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Saturday, December 20, 2014

"What" Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Has "Become"



Article originally written for Seat42F.
 

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. goes into its winter hiatus strong with “What They Become.” It’s a showdown above the hidden city as Daniel Whitehall (Reed Diamond), The Doctor (Kyle MacLachlan), and Director Coulson (Clark Gregg) all try to push their own agendas. Well, Coulson’s agenda is just to stop the other two before they bring about a cataclysmic event, but with the infighting among The Doctor and Whitehall, it becomes an all-out brawl. No one is listening to orders, and one of our heroes doesn’t make it out alive.

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. sometimes lets plots fester too slowly, but that complaint cannot be lobbied against the current arc, which has unfolded quickly and excitingly. The writers have kept the adrenaline pumping and the twists coming, including learning we’ve already seen Skye’s mother (Dichen Lachman) this week, which feels more like one of their films than a twenty-some-installments-per-year television show, a good thing for this particular series to do. By the end of the hour, I’m left quite dissatisfied with the three month break, wanting to watch the next chapter immediately, so they’ve done their jobs well.

It’s been cool to see Skye’s (Chloe Bennet) growth throughout the show. She’s gone from an angry, insecure rebel to a polished, tough agent in a year and a half. Before May (Ming-Na Wen) trains her, she may not have been able to stand up to her father, The Doctor, so easily, nor would she have shot Ward (Brett Dalton) as she does, without blinking. She’s become someone who can take care of herself, and separated from the group, that really comes out in “What They Become.”

I’m eager to see the next stage in Skye’s evolution. “What They Become” ends with her transforming into something else entirely. It appears she is a being with superpowers, which will take an emotional and physical toll on her, but like a polished diamond, likely send her out the other side better than she came in. She has the presence to handle such a change now, as she did not before, and given who she is, it’ll be interesting to see how she chooses to use what she has.

It’s unlikely the new Skye will want to include her dad in her life, but may be forced to in order to find answers. Coulson beats The Doctor in one-on-one combat, but surely Coulson doesn’t kill him. If The Doctor is the only one (besides the faceless man in the epilogue) that can explain things to Skye, then she may need him, at least in a prisoner-behind-glass sort of arrangement, which MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. has done before pretty well.

It’s sad that the cost of that transformation is Trip (B.J. Britt). He doesn’t die in a heroic, noble sacrifice. He dies doing his job and rushing to a friend’s side, unaware of the danger. Nor is Skye able to warn him, not knowing herself what is coming. His demise is purely an accident, one that will make Skye less likely to embrace her new self, as it’s a cost she wouldn’t choose to pay. It’s also a way for the series to lose an important, beloved player for a real emotional impact without touching its core cast, which makes sense from a practical standpoint.

Skye isn’t the only one that transforms, though. Right beside her, Raina (Ruth Negga) goes through a similar metamorphosis. We don’t understand Skye’s connection to Raina yet, but it’s fascinating the role that Raina plays in the show. She’s practically ever-present, and every time one might assume her story is over, MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. brings her back to the forefront in a fresh development. She’s the villain that is always around, not purely evil and bent on world domination, but someone far less moral than our heroes, and one who gets in their way. Unlike Skye, Raina is eager for her change, and will probably be more willing to use any new powers she has gained. What are Raina’s goals now? Does the team need to stop her?

There are a plethora of wonderful, smaller moments in “What They Become,” too. From charged scenes between Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) and Hunter (Nick Blood), to a re-appearance of Mac (Henry Simmons), who looks like he may now be back to normal, to funny dialogue that the Koenigs (Patton Oswalt) toss to Trip, every scene is valuable. These bits are as important as the big stuff in keeping the series consistently engrossing and enjoyable, and they are very present in this truly excellent mid-season finale.

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. returns in March on ABC. In the meantime, the network will air the seven-week MARVEL’S AGENT CARTER beginning in January.

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