It actually happened. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. just introduced the Inhumans to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, firmly establishing the TV series as an essential part of Marvel Studios’ bigger plans for the future. Sure, nobody actually says “Inhuman,” but blue crystals brought to Earth by the Kree that transform people by encasing them in cocoons? It’s totally the concept of the Inhumans, and that is very exciting for a couple of reasons.
The first, and biggest, reason is that it makes Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. a more active player in the MCU. The series has become more and more connected to the larger MCU since Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but it’s always been in a reactive role. Stuff happens in the movies, and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. deals with the fallout. Not anymore. This show is making things happen, and these events will clearly impact the future of the MCU because we know there’s an Inhumans movies planned for 2019. I assume that’s when we’ll see the hidden city of Attilan (probably on the moon) and the Inhuman royal family, because this show likely doesn’t have the budget for that kind of Kirby-inspired spectacle.
What Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is doing with the Inhumans is what I expected this show to do with Marvel properties since it was first announced. A TV series is the perfect place to really expand the scope of the MCU and introduce some of the harder-to-sell properties that probably won’t get spotlighted on screen, and the writers can do the exposition heavy lifting on this show. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out in the future that a main character from one of the upcoming Marvel Netflix miniseries will be featured on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., because that sort of cross-promotion is one of the benefits of having a shared universe in the first place. (I’ve got my fingers crossed for Jessica Jones, who is officially being played by Krysten Ritter in A.K.A. Jessica Jones. Ritter already has a history with ABC, so maybe she’d be willing to drop by this series. She could start a friendship with Bobbi Morse, who can fill the Carol Danvers role as Jessica’s superhero best friend.)
The Inhumans are a race of superpowered beings evolved from Neanderthals that were experimented on by aliens, and they gain their abilities at puberty via a process called Terrigenesis. I can already hear the large chunks of exposition being recited over CGI-heavy montages, but it’s possible that the work done on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. will eliminate the need for those. “What They Become” introduces the Inhuman concept on a personal level rather than a cosmic level, which makes the whole idea a bit easier to swallow. Comic fans know the scope of the Inhumans, but it’s a smart decision to start on a smaller scale in the MCU, which makes the concept easier to translate to television.
The second reason why the official introduction of the Inhumans is so exciting is that it opens up a lot of opportunities for more fantastic developments on this series. Terrigenesis is a quick, convenient way of explaining characters with superpowers, and while I’m pretty sure the evolution at the end of this episode was contained to Skye and Raina’s chamber, we know there are other Obelisks out there, which means there can be new Inhuman characters at any time. Will they actually be called Inhumans? Maybe not. The current Inhuman comic series deals with the aftermath of a mass amount of Terrigen being released into the Earth’s atmosphere, and the people transformed by that are called Nu-Humans. We may hear that clumsy term incorporated into this series, but I’d much rather have the far more elegant Inhuman branding.
It would be wonderful to see this show drop a Terrigen bomb on the world; The Flash has had a lot of fun spotlighting the superpowered humans created by the explosion of the STAR Labs particle accelerator, and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. could do something similar with Terrigenesis, but on a global scale. There aren’t many humans in the MCU that have actual superpowers, but this development makes it possible for characters to gain abilities without needing to get hit by a gamma bomb or injected with Super Soldier Serum. It’s been long-rumored that the Inhumans would be Marvel Studios’ answer to mutants—a term that they can’t use because of Fox’s ownership of the X-Men film rights—and looking at Comic Book Resource’s postmortem interview for this episode with Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, it appears as if that is certainly going to be the case.
“What They Become” is chock-full of revelations. Who is Skye’s father? A man named Cal, a.k.a. Calvin Zabo, the Marvel supervillain known as Mr. Hyde. What is Skye’s real name? Daisy, making her the MCU version of Daisy Johnson, who is Calvin Zabo’s daughter in the comics. What is the secret of the Obelisk? It’s filled with Terrigen crystals, which are exposed when the Obelisk is put in just the right place (marked by a glowing pedestal because glowing pedestals are where these things always tend to go). A lot happens, and that’s not even including the deaths of Daniel Whitehall and Antoine Tripplet. It’s fairly rushed, and some of the emotional beats don’t quite land because there’s so much plot to address. Whitehall’s death in particular zooms by, but it does set up a great fight between Coulson and Cal.
