Agents of SHIELD finds itself in an inevitable pickle ahead of the premiere of Avengers: Age of Ultron, and it’s a conundrum that’s been gaining steam for several weeks and is reminiscent of the stumbles that led up to the game-changing The Winter Solider.
The effects of the Captain America sequel reverberated through the entire Marvel Universe and breathed new life into the then-struggling small-screen series, providing momentum that has carried through until now.
But the challenge is setting the stage for the movie tie-ins without giving too much away, while still preparing the audience for the five- or six-week frenzy that comes to a head in the season 2 finale. And while “Melinda” attempts to bridge that gap with an intersecting double origin story of sorts, it is unfortunately a tale that is much better on paper than translates to the screen.
I blame time constraints for the disconnect because I can only imagine how hard-hitting the script was, but the memory of the story will disappoint less than watching it does. It’s unfortunate, but it accomplishes the same thing nonetheless.
Agents of SHIELD Recap: Skye’s Inhuman Helper and Deathlok’s Return >>>
Living in the Past
It was seven years ago when the fateful mission in Bahrain went sour, earning Agent May the nickname “The Cavalry” and turning her into the near-emotionless SHIELD mom we know today. But the events that transpired have been largely unknown, until now. And as I stated above, reading the details will leave a more lasting impression than the actual episode.
Back in the day, Melinda May is happily married to psychologist Dr. Andrew Garner, looking to start a family. It doesn’t really seem like she’s all smiles and rainbows, but there is definitely a lighter side that involves early morning co-showering.
Her last mission before the couple plans to kick baby-making into overtime involves a gifted individual named Eva Belyakov, whose specific powers are unknown. But Coulson and May plan a public meet and greet in Bahrain in an attempt to gain an ally before Russian authorities swoop in and grab her.
Give Me Your Pain
Unfortunately for SHIELD, Belyakov isn’t exactly looking for friends. And so her local militia buddies disrupt the meeting, grab a little girl off the street as a hostage and retreat into their stronghold. Twelve agents move in and are quickly captured.
SHIELD isn’t authorized to directly participate in any action, but when the Bahrain military rolls up, May heads inside to save the team. She calls her hubby on the way in, just in case, then she kicks asses and snaps necks until she finds her guys. But they’re all in a trance and tell her they “need [her] pain.”
She locks them in a room, takes out a few more baddies and then confronts Ms. Eva.
No Time Like the Present
Back in the Inhuman city of Lai Xi, Skye-Daisy-Quake is now under the guidance of her mom, Jiaying, who was apparently pieced back together after Dr. Whitehall cut her to shreds. Only Skye doesn’t know they’re related yet.
Mom reinforces what Lincoln already explained, that Skye is not creating vibration, only altering the natural movements that every object in motion already displays. She needs to focus on sensing or hearing the frequency, and then she’ll be able to control what quakes and what doesn’t.
Skye causes an innocent avalanche, then mimics notes played on wine glasses filled with water. Until, of course, she accidentally shatters all the glasses. Mom points out that while she’s destructive, she also has the potential to create beautiful music. But when Skye isn’t apt to feel at home in Lai Xi based on all her foster home experiences, Jiaying comes clean about being her mother, and they embrace.
Crossing the Streams
Past and present collide as Jiaying explains why Skye must keep their relationship a secret, because there is an Inhuman hierarchy that follows strict rules and would normally view her as a threat. She and Cal spent years scouring the globe for their daughter after he Humpty-Dumptied her, but when dad descended into his monstrous madness, she felt like she had to let Daisy go.
And so she returned to Lai Xi to protect others, but there are generally swift consequences for someone who does not usually follow the transformation procedure that Skye just skipped. There was one before who didn’t trust the process, and so Eva Belyakov stole Terrigen crystals and got caught up with criminals in Bahrain.
Her gift was absorbing the pain of others, feeding off it to grow strong. She had too much power to go unnoticed, which drew the attention of SHIELD and led to the epic battle with May that ended with Eva being fatally stabbed with a pipe. But Eva didn’t leave the Inhumans for herself, instead stealing the crystals to transition her daughter, in whom Jiaying saw a darkness.
It’s the End of the May as We Know It
The abducted girl in Bahrain is actually Eva’s daughter, who experiences so much pain at the death of her mother that she turns into a one-child killing crew, taking out militia members with the wave of her hand. As she advances on May, begging for one touch to absorb all the pain while the other captured agents zombie-walk into the room, the wannabe mom makes the unenviable decision to shoot a child and end the threat.
Despite Coulson’s urging to let the girl go and the praise from the saved agents who are shocked she was able to take out so many men, May retreats into the depths of her sadness. The incident brings about the end of her marriage and prospects of a family, and she requests the transfer to the desk duty that Coulson pulls her out of when Agents of SHIELD began.
And since that incident showed the Inhuman royal family what a mother might do to protect her daughter, Skye and Jiaying’s relationship must remain a secret, for the safety of both of them. But mom convinces daughter to have dinner with dad, promising that, afterwards, Cal will be taken away. He brings flowers and is absolutely giddy at the chance to provide his baby girl a better future.
A Pair of Sideplots
The first sidestory of note involves Raina, Gordon and Lincoln. The other newly-transformed Inhuman is struggling with her appearance and her pain. Despite Gordon’s best efforts to build up her self-esteem based on her inner beauty and powers, Raina feels like a monster.
Her dreams are filled with nightmares, where Skye and her dad are eating dinner with posies and happiness. They have everything, while all she has are thorns. She wants to leave, but Gordon convinces her that being out in public is too dangerous. Then Lincoln walks in on the Skye family dinner and realizes that Raina’s gift is dreaming the future.
SHIELD vs. SHIELD
Gonzales’ SHIELD has someone tailing Fitz, unaware that he has Fury’s toolbox, and has put May back in charge of the base in the hopes that she can figure out Coulson’s mysterious Theta Protocol and convince him to surrender peacefully. It becomes a bit unclear where May’s loyalties lie once she realizes Coulson wasn’t being entirely honest, but I think at the end of the day, we know the answer.
Deathlok’s appearance with new technology Simmons unwittingly developed (apparently), as well as Coulson’s shell corporations that are bleeding money and buying 100 cots, has Mack and Bobbi convinced that he is collecting and building a base for superpowered people. The revelation that Coulson has also been meeting with May’s ex prompts her to order Simmons to figure out a way to open the toolbox.
The epilogue jumps us to a fast food restaurant, where Fitz’s tail is a bit annoyed that he’s been holed up in the bathroom for 20 minutes. As they bang on the door, Fitz manages to open the toolbox and contact Hunter and Coulson. But before they can reunite, Fitz needs to lose his unwanted followers. So Hunter advises him how to use the hand dryer to make his escape.
A Disappointing Portrayal
The question of how May earned the “Cavalry” nickname has been a lingering one over the past two years, and the answer in and of itself is not disappointing. But it was much better in practice than execution.
The main issue was Eva’s daughter, who didn’t get enough screen time as an innocent victim for her transformation into a villain to have any real meaning. Despite the fact that she was a child, May killing her was no different than any of the other necks she snapped. The choice didn’t come across as a real dilemma because the lurching, advancing kid resembled the creepy child monster from The Ring more than someone we wanted to see be saved.
The elements were all there, in theory. A woman ready to start a family, a villain trying to protect her daughter and an impossible choice for the former to literally kill her dreams. But it just didn’t translate emotionally.
Still, despite that disappointment, the lingering memory will hopefully be of the story that was meant to be, and not the one that appeared on our television screens.
You can watch Agents of SHIELD every Tuesday at 9pm on ABC.
(Image courtesy of ABC)