There are so many things to be excited about as Agents of SHIELD returns from its winter hiatus that it is unclear even where to start, but a Whedon slow-clap is in order for how brilliantly the series is serving as a bridge between big-screen blockbusters and tying together so many different storylines in the larger Marvel Universe.
In the same way that Captain America: The Winter Soldier forever altered the SHIELD landscape, so does the introduction of the Inhumans storyline. And we’re still four years away from that feature film, which means we’re in for some seriously stretched-out development over the second half of season 2 as a primer for the introduction of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch in Avengers: Age of Ultron this May.
All the confirmed movies and Netflix superheroes on the horizon are enough to make your head spin, and don’t even get me started on the Sony crossover that will introduce Spider-Man into the fold.
If it were plausible, I would quit my day job and spend a solid year reading every Marvel comic book, seeing every movie, watching every TV show and playing every video game made over the past 50 years. Then I would beg Disney and Marvel Studios to add me to the brain trust so that I could live in the Marvel Universe and be a part of the magic. Hey, a guy can dream.
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An Inhuman Primer
“Aftershocks” kicks off back in 1983, with the eyeless Inhuman, who made a phone call after the Diviner was activated as a kid who can’t control his powers, locked in a safe room. His name is Gordon, and he’s screaming and teleporting around like Nightcrawler while Skye’s mom and another village elder discuss when he was exposed to the Terrigen Mist.
And if Terrigenesis is a mystery to you, here’s a quick introduction, some of which may or may not be revealed (but probably not in such direct detail). Back in the day, the Kree were involved in a war and set up a base on Uranus. They then traveled to Earth and began experimenting on humans with the intention of giving them powers to use against their enemies.
The test subjects became known as Inhumans and went on to form their own society in their own city, called Attilan. But in order for their special powers to be activated, they must inhale the mist and transform through the genesis, and the obelisk serves as a gauge of worthiness.
So while Gordon panics, Skye’s mom points out that he’s at the ideal age for transformation because he’s old enough to understand what’s happening and young enough to adapt. She soothes him with a hug, and the other village elder points out that all the Inhumans would be lost without her to guide them. Which brings us to the present.
Kree City Fallout
The flashback ends with Skye awakening in medical quarantine after the earthquake that rattled Puerto Rico, and everyone on the team is wondering what happened and blaming themselves in some small way for Trip’s death.
They deal with the stress as they do, with Coulson vowing vengeance, Mack welding, May taking out her aggression on a punching bag, Fitz working on some science-y stuff, Morse packing up Trip’s things, Hunter drinking and Simmons rooting through the Kree City rubble and running tests.
Meanwhile, the suits who run HYDRA are wondering who will take over for the now-dead Dr. Whitehall. They reckon Bakshi would be a good choice, but since he’s been captured by SHIELD, villain-in-charge Baron von Strucker is willing to promote whoever gets the enemy above ground and into the light, as they speculate Coulson will go on the attack.
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A Masterful Deceit
Coulson is willing to trade Bakshi to General Talbot in return for help taking on HYDRA, and he and May are driving the captive (in the back of an SUV with just handcuffs and no escort) to the US military base when they get rammed by a tractor-trailer (duh). May “kills” the “attackers,” and they’re moving Bakshi when another baddie jumps out and opens fire on May and Coulson. While they’re down, the shooter tells Bakshi to come with him, and as they drive, he pulls off his mask to reveal that it’s Hunter. Bakshi asks from whom he takes orders, and Hunter replies in a horrific American accent that it’s Bakshi, for now.
So, of course, the whole thing was a setup, and Morse heads out on a motorcycle after the SUV while Coulson and May clean up the “crime scene,” obviously happy that no pedestrians or other drivers saw the horrific truck crash and called 911.
Bakshi calls a HYDRA buddy, and Hunter points a gun at him the second he hangs up, saying he has orders to take Bakshi out of the picture after he made contact. Baskshi promises glory and cash if Hunter lets him live, so they head off to a HYDRA mansion.
Revenge Best Served Internally
When they arrive, Bakshi heads inside to meet his contact, while Hunter is joined by Bobbi in the SUV. Bakshi and his cohort call Dr. List and inform him that the Banker, the Baroness and the Sheikh hired Hunter and are making moves against them, and that Dr. List may be in danger. But there can’t be infighting in a time of transition, so List makes moves to kill the other HYDRA heads.
