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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Aftershocks - Review

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “Aftershocks,” was written by showrunners Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon and was directed by Billy Gierhart. It was a terrific return of the show that sets up the action going into Civil War. While the entire cast are great, special mention should be made of Iain De Caestecker, Chloe Bennet, Elizabeth Henstridge, and Henry Simmons who all give outstanding performances in the episode.

The episode begins with a young Gordon at about the same point after “passing through the mist” or terragenesis as Raina (Ruth Negga) and Skye (Bennet) are now. We learn ominously that all of him has changed, both inside and out – his body and his mind. Presumably, he had eyes before he changed. Given how radically Raina has changed, Skye seems outwardly to have changed very little. Gordon is lucky to have Jiaying (Dichen Lachman) to help him though the change. Yat-Sen (Alvin Ing) also points out that he’s the perfect age to have changed – old enough to understand and young enough to adapt. Skye may have a better chance at adapting than Raina, but Skye didn’t go through it voluntarily while Raina did.

Neither Raina nor Skye are very happy about the changes. Raina, in fact, wants to change back and goes to Cal (Kyle McLachlan) for help. Cal is downright cruel to her. She tells him that she didn’t expect to become “some gnarled freak of nature covered in thorns.” His answer is cruel (but funny!): “You always liked flowers.” He can’t help her, but is concerned about Skye because she hasn’t had the same preparation that he gave Raina – though I didn’t think she seemed very prepared. Cal would have been able to give her at least some of the same training as Jiaying. Ruth Negga’s makeup is really well done. Some of it may also be CGI but kudos to Negga for being able to emote through all that makeup.

McLachlan is also excellent in this scene as he does a little happy dance when he finds out that Skye has transformed as well. Cal is still as crazy as ever – and still pissed at Coulson (Clark Gregg). Cal talks about Coulson putting Skye on “the index” and then decides that he should reconnect with some of the people on the index to wreak some havoc. No doubt, he would know them from when Jiaying helped them. Cal cruelly leaves Raina to her own devices. When she says she can’t live with her new form, he tells her “Then don’t.” She doesn’t manage to commit suicide but almost gets taken in by S.H.I.E.L.D. until Gordon (Jamie Harris) teleports in and saves her.

Meanwhile, Skye is in quarantine and doing some freaking out of her own. Bennet is terrific as she portrays Skye’s terror. She really is as isolated in this episode as the quarantine makes her. It’s impossible for her to know who she can trust. But Skye is also adjusting to how she’s changed, and she is laden with guilt over Trip’s death. Skye receives a number of visitors throughout the episode.

Coulson is the first to visit Skye. Coulson commiserated that he can’t sleep either. They all think that the obelisk triggered the earthquake. Coulson tells Skye that the team is dealing with Trip’s loss in their own way – these are also some of the aftershocks referred to in the title, along with Raina and Skye’s changes. We see May (Ming-Na Wen) working out, Mack (Simmons) and Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) working in the garage, and Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) packing Trip’s effects, while Simmons (Henstridge) is still cleaning up at the site.

Coulson and Skye argue about whether the mission was a win or not. Skye is blaming herself, that “we failed because of me.” Coulson becomes angry with her and says they didn’t lose. Tirp prevented a disaster and Whitehall is dead. Coulson can only see Trip as a hero. It still smarts (for me as a viewer) that they seem to have honestly killed him. Coulson insists that they’ve cut of HYDRA’s head. Coulson vows that he’s going to crush HYDRA: “I’m gonna make somebody pay!” It’s interesting that HYDRA also sees it as a loss.

Bobbi visits Skye to bring her a quarantine survival kit. She is completely supportive, telling Skye she thinks she’s a “rock star” after what she did. I couldn’t help thinking that Bobbi’s visit seemed remarkably cheerful. Now, that may just be Bobbi, but we know from the scene later in the episode with Hunter (Nick Blood) that Bobbi doesn’t open up to people easily. So, does she have an ulterior motive that is tied in to Bobbi and Mack’s secret plan?

Bobbi tells Hunter that the only secret she and Mack share is that they belong to a support group. Hunter at least acts like he believes this and thinks it’s actually emotionally healthy for her. By the end of the episode, however, we see that model Lola has scanned Coulson’s office and discovered Fury’s toolbox. Their plan involves the toolbox and the layout of the facility in some way.
Simmons visits Skye on numerous occasions because she’s monitoring her condition. We see an entirely new – and pretty scary – side to Simmons. She tells Skye, “Thank heavens nothing bad happened to you. I wouldn’t want you to have to stay in there forever.” The implication, of course, is that Simmons wouldn’t think twice about locking Skye up for life if she knew that she had transformed. Simmons shocks Coulson and May later in the episode by suggesting that they simply kill Raina rather than try to take her alive.

