Last night's Agents of SHIELD was mostly about getting the pieces in place for the final episodes of the season — but "Afterlife" did contain a couple of clever misdirects, that totally pulled the rug out from under us. Spoilers ahead...
The main part of last night's "Afterlife" was about the Real SHIELD hunting down Coulson and his new bestie Lance Hunter, while also trying to open the toolbox that Fury left for Coulson. And meanwhile, trying to win over the members of Coulson's team who are left at the base.
The two big misdirects that completely bowled us over were:
1) You think that Fitz and Simmons are once again having a falling out.
Gonzales and the rest of them want Fitz to help them open the toolbox, using his gadgety know-how, but Fitz refuses. Simmons, meanwhile, seems to think that she can spoof the biometrics (which are keyed to Coulson's DNA) and get it open. She seems to believe the incredibly non-convincing claims that once they have the box open, Gonzales and his people can prove Coulson's secrets are harmless, and "everything can go back to normal." Even by Simmons' recent standards, that's really dense.
But Fitz asks to leave the SHIELD base, and SHIELD altogether — and somewhat surprisingly, the new bosses agree. He's allowed to resign from the organization peacefully, to prove that the people who gassed the base and nearly blew everyone up last week aren't so bad. Fitz sadly walks out of the base and gets a taxi... and then we realize that Simmons has slipped him the real toolbox and is "trying to open" a fake. She's even given Fitz one of her trademark prosciutto-and-mozzerella sandwiches (with a hint of pesto aioli)!
That's a nice fake-out, and a neat twist in the recently rocky Fitz-Simmons relationship.
2) You think that Coulson's reinforcements are Grant Ward
It's pretty obvious that Coulson is going to have to reach out to Grant Ward for help, because he's out of options. And for most of this episode, Coulson's in a tight spot. He can't even steal a truck from a used-car salesman without nearly getting arrested thanks to Lance's shenanigans. When he goes to the cabin where Skye was holed up, he deliberately trips an alarm so that SHIELD will come for him, hoping to steal their quinjet — but it doesn't go that smoothly. First they get trapped in the cabin and only escape thanks to a hologram, and then their "wear enemy soldier uniforms" ploy fails and they get captured.
The whole time, Coulson keeps insisting he's got reinforcements on the way, and I sort of assumed it would be Ward. But no — it's Mike Peterson, aka Deathlok, who takes out a bunch of SHIELD goons in a beautifully choreographed sequence, and then flies the quinjet. And then, they're off to find Ward, since he can help lead them to Skye. Why is finding Skye Coulson's top priority at this point? Maybe because he feels like he dropped the ball with her, plus he knows he can trust her to help take back SHIELD.
One intriguing thing about Mike Peterson's arrival: He's spent the past six months tailing List, the Hydra head that Coulson didn't manage to cut off. And List is busy experimenting on superpowered people (like Skye.) Hopefully this is a plotline that's going to become more major in the remaining episodes of the season, especially as we see the results of Strucker's experiments in Avengers: Age of Ultron. My main complaint about Agents of SHIELD lately has been "not enough Hydra." When Melinda May points out to Gonzales that they should all be chasing Hydra instead of taking part in some witch hunt, this would have more impact if we'd actually seen Hydra posing much of a threat lately.
Which leads us to a third, somewhat smaller, misdirect:
3) It looks like Gonzales is going to try and break Melinda May
At the start of the episode, the large casualties as a result of the botched mission to capture Skye have Gonzales in an especially hard-line state of mind. He wants to take down anyone with powers or any alien DNA, and keeps referring to Skye as a "thing." Plus he's paranoid that Coulson is collecting an army of superpowered people to make war on him (which, actually, is what's going to happen now, but it's Gonzales' own fault.)
So it looks like Gonzales is going to play hardball with Melinda May, who helped Coulson escape — and at first, he does try, until the rest of his "board" outvotes him and tells him that he's going about it the wrong way.
Instead, Gonzales plays nice, even offering May a loaded gun (a family heirloom) to shoot him with, if she really sees him as a threat to SHIELD. He offers her a chance to join the board of the new SHIELD, and help shape their direction. If she really believes that Coulson is doing the right thing and Skye is harmless, maybe she can convince the others of that. We don't actually get to see what May decides, but this is clearly an attempt to co-opt or control her.
Speaking of which, the other big storyline in this episode...
Welcome to the Tomorrow People, Skye!
Skye wakes up, somewhat pointlessly half-naked and stuck with magic acupuncture needles, and finds that she's in the mysterious Inhuman citadel known as "Afterlife," which only the teleporting eyeless guy, Gordon, can take people to or from. (And he delivers pizza.)
Skye's guide to this awesome new place is Lincoln, who somewhat distractingly is played by Luke Mitchell from the Tomorrow People. It's only distracting because he's giving her more or less the same orientation that he gave Robbie Amell — we're different than everyone else, we have special powers, they're not a curse, we're safe here in our little sanctum, we need to stick together. Except no "three Ts," because everybody has different powers — Lincoln's involve controlling electricity.
Even though Skye kind of managed to control her powers last week, and also discovered for herself how cool they could be, she's snapped back into thinking that her powers are a curse. She keeps saying she just wants to get rid of them, which is the sort of thing that people say on television but would never say in real life. (If I could have cool earthquake powers and make water do awesome shapes, and people promised that I'd be able to control them, I would be in.)
Skye does raise one excellent point — she met one of the Kree, the race that created these Inhuman powers in the first place, and Vin-Tak told her that these powers were designed to turn people into weapons in the Kree's ancient wars.
We also learn that most of the people in Afterlife are waiting for their own turn to be exposed to the Terrigen mists and transition into being super-beings — and they're kind of pissed that Skye and Raina just went and got exposed to the mists the old-fashioned way, in a Kree temple with a Diviner. Also, Gordon answers to the "Elders," who make all the decisions in Afterlife. (Does that mean Black Bolt? Probably not, sadly.)
Skye gets upset when she finds out that Raina, the season-one villain who became a hedgehog, is there too. And she refuses to accept that she and Raina could have anything in common, or that it could be worthwhile to give shelter or comfort to Raina. Also there in the compound somewhere: Skye's dad, who is still crazy and tries to throw down with the teleporting Gordon. He really, really wants to see his daughter.
But the big surprise is that Skye's mom Jiaying, who was presumed dead after she was dissected by Whitehall, is alive and well... if somewhat scarred. And she wants to train Skye in the use of her powers, without actually revealing that she's Skye's mom. That's going to turn out well, for sure.