman-palooza, from the secret Inhuman society Afterlife to namedrops like "Terrigen," "Kree" and -- of course -- "Inhuman." By the conclusion of "S.O.S.," the two-hour season finale of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," Terrigen has gotten into the general population, whether or not anyone knows it -- and the implications are huge.

Last October, I speculated that the show was gearing up to drop a Terrigen bomb -- and, well, I wasn't wrong. In "S.O.S.," Jiaying tried her damnedest to release the Terrigen Mists -- mixed with the deadly Diviner material, naturally -- into the atmosphere, just like Black Bolt did with the Terrigen bomb at the end of Marvel Comics' "Infinity" event. The effect would have been more-or-less the same, if much more lethal: there would have been a Terrigenesis boom among Inhumans like Skye who weren't aware of their dormant Kree modifications (except, in Jiaying's plot, anyone who lacked that certain alien kick would suffer a crumbly death). Things didn't exactly go her way, but the end result was certainly the same; because the crystals fell into the ocean and weren't destroyed, the Terrigen Mist was still introduced to the population at large, albeit in a rather unorthodox way... but what does this mean for the MCU?

"Agents of SHIELD" EP Talks Season Finale Bombshells & Repercussions

First, we need to consider the fact that the Terrigen will be dispensed in a rather odd fashion: it was diluted into the water, then absorbed by fish, processed and sold as fish oil tablets that promise to "change your life." This could mean that the deadlier effects of Jiaying's manufactured Terrigen crystals are lessened, or that the lethal Diviner metal has been taken out of the equation entirely. If not, there will be a lot of casualties in the vein of Stan Lee's cameo in "The Incredible Hulk." The show may decide against the deadly Terrigen fish tablet route, if only because that's a little dark for the MCU; on the other hand, however, a sudden boom of Terrigen-related deaths would certainly instill a sense of fear of the Inhumans in the general population. Either way, one thing is certain: we're about to get a whole lot more Inhumans on the show.

And how is "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." planning on tackling that? Well, they answered that long before it was even asked. Ever since its pilot, the show has been heavily influenced by Jonathan Hickman and Stefano Caselli's "Secret Warriors" run, which features Nick Fury's right hand woman, Daisy "Quake" Johnson, and her band of powered sleeper agents. "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." has already proved itself to be an origin story for Skye, in that it covered her recruitment to S.H.I.E.L.D., the birth of her seismic powers and her true heritage. The next logical follow up, then, is the institution of Skye's team.

In the finale, Raina revealed to Jiaying that Skye would be an Inhuman leader. What's more, in a blink-or-you'll-miss-it moment, Coulson holds a blue folder that says "Caterpillars" on it. In "Secret Warriors," Fury runs several different sects of sleeper agents, each one called a caterpillar team; since Fury is busy with other MCU events and Coulson is the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., however, it seems that Coulson will be taking Fury's place in the series. Further, Coulson has established that he is more than willing to work with the Enhanced, as he's willingly teamed up with Cal, Skye and others. It should come as no surprise, then, if "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." heads in that direction this fall.

Further, following the way-less-hyped-but-nevertheless-looming "Ant-Man" film, the next big MCU event is "Captain America: Civil War." I've written about how "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." will tie into that particular MCU installment several times; however, it seems more likely than ever that this influx of Inhumans will likewise impact the film. The "Civil War" comic series -- penned by Mark Millar and penciled by Steve McNiven -- pitted Captain America and Iron Man against each other over the Superhero Registration Act. With only a handful of Avengers in the current MCU, this didn't seem like the direction that the movie would go in with the current roster -- but now, with S.H.I.E.L.D.'s fiercely anti-Enhanced members and pending Inhuman explosion, it's certainly within the realm of possibility. Inhumans aren't known to the world at large yet, but the sudden increased in the Enhanced is sure to turn heads and allegedly pose a threat to world powers, much like mutants in the currently self-destructing main Marvel Universe.

That last point brings me to one of the major "deaths" in the episode. Just before her plan came to fruition, the immortal Inhuman Jiaying "died" at Cal's hands, shortly after trying to kill Skye. The quotation marks, of course, denote the fact that Jiaying has seemingly died before; a broken neck seems to pale in comparison to her vivisection, which removed all her organs. The door seems to be open for Jiaying to make a violent return -- she did, after all, drain the life out of an entire village to heal herself with Cal's help, and she must still have loyal Inhuman followers from Afterlife -- and that would be an incredibly wise decision on the show's part for a handful of reasons.

