A review of tonight's “Marvel's Agents of SHIELD” coming up just as soon as I remind you not to die…
As the last episode of “SHIELD” we're going to see for several months (with “Agent Carter” taking over the timeslot starting January 6), and as the culmination of this half-season's stories about Whitehall, Skye's dad, Ward, the obelisk, the hidden city, etc., “What They Become” had a whole lot to squeeze into a short amount of time. For the most part, it succeeded, though there were parts of the climax that felt rushed, as we dealt with various characters running in and out of the tunnels, shifting loyalties, getting into fights, unexpectedly crossing paths, etc. A lot happened quickly, and while most of it could be followed(*), there's always the danger that the emotional beats – say, of a semi-significant character like Tripp apparently dying in his attempt to save Skye – get swallowed up by all the plot.
(*) I should also say, as a caveat, that my main DVR had a hiccup tonight, forcing me to watch the episode on a backup TV that's not so great at scenes in darkness, meaning I needed to rewatch the final scene a few times – and check with friends who had watched – to confirm a couple of things that I was reasonably sure I saw, but not positive.
Of course, the hour's most important emotional story involved the reunion of Skye with her father – aka Daisy and Cal (and see the note at the review's end for more on that) – and “What They Become” nailed that part. Chloe Bennet and, especially, Kyle MacLachlan were terrific in their scenes together, and even a moment like Skye letting her homicidal, super-strong maniac of a father go free landed because of their performances. Yes, Skye has become a competent and trusted field agent, but this is still such an extraordinary circumstance – and SHIELD itself so changed from the outfit she joined a season ago – that her inability to put a bullet in the guy played both as something she would feel and as something Coulson would understand.
Tripp's sacrifice probably would have meant more if he had been given more to do this season – more than anyone, he had to take a backseat to the rapidly-expanding ensemble this fall – but the one note the writers made sure to hit in nearly every episode was his friendship with Skye. He's not only a hardcore spy who would do anything to protect his comrades, but somebody who really liked the woman he learned was about to be blown up by his grandfather's old Howling Commandos bombs. If he's truly dead(**) – and it's hard to imagine him coming back, even in a comic book universe, from being turned into a stone statue that crumbles (as opposed to Skye and Raina being encased in stone cocoons) – then his send-off could have probably been done a bit more smoothly, but the reason he went down there was the one that made sense under the circumstances.
(**) It looked like Mac was snapping out of his trance in the closing moments. Surely, you wouldn't expect Team “SHIELD” to kill off both the black guys on the team in one episode.
I also was happy to see Skye shoot Ward the second she had a gun in her hand, even if she almost certainly should – and could, given what we know of her skills – have just killed him then and there. Despite his insistence on playing her white knight, neither Skye nor the show are fooled by who and what he is, and instead he's running off with Agent 33. (Perhaps to take control of some of Whitehall's operation?)
The focus on Skye this week meant that some other characters got shorter shrift. When Coulson joked to May about wanting to know what all the carving was about, it was the first time in weeks I'd even thought of his fixation on those ancient designs. You can't say the series didn't play up that angle enough in earlier episodes – they arguably played it up too much at times – but it did feel like the big boss got a bit lost in the shuffle of everything else that was going on. The Bobbi/Hunter relationship moments worked better – I appreciated, for instance, that he's good enough at what he does to recognize the drive she was trying to hide from him, even as he told her he didn't care about it if it doesn't involve him – and I expect all sides of that story to become even more prominent when the show returns in the spring.
We still haven't gotten the one genuinely great episode I've been hoping for, but the heavy serialization of the season so far led to some very good payoffs here. It's a fun, confident show that seems to be getting better as it goes along, and I look forward to seeing what comes next, once Hayley Atwell is done playing one-woman army in January and February.
Finally, I've read some complaints that I'm treating reviews of this show (and, to an extent, of “The Flash” and “Arrow”) differently from how I've covered “Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones,” in terms of being more open about discussing the source material and things that haven't yet been revealed in the comics. That's a not unreasonable complaint, given the rules, but I do think these shows are different to the extent that they're playing with (some of) the audience's knowledge of the comics, and the ways they twist certain characters and concepts from those books so they're not necessarily the same here. All the comic book shows are taking some time off after this week, so I may rethink how the comments should work going forward, but for tonight, I'm saying talk of what that chamber was about, who Skye's father actually is (and therefore who she is), who the guy with no eyes might be, what the deal with all the Koenig brothers' robot jokes may be, etc., is fair game in the comments. If you don't want to know, don't read them, and I'll do my best to step lighter in reviews going forward.
What did everybody else think?