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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 1.12 "Seeds" Review: Growing Pains

    Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “Seeds,” was written by Monica Owusu-Breen and Jed Whedon and directed by Kenneth Fink. Fink’s other credits include Person of Interest, Nikita, CSI, and that other comic-related show, Arrow. It’s nice to see Whedon back penning an episode, and this episode deals with the fallout of the big reveal last week about what happened to Coulson (Clark Gregg) and introduces another big reveal: what happened to Skye’s (Chloe Bennet) parents.

    The title of the episode works on several levels. On a very literal level it refers to Donnie (Dylan Minnette) and Seth’s (Daniel Zovatto) device seeding the clouds with the super storm. But it also refers to the seed of distrust that’s been planted in Coulson. It’s an interesting contrast to see Coulson doubting his S.H.I.E.L.D. family as Skye discovers and embraces hers. There’s also the idea of a “bad” seed. Ward (Brett Dalton) starts to explain the term to Skye – who stops him, telling him that it’s not a S.H.I.E.L.D. term, it’s just a term because there can be bad seeds anywhere. At S.H.I.E.L.D., however, it specifically refers to those who use the special skills they learn at S.H.I.E.L.D. in ways not endorsed by S.H.I.E.L.D. Ward interprets being a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. as being dedicated to the greater good – but we’ve seen that S.H.I.E.L.D. command is not as black and white as Ward’s commitment implies.

    We learn that there is a serious rivalry between the different branches of the academy of S.H.I.E.L.D. and that S.H.I.E.L.D. trains its various agents in different academies. This, of course, makes our team even more special because they have formed a tight-knit unit. No doubt, S.H.I.E.L.D. wants to keep the various agents separate as it would make controlling the various groups easier by keeping those rivalries alive. Coulson doesn’t believe that Donnie and Seth are necessarily bad seeds. Coulson points out that sometimes it’s a bad influence. In this case, it’s their backer Ian Quinn (David Conrad). He seems to be your run of the mill opportunist interested in selling weapons to the highest bidder until he tells Coulson that the Clairvoyant says hi. He is clearly going to be important going forward.

    The final scene sets Donnie up to become Blizzard as we see his finger create an ice trail on the window. I wondered if he’s been changed by the final explosion that killed Seth or perhaps when he was encased in ice. He’s being taken to the sandbox, but it’s unclear what S.H.I.E.L.D. will do with him there.

    May (Ming-Na Wen) cleverly draws Coulson closer to his new family by taking him on a mission to uncover Skye’s past. She refocuses his attention from his death to the living members of his team. Wen and Coulson’s scenes are highlights of the episode – they have wonderful chemistry and the scene in which they stake out the counterfeiter’s store is one of their best. Coulson picks up on May talking – more than ever – and calls her on it. He trusts her enough to express his anger and doubts about S.H.I.E.L.D. ever telling him the truth. It was great to see May actually opening up too. She is also able to reassure Coulson that he hasn’t changed. Couslon is tired of the secrets and declares, “We need to root out all the secrets.” I’m betting this is setting up our team to do just that. I’m increasingly seeing “our” team as being set up in opposition to S.H.I.E.L.D. The episode also shows that some things should be kept secret. If Skye’s background hadn’t been kept secret, it’s likely she would be dead.

    The team’s investigation at the Academy is made more difficult because as Ward points out, they teach students to keep secrets – it’s part of the curriculum and therefore deeply ingrained. It was great to watch the team work together to solve the case without the guidance of Coulson or May. I loved the banter between them as they both support and tease each other. I think the show has done a good job slowly building the relationship between the characters, and we’re now getting the payoff. Each of the actors has been able to showcase both a lighter and a more serious side to their characters as well, so the humor doesn’t take you out of the action, and Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) can say that Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) and Skye will eventually “be wrinkly old hags” while he’ll still look young, and Simmons and Skye can think Ward is adorable. May trying to confess to Coulson that she’s sleeping with Ward was also hysterical as she’s clearly gone way outside her comfort zone only to be seemingly ignored.

    It’s also fun to see that the characters can also still surprise each other. Skye is surprised to see that Simmons and Fitz are the popular kids – but Ward is not. But Ward is surprised by the Boiler Room as he had a fixed idea of what the Science nerds would be like. But Ward is astute to send Fitz to talk to Donnie. Fitz admits that he had a hard time adjusting to the Academy at first – until he met Simmons and she became his good friend. He also admits to Donnie that Simmons is smarter than he is.

