Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Aftershocks Review
Fun fact, it wasn’t until about an hour and a half before this Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode aired that I actually remembered that it was returning this week. I am nothing if not the embodiment of professionalism. My point is that if I end up being a bit overly positive, it might be because I wasn’t quite anticipating this episode since I thought there would be a bit more time between the end of Agent Carter’s season and the return to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and, before anyone berates me for not remembering the date, there are a number of March dates relating to television for me to remember at the moment. So how was Aftershocks? To put it simply, it was very good. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it was as good as the midseason finale, What They Become, but it came surprisingly close. Aftershocks picks up shortly after the end of What They Become, and largely splits its focus between the subjects of the team dealing with their grief over Trip’s death, their attempts to handle the remnants of Whitehall’s Hydra operations, and Skye/Daisy’s attempts to come to terms with what happened in the temple.
At first it is unclear how much she is truly aware of, since Coulson and the rest of the team are clearly under the impression that it was the Diviner that triggered an earthquake. They have her in quarantine in order to ensure that whatever she was exposed to hasn’t caused damage or is transmittable. However, it quickly becomes clear that she knows that she is changed, and the narrative decision to place her a quarantine works to the show’s advantage as she is both physically and emotionally isolated from everyone around her by her containment and her secret respectively. There is a constant sense of unease to her interactions with others and the small microquakes that she causes when panicking only serve to escalate her fear. If I were to isolate a single primary problem with the episode, it would be Jemma’s reaction when talking with Skye/Daisy. Her fear, anxiety, and anger over the loss of Trip is understandable, but the fact that everything she says serves to poke at Skye’s own personal fears ends up feeling unnatural. A similar moment occurs when Mack lashes out at Fitz, but that is anchored a bit more by both the circumstance and by the fact that Iain De Caestecker freaking dominates this episode as Fitz. The two scenes between him and Skye towards the end of the episode leave little doubt that he is the emotional core of the team right now, and that second scene is easily the best one in the entire episode.
The weakest story aspect of Aftershocks is probably how it deals with the remnants of Whitehall’s Hydra operations. The team’s plan involves them handing Bakshi over to Talbot, only for him to be sprung by an assault by Hydra. The show doesn’t spend much time pretending that the Hydra assault is authentic, with May and Coulson being seemingly killed in the attack and Coulson uttering the line “They’ll never take us alive,” which even May acknowledges is cheesy. Hunter “escapes” with Bakshi, before turning a gun on him and claiming that some of the higher ups want him removed to make the line of succession simpler. Bakshi convinces Hunter to bring him to see one of the five members of the Hydra council that he trusts, Mr. Bloom, and, upon arriving at Bloom’s house, has him assassinate three of the other council members. At that point, Bobbi and Hunter enter the house and kill the councilor, revealing to Bakshi that it was a ploy to force Hydra to tear itself apart. The idea behind this is decent, but given the weighty emotional content that is at play elsewhere in the episode, this ends up feeling a bit like a distraction. Furthermore, the plot would have been more effective had it had more room to breathe, so it may have been more effective to implement it in the following episode where it may not have been as condensed.
Finally, we have the attempts by various characters to deal with the fallout of the previous episode. In my review of What They Become, I expressed concern over the fact that Triplett’s death might get lost in the shuffle given all that has occurred. Fortunately, the show takes the time to explore the grief of much of the cast with Mack trying to cope with having been possessed by Kree technology, Fitz trying to cope with his jumbled emotions and thoughts, and Coulson trying to channel his anger into something useful. Aftershocks does a good job making sure that his absence weighs over every scene and drives the characters in ways that feel natural to their characters, though Simmons is still the exception due to the extent of her alien-technology/biology-is-dangerous-and-needs-to-be-destroyed approach. I honestly didn’t expect to see Raina again so soon, but unsurprisingly she is having trouble coping with her comparatively extreme transformation which leaves her in constant pain and incapable of passing as human. Unsurprisingly, her attempts to reach out to Zabo for aid are less than successful, as he is unconcerned with her problems and is far more interested in hearing that Daisy went through Terrigenesis. She ultimately finds aid in the form of Gordon, the eyeless Inhuman from the last scene of What They Become, who teleports in and prevents her from committing suicide via a showdown with S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. It should be intriguing to see what direction the show will go in with her character given her apparent disgust with her current form.
Before I wrap up, a few Notes and Nitpicks:
- Raina is seemingly much more durable given the way she took two bullets and barely flinched. Despite this, Dr. Zabo can still throw her around like she’s nothing. I really am interested in the possibility of seeing Hyde in action a bit more.
- Bobbi and Mack are apparently working together on some form of operation that involves accessing the ‘toolbox’ entrusted to Coulson by Fury. Not sure who they may answer to, but I’m eager to see where they’re going with this.
- Bobbi’s story to Hunter about her and Mack being part of a support group feels oddly unbelievable. If it turns out that Hunter actually buys that story then I call bullshit.
- One of the Hydra administrators, a Dr. List, is still alive. I assume that he will serve as the face of Hydra for the time being. Though I also assume that Hydra will be a bit less prominent as the show works on focusing a bit more on the Inhuman elements of its storyline.
Aftershocks is a strong return for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and, while it does occasionally suffer from a lack of subtlety, it is largely an enjoyable affair. Despite some condensed plotting involving Bakshi, the episode remembers to take the time to remember Triplett and give its characters time to grieve.
As much as I enjoyed this episode, I have to deduct points for its oddly unsubtle moments which occasionally detract from the emotional engagement. Still, this is a great way for Agents to return and I'm eager to see more.