For much of its run, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been more than willing to stand behind Marvel’s movies, sharing major concepts and characters only after they’ve been introduced on the big screen. But in introducing the Inhumans this season (even if no one on S.H.I.E.L.D. is currently using the “gifted” race’s proper name), the show took its first big step in expanding the mythology of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. In this week’s episode another, albeit different, kind of step is taken.
Supervillain teams are as prevalent in Marvel comic books as teams of superheroes, so it’s a treat for longtime Marvelites to see one at last on screen. Granted, Calvin Zabo’s ragtag, makeshift band of malcontents is a pretty loose organization, one with neither a name nor a developed mission statement, beyond Cal’s scheme to make Coulson’s life miserable for denying him the chance to kill Daniel Whitehall. The Suicide Squad these folks are not, let alone the Masters of Evil. But it’s still a kick to see Cal recruit each member and for them to use their abilities in collaboration — including a goth-ish Drea de Matteo’s Karla Faye Gideon, cursed with razors permanently grafted into her fingers, Jamal Duff’s silent strongman John Bruno, Ric Sarabia’s super-genius Wendell Levi (a somewhat superfluous member, since Cal himself is a brilliant, if unstable, strategist), and Jeff Daniel Phillips’ creepy, catatonia-inducing crier David A. Angar.
This week also sees the return of May’s ex, Blair Underwood’s Dr. Andrew Garner. The good doctor is brought in to counsel Skye, who needs help in stabilizing her tremor-inducing powers; and his presence tells us at least as much about May as it does Skye. He baits the young Inhuman beautifully by providing glimpses into her mentor’s background; and informing her that while May has taught her to put her powers aside, to escape from them, Skye must ultimately embrace them if she wants to survive. The perfect visual metaphor for this is introduced when Skye directs her powers inward to prevent herself from causing a quake in the episode’s climactic showdown, resulting in intense bruising to her hands due to capillary ruptures.
“One of Us” continues S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s recent spate of episodes whose thematic elements are just as important as their narratives, and revealed in their titles. As last week’s “Who They Are” was concerned with partnerships and trust, so “One of Us” is about belonging and acceptance, with various characters questioning the place they’ve made for themselves. Skye wants desperately to be a part of the S.H.I.E.L.D. family, to the point where she’s fully prepared to take herself out if she thinks she’ll cause them harm. Fitz is still adrift from Simmons, due to keeping Skye’s abilities a secret from her. When Bobbi reminds her she works for a spy agency, and thus lies for a living, she retorts, “Fitz and I shared science, it was sacred… A betrayal of trust like that, it changes everything.” Though Simmons and Fitz appear to reconnect a little when they start identifying with May and Garner (who refuses an offer from the Cavalry to join S.H.I.E.L.D.) As for Hunter, who’s now held captive by Mack after discovering his and Bobbi’s secret conspiracy last week, he’s rapidly reaching a crossroads — and will soon be forced to choose between the ex-wife he still cares for and the group that’s helped him learn to care for things greater than himself.
In the end, Hunter may find his choice is only between the lesser of two evils, since he’s about to learn what distinguishes Bobbi’s S.H.I.E.L.D. from the one he thought they both worked for. Cal, meanwhile, ends “One of Us” with the realization that the leader of the Inhumans (sorry, but I’m calling them this even if no other than Fitz is) is going to decide his fate.
— Fitz tells May that he didn’t know she was married. I love the cold look she gives him when he says her ex seems nice.
— While the looney Cal is a great foil for Coulson, Kyle MacLachlan can take his character a little too over the top sometimes, and the score seems to match him when he dials up the camp. Team Whedon should turn to its old playbooks and look at past episodes of Buffy to see how to balance the scary with the funny in a Big Bad.
— There’s quite a few peeks into Coulson’s past this week, as we visit his home town in Wisconsin and he tells Bobbi he was nine when his dad, a high school coach, died. Was that part of what attracted Coulson to S.H.I.E.L.D. — a need for order and authority?
— We also get a glimpse into Cal/Mr. Hyde’s background. He tells Gideon he tried to “improve [himself] with chemistry.” “The results,” he adds, “were inconsistent. Some volatility issues.”
— “So tell me, what’s your thing? I was hoping it was wings.”
— Bobbi and May’s fight scenes are always great, but director Kevin Tancharoen (producer Maurissa’s brother, who helmed “Face My Enemy” earlier this season) does some exceptionally fine cross-cutting between their twin battles with Bruno and Gideon. His music background serves him well, as there’s a remarkable fluidity to the action and the editing.
— Cal tells Coulson he wants S.H.I.E.L.D. exposed for barbaric crimes against “exceptional humanity.” While Simmons tells him some of the people they face have “manmade” gifts while others have “enhanced” natural abilities. Again, I realize Marvel Studios doesn’t have the screen rights to the company’s mutants, but can S.H.I.E.L.D. please start calling them Inhumans?
Next week: May admits she doesn’t know how to handle Skye after all, and Hunter meets the head of the “real” S.H.I.E.L.D., played by someone who knows a thing or two about playing authority figures in larger-than-life scenarios — Edward James Olmos.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).