Afterlife Plot Summary:
Separated and severely outclassed, Coulson (Clark Gregg) pairs up with Hunter (Nick Blood) to fix what’s right. Gonzalez (Edward James Olmos) however is adamant in his quest to take them down. Skye (Chloe Bennet) wakes up in an unknown land and desperately seeks answers.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has always had a knack for unexpected twists and turns. Even when the show was at its critical low point (the first half of Season 1 basically), it would dish out enough surprises to keep viewer interest. Of course, some of these the show pushed out in an excruciatingly long fashion. The eventually unbearable wait to get even a smidgen of information on Coulson’s revival is one such example. Season 2 has really found a way to deliver surprises in a manner that actually generates excitement and not thoughts of, “Oh it’s about time.” “Afterlife” is easily proof of this. This hour contained enough unexpected moments that I seriously considered keeping my caps lock on to accurately detail my rising emotional state in my notes.
The best part is, each twist was perfectly woven into each story. Let’s focus on Mike Peterson/Deathlok (J. August Richards) now since he came first. This was the first time we’ve seen this former Hydra experiment since the finale and he honestly couldn’t have come at a better time. Coulson is on the ropes with his entire team either in captivity or now working for the new S.H.I.E.L.D. Who else can he call on but a super enhanced cyborg that owes the man his freedom? I’m glad the show kept this under wraps online (I didn’t see anything at least) because witnessing Peterson’s return was awesome with fresh eyes. It was also really cool to see all the enhancements Coulson apparently put on him in the interim. The inclusion of Deathlok was one of the first season’s early high points, and it looks like Season 2 will get that boost also.
It also helps that Coulson’s continuing adventure with Hunter is an absolute delight, mainly because these two guys can let loose. Coulson is a man of action so seeing him delegate as the director can get a little stale. Watching him on the field and doing awesome spy stuff is great because it lets Clark Gregg have fun. The same can be said about Hunter. He’s done a lot this season and has really grown as a character, but his turn in “Afterlife” is probably my favorite. His action first attitude (takes a car before consulting Coulson, wants to use guns over icers) clashes with Coulson’s tendency for detail, which is what gives their scenes such necessary charm. Coulson has someone laid back to bounce off of, and Hunter can acclimate to how the frequently serious Coulson operates. It’s a great pairing that I’m excited to follow.
“Afterlife” also did a great job presenting the gray areas that I mentioned as missing in my review of last week’s episode. Sure, Gonzalez continued looking like a villain when he called Skye and other powered people “freaks.” Not accepting other people for what they are is essentially Bad Guy Rule #1. You also get the distinct sense that Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) is starting to waver on her commitment. However, Gonzalez’s speech towards May (Ming-Na Wen) at the end actually makes you want to support him. His ultimate goal (or so he claims!) is to bring S.H.I.E.L.D. back to its world-protecting roots with new leadership. It’s admirable, especially considering how much good S.H.I.E.L.D. did before getting involved with the supernatural. Keep in mind that Fury was previously at odds with other people about the Avengers, so you can actually trace this rift back to that film.
It’s worth asking though: What is Hydra doing as S.H.I.E.L.D. fights each other? May’s the only one to bring this up. Off running free and wreaking havoc I guess!
Skye’s story was appropriately Inhuman focused, considering how Gordon (Jamie Harris) pulled her away last week. The first half of her story was very visually compelling, but ultimately left something to be desired. A lot of tidbits were dropped about the Inhumans courtesy of newcomer Lincoln (Luke Mitchell). Skye is the first person to change in a Kree temple in a while, the Inhuman race is growing intermittently to not overwhelm everyone with changes, they’re at a top secret mountain village for growth (reminds me a lot of K’un Lun from the comics). That sort of stuff. Yet this didn’t do a lot to progress her own journey forward, nor did it give us a lot of insight into Lincoln. What exactly is his power, really? Can he generate electricity at will like Force Lightning or only pass it to people like an extra-strong AED? Also, what makes him so special that Gordon calls him from Chicago?
The Inhuman plot really ramped up the moment Skye confronted Raina (Ruth Negga). This is the first time these two have seen each other since Terrigenesis and it was tense. Skye almost killed her! She’s stopped though by the episode’s second biggest shocker: Skye’s mother Jiaying (Dichen Lachman) is alive. Skye doesn’t know their relation but Jiaying is well aware that she’s now with her precious Daisy. Once again, you have to give the show credit for keeping this secret. I definitely didn’t see this coming, and it changes everything. Skye actually has the expertise she needs to become a real Inhuman force. I really cannot wait to see how quickly Skye grows now that her mother is back. The same can be said about Cal (Kyle MacLachlan). He didn’t have much to do other than act angry (which he does VERY well), but it’s clear that the surprise return of his wife has calmed him. Perhaps he won’t hunt after Coulson anymore? Nah.
It wasn’t until the very end that the final twist was revealed to much glee. As the show has done fairly well over the past several weeks, Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) are on thin ice with each other. They bicker a lot and frequently bring up their shattered trust. “Afterlife” continued this trend by putting these two on different sides regarding Fury’s toolbox. Simmons believes they should open it to bring S.H.I.E.L.D. together but Fitz disagrees. This ultimately drives Fitz to leave the team, which was painful because this relationship has been cultivated since day one. Yet this was eventually revealed as another fake out with the show’s best duo finding a way to get Fury’s toolbox away from Other S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s amazing to watch these two work together again. Fitz-Simmons forever!
Next week’s episode will supposedly reveal what exactly happened to give May the nickname of “The Cavalry.” Gonzalez briefly touched upon this during his interrogation. I honestly forgot that we never got the full story so I’m excited to see what it contains. Coulson also mentioned that he plans to bring Ward (Brett Dalton) back into the fold so he can find where Skye is being kept. This was inevitable at this point because clearly the writers haven’t found much for Ward to do outside of his single episode in 2015. I hope this doesn’t put him back together with S.H.I.E.L.D. on a permanent basis. He really is better as an extra rogue.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.