Agents of SHIELD Midseason: Those Unpredictable Wild Cards

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Genre: Action/Superhero

Synopsis: HYDRA, an organization bent on unlocking a powerful alien weapon and unconcerned with collateral damage, has shattered SHIELD, with all remaining loyal agents in hiding. Coulson and his team have to stop HYDRA before they unlock the power they’re looking for.

Series: Season 2.

I’ve Watched: Up to Season 2, Episode 10–the midseason finale.

Verdict: Very good.

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Action, betrayal, faulty scientific setups, what’s not to love? We’re into the second season, and I’m happy to say that this is a good show now. Consistently. I knew it would happen, of course, and I no longer have to say I’m watching because I know it will get good. It’s gotten there. Some spoilers.

As a result of Ward’s actions in season one, Fitz–whose main strength is his intelligence–has brain damage. And it isn’t magically disappearing. Fitz still has that intellect, but he has difficulty putting his ideas into words–the other characters can’t understand what he’s saying half the time. He has difficulty with manual dexterity, which is also important for an engineer. He can still be useful, but he’s hobbled. And he’s isolated, though progressively less so with time. His arch is very powerful.

The scene he has with the man who did this to him is just absolutely amazing. Iain De Caestecker is so very good. It has to be seen, I can’t possibly do it justice.

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And Fitz’s relationship with Simmons is another highlight. How the two of them have changed and grown as a result of their experiences in the past season, and how they’re going to be able to progress from there. Their relationship is strained, we learn what is going on at each end of that relationship, and it’s not something they’re going to fix overnight.

I am really happy Hunter’s ex-wife is on the scene–I’ve mentioned before wanting to see the character introduced after Hunter’s constant comments about her, and of course, the show was actually setting up her entrance. His unspecific stories about his unreasonable harpy of an ex-wife did trigger doubts in my mind about how reliable his account was, and lo and behold: she’s actually a pretty cool person.

I also liked Skye’s first fight scene. She struggled with it and just barely managed to keep her charges from being shot. I wish her opponent had more clearly had the upper hand the whole time and that the fight was shorter, to better demonstrate Skye’s relative newbie status. But they did pretty well with it as is. She certainly isn’t May (who is?) Speaking of May, she got some awesome fight scenes this season, and hers are always the best ones.

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The show’s plot is moving forward instead of stagnating, which is fantastic. We hear characters state their goals, and one way or another, they actually reach them or fail forever, but we aren’t left with the plot dangling in front of us all season long. And then the story keeps going in new directions, because there’s always more. Though I’m not sure the show can afford to treat its black characters like this, especially after the uproar in the first season about lack of diversity. I’m sad about this turn of events, and because of the racial politics, not in an entirely good way. It did kind of ruin what would have otherwise been a great moment, with a great idea behind it.

Otherwise, generally a very good show. And it does some interesting things with wild card characters like Ward, Raina, and Cal.

The Wild Cards and the Unaffiliated

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We now have two psychos loose (Ward and Cal), and we don’t know what side they’re on (though we have an idea of what side they think they’re on). This is cool, because there’s really no way for us to know where the characters are going. They don’t have a clear picture of who they are and how things really work, so they come up with these ludicrous ideas of how to make everything okay again. Without ever really acknowledging what they did wrong and what they have to make up for.

I have no idea what they’re going to do next, once their totally insane plans fail to produce the desired result. And Skye’s latest reaction to Ward is something that we were definitely working up towards, with the payoff totally worth the wait.

For me, it’s not the Whitehalls of the show that I watch most closely. Whitehall knows what he is, and when he hurts people, he does it deliberately. He doesn’t make excuses for it.

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But the deluded characters, the ones that don’t even see what they’ve done wrong? They’re unpredictable, because they’re functioning on skewed non-logic. Cal doesn’t even realize that he killed actual people. He just says that Skye needs to understand, it was all for her, all because he’d lost her. He misses the point so badly.

