Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Melinda Review
Melinda is an episode that has many of the strengths of One Door Closes as it carefully divides its narrative into two halves. One of these halves involves May’s attempts to determine the truth behind the information that Gonzalez’s group has provided her regarding Coulson, as well as flashbacks to her operation in Bahrain. The other half focuses on Skye’s interactions with Jiaying as she tries to understand her powers and Jiaying’s reasons for training her. By dividing its time evenly between these two stories, Melinda avoids spreading itself thin, which is also aided by the fact that, flashbacks aside, we don’t even see Hunter and Coulson show up until the very end of the episode.
May is presented with a number of details in this episode that seem to cause her faith in Coulson to waver slightly. She is first questioned about Mike Peterson’s involvement with S.H.I.E.L.D. Obviously, Deathlok remains a concern to Gonzalez’s group due to their paranoia regarding empowered individuals, but their main issue is with Theta Protocol, a project that Coulson has been undertaking which calls for massive amounts of funding. To top it all off, May learns that her ex-husband, Andrew Gardner, has been meeting with Coulson. Given Gardner’s concerns about S.H.I.E.L.D. as well as the nature of his moral character, it is unlikely that Theta Protocol is anything that May would be morally opposed to, but it is clear that she is unnerved by the secrecy as well as the scale of the undertaking. The flashbacks focus on May and Coulson’s attempts to bring in an enhanced individual by the name of Eva Belyakov, a Russian citizen who appears to have super-strength and is hiding out in Bahrain. When Coulson attempts to approach her on the street, his conversation with her is quickly interrupted by members of a local gang who quickly escort her into their base, taking a child as a hostage and shooting Coulson’s contact in the process. The S.H.I.E.L.D. strike team responds shortly after, but Coulson and May are left in the dark when the entire team fails to respond to them over comms. With no immediate backup available and the local military about to respond, Coulson gives May permission to go into the building and secure anyone still alive. From there, we see Melinda take on the enhanced individual in the event that resulted in her title of “the Cavalry.” Although the flashbacks take up a sizable portion of the episode, they may have benefited from a bit more time to explore the implications of what occurred within that building. We see little of the aftermath of the events within that building, and while viewers can obviously connect the dots between the end of the flashback and the first episode of Agents, it may have possessed greater emotional impact had the episode been able to depict some of the period that followed immediately after. That isn’t to say that it doesn’t have an impact or serve to provide a greater understanding of May’s character. It performs both of those aspects quite effectively, but it may have been possible to make the viewer connect with May more had the narrative had the benefit of a little more time.
Jiaying’s training is, on the other hand, impeccably paced, but also comes with a pair of statements that are so in contrast with one another that it is almost laughable. She starts Skye off by explaining that she wants her to try and listen for the harmonic frequency of a rock, but Skye finds herself distracted by a mountain which is, as she puts it, “the loudest thing [there].” Jiaying encourages her to try to manipulate the frequency, which results in her triggering an avalanche. However, Skye’s suspicions are raised when Lincoln admits to her that he has never seen Jiaying take on the role of teacher before. When training to manipulate more subtle frequencies, Skye admits that she feels at home at Afterlife, but that that also puts her on edge because she has a habit of her homes turning out to be anything but safe or accepting. She states that one foster home actually sent her away on her birthday, but that is was almost like a cosmic joke since she didn’t actually know what her real birthday was. I’ll be honest. The moment when Jiaying turned around and said July 2nd was probably the first time Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. actually got me to tear up slightly. It was only for a moment, but it succeeded at being an effective emotional gut punch, even if we knew it was coming. The problem lies in the fact that Jiaying goes from telling Skye that Afterlife will always be a home to telling her not to tell anyone about her parentage lest others decide she is being unfairly favored and reject (or possibly kill) her. It’s rather difficult to ignore the stark contrast and contradiction inherent in those two statements, and it results in the latter coming off as slightly laughable.
Before I wrap up a few Notes and Nitpicks:
- I’d be remiss to not reiterate the fact that Ming-Na Wen and Blair Underwood have great chemistry as May and Gardner. They only have two scenes together in this episode (one of which was a phone conversation), but those are two great scenes.
- Ava Acres made an appearance as Katya, the girl in the Bahrain flashbacks. She was also the voice of Young Marceline in the Adventure Time episodes Memory of a Memory (“I’m hurting you because I love you.”) and Simon & Marcy (Speaking of bringing a tear to the eye…) which are easily amongst my favorites.
- Watching flashback Coulson trying to decide whether to tell the military that the crises is nuclear or bio-weapon based is probably the funniest part of Melinda. It’s subtle how both he and May seem far less burdened in the flashbacks.
- May looks tiny next to Bobbi (5’ 11’’) and Agent Weaver (5’ 8’’ + heels).
- The promos for the next episode literally tell us nothing about it. They are pretty much just commercials for Age of Ultron.
- So Raina is clairvoyant… I feel like I should have called that due to irony alone. Also, if you didn’t get the tag for this review, Brad Dourif was in season 1 as the fake-clairvoyant. I would have talked about Skye’s dinner with her father, but this was already running a bit long.
Melinda is a slightly better episode than its predecessor, but still has some problems worth noting. Both the trauma faced by May and Jiaying connecting with Skye could have benefited from a bit more time, and the “You’ll always be accepted here,” but “You might be killed,” conversations that Jiaying has with Skye are bizarre and upset the tone slightly. Still, the episode succeeds in providing some insight to one of the show’s more closed off characters, while also delivering an effective emotional gut punch in the form of July 2nd.
Melinda offers both insight and pathos, and while it may not present those aspects flawlessly, it is more than successful in its attempts to present them well.