The first two seasons of Agents of SHIELD have largely been built around the journey of Skye, along with Phil Coulson’s identity crisis. Last night’s season finale paid off Skye’s storyline, and we finally got to see what it was really all about. Spoilers ahead...
When we first met Skye back in season one, she was an orphan searching for her place in the world. Throughout the first season, she decides SHIELD was her new family, but then starts to see the cracks in that organization. Meanwhile, we learn that a whole Chinese village was massacred when Skye was a baby, and death follows wherever she goes. And that she’s an alien artifact, of some sort.
In season two, Skye gets superpowers, finds out that she belongs to the race of Inhumans who were engineered by the alien Kree to be weapons in a long-ago war, and meets both her parents: the savage Cal (Kyle MacLachlan) and saintly Jiaying (Dichen Lachman). She struggles with the discovery that her father is a mass-murderer and that SHIELD might see her as a monster, before finally getting to a happy enclave where the Inhumans live and nurture their gifts.
It all seemed pretty clear cut — an origin story for a superpowered hero, who learns to control her abilities and view them as a gift rather than a curse. Skye’s father, who is human, is set up as a cautionary tale, a man who became a monster. And meanwhile, SHIELD’s Agent Gonzales is set up as the main voice of those who see Skye as a threat rather than a friend.
But first, we see Agent Gonzales try to make peace with the Inhumans instead of wanting to attack them - - and then we discover that Jiaying is not as much of a saint as we’d been led to believe. In last week’s penultimate episode, Jiaying kills Gonzales during the peace talks and makes it look like Gonzales attacked her.
Jiaying’s True Colors
That sets up a finale in which everything is turned on its head. The Inhumans are led to believe that SHIELD is on the warpath, so they mobilize for war. And over the course of the episode, we get to reassess everything we’ve learned about Skye and her family.
Cal, finally in full-on “Mr. Hyde” mode, is on the rampage at Coulson’s base, and Coulson spends the good part of an episode talking him down rather than just killing him. And eventually, we find out that he’s not the monster we’ve believed — he’s been manipulated by Jiaying the whole time. And Raina, whom we’ve seen as a villain since day one, really does just want to get the truth out. She lets Jiaying kill her, so Skye will witness it and learn the truth.
Skye is on her way to her mother to sign up in the fight against SHIELD, carrying a token (which Gonzales had gone to great lengths to obtain for Jiaying). Her holding that token signifies that Skye is fully on board to turn against her old friends — so Raina’s sacrifice saves Skye from becoming the monster she’s always feared she was. In a further irony, the Inhumans put power-canceling sleeves on Skye’s arms, very similar to the ones which Jemma Simmons had made for Skye — and when Simmons had done it, this was seen as proof that SHIELD were evil and didn’t want Skye to master her gifts.
So in the end, the people we’ve spent most of the year thinking of as “the bad guys” wind up saving the day. And meanwhile, we learn the truth about that Chinese village that was massacred — they weren’t just killed to keep Skye’s existence a secret, but also to feed Jiaying’s hunger for life-force. She sucks the life force out of people in order to heal herself, and since she was vivisected by Whitehall, she no longer cares about human life at all — she just goes around being a vampire, more or less.
This puts a whole new spin on Skye’s identity crisis — instead of being torn between SHIELD, which sees her as a menace, and her “real” family, which loves and accepts her, she’s discovered that both sides are capable of being manipulative and kinda evil. And the formative tragedy of Skye’s life is no longer about people killing each other to keep her safe, but about her Inhuman mother being, well, inhuman.
One of the best moments in the episode comes when Mac — who really gets to shine in this finale — is trapped alone on board the aircraft carrier, after the Inhumans have taken out everybody else. It sort of looks like the show is setting up a Die Hard-kinda scenario, with Mac fighting back alone. But instead, Mac goes to rescue Skye, whom he trusts despite all of his past misgivings about people who’ve been touched by alien influences. And then Mac teams up with Coulson and Fitz to take out the eyeless Gordon using tech that cancels out Gordon’s teleportation powers, and it’s kind of awesome.
Speaking of which, Mac has a bit of a change of heart in general in this episode — he’s still suspicious of alien influences, after his experience with Kree technology, but he comes around to accepting Coulson as SHIELD Director. And he even saves Coulson from being infected with one of the blue crystals that Jiaying brought to the aircraft carrier — by chopping off Coulson’s hand, admittedly. Pretty much everybody gets to see Coulson handle a really difficult situation without escalating it, in this episode, so that’s a plus.
