Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. “Melinda” Review

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Posted April 17, 2015 by Kenneth Rodriguez in Nerdy Bits

If you would like to catchup on last week’s episode, you can find that here

This week’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was a much needed showcase for one of the consistently-best characters in the MCU, Melinda May. Over the past Season and 3/4ths, we’ve heard all about May being “the Cavalry” and her disdain for that name, with really no explanation as to why. We’ve heard she was granted the moniker after a particularly hard run-in with a powered individual in Bahrain, something that changed her. AoS has built up this reveal for a very long time, and I can say with certainty that it definitely delivered on its shocking promise. Everyone thinks May is cold as steel because she is so badass, but we learn through expertly staged flashbacks that this isn’t quite the case; May was forced to do some terrible things, and she lost a part of herself in the process. Hats off to Ming-Na Wen here, portraying the same character in two vastly different points of her life, all while showcasing a shockingly-horrific event that bridged May’s character gap in a believable and sympathetic way. This was tied to Skye’s journey in understanding her place in Afterlife in a way that sort of buried the lead a bit, but it made sense narratively.

But with that precursor, let’s get to the details.

Eva , on the run

Eva , on the run

We open seven years ago, with a view of May and her husband’s happy, domestic life. We learn they are trying to start a family, and things couldn’t be happier as Coulson arrives to pick May up for their mission: A dangerous woman named Eva Belyakov has escaped Russian custody in the island nation of Bahrain, and S.H.I.E.L.D. wants to find her before the Bahraini military does. S.H.I.E.L.D. hopes to convince her to come to them willingly as an asset, since Fury is starting up his plan to “gather Earth’s mightiest, and see if they are heroes” (nice, if a little on the nose, Avengers  reference there Coulson). If she doesn’t come willingly, they are prepared to bring in a team of Special Ops agents (read: The Cavalry) to take her out on Fury’s orders. They find her, and Coulson tries to put a friendly face on the whole situation (much like he did in Iron Man etc., fun throwback), but Eva is having none of it. She flips the table and starts a hostage situation with local militia who seem to be protecting her, taking a little girl and one of their agents captive.

Coulson and May prepare to rescue the agents

Coulson and May prepare to rescue the agents

This prompts a rescue operation, but after some commotion, everything goes dark. The team call for backup, but S.H.I.E.L.D. is reluctant to send more troops with the sticky political situation, and without any time to lose and Bahraini military inbound, May goes in on her own while Coulson stalls with a story about a biological weapon going off in the building. May uses some sweet Parkour and takes out a couple guards, coming face to face with a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. She tries to help him, but he attacks her, demanding to feel her pain, and she sees the entire team is there too, all stupefied and asking the same thing. In shock, May flees, fighting off her colleges while trying to figure out what to do. Eva appears, also proclaiming her need for more pain, and they fight, with Eva vastly overpowering May, and seemingly leaving her in a life-or-death situation. May fights her way through several mind-controlled agents, and finally kills Eva, getting shot in the process. But it turns out Eva wasn’t the one controlling the agents, and the young girl kidnapped before emerges from the chaos, seemingly unaffected by mind-control.

Back at Afterlife, we see Jiaying taking Skye to a mountain to train her in using her vibration abilities, correctly guessing that Skye can tap into the natural vibrations occurring in all matter and manipulate them. Skye tests her powers to varying results, though what upsets her mostis how attached she is becoming to Afterlife. The place is almost a home, and historically, she’s lost all of her homes (including S.H.I.E.L.D.) and fears that might happen again. As she is ranting about not even really knowing her true birth date, Jiaying interjects with a surprising note: Skye’s birth date is July 2nd, and she knows because she is her mother.

may has a hard choice to make

may has a hard choice to make

Of course the audience knows this already, but for AoS to make this revelation to Skye so quickly shows just how far the philosophy of the show has come. They could have easily dragged that mystery out for another season if they wanted to, but they realized that there are bigger fish to fry, and there are tons more story opportunities this way. But after the reveal, everything isn’t so peachy. It seems there are strict rules about favoritism, especially among the leaders of Afterlife who choose who will go through the Terrigen mists. Skye’s unauthorized transformation has already caused a lot of friction, so no one else can know their relation.

Jiaying explains that such a case of bucking the rules by a mother for her daughter has happened before, with a woman named Eva (here comes the awkward but theoretically successful narrative parallelism). Eva stole some Terrigen Crystals, unwilling to accept the elder’s judgment that her daughter, Katya, was unfit for “transition” because of her unstable mental state. It turns out Eva gave the crystals to her daughter anyway–the little girl who confronted May in Bahrain–and she went insane due to her emotion leeching and mind-control abilities. We see Katya gaining control of the soldiers with just a touch, feeding off their emotions and sending them to kill May in order to “feel her pain.” As May tries to reason with Katya, she can see the girl’s mind is completely broken and singularly focused on killing her; Mayis left with no choice as the Soldiers surround her. She shoots the Katya (fantastic acting by Wen here, we can clearly see everything in her mind trying to find some alternative, and just how much it breaks her when she kills the girl).

