Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Might Not Need An "Afterlife" . . . But It Gets One With A Decent Episode!

The Good: Moments of character, Decent plot development, Good performances
The Bad: Serves a VERY large cast, so it feels somewhat soap operatic
The Basics: "Afterlife" continues the sprawling story of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. well-enough, with some legitimate surprises, but without truly delving into any of the characters substantively enough to be compelling.

It is a rare thing that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. beats The Flash in my estimation. Last week, though, was one of the rare weeks where Marvel's Tuesday night television show kicked the ass of The Flash. "One Door Closes" soundly thumped "Trickters" (reviewed here!) and left Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. with the momentum coming into this week. The new episode is "Afterlife" and it manages to take the potentially disappointing end of "One Door Closes" and run with it in a good direction.

"One Door Closes" (reviewed here!) ended (not a huge spoiler) with Coulson on the run and his only immediate asset was . . . Agent Hunter. Hunter has been, arguably, the least-interesting new character on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Hinging a major plot on him is a risky proposition, but given how "Afterlife" focuses on Coulson with Hunter as a wisecracking sidekick, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. makes it work.

Coulson attempts to buy a new car when Agent Hunter steals him a new one and the two head off to try to rescue Skye. Skye is in the care of Gordon, where she has been for two days, and he is "healing" her. Back at Coulson's headquarters, Gonzales and his S.H.I.E.L.D. cel try to figure out what is in Fury's "toolbox" and Fitz and Simmons opt to quit, rather than help him. Meanwhile, Skye learns about her Inhuman heritage from Lincoln Campbell, who tells her about the society of people who are prepared for transformation at Gordon's enclave. There, Skye is frustrated when she it told that the transition is irreversible and Gordon cannot undo what has happened to her.

Coulson and Hunter remain in the bunker designed for Bruce Banner where they await Gonzales's S.H.I.E.L.D. team. While they are able to initially incapacitate the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, Gonzales's team turns the tables on them. Fortunately, Coulson has some surprise back-up and that plays remarkably well for getting him and hunter the Quinjet that they need. While Fitz abandons Simmons (based on her machinations), Skye finds Raina at the compound and that leads to both revelations and a reunion she was not expecting.

"Afterlife" is, ostensibly, the proper introduction of the Inhumans to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Skye is an Inhuman (though the difference between Mutants - X-Men - and "Inhumans" seems to be more a matter of choice and engineering at this point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) and by having Gordon and his whole compound revealed, it seems like Skye is a logical transition from Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. to the announced Inhumans film that is due out in several years.

As The Avengers: Age Of Ultron looms, "Afterlife" seems to be doing exactly what fans of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe would expect. The Avengers: Age Of Ultron will feature some cataclysmic events which might fundamentally change the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. are now the most regular part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the only excuse not to have its members in the film or suffering dealing with the consequences of the film is to have the characters in this corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe so overwhelmed with their own conflict and plots that they cannot possibly be involved in the events of aftermath of the big cinematic event. "Afterlife" actually sets that up incredibly well. Having a schism between Gonzales and Coulson makes for a reasonable conflict that would keep the Agents out of non-S.H.I.E.L.D. conflicts.

Because "Afterlife" has threads with Coulson, Skye, Gonzales, May, Bobbi Morse, Jiaying and Calvin and Fitz, the character element of the episode is stretched ridiculously thin. Skye learns about her nature, but the only real development comes in the rather unlikely form of Simmons. Simmons has been waffling about working around Fitz and in "Afterlife," she chooses S.H.I.E.L.D. over her lab partner. The plot-heavy nature of "Afterlife" makes it hard to develop all of the characters or give any of them significant attention.

Ironically, in the plot-heavy "Afterlife," the best performance comes from Elizabeth Henstridge. It's impossible to write about what Henstridge does as Jemma Simmons without spoiling the end of the episode, but Henstridge's performance is what sells it.

"Afterlife" is an engaging hour of television in which a lot happens, but the scatter approach makes for an episode filled with stuff, but not a lot that is easy to describe. The episode moves Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and it has some decent surprises, but it is more pulp television than great television.

For other works with Stoney Westmoreland, please check out my reviews of:
World Trade Center
Matchstick Men
"Muse" - Star Trek: Voyager

[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!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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