Tuesday, December 9, 2014

So Much Tease, So Close To A Payoff . . . “What They Become” Almost Delivers All Marvel Fans Could Want!

The Good: Engaging plot development, Decent character moments, Special effects
The Bad: Gets a bit crowded trying to service the entire cast, Until the last shot, not a ton of stellar acting moments
The Basics: “What They Become” advances the plot of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and teases just how incredible Skye might be for the future!

When it comes to serialized television, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has generally leaned more toward episodic than truly telling a unified story. The second season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been a bit more serialized than the first season and the mid-season finale, “What They Become” is almost entirely dependent upon the episodes that came before it. As a regular viewer of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., that is not a huge problem, but for those who are fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “What They Become” is a terrible place to enter the series, though it is a pretty worthwhile hour of television.

Picking up where “Ye Who Enter Here” (reviewed here!) ended, “What They Become” is very much a mid-season finale designed to bring viewers back to the show after Agent Carter borrows its timeslot for a couple of months. ”What They Become” is the payoff of the first season’s lingering mystery surrounding Skye, her father, and their shared nature. Since the first season episode “The Asset” (reviewed here!), Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has struggled to keep Skye interesting and vital by teasing the idea that she is not entirely human. The first season subplot surrounding Skye was so unremarkable that it is almost surprising that the first ten episodes of the second season have all teased aspects of her heritage; that “What They Become” reignites the equally-obscure subplot that had Ward falling for Skye before he went over to H.Y.D.R.A.

Opening with the Bus still completely in jeopardy as Ward and his H.Y.D.R.A. team take both Raina and Skye, May executes her own plan to save the rest of her half of the team. Using her aerial maneuvering skills, May throws H.Y.D.R.A. off their trail by making it appear the Bus was destroyed. Reuniting with Coulson’s team, Coulson prepares to blow up the alien city under San Juan. While Coulson’s team prepares to descend into the City and blow it up, Skye meets her father. After Skye’s father tells Skye his side of the story, he takes an unexpected turn in that he decides to go kill Whitehall.

With H.Y.D.R.A. drilling down into the alien city, Skye, Ward and Skye’s father square off with Whitehall, the H.Y.D.R.A. duplicate who looks (mostly) like May and their forces. Coulson’s team breaks into the H.Y.D.R.A. facility to recover Skye while Skye’s father chases down Whitehall to kill him . . . though he does not want Skye to see how he intends to do it. In the alien city, Fitz, Simmons, and Triplett set the chemical charges, but when it goes slowly, they have to split up. Rescuing Coulson, Skye squares off against her father, who warns her that she will transform if she takes the Obelisk into the city. When Raina enters the city with the Diviner, she encounters the zombified Mac and works to beat the S.H.I.E.L.D. team to the temple!

“What They Become” marks the return of some of the sense of snark and irony that makes the Marvel Cinematic Universe a fun place to spend time. Coulson’s character – the bedrock of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - was presented in the Marvel movies as professional, but deadpan. His scenes were often funny and intriguing; in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., he has been much more serious and tormented (necessitated by how his character was resurrected). In “What They Become,” Coulson has moments that are a bit more tongue-in-cheek than he has been able to play this season and the return to form is certainly welcome.

That said, “What They Become” is not at all a humorous episode. Instead, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. physically and emotionally descends through the course of the episode from high in the sky to deep under San Juan. As Coulson’s team works underground, Coulson squares off with Skye’s father for almost an entire scene of ass-kicking. The scene, which leaves Skye’s father bloody and bruised and Coulson near-death, is pretty gruesome to watch.

Skye’s character, whose birthname it turns out is Daisy, turns out to be far less badass than fans might want. Given the chance to land a killshot on Ward, she keeps the show in the bounds of PG-13 and the result is a disappointing set-up (if your money was on “Ward takes over H.Y.D.R.A.,” it looks like you’re in for a payday!) for future episodes. Skye has a connection to her father, beyond the biological and given how little substance the character actually has – especially now that her father seems to be so much more interesting – when she is put in mortal danger at the climax of the episode, the result is not as suspenseful as the executive producers might have hoped. The transformation Skye undergoes is enough to make one want to come back for the rest of the season, but it is diluted with the fact that Raina also experiences a transformation.

The characters in “What They Become” are stretched thin as the episode goes on. Recurring characters like Raina and Triplett are given tense moments viewers are supposed to invest in as Coulson races to try to save Skye. Throw in zombie Mac and viewers might just feel like they are rewatching the climax to the fourth season of Alias (reviewed here!) more than Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. The season finally delivers some promised casualties, but “What They Become” is actually light on big emotional moments. For sure, it’s cool for Skye to meet her father and for him to awkwardly try to introduce himself, but the scene is so loaded with backstory exposition and the progression of Whitehall’s movements that the character viewers are supposed to care about – Skye – barely has time to reflect.

That said, actress Chloe Bennet makes great use of her final shot on screen to deliver a great performance without any lines. While the next episode seems to be set up for a big fight scene, Bennet plays a very deep sense of emotion before that without saying a word. None of the rest of the performers are even given the chance to act with that much range, save perhaps Henry Simmons, who gets to play Mac without dialogue, but like a possessed powerhouse.

Ultimately, “What They Become” is both a big pay-off for the fans and the next big tease that promises fans that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. will do all it can to keep the Marvel Cinematic Universe relevant until The Avengers: Age Of Ultron hits theaters next summer!

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - The Complete Second Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophomore season here!


For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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