Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Afterlife Review
Wow, Agents, that was what, like 3 or 4 big reveals in a single episode? When I first walked away from watching Afterlife, I was thinking to myself that the show had somehow just one-upped One Door Closes. Upon reflection, it doesn’t quite succeed in doing that, but it does succeed coming relatively close. The number of big reveals towards the end is actually the source of some of the problems, as they disrupt the flow of the episode, and result in a few too many questions being piled on towards the end. This results in an episode that certainly feels big and impressive, but upon close inspection a number of narrative gaps and cracks start to appear. That isn’t to say that it is a bad episode. Hell, it doesn’t even come close to being mediocre, but it doesn’t quite reach the high water mark that was established by its predecessor.
The episode is split three ways between the events going on at the S.H.I.E.L.D. base, Coulson and Hunter’s actions as they look into Skye’s disappearance, and Skye as she is introduced to the Inhuman compound referred to as Afterlife. The events at Afterlife feel a bit disconnected from the rest of the episode, but I suppose that is to be expected. Afterlife would appear to be an isolated temple hidden amongst mountains, possibly in China. There Skye is tended to by Lincoln Campbell, an Inhuman with the ability to manipulate electrical charges who is studying to become a doctor. He explains to her that Afterlife serves as a waystation for Inhumans who are trying to get a handle on their powers or who need a place to stay. However, Skye remains suspicious of Gordon, and it’s hard to say that it isn’t warranted. He remains enigmatic during his interactions with Skye and during his interactions with Calvin he comes off as outright intimidating. It is also unclear as to how trustworthy Campbell is, but he does appear to care for Skye’s well being. However, the big reveal comes when Skye forces her way into Raina’s room to confront her. She attacks Raina with her powers, but is stopped by Jiaying who is looking a bit more patchwork than she did in the flashbacks, but also a bit more alive than one might have expected, given that we last saw her being dissected on Whitehall’s examination table. She states that she will serve as Skye’s guide and will help her learn about her powers, but does avoid bringing up certain details… like the fact that she is her mother.
Coulson and Hunter end up heading to the cabin where Skye was being kept. Once they confirm via security footage that she was taken by Gordon, Coulson is forced to decide their next step. That next step, as Hunter is surprised to learn, is to trigger the cabin’s alarm system so that Gonzalez will send a quinjet to investigate, which they can then steal. When Hunter points out that they will be up against a full team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, Coulson reassures him that he has reinforcements on the way. This does raise the rather notable question of why he didn’t wait for the reinforcements to arrive before triggering the alarm. The only logical answer is that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. wanted to have that character show up at the last minute to save the day… which he does. As it turns out, the reinforcements in question were Mike Peterson, a.k.a. Deathlok. He subdues the team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and aids Coulson and Hunter in escaping in the quinjet. It is at this point that Coulson reveals that, because he doesn’t have any good options, in order to track Gordon he will try and gain information from the sole remaining member of the Hydra counsel, Dr. List. In order to do this, he will reach out of the one person they know who has connections to both Hydra and Dr. Zabo, Grant Ward.
The events at the S.H.I.E.L.D. base are a bit more unfocused, as there are a number of different elements at play. Gonzalez is paranoid about Coulson’s involvement with enhanced individuals, he wants Fitz and Simmons to access Fury’s toolbox for him, and he tries convince May to cooperate with him. Of these three story aspects, it is Fitz, Simmons, and the toolbox that get the most attention, as Fitz ultimately decides to leave the base, while Simmons remains behind to study the toolbox. While I called a number of the plot reveals in this episode, the final scene with Fitz in the cab did still succeed in surprising me, and did bring a smile to my face… even if I have to ask how he left the base without anyone thinking to search his bag? Maybe that item was slipped into the bag while he was being helped put it on, but it still seems odd.
Before I wrap up, a few Notes and Nitpicks:
- Okay… Gonzalez literally handing May a loaded gun is a pretty stupid move in my opinion. Narratively, it is questionable at best, but Afterlife does almost sell it through the sheer charisma of Edward James Olmos.
- The show has redesigned Deathlok’s outfit a bit, and it does look a bit better than in season 1. The decision to switch him over to tactical grays and black makes him look less out of place than that odd breastplate thing he had back in the first season. He still lacks the metal plating on his head that his comics counterpart possesses, but I guess that’s nitpicking.
- Am I the only one who, for a split second, thought that the backup was Iron Man? …I actually felt slightly disappointed when I realized it was Deathlok, which is a shame because he was pretty good in the episode.
- So, if Calvin knew Jiaying was alive, why didn’t he tell Skye? It would appear that he was the one who pulled her back together after finding her body, so it seems logical that he would have known. After all, he doesn’t seem surprised to see her when she visits him at the end of the episode.
- Huh, no sign of Aria T’Loak. Shame.
Afterlife is an episode that drops a ton of bombshells but gets thrown off a bit in the process. While it leaves the viewer with a lot of tantalizing questions and possibilities, it also does a few things that don’t make sense or feel somewhat artificial. Regardless, it is still a fun episode and it would appear that next week we will be learning the true reason that May is called ‘The Cavalry’… because apparently that is one of the few hanging threads from season one that Agents hasn’t gotten around to exploring. Still, with Gonzalez’s current offer to May to join his council, this might be the perfect time to explore her character’s past. We’ll just have to see.
While its narrative is not tightly constructed as that of One Door Closes, Afterlife still provides on some strong developments and leaves me anxious to see what the show will do next.