It’s strange but Afterlife felt so much like a return to old friends that it was uncanny!  I’ve mentioned in previous posts that it seemed silly how they keep on removing foes and friends at such a reckless pace but in Afterlife they actually seemed to bring some of them back!  We had Raina (or Porcupine head as I like to call her – I do have to say that the makeup job with her is pretty amazing … this isn’t the good old days of Star Trek for sure as it’s very difficult to “see” Raina under all the quills), Cal (Skye’s dad), Deathlok (looking way, way better costume wise in comparison to season one … I’d be quite interested in seeing a Deathlok inspired show/movie as he was always a character that I really liked in comic book form) and in a really surprising twist – Skye’s mother (Jiaying)!

I have to be honest, that one did take me by surprise as I really didn’t see her coming back to life!  Perhaps (dare I hope) that my previous complaints about Whitehalls death were also premature?  I mean he’s not the best villain (that sounds a bit idiosyncratic I think?) but considering the fear that he was held in by all and sundry, his death was a little bit anticlimactic I thought?

Unconscious for two days after Gordon rescued her, Skye wakes up nearly naked with acupuncture needles all over her body, the first step in the treatment that will help her adjust to the rapid evolution her body is undergoing. We also had a major new face – Lincoln (Luke Mitchell) who functions as Skye’s “transitioner” and helps her adjust to her new home and it is assumed in some way to her new powers.  He also has been transformed by terrigenisis and as it comes out during the course of the episode, we learn that Skye did it “old school” using a Kree temple and a diviner which people haven’t done for thousands of years … details aren’t really provided on how it is done now, simply that people are selected from the “descendants” that have the special gene and are then transformed.  So as you can see, while some questions are answered, we’re still left with a bunch more.  Lincoln’s power is actually quite cool (although he’s definitely NOT in the same game as Skye from the point of view of power levels) as he seems to be able to control static electricity and is able to help use it to heal & in limited ways overcome gravity.

Introducing Inhuman elements now is absolutely essential given the limitations on mutants in the MCU, however while we’re exposed to a fancy chinese botanical garden … there really isn’t anything unbelievable or “inhuman” about Skye’s new home.  While its obvious that the appearance is intended to create an atmosphere of tranquility that will ease the transition for those that are transformed by the Terrigen mist, it lacks a strong visual character. There’s a distinct Chinese influence, but it would be nice to see the design team push a little further and find ways to incorporate elements that are more unconventional and alien.

Continuing from our SHIELD vs “REAL” SHIELD storyline, Coulson and Hunter remain on the run and come up with a daring plan to steal a Quinjet which will give them a lot more flexibility.  Coulson – the master of the obvious – basically tells the REAL SHIELD where they are (the cabin the woods where they hid Skye) and offers himself up as bait.  May meanwhile is a prisoner of Gonzales who while still playing an irascible uncle comes across as also a bit more sympathetic as he gradually shows that perhaps there is a case to be made against Coulson and his use of powered people.  The surprise return of Deathlok as Coulson’s backup unfortunately only served to make Gonzales’ case stronger, but his inclusion of May into the board was actually a really nice touch as it showed he was trying to be as unbiased as possible.  What I really liked about Gonzalez though was his statements about loyalty and his utter belief that it’s SHIELD, not Coulson (or anyone else) that the team should be committed to above all else. Whether you think he’s right or wrong, that belief is one that is understandable as far his motivations go and it’s clear that he is willing to stick with his convictions when he actually lets Fitz go.

Talking about Fitz though … one team that has returned with a welcome bang is good old FitzSimmons – it was so good to see them back working together when they managed to “trick” Bobbi and Mac with Fury’s toolbox.

  • First Jemma sets the plan in motion. She lies to Bobbi, telling her It’s not a tech solution. It’s a lab solution.
  • Next, Fitz figures out what Jemma is doing. She’s scanning the surface dimensions… why would she do that? You can see his realisation that she is scanning it so she can print an identical looking 3D model.
  • Then comes the most Fitzsimmonsy conversation ever. So much subtext. I saw everything Jemma. Did you really want me to find out like this?
  • Well I was hoping you would so that we can work together on this. Do you have any idea how valuable the information inside this could be? You need to help me get it out. Get things back to normal.
  • Things can never go back to normal. Can’t you see that can’t any of you see what you’ve done you’ve destroyed a mans life for what. Because of fear? Well I don’t believe in fear. I believe in trust. And I’m shocked that you would do this you knew it would drive me away you may as well have packed my bags yourself. You want me to leave, don’t you Jemma.
  • If we work for SHIELD we have a DUTY to carry out our responsibilities. So perhaps it’s best if you do.

