Age Of Ultron came and went and its ramifications on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. are…slight. All that Theta Protocol business was just leading up to the reveal that Coulson and Fury built a new S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier (because that’s worked out so well in the past), and the Avengers’ business in Sokovia has little impact on what Coulson and his team are currently dealing with. Sure, Gonzales uses recent events as an example for why power needs to be kept in check by mentioning how the Avengers did nothing while Tony Stark built an A.I. that threatened all life on the planet, but this episode doesn’t need the film to accelerate the plot the way last season’s “Turn, Turn, Turn” relied on Winter Soldier. Which is a good thing.

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I liked Age Of Ultron, but I’m ready for something new in the MCU. Phase 1 introduced all the major players in the Avengers, Phase 2 continued the stories of the big three (Captain America, Iron Man, Thor) and brought some new faces to the MCU with Guardians Of The Galaxy and Ant-Man, but Phase 3 looks to be when Marvel Studios really starts exploring new ground, and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is leading the way into this new age of the MCU. Season two is when the show stopped being auxiliary and started playing an integral role in the evolution of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, primarily by serving as the launch pad for the Inhumans. Age Of Ultron doesn’t address the Inhuman question at all, but it’s the most pressing concern for S.H.I.E.L.D. after the Avengers take down Ultron, and “Scars” intensifies the conflict between Jiaying and Coulson, putting Skye smack dab in the middle.

This episode features the first use of “Inhuman” as the classification for this breed of alien-human hybrids, and once Skye mentions it, everyone starts using it. A lot. The producers really want viewers to remember the word “Inhuman,” and the Marvel Comics fan in me thrills whenever the characters say the I-word. But this show is taking a very safe approach to the Inhumans—no super-hair or giant teleporting dogs here—and the fact that Raina is the one Inhuman that can’t pass for human makes her more intriguing. (Throw a pair of sunglasses on Gordon and he could totally pass.) It gives her transition more emotional weight as she struggles with this monstrous new appearance, but it also makes her a constant visual reminder of the fantasy element of this world, which is something this show needs to embrace to differentiate it from the standard action TV fare.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. looks like it could be pretty much any primetime action drama until Raina shows up on screen, and hopefully future Inhumans will feature more of this kind of unconventional design work to bring extra style to the series. I’m still wary of Raina’s precognitive abilities, but “Scars” handles her visions well by not showing them to the viewer. This is especially effective when doubt is cast on Raina’s honesty, so when she has a vision about Jiaying’s meeting with S.H.I.E.L.D. going horribly wrong, the audience doesn’t know if she is lying or not. Cal convinces Jiaying that Raina is manipulating her and everyone else to satisfy her own selfish desires, and that paranoia ultimately leads to Afterlife going to war with S.H.I.E.L.D.

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While Age Of Ultron may not play a direct role in this episode, it does have a strong thematic tie to the story, particularly with regards to the consequences of power left unchecked. But Coulson isn’t the powerful figure that poses a danger. Jiaying doesn’t answer to anyone in Afterlife, and that total control allows her to throw her people into a war that nobody is ready for. Like Tony Stark, Jiaying’s drastic actions are done in the name of safety for her people, and like Tony Stark, Jiaying hasn’t considered the negative consequences.

I really enjoy this show’s portrayal of Robert Gonzales, who is rightfully nervous about the tipping balance of power in the world but is also diplomatic and sympathetic to the needs of others. His agenda doesn’t align with Coulson’s, but that doesn’t make him a villain, and Edward James Olmos doesn’t play him that way. Gonzales recognizes the danger of Inhumans and other enhanced people, but he also recognizes the benefits they can provide, and he doesn’t want to jeopardize his relationship with potential assets when he has a private conversation with Jiaying.

Gonzales goes in with a gift to show that he’s a friend, but Jiaying is insulted by his claims that they have the same Hydra-created scars and angered by the indexing of Inhuman people. And she’s not wrong. Gonzales’ leg injury is nothing compared to what Hydra put Jiaying through, taking advantage of her immortality to rip her apart and dissect her insides, and the Inhuman people have lived in peaceful solitude for most of their existence, so why should they willingly hand over valuable information to an organization that wants to restrict their extraordinary power? She’s not going to sacrifice the future of her people simply because some man asked nicely and gave her a gift. She’s going to fight back, and she starts by dropping a Terrigen crystal that turns Gonzales to ash, then shooting two bullets into her chest to make it look like she acted in self-defense.

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Jiaying and Gonzales’ big scene reveals that the Inhumans know how to create Terrigen crystals, which lends more credence to the theory that this season is building to the deployment of a Terrigen bomb. I’m really hoping that comes to pass, because I’m ready for an influx of superpowered characters in the MCU, plus the added benefits of having the strong metaphor of a group of people shunned from the world for a heritage that makes them different from most humans. Dropping a Terrigen bomb that affects the entire Earth would be a game-changer for the MCU, and I don’t know if Marvel Studios is willing to introduce that kind of status quo change on a TV show with middling ratings. But maybe a huge event like that is exactly what this series needs to pull in more viewers from the millions of people that head to theaters to check out Marvel films.

Stray observations:

  • The opening sequence of Billy Koenig waking up in his Star Wars sheets and getting ready to go to work is a lot of fun. Seeing how characters approach their mornings is a quick way of reinforcing a personality (another example: Simmons’ introduction in “Meeting Friends And Influencing People”), which makes me want to see how everyone in the cast gets up each day.
  • Mack quits the team this week and I will miss his beefcake and flirting with Fitz, but not much else. He was pretty boring.
  • Kara is still bad and working with Ward, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. I hope Bobbi kicks their asses really hard.
  • Any theories as to what that liquid rock Kree weapon is? I’m drawing a blank.
  • That Sky Mall “never going out of business” line is not good.
  • “This way, we’ll have a cool underground base and a boat.”
  • “I didn’t know she was there at the time. She had very dark hair.”
  • “If she’s not O.K., I will personally rip out Raina’s little tainted rat heart! Or not. Whatever you want.”
  • “If you think about, mostly terrible stuff happened on that thing.”
  • “I’m sorry, that looked very old. Was it old?”

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