This week on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D … Coulson and the team investigate a woman who appears to have developed telekinetic powers. Fitz and Simmons play pranks on Skye. And we learn why Melinda May is called ‘the Cavalry’.
This week’s mission
The team arrive in Batesville, Utah to evaluate Hannah Hutchins, a young woman who appears to have developed the power of telekinesis. However, the truth turns out to be rather more complicated.
Haven’t we seen this before?
Another week brings us another episode with a distinctly darker and more serious feel, but this one is undermined by a two-dimensional villain (pun intended) powered by a well-trodden sci-fi trope.
The episode’s basic plot brings us nothing we haven’t seen before. The misdirection of the team’s initial belief in Hannah’s telekinesis is tidily done but clearly telegraphed. And there’s little original here about Tobias Ford’s motivation (a misguided and juvenile sense of love and protection for Hannah) or his condition (he’s phasing between our world and another dimension).
The Melinda May show
However, what at least partially rescues this story is that it isn’t really about Hannah and her religious fear of being condemned to hell. It finally gives us a Melinda May-centric episode which fills in a good chunk of her back-story while also allowing her character to grow between prologue and coda.
She’s in full-on, get-on-with-it May mode to start with, briskly dismissing her tryst – not the first – with Ward and defusing the angry mob at Hannah’s house via the simple expedient of shooting her with the night-night gun. But by the end of the episode she’s allowing herself the semblance of a smile after successfully pranking Fitz.
How we get from A to B allows the rest of the cast to get involved without falling back on predictable flashback sequences by having them provide a third-person view of May’s history. Fitz and Simmons rue the fact that graduating the S.H.I.E.L.D. academy three years early meant they never got to play pranks on freshmen, so instead they target Skye with tall tales of how May earned her nickname.
After Ford cuts power, forcing the Bus to crash-land, Skye finds herself locked with Coulson in his office and he explains what really happened: a ‘welcome wagon’ assignment – or, to use the correct S.H.I.E.L.D. terminology, an Index Asset Evaluation and Intake – similar to their current one that went horribly wrong and left May a changed person. The May of old was a warm, rule-breaking prankster – not unlike Skye herself – but in taking down the enemy force she lost herself. (No doubt we’ll revisit the actual event at some point – probably February sweeps – via a first-person flashback.)
But in her climactic showdown with Ford, May gives him the same advice Coulson did then, warning him that resisting the pull of the alternative ‘hell’ dimension and clinging to the person he thinks he could be is real hell. In doing so, she reconnects to a piece of her former self.
A new Skye?
Buried quietly underneath the intertwined Hannah and May stories is a subtle expansion and repositioning of Skye’s character to broaden her role beyond the original hacker/neophyte agent. She repeatedly stands up to May throughout the episode, and Coulson praises her for her skill at working out people, which proves crucial in understanding Ford’s motives. It’s a welcome and necessary development to justify her continued role within the team – does that make her the Counselor Troi of Coulson’s crew? – but not an overly interesting one.
With the existence of Ford and his inter-dimensional entrapment only revealed slowly, Fitz and Simmons are used in more of a humorous capacity rather than being confined to scientific exposition this week. Their pranking scheme ties neatly into May’s back-story and reveals a more playful side to the Science Siblings™ which gives them something distinct to do in an episode in which their roles are otherwise minor.
Overall, this two-strand episode worked well on one level (the May story) and not so well on the other (the Hannah plot). It provided a long overdue peek into the back-story of the show’s most layered and interesting character, but was still a clear notch below last week’s outing.
Yet again, as it has done all season thus far, this story was hamstrung by childish plot elements and clunky dialogue. That would be okay if it was episode three or four and the writers were still world-building and unravelling the characters. But nine episodes in? Things need to speed up, fast.
Nothing of note this week. At last, an episode without a clunky reference to the event of Avengers Assemble. We didn’t even hear about Tahiti!
You can catch a lot more flies with honey than napalm.
Skye suggests that May’s no-nonsense approach to interrogation may not always be the best way to achieve results.