Tuesday, April 14, 2015

"Melinda" Empowers May To Become The Cavalry For Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.!

The Good: Moments of character, Generally good performances
The Bad: Conflict of various characters not developing while May is developed, Plot is very much a filler (bridge plot)
The Basics: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. does its best to live up to the hype alluded to surrounding "Melinda" May!

Ever since Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. started, there has been a lot of mystery surrounding Agent Melinda May. Starting in "0-8-4" (reviewed here!), May was given the nickname Cavalry and has had mystery surrounding her backstory. While May has been only the occasional focus of episodes of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., her backstory is most-focused on in "Melinda." It's a pretty Marvel-heavy week for me - whatwith Daredevil just dropping and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 trading cards hitting the market tomorrow - and "Melinda" is an interesting diversion from the darkness of the city-based Marvel Cinematic Universe show I've been reviewing.

Picking up in the wake of "Afterlife" (reviewed here!), "Melinda" is an action-adventure backstory plotline blended with a much more cerebral present-day plot that focuses on May working with the second half of S.H.I.E.L.D. as Skye trains. Skye and May are given emotional choices to make that involve big internal conflicts that are reflexive of their past experiences. With the focus on May in the backstory flashbacks, the preponderance of scenes with Skye in the present seems incongruent, like Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. was unwilling to fully commit to a Melinda May episode.

Opening with a flashback seven years prior when Agents Coulson and May were part of a S.H.I.E.L.D. operation in Bahrain where they were tasked with picking up Eva Belyakov. In the present, Gonzales's S.H.I.E.L.D. team, under Morse and Weaver, try to get May to join their mission. They have discovered that Coulson's big project since taking over S.H.I.E.L.D. is a massively expensive off-the-books operation called Theta Protocol. At Gordon's compound, Skye is trained by Jiaying. Jiaying has her "feel" the mountain nearby and Skye lets her powers loose enough to cause an avalanche! While reflecting upon her powers, Jiaying confesses to Skye that she is her mother.

May is put in charge of Gonzales's team and she seeks out Simmons to find out if she knew anything about the Theta Protocol. Simmons denies knowing anything about Theta Protocol and seems upset that Coulson was using Deathlok technology. Simmons tracks the money and finds that Coulson was burning through money on projects like secret construction projects, which Mack theorizes has to do with continuing to find and contain more super-powered individuals. With May deciding what to do about Coulson, Skye sits down to dinner with her parents, where she learns some surprising new information.

The backstory plotline in "Melinda" is a tough story to present, though the episode does it well. Having a character with a mysterious story that is based around a single mission that took on a mythic quality within the organization is a tough one to write and then present. After all, it is hard to show something that so many people have so many theories about and make it satisfying to watch. As most fans would expect, May becomes something of a one-woman army during the mission in Bahrain seven years ago. We've seen May kick ass before, but in "Melinda," the scope of her using herself as a weapon and the speed at which she processes information in combat is a bit bigger.

A much weaker plotline involves Raina, who whines her way through scenes with Gordon. It is hard to imagine that Ruth Negga is particularly satisfied with the role of Raina as the former lead manipulating adversary of the show has been reduced to a porcupine woman who sits around whining about how she looks. Raina worked for years to experiment on people to make super-powered people as soldiers for other interests. Now that she has an ability, it seems uncharacteristic for her to sit around complaining about it, as opposed to figuring out how to be useful and empowered. Thematically, this weakens "Melinda" quite a bit. It's like writer D.J. Doyle and director Garry A. Brown could not deal with writing four truly empowered, powerful women (May, Eva, Skye and Raina all have the potential to impress in this episode).

"Melinda" reveals May's backstory while artificially constructing a new secret for Skye (she has to lie to the compound's other occupants about Jiaying being her mother) and that seems like a ridiculous pretense. Skye and the rest are a compound of people who are essentially mutants (I know, they're "Inhumans," but they are essentially metahuman mutants, which is fine); it seems ridiculous to believe none of them might not now or ever possess psychic abilities.

The performances in "Melinda" are fine, but none are truly exceptional. Ming-Na Wen does a good job of making May vulnerable for the episode's key moment, while still making May powerful in the present.

For other works with Clark Gregg, please check out my reviews of:
Brightest Star
The Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One - Avengers Assemble
The West Wing
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
Sports Night
The Usual Suspects

[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 reviews of components of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a listing of reviews from best to worst!

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