Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. hasn’t seen an episode so simultaneously satisfying to longtime comic-book fans and frustrating to its general audience as it does in “What They Become”. Marvel maniacs should be elated, for the show has just introduced a mythos that lines up perfectly with that of the comics’ Inhumans. The Obelisk (or Diviner) is confirmed to be a key given to mankind by the Kree when they once visited our planet, in order to change humans into a race of superhumans via the Terrigen crystals it unlocks. We watch Skye undergo this cocoon-induced transformation — known as Terrigenesis — along with Raina. In doing so, they open the door for S.H.I.E.L.D. to contribute a vital piece of lore to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which has an Inhumans movie scheduled for release on November 2, 2018). Up until now the show has reacted to events in the MCU. Now it has the potential to trigger them. What’s more, Skye now stands as a bona fide comic-book character — Daisy Johnson, the daughter of Calvin Zabo, the supervillain Mr. Hyde. Actor Kyle McLachlan’s crazed scientist is given the name Cal, and he tells Skye she’s named Daisy (after the song). So it’s too great a coincidence to be otherwise.
At the same time, all of this means nothing to the average television viewer, which S.H.I.E.L.D. might need more of in order to survive. This season’s post-Winter Soldier cat-and-mouse with Hydra has, without a doubt, offered a far more satisfying experience than last year’s awkward procedurals and uneven tone. But after a long string of episodes giving the rest of its cast time to shine, S.H.I.E.L.D. again appears set on making itself the story of Skye. And if she was a Mary Sue last season, how much more so will she be now that she’s the team’s only superhuman? Her rebirth (into someone who can apparently generate earthquakes) also comes at the cost of Trip, who’s killed by flying crystal shards, and, after turning to stone, demolished when Skye emerges from her cocoon. The agent is one of the very few who hasn’t enjoyed a spotlight this season, his role usurped by newcomers like Bobbi and Hunter, after bringing some much-appreciated cool professionalism to season 1’s team of rookies. Now, sadly, he never will.
“What They Become” also fails to give us a satisfying spectacle with its revelations. S.H.I.E.L.D. can’t possibly provide the visuals of the Marvel movies, and it may be unfair to compare it to the outstanding grandeur that The Flash (which airs just an hour beforehand) offers each week. But after a half season of anticipating a lost city so grand it’s haunted Coulson’s every waking moment, it’s a letdown to get little more than a few nondescript rooms and tunnels below an industrial plant. The Inhumans and their world of Attilan were, after all, designed by Jack Kirby, whose imagination knew no bounds. Just a little style here — and a little less sub-par ’70s Doctor Who — would be appreciated.
Where this week’s episode entertains, however, is in MacLachlan’s performance. The scene in which his character meets Skye just might be the most entertaining so far this season. He generates humor, rage, joy, spite, menace, sympathy, and insanity all in the span of a few minutes. I’m honestly not sure how much of his role is supposed to be played for laughs, and I don’t know if I’d call what he does great acting. Its over-the-top bravura would be more at home in, say, a Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie than a Marvel Studios production. But watching him creepily stroke Skye’s hair as he hums “Daisy Bell” is absurdly entertaining.
As for the abbreviated death of Whitehall, well, I’m hoping the Hydra head is somehow regrown in the next episode. Because without him, and with Raina’s allegiance again uncertain, the show suffers a serious villain gap.
— Just what form has Raina taken? We only see glimpses of her post-transformation. She appears to have porcupine-like spikes, talons for fingers, and birdlike eyes.
— With Agent 33 now without a master, and half her face missing, she’d make a superb Madame Masque. Come on, Marvel, do it!
— Yes, Skye shooting Ward point blank as soon as he freed her was satisfying. But Raina’s observation that he’s helped her out of love foreshadows a half season of pining that I’d prefer not to witness.
— “Now that he’s served his purpose I’m gonna kill the man that destroyed my life. Best day ever.”
Next: The bad news is that S.H.I.E.L.D. won’t be back until March. The good news is next month we get the double-sized premiere episode of Marvel’s Agent Carter. So watch this space, true believers!
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).