So Jiaying’s actual plan, the details of which I’m unclear on, is to bring a case full of crystals aboard the aircraft carrier, and use them to release terrigen mists. Anyone aboard who’s an Inhuman will be transformed, the way Skye was. Anyone else will die, the way Tripp did. She amplifies SHIELD’s homing beacon and transmits on all channels, so every single SHIELD agent everywhere will come to the aircraft carrier and get terrigen-ed. But Skye warns Coulson, who sends most of the agents away — and then Skye knocks the crystals into the ocean, where they turn some fish into Inhuman fish (??) and wind up inside fish oil capsules sold in drugstores everywhere.
Jiaying winds up getting killed by her own husband, Cal, who saves Skye after he’s finally gotten over his jealousy of Skye’s surrogate dad, Coulson, so they can team up to save her. Cal gets rewarded by having his memory wiped, using the TAHITI protocol, and goes off to become a veterinarian.
So what was Skye’s whole story about? I guess, that who she’d turned herself into is more important than who her parents are — when Mac gets her out of her prison cell, he tells her he doesn’t need her superpowers, but her hacking skills. And after spending most of the past two years fearing that she’s inherently a monster, Skye finds out that it’s really her mother’s awful choices that made her monstrous, not anything intrinsic.
Speaking of monsters and identity crises...
In the episode’s “B” story, meanwhile, Grant Ward and Agent 33 have captured Bobbi Morse, and they’re torturing her to make her confess that she turned in Agent 33.
When Bobbi was undercover at Hydra, she gave Hydra the location of a SHIELD safehouse, because the alternative was having her cover blown and risking the lives of dozens of agents. Bobbi hoped the safehouse was empty, but in fact Agent 33 was there — and she spent months being abused and brainwashed by Hydra.
Ward wants Agent 33 to get “closure” by seeing Bobbi confess the truth — even after she’s already seen Bakshi get what was coming to him, and a few other people who were responsible. But Bobbi refuses to break, saying over and over that she would make the same call in the same situation, and that’s what Agent 33 signed up for when she swore an oath. In one particularly badass scene, Bobbi breaks out of her restraints in the middle of being tortured, and manages to kick Grant’s ass pretty decisively before being taken down.
So Grant, instead, sets up Bobbi with a deathtrap that is designed to kill her ex, Lance Hunter, when he comes to rescue her. There’s no way to stop this death trap, so Bobbi puts herself in the way of it instead, taking a bullet for Lance. (And maybe, helping to repair their broken relationship. We’ll see, I guess.)
Meanwhile, Melinda May, who’s sick of having Agent 33 impersonate her, gets a cold-blooded revenge — she uses the fact that all the SHIELD agents have gone radio silent to trick Agent 33 into impersonating Melinda one last time. Agent 33 thinks she’s setting a trap for the SHIELD agents, but instead she only runs into Grant Ward, who kills her thinking it’s the real Melinda.
The sad thing is, Agent 33 already had her best chance at closure — she was at Coulson’s base, getting slowly reintegrated into SHIELD. Over time, she could have regained everyone’s trust and remembered who she used to be. She could have come back from her brainwashing, which would have been a painful process but worth it. Instead, she throws all of that away for a pointless revenge — sorry, “closure” — scheme.
What was Grant Ward planning to do with her? Was he just really in love with her and wanting her to get the same kind of finality that he got from dealing with his family? Or did he plan to use her for some larger scheme? We’ll never know.
In the end, Grant has stopped sitting on the fence, and has finally gone back to Team Hydra — except that Hydra is in tatters, so he has to rebuild it from scratch, starting with a pretty unimpressive group of louts that he finds in a bar. (I liked them saying, “Well, normally, you cut off one head, two grow back. But lately...”)
Melinda May still hasn’t repaired her relationship with Coulson — which seemed to be on the brink of a major crisis last week — but they’re at least working together this week. And she calls up her ex-husband Andrew in the middle of the crisis, to check in the way she used to when they were married. The episode ends with May taking some time off for the first time ever, preparing to go on a romantic getaway with her husband. (Yay.)
Meanwhile, Fitz and Simmons also revisit their relationship — now that they’re friends again, Jemma wants to bring up the topic they haven’t discussed since they were at the bottom of the ocean. Leo isn’t really into discussing his feelings for her, since there’s no point — until Jemma says there might actually be a point.
And at the end of the episode, they’re all set to go on a possibly romantic dinner together, until Fitz clumsily opens the box holding an ancient Kree artifact — which swallows Jemma up and leaves no trace. Oops!
Final thought: Agents of SHIELD remains a massively improved show. That said, in retrospect the second half of the second season hasn’t blown me away quite as much as the first half did. When Hydra seemed an unstoppable threat and Whitehall was a truly menacing villain, the show had a certain amount of urgency, and I liked seeing SHIELD on the run and being hunted by the authorities as well as Hydra. Last night’s episode had a lot of somewhat repetitive scenes where Jiaying tries to manipulate people, leaving me feeling as though the Inhumans storyline had never quite gotten as much traction as the earlier Hydra one did. Still, it did pay off pretty well.
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