Ward doesn’t even properly remember how his attempted murder of FitzSimmons went down–which is brilliant, because memory is fallible. What we saw on screen, was him wanting FitzSimmons to open the door. When they refused, he ejected the container they were in into the sea–he admitted to himself that he cared about them, then said it was a weakness. Then he ejected the container into the water. That’s a pretty solid attempt to kill someone, and his line, “it’s a weakness”, pretty much cemented his intentions. There is absolutely no reason to expect they would find a way out of that. They barely did.

And yet, when he sees Fitz again, he seems convinced that he’d saved FitzSimmons by giving them a chance to escape danger (dude, you were the one who caught them and brought them into danger in the first place. No one would have known if you’d just told them to run instead of turning them in.)

And I believe that he now believes those were his intentions back then–he’s conflated the fact that FitzSimmons survived and his present feelings with his actions in the past, to construct a new narrative. One where he doesn’t have to admit his guilt. It’s fascinating. Ward is unpredictable and creepy, and the show is not bothering to sugercoat it. His obsession with Skye, the way he’s convinced himself that he’s still part of Coulson’s team. The story he’s made up for himself, that if he fixes Skye’s family situation she’ll forgive him. He’s just so delusional.

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Raina is the third loose cannon in the mix, and only one not trying to prove herself to anyone else. She’s like Whitehall in that she doesn’t have all these delusions that Ward and Cal have built up for themselves, but she’s much more flexible. She’s very well portrayed by Ruth Negga, with this gentle aura that’s interesting for such a ruthless and amoral character. There’s a charisma to her, and she knows how to get to people. That one episode where she hit on Coulson was weird and out of character for her–I’m pretending it didn’t happen. All of her manipulations have always been about establishing a connection based on understanding, and I’d never even seen a hint of seduction from her before that point (or after).

But how she works over Skye, by appealing to the things that matter to her and telling her what she wants to hear in the most believable way–that’s Raina at her best (or worst). Also, sending the newbie to question a master manipulator like Raina is a terrible idea. Yes, she did okay with Ward, but only because he was insane by that point, and wanted to be honest with her anyway. Also because she specifically never let him control the conversation. Her talks with Raina, on the other hand, were completely under Raina’s control.

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Another distinguishing characteristic between Raina and the other two loose cannons is that Raina sees people and gets them to react the way she wants to them to by engaging with them. Ward and Cal know what reaction they want, but their interactions with people are all about themselves, and not the people they want the reaction from. They just don’t know how to think of their target as a person with their own wants and needs. They think if they do things, they’ll get what they want.

Raina says whatever will get her the deepest immediate connection to her target. She reaches for what a person is feeling and puts that feeling into words. And she’s managed to get pretty much every person she’s worked with to reveal their weaknesses to her at some point–which is bad for them, because Raina is loyal to whoever will get her what she wants. Which makes her loyalty pretty fluid.

That makes three characters out there, for whom it’s hard to predict how they’re going to go after their goals. And some really interesting psychology to go along with it. That’s pretty exciting. (By the way, while it’s hard for me to see Cal or Ward actually ending up on the side of good–they’re too far in denial for that, as of now–it would be really exciting to see Raina as an anti-hero. She would be fascinating as someone working for the team who could never really be trusted. And who isn’t reaching for it in the creepy way Ward and Cal are. I don’t think it’ll happen, with Raina being set-up as a counterpoint to Skye, but it would be cool.)

Oddest Quote:

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“I will pay you five hundred dollars right now for a pair of flats.” – Melinda May

Oh, the irony. Have you already forgotten how often you wear heals and wedges on missions with no undercover component, May? Is Agents of SHIELD pretending that May is wearing sensible shoes while putting her (and now Skye) in seriously impractical footwear for aesthetic purposes?

Favorite Quotes:

“Look around you. Venders, selling their wares to bring home a modest income. Locals, buying fresh vegetables for dinner tonight. Tourists, on their one vacation a year…They’re the reason I’m here. The reason there’s a S.H.I.E.L.D.. There are three million people on this island. I don’t want HYDRA turning them into collateral damage.”

“Join SHIELD. Travel to exotic, distant lands. Meet exciting, unusual people. And kill them.”

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