This was just completely awesome – they completely pulled the wool over Mac and Bobbi and Fitz is now on his way to join up with Coulson and Hunter.  Considering how easily Simmons disabled Bobbi in last weeks episode you’d think that she’d have learned her lesson and would stop underestimating her, but it obvious that Bobbi believes herself to be a “superior” spy to my favorite couple on the show.

Overall a really solid episode and while we didn’t have too much progression with any of the deeper mysteries it was not a filler episode and stuff actually happened!  While there’s considerable forward movement with Skye, the Gonzales/Coulson conflict lags this week. There’s the aforementioned sequence with Deathlok that spotlights the sweet new upgrades Mike Peterson has gotten since we last saw him, but not much else is especially memorable.

OK, I know that in the beginning I wasn’t a huge fan – I mean lets be honest, it didn’t really seem to be going anywhere did it? – and there were parts in the middle where it seemed to lag also and was full of filler and fluff, but after the big Hydra reveal, I’ve been forced to take back everything bad I’ve ever thought, mentioned or stated about Agents of Shield.

I admit it, I was wrong – this series is awesome and I can only hope that they not only end Season 1 appropriately (I have faith Joss) but that they are able to keep up the momentum in Season 2 (I’m assuming that there is a Season 2 here) and not have a repeat of the debacle that Heroes was!

While Ward’s grand reveal as a HYDRA agent was several weeks ago now, this episode really focused in on him and more specifically on the relationship between him and Garrett.  Stuffed full of flashbacks, this episode still had enough twists and turns to definitely satisfy but still left you wanting more.

Astonishing Tales #25 (Aug. 1974). Cover art b...
Astonishing Tales #25 (Aug. 1974). Cover art by Rich Buckler and Klaus Janson. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before we get into the recap of the episode, lets talk really quickly about all of the super cool gadgets and toys … I know that they showed the Corvette flying in the first episode (still the coolest part of that episode) and last week they utilized it further in effecting Skye’s escape from the clutches of Deathlok & Ward, however, this week it was all about the Howling Commando’s and their bag of tricks.  You had the laser cigarette (a really funny scene with May and Fitz), the joy buzzer EMP and a whole suitcase full of gadgets that still need to get used – I can’t wait!

Recap

Starting with our first flashback of the episode, Garrett approaches a young Ward currently incarcerated in a juvenile facility.  If you recall from last weeks episode, Ward told Skye how his brother had tortured him over the years, well it looks like the young Ward had decided to get revenge as he’d escaped from military school, stolen a car and then set fire to his own home with this brother inside it!  Ward is now about to be charged as an adult for the attempted murder of his brother (by the way, I wonder if his brother is going to appear in any future issues?) but Garrett see’s something in his young apprentice and offers him a way out if he’ll join up. When Ward says yes, Garrett breaks him out of jail and starts his training with actions more reminiscent of the Spartans than what one would expect from a spy agency.

Coulson and the Scooby gang meanwhile are still holed up in their motel trying to understand why Deathlok has killed a HYDRA affiliated drug lord, and, in fact, killed him in such a spectacular fashion!  Realizing that the only way they can get Skye’s magic USB stick loaded onto the HYDRA network is by finding a HYDRA computer, they decide to infiltrate Cybertek – the evil corporation with links to the Deathlok project.  Coulson and May poses as a scientists with the assistance of Fitz and Simmons via walkie-talkie (leading to some really funny moments) while Skye and the rest of the team try to determine where the computers are stored in Cybertek.  Surprise, surprise … there are no computers and Cybertek stores everything the old fashioned way (not sure if this makes too much sense unless this building is just a front for another location) on good old paper.  Breaking into the filing room, Coulson and May discover that the Deathlok program goes all the way back to 1990 and Garrett was the first Deathlok – which explains the metal plate shown on his stomach a few episodes ago!

Flipping back to the baddies, Garrett has had Raina continue the research on the GH325 serum as he confesses to Ward that he’s actually dying.  While the Deathlok components are functional his body is failing and right now the only thing keeping him alive is the Centipede serum.  Coulson and team realize the same facts pretty quickly by reviewing the Cybertek files and pursue Garrett and Ward to Cuba where they suspect Garrett is holed up.  While Fitz and Simmons are left at the airport, Coulson and the rest of the gang head out to where they think Garrett is, but, unfortunately, he’s already left and is in fact at the airport too.  Fitz and Simmons are quickly captured by Ward, but Fitz manages to set off the hand held EMP device from Triplett’s grandfather’s Howling Commando bag of goodies, short-circuiting Garrett’s Deathlok components.