First, Jiaying is -- essentially -- the Magneto of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." -- and Magneto has stuck around as long as he has for a reason. Like the Master of Magnetism, Jiaying acts as an Inhuman leader and hopes to procure peace for her people through isolation or the assured destruction of the threat posed by humanity, telling Skye, "This war was started when S.H.I.E.L.D. was created to protect the world from us." Like Magneto, she has a complicated family history. She has a tragic back story, where her family was torn apart by the greedy, fascist organization that tortured her and her inability to cope with that. She's just as compelling as Magneto because her motivations are just as sympathetic, if twisted. She's a powerful, engaging character, and the show would lose a lot of intriguing potential storylines about her role in the new Inhuman status quo if they don't seize the open opportunity to bring her back.

Second, the show killed off all three of its female villains in its last episode: Raina, Agent 33 and Jiaying. "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." has made incredible strides with representation for women of color in the MCU; it's a shame to see three of them go in one fell swoop, particularly when each of them was compelling in their own distinct ways and had plenty of potential. Raina's departure is unsurprising, due to Ruth Negga's recent casting in AMC's "Preacher." However, Agent 33 got (dare I say) fridged, her death only serving to give Ward angst. If Jiaying were to come back, her return would lessen this pretty major blow to the show's cast.

Third, while we're on the topic of representation, Jiaying is the first major female villain on the show who doesn't resort to her sexuality to get what she wants. As fascinating and well written as Raina was, this was a tactic she regularly employed, which is part of the reason why her Terrigenesis was such a tragedy to her. Agent 33 often used her appearance to disarm her opponents, even if there occasionally wasn't a sexual component to her disguise. Jiaying, on the other hand, relied on manipulation and half-truths; she inspired her people to follow her after gaining their blind loyalty and trust through her genuine care and ageless experience. However, she could recognize people's desires and used them for her own benefit, particularly in Cal's case (though that ultimately backfired). She was dangerous, not because of her sexuality or her power but because of her cleverness, and that was a refreshing take. =

Regardless of whether or not Jiaying comes back, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." finished out strong with its second season. By pursuing its Inhuman roots, the show found a purpose independent of the MCU films; while "It's All Connected," the series had suffered from relying on the movies just a bit too much, but this season found a steady direction and stuck with it. Hopefully, the show will continue to improve. I, for one, can't wait to see what this new plethora of Inhumans has to offer. See you in the fall!

This Season's Ripples in the Water...

  • Cal ominously humming "Daisy Bell" as he was brought into S.H.I.E.L.D. custody. Shivers!
  • Raina went out like Greek mythology's Cassandra. Nice touch.
  • It was nice to see the return of Skye's mad hacker skillz, which were all but forgotten until this episode.
  • Ward ultimately suffered the punishment he and Agent 33 designed for Bobbi when he accidentally killed Agent 33.
  • Live Free or Mac Hard! Mac got a kickass role in this season ender, and I'm glad to see that he'll be sticking around for next season; I was afraid the show would lose its sole man of color after that.
  • Coulson seemed to be laying out plans for a new Bus at the end of the episode.
  • Just because Cal underwent the T.A.H.I.T.I. protocol doesn't mean he's out of the show forever; after all, Coulson was able to overcome the conditioning. Fingers crossed that we see the return of the wonderful, wacky, absolutely insane Hyde next season!
  • The Inhumans' takeover of the Iliad helicarrier set up a nice parallel to the Hydra invasion flashback from earlier in this season.
  • Don't forget: Glenn Talbot wasn't affected when he was hit by Hydra's Diviner weapon way back in the first half of the season. Is he one of the dormant Inhumans? Oh, totally.
  • Could Lincoln be Skye's first recruit on her very own caterpillar team?
  • I found this season to be extremely polarizing. The general consensus seemed to be that viewers really enjoyed the Inhuman storyline or the dueling S.H.I.E.L.D.s storyline. Camp Inhuman, represent!
  • The show has done a solid job with diversity since its inception. However, its queer representation has been underwhelming.
  • Hopefully, that will improve in the upcoming season three.
  • I'm a little disappointed that the Fitz and Simmons romantic relationship seems to be panning out. On television, it's rare to find a close platonic relationship where one was turned down by the other, and it would have been nice to see them to come together as friends after all they went through.
  • So what was the Kree artifact that sucked Simmons up at the end of the episode? Your guess is as good as mine! Part of me hopes that means she's Inhuman, as it would be fascinating to watch a rather anti-Enhanced character cope with her own super abilities.

Stay tuned to CBR News for more on the future of Marvel's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."

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