We see Coulson try to console May, tell her she saved all of the agents (who name her The Cavalry for seemingly taking out dozens of soldiers on her own and saving them, when they really just dropped due to Katya dying, showing us why May hates the name. It’s false praise that constantly reminds of her horrible, if justifiable actions). May cannot live with the guilt, and becomes distant and withdrawn from her husband (leading to their divorce), choosing to reassign herself to desk work and forming an emotionally vacant persona we have come to know her with. It is a satisfying explanation for one of the biggest mysteries the show has introduced to date, putting all of her actions into perspective and making her an instantly sympathetic protagonist.

Skye has her family back together, but at what cost?

Skye has her family back together, but at what cost?

Skye recognizes the story as May’s and begins to understand where she is coming from and why keeping her relation to her mother a secret is important. Jiaying insists she searched for years to find Skye, but when she couldn’t locate her daughter, she became a mentor at Afterlife to help other young people in need of guidance. But, she says her father never gave up on her, and so Jiaying has one more request: an awkward family dinner. They arrive, and while it is a bit awkward, Kyle McLachlan sells his joy at having his family back together, however briefly, with just the right hint of pathetic melancholy that you can’t help feeling empathy for. We see Lincoln step in to refresh drinks and have an epiphany: this scene is exactly what Raina has been describing as her horrible nightmares, indicating that they are more than just dreams, but some form of pre-cognition.

While this is all going on, we learn that “real S.H.I.E.L.D.” has some legitimate concerns about what Coulson has been hiding, and with Simmons’ help, we see May looking into it. They discover that Coulson has been funneling most of his S.H.I.E.L.D. outfit’s budget into something called “Theta Protocol”, including weapons, logistics and a huge base. They begin to wonder how and why he would keep such a huge secret from his team, and the “real S.H.I.E.L.D.” crew postulate that he is looking to create a safe house for powered people. It should be noted that Coulson mentioned “Theta Protocol” an episode before, to one of the Koenig brothers (remember him?) as a last resort in case they didn’t come back from a mission. I have a hunch that the Koenig’s absence has something to do with setting up for “Theta Protocol,” similarly to how Deathlok was working with him in the shadows. As a last stinger, we see Fitz on the run from a “real S.H.I.E.L.D.” tail, succeeding in opening Fury’s toolbox in a diner bathroom. He figures out how to contact Coulson’s tablet, and talks to him and Hunter (still hiding out in the tropical place we last saw them). He tells them, “I’m being followed. They won’t grab me. I think they’re hoping I’ll lead them to you first. The thing is, would it still be okay if I came and hung out with you?” in classic Fitz comic relief and we see he is going to be alright.

Fitz contacting Coulson

Fitz contacting Coulson

Man, oh man… this episode was a doozy. We finally got to see what makes May tick, and the tremendously sad events that led to her stone-cold exterior. The AoS writing team has really stepped up their game recently, and Ming-Na Wen certainly rose to the occasion as well, delivering a heartbreaking performance. The narrative reflection in her story with Skye and Jiaying’s needing to hide their relation was certainly logical, but it kind of understated the impact of the reveal a bit since it telegraphed the pieces falling into place before they did. I think these scenes would have worked better in separate episodes, allowing you to absorb each’s impact more completely rather than at half-mast. Coulson hiding such big secrets from even the closest members of his team is certainly going to test loyalty, and makes “real S.H.I.E.L.D.’s” case a lot more palatable, but I don’t see May and Simmons truly jumping ship. I really like the fun that Coulson, Hunter, and Fitz seem to be foreshadowing; I really like the “road-trip” element to their on-the-run adventures.

Now for what exactly “Theta Protocol” is, well it really could be anything, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were setting up some future events, like maybe a Captain America: Civil War tie-in? Wouldn’t it be convenient if, after the schism between Captain America and Iron Man over registering heroes (possibly with the Inhuman threat being the catalyst), that the now “Secret Avengers” who defected had a base of operations and a friendly face to help them out? Like, maybe Cap’s biggest fan-boy who was endowed with all of Fury’s secrets and his own chip on his shoulder about bowing to authority? I don’t know, but it makes sense to me. There seems to be an Avengers: Age of Ultron tie-in coming up as well, but we will probably have to wait an additional week for the U.S. release date to coincide with AoS’ air date.

I can smell Baron von Strucker and Dr. List from last week are on the horizon.

Here’s a preview for next week’s episode, “The Frenemy of My Enemy”


About the Author

Kenneth Rodriguez

Kenny has been completing his pokedex since Pokemon Yellow, ever ready for his next test, comics in hand. He thinks Mass Effect is the best game series ever,.. period and loves TV and Movies dearly. Follow him on Twitter @k_rod14