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Friday, April 10, 2015

MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. "Afterlife" Review

Article originally written for Seat42F.

This week’s installment of MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. takes us into the “Afterlife.” Specifically, Skye (Chloe Bennet) wakes up in a place called Afterlife, where she is surrounded by both those with powers and many who wish to have them. Meanwhile, everyone else searches for both Skye and a way into the toolbox as the conflict between the “real” S.H.I.E.L.D. and Coulson (Clark Gregg) continues.

It’s a bit of a relief to see Skye among people who can help her. I understand her desire to go save her friends, but Skye is not much use to them in her current, unstable state, anyway. With Gordon (Jamie Harris), Lincoln (Luke Mitchell, The Tomorrow People), and the woman Skye doesn’t know is her mother and whom many believe to be dead, Jiaying (Dichen Lachman), Skye has a chance at not only controlling her abilities, but figuring out how to use them. She will come out of this experience better than ever if she just allows herself to listen to them, as they do seem to have her best interests at heart, at least for now.

A setback occurs when Skye learns that the group is treating Raina (Ruth Negga), too. It’s hard to know if Skye’s right and Raina doesn’t deserve assistance or if Jiaying is right and Raina was just Cal’s (Kyle MacLachlan) pawn who merits compassion. Seeing that Gordon and Jiaying have Cal locked up is encouraging, but Skye doesn’t know the fate of her father, so that’s of no comfort to her. Will Raina come out of this place with newfound purpose, or will she continues to do fiendish things because what she wanted didn’t turn out to be what she expected?

Coulson and Hunter (Nick Blood) go looking for Skye, believing she is more crucial to immediately retrieve than S.H.I.E.L.D. itself is, or perhaps believing that Skye is the key to taking back the organization. They have a bit of help in doing so in the form of Deathlok (J. August Richards), who has undergone some impressive upgrades. “Afterlife” is a little slow in moving this part of the story along, but it’s worth it just to see Hunter’s face when Deathlok shows up, an event Coulson doesn’t clue Hunter into for that very reason. Priceless. And by the end of the episode, the trio has a method of transportation, plus they’re heading towards Ward (Brett Dalton), which promises to be awesome, so it all plays out well.

Coulson has other assistance, too. May (Ming-Na Wen) remains completely loyal. Gonzales (Edward James Olmos) offers her a seat at the table in “Afterlife” and urges her to take it for Coulson’s sake, but she doesn’t seem to accept. This scene demonstrates both who May is, which I never doubted, but also backs up Gonzales’ claim that he is not a bad guy and just wants to help S.H.I.E.L.D. be what it should. He does want to stop Coulson, which causes conflict, but we see him treating the rest of the team with nothing but respect. That’s a good sign.

Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) take advantage of Gonzales’ leniency to smuggle the toolbox out of the base with Fitz, leaving Simmons almost exactly where she begins the season, a lone mole among enemies. By working together here, the twosome repairs their troubled relationship, though Gonzales’ people don’t see that, thankfully. Sadly, though, the bond between Mack (Henry Simmons) and Fitz seems to be destroyed. It’s uncomfortable to watch because Mack truly does think he’s doing the right thing, as does Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki), and their commitment to Gonzales isn’t that different from our main cast’s commitment to Coulson.

Is Gonzales right in thinking Coulson’s people shouldn’t put their loyalty to Coulson ahead of their loyalty to S.H.I.E.L.D.? For them, Coulson is S.H.I.E.L.D. and understandably so. They’ve watched him lead the organization through its darkest time. Yet, if Gonzales is going to lead the new S.H.I.E.L.D., perhaps they’re making the wrong decision, and maybe Coulson, who has admittedly been erratic, really shouldn’t be in charge. He seems better after the temple, but they don’t all know that for sure yet. Coulson is a great guy, but he’s not a perfect leader. Nor is Gonzales, though, even if he does allow the others to overrule him on May and let democracy win.

I still keep hoping there’s a peaceful resolution to be had here, and perhaps Skye will be the tool that can make it happen, once she wields her power correctly. None of the S.H.I.E.L.D. people, on either side of the schism, deserve to die or be locked up. They just need to come to an understanding, which will be difficult, given the strong personalities and opinions involved. “Afterlife” gives me optimism if only because both sides of the fight seem to be acting reasonably rationally, putting their cause ahead of personal feelings, even if they disagree on what that cause means exactly.

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

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