Garrett almost dead now orders Ward to kill Fitz and Simmons and while he’s gone to do that, has himself injected with the repurposed serum that Raina had managed to compile.  Ward while obviously torn (flashback to his having to kill his own dog, but him not being able to do it) about the order, does comply and ejects Fitz and Simmons from the plane and into the ocean.  Once Garrett has been injected with the serum he has a violent reaction but seems to recover and when Ward asks him what he’s feeling he responds – “The Universe”.

Ian Quinn now rehabilitated with Shield’s downfall is meeting with some generals in the USA and is offering them the chance to own their own “Super Soldiers” … Quinn’s playing up of Deathlok’s splashy drug lord murder, the existence of HYDRA and the downfall of Shield makes them seriously consider it.

While all of this is going on, Coulson and the rest of the gang not aware of what has happened to Fitz and Simmons have finally located a HYDRA computer … unfortunately just as Skye is about to plug in her USB key, they are confronted with a host of Caterpillar enhanced super soldiers as well as someone holding one of the Asgardian battle sticks …

I really can’t wait for the next episode!

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Somewhat like old home week, the gang is finally all back together.  Skye has returned and with Ward’s inclusion last week our original cast of characters is now all together back on the boat … one thing that needs to be said though is that WOW have they changed.  Skye once a bit of a loner is now truly at home with her teammates, Fitz and Simmons with their on again / off again relationship/friendship (who knows what ship) are still just as confused – perhaps even more so and May … once the mother of the group to Coulson‘s dad is now possibly considering a divorce!

The elephant though … well that’s Ward really isn’t it?  Who he has become and what he’s done to those he considered his friends … this was his opportunity to really apologize and perhaps start working towards that redemption he seems to so desperately need.  The team (including us) would never give it to him – his actions go definitely beyond the pail, but unfortunately Ward’s apology really shows a lack of maturity and a true understanding of the pain and anguish that he has caused his supposed friends.

When Mack apologized to Hunter – it was meaningful … you could see the tears in his eyes (I know this was acting, but it was believable) but perhaps most importantly he said the right words:

I still believe in what I do, but I never meant for you to get hurt and I’m sorry for that and I’ll try to make it up to you in any way that I can.

Ward by contrast however blames all of his actions on how he was brought up, the abuses he suffered at the hands of his family etc… he refuses to take any ownership for his actions and his sociopathic tendencies and while it seems he’s trying to do the right thing by Kara (Agent 33) he’s unable to translate these actions into the necessary changes he’d need to make in himself.  While Ward seems to desperately want to be a hero again – he cannot redeem himself, truly redeem himself until he acknowledges and atones for his previous actions and shows true remorse.  Right now his only regrets seem to be that he and the team had “good times”

Whereas Captain America: The Winter Soldier had S.H.I.E.L.D being impacted greatly by the events of that movie and us literally being caught blindsided, this time S.H.I.E.L.D is providing us with some foreshadowing by way of Raina and her gifts and while I personally wasn’t that impressed with this (I’ll explain more later) it was to be expected.

Episode Recap

OK lets get down to the nitty gritty as there was quite a bit of stuff that happened in this episode including a tie in for the the upcoming Avengers Movie also (as previously mentioned).

*** Spoilers below ***

With the return of Cal and Skye to the Afterlife, Cal literally explodes (verbally) and lets the cat out of the bag in regards to Skye’s parentage.  If you recall from a previous episode Jianying wanted to keep this secret so I’m sure this is going to come back and bite her quite badly.  Skye wants to immediately attempt a rescue of Lincoln, but when Gordon initially attempts to do so himself he is accosted by Hydra agents and almost captured.  With Raina’s “influence” based on her visions, Skye has herself teleported to the bus prior to Coulson and the rest of the gang initiating their rescue attempt.

Coulson as just mentioned has managed to persuade Gonzales of the value of conducting a rescue operation to recover Mike Peterson (Deathlok) and also the unnamed powered individual (Lincoln) that H.Y.D.R.A is experimenting on.  While his apparent surrender to Gonzales at the end of the previous episode might have put him into Gonzales’ “power” it is quite apparent that Coulson can literally run circles around him.  His comments to Hill that Gonzales has a committee that actually vote on decisions shows the true derision that he feels for Gonzales.  The sad fact is that a leader is someone willing to make those difficult decisions and deal with the consequences of them both positive and negative and unfortunately as much as I like the Edward James Olmos – Gonzales is not a leader.  He is not the director of S.H.I.E.L.D.  OK, I’ll get off my soapbox now and get back to the recap! 🙂