Foot soldiers then fire upon the bulletproof SUV, and Hunter takes them out with some side machine guns. He and Morse storm the mansion and kill everyone but Bakshi, whom they take into custody to deliver to Talbot, as promised.
So the leadership of HYDRA is decimated, at least for now, buying SHIELD some valuable time while the heads regrow. But, wow, that was quick, effective and well planned. Almost too easy…
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Raina and the World’s Greatest Dad
As Simmons preps to flood the Kree city and drown its potential, Raina emerges from the shadows to fatally slash several scene surveyors with her now-thorny mitts. She flees when Simmons goes after her with a gun, and she manages to track down good ol’ papa Cal to ask what the heck happened to her. She is terrified of what she’s become — some sort of human porcupine thing — and she breaks the good news that Skye was also exposed.
For his part, Cal is ecstatic that dear Daisy is on her way to reaching her potential, but he tells Rainorcupine there’s no fix for her, and if she can’t live that way, then don’t. His daughter might not love him, but she needs him, especially when she realizes how others will treat her now.
Raina decides to heed Cal’s advice, walking into traffic just as the SHIELD agents converge on her location. She attempts suicide by cop before Gordon teleports in with a protective shield around them, calls her beautiful and tells her he will guide her on her journey. Then they vanish.
An Aftershocking Secret
Back at HQ, Skye feels like a leper, knowing she’s different and caused the earthquake in the tunnel but not sure how or why. She makes things shake again as the team members scream at each other, but they are too preoccupied to notice.
Simmons conducts testing on Raina’s blood and determines that her DNA has fundamentally changed as a result of the exposure, and she fears it is a contagion that might also have infected Skye.
There was always a romantic tinge between her and Trip, and his death has prompted her to blame herself because she was more interested in studying alien technology than destroying it. Now she wants to eradicate anything that could be problematic, including Raina if necessary, and then it’s time to test Skye’s insides.
Fitzy pays a visit, saying he had been trying to wrap his head around the events and figure out how Skye was found unharmed surrounded by rubble. So he checked her vitals during the Diviner incident, during which her heart was clocked at 300 beats per minute. It didn’t add up, leading him to believe his head was going crazy again. But then he realized that she survived because she caused the earthquake, and the confrontation causes another Skye-induced tremor that shatters a light.
He ends up fudging the blood and DNA work to keep her secret, especially considering how Simmons is acting, and she is released from quarantine. She cries to Fitz that there is something very wrong with her, to which he replies that she’s just different now, not wrong.
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And, oh yeah, Mack and Bobbi are working on some sort of side mission behind Coulson’s back regarding Fury’s toolbox, and they use a toy model of Lola the car to find it hidden in Coulson’s desk. It doesn’t seem like Coulson would be so blind under the current double-agent circumstances to put anything in his office that he didn’t test first, but that remains to be seen.
The episode ends with the team sitting around a living room of sorts, telling their favorite Trip stories. RIP Agent Antoine Triplett. You will be missed. Even though we spent the entire first season wondering whether or not you were a good guy.
Who Knows What the Future Holds?
One of the beauties of SHIELD is that it’s entertaining to casual fans and diehards alike, and the benefit of Skye’s transformation playing out over a 10- to 12-episode arc is that we can watch her struggle to control and develop her powers more naturally (and fearfully) as opposed her mastering them in a two-minute movie montage.
With the success of Agent Carter over the past few months, particularly with female viewers, there was a lot of pressure for a hard-hitting first episode to retain the audience. And while I don’t know if “Aftershocks” ever had me on the edge of my seat, there are a number of concurrent plot lines playing out at once that will provide ample routes to carry us through the rest of the season.
What did you think of the show’s return? What are you theories regarding the Inhumans? Is Gordon a member of the royal family, and will the strict hierarchy exist like it does in the comics? And how will it all tie in with the upcoming movies? I’m very interested to see where things take us, and I am continually amazed with the foresight Marvel is able to put into all these projects. I’ve got my eye on you, 2019.
You can watch Agents of SHIELD every Tuesday at 9pm on ABC.
(Image courtesy of ABC)