“Melinda” feels a very different episode of Agents Of SHIELD. Not so much in terms of content and plot – there’s action, super dudes, quipping and twists as usual – but more in terms of pacing. It starts out as unusually dialogue-heavy then builds to a quite brilliant extended action scene with a hell of an emotional kick to its twist conclusion. This is the story of how Melinda became “the Cavalry” and it ties in with the parallel Inhumans plot line in an unexpected, and unexpectedly cruel way.
Also unusual is that the early dialogue scenes are very good indeed. For a show often hampered by dreary ghettos of exposition, this episode offers some truly engaging, fascinating and revealing exchanges, full of character and emotion. Of course, we’re out off-guard immediately by a lively, chatty, charming Melinda, and though her pre-“Cavalry” relationship with Andrew has to be established in a few broad strokes it’s totally believable you have to love the way Andrew refers to Melinda as the best security system in the world.
Her later phone call to Andrew in the middle of the mission is a little too obviously contrived-for-TV gimmick, but it does ram home how harrowing it must for partners of people who risk their lives at day to sit and home and wait for news.
Skye’s heart-to-hearts with her mum are lovely too. The spectacle of Skye creating avalanches and making glasses ring is balanced by some emotionally raw admissions and tender soul-searching. It’s almost a shock when Jiaying blurts out that she’s Skye’s mother seemingly unpremeditated, spurred on by the sadness of the moment. In drama you usually expect revelations like this to happen at moments of high tension, Darth Vader-style. Here it’s low-key, almost melancholic. And it works beautifully.
Even Raina is becoming more humanised, ironically as she looks less human, which is clearly the point. She is not a porcupine, she is an Inhuman being… or metaphors to that effect. There are a couple of weirdnesses going on with Raina, though. First, why does Gordon seem convinced she has another gift? Ultimately he’s proven correct – she does – but why would he assume that there was anything more to her transformation other than having razor sharp quills?
Happy Birthday Skye
Skye learns that she’s 26, and that her birthday was 2 July 1988. The MCU Wiki says this is the same day Peter Quill was abducted from Earth, but we have to warn, “citation needed”. 1998, sure, but 2 July? Anybody got any idea how this date was arrived at?
Then there’s the fact that Gordon and Jiaying seem to want to keep her confined. “I just want to feel fresh air!” she moans. Well, sure, fine, the Inhumans may not want normal humans to see Raina as she looks now, but why hide her away from other Inhumans?
At the end of the episode we discover that Raina’s “hidden” gift is to have predictive dreams. Always a handy ability that. Especially for scriptwriters who want to introduce some thuddingly unsubtle foreshadowing. Expect lots of omens in episodes to come.
As for the revelation about how May became “the Cavalry” – it’s heartbreaking, powerful stuff. You may have guessed there little girl is more than she seems earlier than May but that doesn’t negate the impact of those final moments. Intercut with Jiaying describing the Inhumans’ take on those wretched events seven years ago (and who’s to say she’s not an unreliable narrator?) the final fight scenes are desperate, tense and edgy. May’s subsequent emotional withdrawal is utterly convincing in context.
It also explains why, in the present, May is so pro-indexing and wary of powered individuals. It makes more sense of her cold attitude towards Skye since her transformation. It also means that when “Real” SHIELD come along with theories about what Coulson’s up to, she’s more susceptible to their arguments.
The episode falters slightly in places. While the extended fight scene is excellently shot and edited, the exterior Bahrain scenes look terribly unconvincing and cheap. Coulson’s quips seem even more artificial and out-of-place than usual. Skye’s happy family reunion meal at the end feels suspiciously sudden – she goes from loathing dad to laughing at his jokes in the bat of an eyelid. And Lincoln’s, “It wasn’t a dream!” flashback and voiceover hammers home the point in the crassest way. A look of shocked realisation would have been just as effective.
Some might also find such an initially slow-moving, character-led episode at this point of the season – in the build-up to the finale, with an Avengers film at the cinemas – an unwanted diversion. However, we applaud the show for being brave enough to try something like this and largely making it work.
Plus, the stinger scene with Fitz unlocking Fury’s toolbox in the public loo at the end is brilliantly silly. It’s good to know that he wasn’t locked in there or 20 minutes because of Jemma’s sandwich. What a shame, though, we’ll probably never learn exactly how he put that electric hand-drier to use.
After Daredevil, it’s difficult for TV to come up with fight scenes that are equally impressive, but this episode does its best with a lot of eye-popping action in the final third. The highlight is Melinda’s slugfest on the stairs.
What’s In A Name
Gordon calls Lincoln, “Spark Plug” – we seriously hope that’s a nickname and not a codename. We also hope Lincoln calls Gordon “Flasher” in retaliation.
The repeated line, “I need your pain,” reminded us of the early day of New Doctor Who when Russell T Davies loved a good catchphrase that youngsters could repeat in the playground come Monday (“I want my mummy”, “Delete”, “Categorize”, “Don’t blink,” etc).
Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD airs on Friday nights on Channel 4 in the UK.
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