“What They Become” begins and ends just about as excitingly as you’d hope from a mid-season finale. There are a few good bits in between as well, but there’s also an awful lot of dull waffle and even a couple of sharp-intake-of-breath misfires.
The big news is – bag’s open, mutant cats everywhere. The Inhumans have arrived in the MCU and claimed Raina and Skye/Daisy as their own. They’ve also rejected Trip which proves they (and the writers) have no taste and no awareness of political correctness. Admittedly, death need not be permanent in sci-fi, but that didn’t look like a “we’ll resurrect you next year” death. Poor Trip. He never had a good chance to shine. How very 1980s. (Hopefully Mack will recover from plotdevicitis, because the show can’t kill off two black characters in the same episode, can it?)
Raina and Skye’s fate, though, is fantastic viewing and shot with some verve and style. Skye looks every bit the superhero as she explodes out of her chrysalis and the brief glimpse we have of Raina is very intriguing. This, along with Coulson and Mack’s fight and Trip’s race to disarm the bombs, makes for a thrilling few minutes. It would have helped if the temple had looked a bit more impressive (a stone tube with pedestal in the middle – gosh) but we’ve long given up on SHIELD ever delivering imaginative production design. Then again, the final image of the eyeless Reader (see below) is a beauty. The show needs more unexpected, unusual images like that.
The aircraft pursuit at the start is also great stuff – excitingly visualised with a great pay-off. In between, Ward has some good lines, Fitz and Simmons are still trying to redefine their relationship and everybody runs about loads shooting guns off seemingly randomly. There is a lot of action, but it isn’t very focused or particularly interesting.
Since the existence of the Inhumans has now been confirmed in the MCU, this guy must be the Reader, an inhuman who can “read” things into existence. Let’s hope he reads a Dulux swatch before the next half season to make things a little less grey.
Worse still, the show reverts to form and delivers one of its dullest exposition scenes yet with what should have been a season highlight: Skye meeting her dad for the first time. What should have been a truly memorable scene just kind of… happens. Ward opens a door and there dad is. He waffles on for ages, telling us a lot of things we knew already. It’s very static, it’s not moodily lit, it goes on for ages, and there’s very little edge to it. The only real new titbit of info we get – dad’s name – will mean nothing if you don’t read Marvel comics. There’s some great acting going on but Kyle MacLachlan and Chloe Bennet have little to work with other than the usual “I love you!”/“Well I don’t love you because you’re evil and sweaty!” shtick. What a waste.
The other major misstep of the episode is Whitehall’s death which is a severe case of, “Is that it?” After all that set-up, he’s shot in the back by Coulson? It could have been dramatic – should have been – if the show had then done something interesting with the fact that Cal thought he’d been denied his kill, but instead all we get is a scuffle that looks like two drunk middle-aged football fans having a tussle in a pub. Again, it feels like a big wasted opportunity. So humdrum, in fact, you kinda hope that was a Whitehall clone or something, so he can return for a decent death.
What’s happening with Bobbi? Why is she acting so suspiciously. Let’s hope she doesn’t turn out to be another mole. You’d hope that the writers would have enough sense not to pull the same trick twice, but then you remember how predictable they’ve been on other occasions. We still trust there’s something more interesting going on, though.
That’s a lot of moaning for a four-star episode, but to put things in perspective, the good bits – especially all the “steps towards the Inhumans” developments – are fabulous and luckily they’re the things that linger in the memory. There’s some great humour, lively dialogue and some great FX. But there’s also too much random shooting, too many drab sets and too many instances of the show settling for the easiest scripting solutions to any problem. There’s so much to like about the show, it’s almost painful to see the writers underselling its strengths. What it needs is for someone in the writers’ room to look at each scene and go, “Okay, this works, fine, but how can we make it work brilliantly?”
Cal [to Skye]: “I’m about to do something to Whitehall. I don’t want you to see me like that.” Ward: “I don’t mind. Seeing. Hell, I’m happy to help.”
The opening aircraft pursuit is very impressive, helped by being set against a sunrise that makes the clouds look really pretty. It’s a small detail, but a welcome one in an episode of SHIELD that’s even beiger than usual.
Skye’s dad refers to himself as Cal and reveals that Skye’s real name in Daisy, confirming what a lot of fans had suspected: he is the Marvel comic character known as Calvin Zabo, aka, Mr Hyde, and she is his daughter Daisy Johnson, aka Quake, who has earthquake creating powers (as seen at the end of the episode).
Run And Hyde!
Kyle MacLachlan is wonderfully scuzzy – and sweaty – as Cal. When he places a hand on Skye’s shoulder you involuntarily shudder for the poor girl. It must be like being groped by a giant, living flu virus.
Hunter says: “Join SHIELD. Travel to exotic distant lands. Meet exciting, unusual people... and kill them.” This quote – originally stating the “join the army” is often incorrectly attributed to Full Metal Jacket, but that film used the far more verbose, “I wanted to see exotic Vietnam, the crown jewel of South-east Asia. I wanted to meet interesting and stimulating people of an ancient culture… and kill them.” In fact, the quote originated from the counter-culture during the Vietnam War.
What a refreshing change to see a character with a grudge actually shoot the cause of that grudge – even if he’s a regular character – the first chance they get.
This is a Terrigen Crystal producing Terrigen gas and Skye (or Daisy) and Raina are in flux chamber undergoing Terrigenesis. It’s all straight from the Inhumans backstory in the comics, and is also a handy way for Marvel Films to create mutants who aren’t real mutants to get around the fact that Fox - which makes the X-Men films – owns the rights to Marvel’s mutants. It’s also clearly the first step towards setting up the Inhumans movie in 2018.
Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD airs on Friday nights on Channel 4 in the UK and is currently on a midseason break in the US.