Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is back, and chockablock with more intrigue, story, and secrets than ever, as it returns after a three-month break (during which my colleague Amy Ratcliffe covered its sister show Agent Carter). Despite the long hiatus, S.H.I.E.L.D. does a fine job of immediately reinvesting us in everyone’s stories (well, everyone except Ward and Agent 33, who are both absent this episode). Things pick up soon after the show’s midseason finale left off — Skye is under quarantine after her exposure to the Terrigen mist, Simmons is inspecting the underground temple’s remains to see if any dangerous contaminants leaked out, and everyone is mourning the death of Trip, who perished when Skye and Raina underwent their transformation. Simmons feels especially terrible, blaming herself for Trip’s death and revealing a heretofore unseen ruthless side as she floods the alien city and advises Coulson to eradicate Raina in case she carries a plague. Of course Skye is horrified she too may be responsible, and could cause more harm to her friends. Coulson assures her she’ll be okay, but launches a plan to wipe out Hydra’s remaining leaders before they can find a head to replace Whitehall.
He does this with the help of Whitehall’s former right-hand man, the now very frightened Bakshi, and our favorite on-again, off-again husband and wife, Morse and Hunter. This results in a sequence that takes its cue from the climax of The Godfather (a favorite film of executive producer Jeph Loeb) in which Michael Corleone simultaneously eliminates all of his enemies during his son’s baptism. It’s nice to see Coulson operating once more as chess master after suffering under the weight of the images haunting his mind for much of this season. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t get to spend more time with Trip before he perished, and so we can’t fully share everyone’s grief; but S.H.I.E.L.D. no longer frets at what could have been. And the scene in which Coulson visits Trip’s mother to inform her of her son’s death has the kind of emotional honesty that’s become a earmark of the show’s second season. Trip’s death also fuels the episode’s best scene, in which the team’s confusion and anger over their lost comrade erupts into a shouting match reminiscent of that in The Avengers, which cross-cuts to the quarantined Skye slowly losing control of her new powers. As others have pointed out, Chloe Bennet must have exhausted the production’s supply of eyedrops shooting this episode, but Skye’s terror is understandable.
Less time is spent on building mythology in “Aftershocks” than the preceding “What They Become”, but we again see Gordon, the eyeless Inhuman we met at the end of that episode. We learn his power is teleportation (complete with a Nightcrawler-esque “Bamf!”), and that he was once as confused and terrified as Skye but counseled by Skye’s mother, who apparently helped decades of Inhumans through their transformations before she was killed by Whitehall. Raina too is terrified, and in agony. Now covered in thorns, she cuts herself when she moves. She asks Cal for help, but the crazed scientist — while thrilled to hear Skye has also transformed, believing she too will soon come to him — only advises her to kill herself. Fortunately, Gordon intervenes before she can do so. Raina’s makeup is fantastic. She looks like one of the monsters from Clive Barker’s Nightbreed, her bald head covered in spikes and her nose mutated into a snout. The Inhumans — some whose gifts are a blessing, others a curse — are especially reminiscent here of Marvel’s X-Men and Morlocks (which we’d surely see in their place if the studio owned their screen rights).
As for this episode’s other alliances… Fitz switches Skye’s blood report and gets her released from quarantine, identifying with her ostracization from the group when he tells her she’s “different now, and there’s nothing wrong with that.” Meanwhile Bobbi and Mack further their conspiracy (which she tells Hunter is just an emotional support group), when they scan Coulson’s office for “Fury’s toolbox” and the blueprints for the base. Are they Hydra moles? Working for a third party? We’ll know soon enough, but will that knowledge cost S.H.I.E.L.D. two more agents?
— “Is every Radio Shack a Hydra outpost? I always suspected.”
— There’s a lovely nod to Tripp’s background when we see a photo of the Howling Commandos on the wall of his mother’s apartment, one of whom was Tripp’s grandfather.
— Simmons growing distrust of superpowers may indicate the side of the fence on which she’ll fall during the events of Captain America: Civil War.
— “The Avengers wouldn’t be necessary if we hadn’t unleashed alien horrors!”
— I love the casualness with which Cal tells Raina she might want to kill herself. Here’s hoping the upcoming Twin Peaks continuation doesn’t limit the time Kyle MacLachlan can spend with S.H.I.E.L.D., because our Mr. Hyde’s madness would be missed.
Next week: Sif is back to prevent Skye from getting out of hand. Will we see an Inhuman battle an Asgardian? Here’s hoping!
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).