    The previously on scenes remind us that Coulson actually teasingly compared Skye to an 0-8-4 – object of unknown origin – back in the second episode. Skye tells Ward that she felt like she cheated to get “in” to S.H.I.E.L.D., that she hacked her way in. When Coulson asks May why she’s suddenly interested in the Skye investigation, she tells him that she feels that Skye has proven herself in a big way in Coulson’s rescue. Clearly, if Skye can win over May, her harshest critic, she truly has earned her way in.

    Agent Lumley (Boyd Kestner) has gone into hiding after all the other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who rescued the 0-8-4 were killed. He tells them that when they found the baby (Skye) she was covered in blood and the entire village she was in was dead. He warns May and Coulson to be careful – to stop digging and stay away from the girl, because wherever she goes, death follows. However, Coulson’s insistence that it’s not always a bad seed but a bad influence resonates here. Is Skye ‘bad’ or has she had the benefit of the team to keep her on the side of the greater good? Interestingly, May suggests dropping Lumley at S.H.I.E.L.D., but Coulson says it may not be the safest place for him – clearly, Coulson has lost faith in S.H.I.E.L.D. May also tells Coulson that he can never tell Skye, but Coulson does not heed that advice.

    Bennet and Gregg are fantastic in the scene in which Coulson tells Skye about her past. The scene is beautifully shot and nicely placed in the claustrophobic space of the hold of the plane – really the heart of their flying home. Skye is worried she did something wrong and Coulson tells her that he’s the one who’s done something wrong. Just as we’ve already learned the Academy teaches students to lie, Coulson tells her that they are also taught to manipulate people. Perhaps this is another reason Coulson identified so well with the Raina – they both manipulate people to follow their cause. It was clear in the last episode that Coulson knew Raina was manipulating him but he let her do it because in the end, he wanted to know the truth. Coulson’s own desire to know the truth and his own feelings of betrayal at having it withheld from him lead him to tell Skye the truth.

    Coulson gives Skye the option of not knowing, but she’s come too far not to know. We get a tight close up of Skye’s face as Coulson’s voice fades out and we get only her emotional reaction to the news and Coulson reaching out to comfort her. The scene is overlaid with shots of Fitz and Simmons watching the superstorm blow up on the radar – the juxtaposition of a bad influence on great power with a good influence on great power, perhaps?

    Gregg’s final scene with Wen is also a terrific one. They make a great team as Coulson and May – they support and trust each other even when they may not do what the other does. Coulson confirms he heard May confess about her relationship with Ward but trusts her to handle it. May didn’t want Coulson to tell Skye but listens quietly without condemnation to what happened when he did. Coulson is clearly moved at how Skye took the news, turning something horrible into something positive, not mourning the family that she would never know, but embracing the family that she always had. Skye interpreted S.H.I.E.L.D. as always being her family and keeping her safe. Coulson tells May that that helped to heal a part of himself – the part that felt betrayed by S.H.I.E.L.D. Skye’s story helps Coulson see that maybe S.H.I.E.L.D. was also protecting and saving him as part of their family.

    Coulson says “the world is full of evil and lies and pain and death and you can’t hide from it. You can only face it. The question is when you do, how do respond? Who do you become?” This final scene nicely ties together so many threads that have been woven throughout the season and this episode.

    Lots of cool connections to the Marvel universe in this episode. In her speech to the class, Simmons mentions Hydra – along with Centipede, AIM which we already know. Fitz also mentions that S.H.I.E.L.D. was founded to combat Hydra. What he doesn’t mention is that Hydra is also associated with the X-Men – how great a cross-over would that be! – and that Fury became Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. after Hydra assassinated the first director and that Fury captured their headquarters with the help of Tony Stark. Skye comments on Bucky Barnes’ name on the S.H.I.E.L.D. wall of valor. Bucky is Captain America’s best friend. Bucky appears in Captain America: The First Avenger and also in the forthcoming sequel Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Bucky is, in fact, the winter soldier mentioned in the title.

    What did you think of the episode? Were you surprised at the reveal of Skye’s history? Did you enjoy the glimpse into Fitz and Simmons’ past and the traditions of the academy?

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