Coulson gathers together the rest of the gang and with Skye’s return to the bus thanks to Gordon, they set off on an apparent suicide mission to infiltrate the H.Y.D.R.A base.  When H.Y.D.R.A detects the bus even thought is cloaked and fires two missiles apparently destroying it … our thoughts immediately go to the team … well, no, not really – we all knew they were fine didn’t we?  Anyways, it turns out that they were in a quinjet inside the bus and they actually used the wreckage of the bus as camouflage to sneak down.  Bakshi it seems has continued to keep them informed and they well knew the capabilities of the base prior to planning their assault.  Once they are able to obtain ingress to the base they actually meet up with Bakshi and split up into three separate teams with Skye/Ward and Bakshi on the rescue team.  While Skye initially uses her powers (which she seems to be gaining control of exponentially) to disable some H.Y.D.R.A agents, she really kicks ass in an action sequence that is up there with the May vs. May fight from Face my Enemy.  Kevin Tancharoen has directed several episodes this season, and once again he really raised the bar for action on this series when he staged an intricate sequence showing what Skye is capable of not just with a weapon but also with her body and the surroundings.  I can’t really speak highly enough if this sequence and I definitely want to see more of Skye kicking butt not just with her powers, but also good old fashioned hand-to-hand as this episode shows she’s definitely got the goods and the abilities to allow her to hold her own.

Coulson meanwhile leads Fitz and May on a separate mission to disable the anti-aircraft defenses that H.Y.D.R.A has in place so that S.H.I.E.L.D can send in some jets to destroy the base.  While Fitz is hacking the defenses however, Coulson seems to have another reason for being there – rescuing Deathlok and Lincoln it seems is simply a cover and a way for him to access the base.  In a similar sequence to what we saw with the Widow and the Captain from Winter Soldier, Coulson manages to obtain access to some information while May holds of the attacking H.Y.D.R.A agents.  May however is less than pleased at learning of this subterfuge and continues to push Coulson to come clean with her on all of the different secrets he’s holding very close to his chest.

Simmons similarly however had her own reasons for deciding to join the rescue attempt and while her attempt on Wards life fails she does kill Bakshi.  While I can understand Simmons’ need to avenge herself on Ward, I really feel that she is becoming more and more unhinged herself and if she’s not careful could end up just as damaged as he is!  Jemma is not a killer. I think she’s falling apart so quickly she doesn’t know how to stop it. So much hurt, pain… She can’t deal with it alone. That’s why I really hope she confesses everything to Fitz (including Bankshi’s death and I’m afraid of how is he going to react).

Returning to the base, Coulson hands over the cube but not before letting slip that Fury is still alive.  While Gonzales’ might think Coulson isn’t the Director, a phone call from Agent Hill demonstrates quite clearly that there are many others who believe the opposite.  While speaking to Hill, Coulson provides her with the information that he’d stolen from H.Y.D.R.A – the location of Loki’s scepter – and also informs her that they need to call the Avengers again.

Review

From the point of view of tying up a bunch of loose ends this episode absolutely delivered and I know I’m probably in the minority in my one gripe, but since this is my post I can state it anyways!  While I absolutely was expecting the fact that they’d somehow allude to the upcoming movie in S.H.I.E.L.D I hate the fact that they had to do it.  I know that they (the MCU) are all interconnected and I loved what changed in S.H.I.E.L.D after the events of Winter Soldier, but this “plug” for Age of Ultron felt like nothing more than that … an attempt to get more bums in seats.  Winter Soldier took me by surprise and the whole S.H.I.E.L.D v.s. H.Y.D.R.A impact along with the changes to some beloved characters … that was good storytelling.  This – well we’ve all seen the trailers for weeks if not months with Ultron … we know that these are the metal men that Raina is referring to and unfortunately as much as I enjoy Raina’s character and her thorny new look, her clairvoyance feels too much like a convenient plot device to put certain pieces in place.  The impact just isn’t there for these pronouncements which is really sad as the last 5 minutes of the episode removed some of the awesomeness that I felt in the rest of the episode.  I absolutely know and realize that the whole MCU is interconnected – I honestly do get that – maybe its just Raina.  It’s probably just me. 🙂

Coulson has kept the secret of the Theta Protocol close to the vest as the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., refusing to reveal what it means even to Agent Melinda May (Ming Na Wen). In “The Dirty Half Dozen” Coulson finally lets slip what this protocol entails while speaking to Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders): the Avengers as mentioned below and while I wasn’t too keen on how this was tied into the show, I am very curious to see what happens next week post Ultron and how that impacts S.H.I.E.L.D and the team.  While Ward is absolutely not redeemed (thankfully), the question is of course is his actions on/for Kara as genuine as he is making them out to be, or is he still playing another con, this time with her inside S.H.I.E.L.D?

By this point you’ve probably already seen the trailers for the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron.  If not you can find one of them at this link.  Something else that might interest you however is an overall cinematic for the MCU as presented in the video below.  I found it quite interesting and hopefully you will too!