Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode 1.09, “Repairs,” was written by Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon and directed by Billy Gierhart. As this episode finally gave us the backstory of Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), I was happy the executive producers took this one under their wings. This is Gierhart’s first episode of S.H.I.E.L.D., but his impressive credits include Sons of Anarchy, The Walking Dead, Justified, and Torchwood. It’s easy to see why he was able to handle and episode that delightfully blended humor, action, special effects, and character development.
First a word about the special effects in this episode. I’ve been a bit remiss in not mentioning how really outstanding the effects generally are in the show. Yes, they do have access to shots from the movies, such as last week’s opening montage, but most of the effects are specific to the show. Two really stood out for me this week: the 3D holographic computer simulation that Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) work with and the de-materializing and re-materialzing of Tobias. So a quick shout out to just a small fraction of the effects team: Gary D’Amico (special effects supervisor), Sabrina Arnold and Tim Jacobsen (the visual effects producers), and Mark Kolpack (visual effects supervisor).
The title of the episode resonates with both the main plot about Hannah (Laura Seay) and Tobias (Robert Baker) and the plot that centers around May. In fact, Hannah provides an excellent parallel for May throughout the episode. Skye (Chloe Bennet) tells Coulson (Clark Gregg) that Hannah is a really good person and anyone with so much empathy would be devastated by what happened, so she is consumed with guilt for those who were killed when she failed to stop the danger at the plant through one of her safety checks. It is easy to see that May is also a good person who was devastated by what happened in her past. This is also resonates with the previous episode in which we learn that May is tortured everyday with the guilt she carries – as she told Ward when she touched and mastered the berserker staff.
It was fun to watch Fitz and Simmons try to prank their “freshman” – Skye. Skye does believe their story about “the cavalry.” I quite liked how the story gets smaller, yet somehow maintains its horrific quality. Ward (Brett Dalton) tells Skye that it wasn’t 100 people that May saved but 20. Given that Ward and May are sleeping together it was funny to watch Skye complain to Ward about May. I loved the opening scene between Ward and May. She’ s obviously having fun sleeping with him (regardless of the fact that Skye thinks she needs to get laid!), but she has no problem leaving when they’re done and acting like nothing is going on by giving him grief for being late back to the plane. I wonder if she will be the one to tire of the relationship first.
It’s not until Skye talks to Coulson that she gets the real story. In fact, it was a “Welcome Wagon” situation very similar to the one they find themselves in the episode, except in this case it went very wrong. Skye asks if everyone got out – if they lost anyone. Coulson replies that “she lost herself.” He goes on to tell Skye that May used to be very different. She was always quiet, but she was warm and fearless in a different way: pulling pranks, thought rules were to be broken. “A piece of her was missing when she came back out.” Skye proves to be an astute judge of character in the episode, telling Coulson, “That’s why you wanted her on the plane. To see if she’s still in there.”
Coulson wanted Skye to observe the intake procedure because he believes she will one day be very good at it. She is very naive in many ways - hence, she's an easy target for Fitz and Simmons' prank. She resents May's shoot first tactics because she doesn't understand what's created them, but she's learning. I think, it’s possible that Coulson is grooming Skye to take over his own position. Coulson himself is an astute judge of character, recognizing Skye’s talents and that May has buried a part of herself. Skye gets the dreadful pun in this episode, pointing out that Coulson knows what makes people tick – as he laments the loss of his communication watch. We see Coulson begin to let go of his past.
We’ve already seen that May is starting to change, from the small smile as she leaves Ward in their hotel room to her joining in the pranks by the end of the episode. There are two terrific scenes that join these moments. May overhears Skye talking to Hannah about God. Hannah thinks that Tobias is actually demons and that God is punishing her by not protecting her from them. She tells Skye that she deserves to be punished, but Skye insists that no one does. We get some nice insight into Skye’s past and her beliefs when she says she doesn’t really believe in God, mainly because of the nuns who raised her to fear him. She does rely on what one nun told her – that God is love and that’s what holds us together. May is listening to this conversation and Wen’s performance is terrific as we see Skye’s words touch her. In fact, Wen’s performance is always fantastic. It’s not easy to keep a poker face, but she’s done a great job doing it and slowly letting some emotion show through small smiles and other subtle hints.
The episode contains a number of echoes. Coulson tells Skye that May had gone in to fix the problem, and this is exactly what May says to Hannah. She will keep her people safe no matter the cost to herself or possibly others. The scene in which May escapes Tobias and gets Hannah off the plane is beautifully shot and choreographed by Gierhart, and we see Tobias closer and closer to May in alternating flashes of light until he’s just behind her and then she disappears to get Hannah off the plane.
The scene between Hannah, Tobias, and May is powerful. It begins with another terrific fight scene with Wen, but we also see May figure out exactly what is going on. Tobias also thinks that God is punishing him by sending him to Hell for getting the other technicians killed because he loosened the bolts in the particle accelerator so that Hannah would visit him. He asks for Hannah’s forgiveness. She tells him that only God can forgive him – something she believes has been denied to herself. May tells them that God won’t forgive them because you can’t undo what’s already been done. She tells him that the real Hell is trying to cling to the person that you were. She then tells Tobias to let the girl go. Tobias does let go of Hannah, dematerializing finally into the other world that the portal had opened up – another nice nod to Thor: The Dark World.
When Coulson asks May what she said, she says, I told him what you told me in Behran – presumably the site of the botched index intake. It seems that May finally may be letting go of that person that she was and moving on from that incident. Unlike Behran, May is able to save all of her own people and Hannah. May will always carry the guilt, but she may be finally allowing herself to let others into her life. The ending scene with family game night and May pranking Fitz is a nice symbol of how far she’s come. She’s still a loner and somewhat apart from the group, but she’s also a part of the group.
Once again, De Caestecker nails the comedy in this episode as he and Simmons work to prank Skye. The best scene is them all ending up scared by his mop in the gas mask and Fitz screaming like a girl – as he accused Simmons of doing at a prank in school. Fitz’s explanation that he’d obviously set the prank up before they knew there was a “dimension-jumping psychopath” path on board is also classic.
All in all, another solid episode. We got no more of what really happened to Coulson in Tahiti, but as this next episode is the fall finale, I wonder if we may get more of an explanation. What did you think of the episode? Were you satisfied with May’s backstory? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!