Kyle MacLachlan has only had a handful of appearances, but he’s quickly become the MVP of this series, giving a performance that finds the perfect balance of scenery-chewing exaggeration and grounded emotion. He’s the kind of actor you want on your TV show set in a superhero universe, with a range that allows him to fill Cal and Skye’s scenes with personal feeling, then switch seamlessly into homicidal monster mode when he goes after Whitehall and Coulson. MacLachlan makes the distinction between Cal and Mr. Hyde very clear, and he gets to really intensify those opposing aspects of his character in this episode.
Chloe Bennett doesn’t have that same kind of range, but I look forward to seeing how Skye’s character evolves after “What They Become.” When asked by TVLine how tonight’s twist changes Skye’s character, Maurissa Tancharoen responds, “What we’ve set up for a season-and-a-half is the origin of a superhero.” The use of the word “superhero” is important here. Skye isn’t just going to be a spy anymore. She’s going to be thrust into a new world, one that will most likely involve her having the power to create earthquakes with her mind. And like most superheroes, the big moment in Skye’s origin story is punctuated by tragedy as she watches Trip disintegrate after she emerges from her Terrigenesis cocoon, turned to ash after being hit by shards of Terrigen crystals. The combination of PTSD and seismic powers could make for some really interesting character work in the second half of the season, and I have the feeling that Skye is going to do exactly what Cal says she’ll do and seek out her father’s help with controlling her new ability when it all becomes too much to bear.
The episode’s climactic scene is given a lot of dramatic weight by director Michael Zinberg and music composer Bear McCreary, who capture the majesty of Skye’s transformation to create a moment of triumph that contrasts nicely with the tragedy of Trip turning to dust. Trip’s death isn’t quite as impactful as it should be, though, because he never really integrated into the team in a meaningful way. Trip got his moments of action, but not much in the way of character development, and light flirting with Skye and Simmons doesn’t really count. (Although damn it, I really wanted to see Trimmons happen.) This season has seen a lot of expansion in terms of the plot and cast, and Trip is a character that fell to the side as other people took precedence. But if he’s going to be the agent that dies in the midseason finale, Trip needs to get ample attention or it feels like he’s just on the team to die when the show needs a bump in the stakes.
Trip was quite literally a casualty of this show’s expansion, but that growth has meant great things for the quality of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. At this point last year, the series was still very much a case-of-the-week procedural without much of an overarching plotline, and now it’s become a story about S.H.I.E.L.D. fighting Hydra with the Inhumans in the middle. Like Skye and Raina, the show is finally realizing its full potential, and “What They Become” considerably changes the game to give the show more momentum than ever before. With no new episodes until March because of the Agent Carter miniseries (which looks delightful), it’s going to be difficult to wait for the resolution of this cliffhanger, but building that anticipation is what makes this chapter such a successful midseason finale.
- What is it with this show killing black men during midseason finales? Mike Petersen got blown up this time last year, although he ended up being revived with the Deathlok tech.
- The VFX in the opening chase sequence are very nice. I especially like the color palette; this show has a lot of gray and brown, and it’s nice to see all those pretty colors of sunset.
- How great is it when Skye shoots Ward immediately after he sets her free? I really hope the writers commit to Skye hating Ward while he obsessively tries to win her love, although I fear that she’ll turn to him in her emotionally vulnerable state after Terrigenesis.
- What is going on with Bobbi’s shifty behavior? Mockingbird was replaced by a Skrull in the Marvel Comics for quite some time, so I’m wondering if this show isn’t gearing up for a Secret Invasion down the line.
- This episode only gives a small glimpse of Raina’s transformation, but it appears to be far more dramatic in terms of how it’s changed her physical appearance. I wonder if she’ll end up being a character from the comics like Skye.
- Want to read some comics featuring Daisy Johnson? Check out Brian Michael Bendis’ Secret War (the character’s first appearance), Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Warriors, Nick Spencer’s second volume of Secret Avengers, and Ales Kot’s current Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier series, which features Daisy as Bucky’s partner.
- I am now very committed to the idea of Jessica Jones guest-starring on this show. Just think about it: Coulson and his team investigate a new vigilante in New York City and find Jessica, who decides that she’s really not up for that lifestyle, setting up her role as an ex-superhero private investigator.
- Who is the man with no eyes in the episode’s tag? Best guess is it’s Reader, a character introduced in the current Inhuman series who can turn anything he reads into reality. He was blinded by the Inhumans because of the scope of his power.
- “I wanted it to be perfect. I had plans. Those little almond cookies. Flowers, maybe?”
- “Best day ever.”
- Cal: “What did you do?!” Coulson: “You’re welcome?”
- “Join S.H.I.E.L.D. Travel to exotic distant lands. Meet exciting, unusual people. And kill them.”