When Simmons says to Skye that Raina was unrecognizable, Skye says, “that’s amazing,” and Simmons says, “it’s horrific” – they have polar opposite reactions. Simmons is determined that they make sure Skye isn’t infected in “any way,” but Skye asks, “what’s the worst that could happen?” Simmons replies, “an epidemic” and Skye is taken aback. She says “That’s a pretty harsh conclusion.” In her own way, Simmons is also blaming herself for Trip’s death: “I was so curious about powers about unearthly biology. I should have been trying to destroy it, erase it from existence.” Skye points to the people with powers who Simmons helped and the Avengers themselves. Simmons simply says, “It’s a plague. The Avengers would be necessary if we hadn’t unleashed alien horrors.” It becomes totally clear to Skye in that moment that she can’t trust Simmons with the changes she’s feeling. Henstridge is outstanding in this scene. She finishes by saying that flooding the alien city may be the first responsible thing she’s done.

May also comes to visit Skye. Curiously, she doesn’t seem to really notice anything about Skye – until she notices the blood on her hand. She seems genuinely supportive of Skye. She tells Skye that Coulson’s “cut throat” behavior can be attributed to the way he is dealing with Trip’s death, which he took hard. We’ve seen many times how well Trip and Coulson got along, sharing a love for gadgets and a similar sense of humor and more importantly duty. As May talks about Coulson, we see that he is returning the suitcase of gadgets that Trip had inherited from his grandfather, the Howling Commando, to Trip’s mother (Donzaleigh Abernathy). There’s even a nice picture of the Commandos in the background to remind us. May tells Skye, “For Coulson, Trip was the embodiment of the principles he wants SHIELD to be built on. Compassion, loyalty, heart. And that is S.H.I.E.L.D.’s strength and Trip’s death reminded Coulson that HYDRA doesn’t have that and that is their weakness.”

The entire sting that the team runs is built on HYDRA’s lacks of compassion. Bakshi (Simon Kassianides) is sacrificed to General Talbot (Adrian Pasdar) in order to get HYDRA to cut off its own remaining heads. None of them trust each other – there is no loyalty and they certainly have no compassion for each other. There were lots of fun scenes as the team runs the sting. I loved the fake firefight – more great stunt work, especially May’s cartwheel over the truck! I also loved her complaining about “You’ll never take us alive” and Coulson pointing out he didn’t have much time to write the script and if she’d written the script, no one would say anything! I have to admit that I had a really bad moment when May was shot. But I also loved her saying, "you know what that means" and Coulson saying, "Not really." It was also a fun moment when Bakshi sends the soldiers to kill Hunter and the SUV is decked out with all kinds of firepower!

One of the other things that seemed a bit curious about the plan is why would Coulson have the briefing in front of Skye’s isolation room? She couldn’t participate in the plan after all. We see that Mack is not on board with Coulson’s plan at all. Tempers flare. Fitz tries to play peacemaker, but Coulson and Mack both become angry. Mack wants to blame Skye for Trip’s death.
        Coulson tells him, “If Trip were here, he wouldn’t be arguing, he wouldn’t be bitching, he’d be gearing up to do what needs to be done. We’re dealing with forces we don’t understand, but I do understand HYDRA.” This conversation really resonates with what May says later to Skye. This is a new side to Mack – he’s always been a pretty easy-going guy up until now, although we have seen him question Coulson before. I suspect that at least Coulson and possibly Mack – whether working independently or together – were trying to create a conflict in front of Skye to see what happened – and we see that she IS affected as there is a tremor around her.

Mack tries to help Fitz with Skye’s bio-watch. Fitz, in turn, tries to help Mack by offering to talk. Mack lashes out at Fitz, telling him he can’t understand what it’s like: “You know what it’s like to lose control? To be trapped inside your own body unable to tell it what to do? To watch yourself hurt the people you care about.” And of course, Fitz knows exactly what that’s like because of his accident. And suddenly it made perfect sense for Fitz to have had the accident and the subsequent trauma. He, perhaps more than anyone else on the team, can relate to those who have been transformed because he has been too.

Fitz struggles to understand the data on Skye’s bio-watch because he doesn’t want to accept them. He goes to Skye though and tells her heartrate was almost 300 bpm. Remember how good she’d become at keeping it low? She replies, “That’s very fast.” And Fitz says, “No. That’s inhuman.” He tells her the watch shattered from the inside out, yet was still on her wrist. There was destruction all around her but she was unharmed. She survived the destruction because she caused it. Fitz has to conclude, “There’s nothing wrong with the data in my head. There’s something wrong with you.” And with that trigger, Skye shatters the light in her room and Fitz runs away. De Caestecker is simply brilliant in this scene. His entire body is shaking with emotion, but it's not fear of Skye but for her.

Fitz returns in the nick of time to save her having to answer any of Simmons or May’s questions with the good news that her DNA results are fine. Skye herself is relieved – even though deep down she knows this can’t be true. Fitz then sends Simmons to make up Skye’s bunk, using the adorable excuse that last time he was in there, there were all kinds of ladies’ things strewn about.
       Once Simmons is safely out of the way, Fitz tells Skye that her DNA results are radically different, but they’ll keep it as their secret until everybody else calms down. Fitz is not about to lose anyone else close to him. Fitz comforts Skye and De Caestecker and Bennet are simply wonderful in these scenes. Skye confesses to Fitz, “There’s something very wrong with me.” But Fitz is having none of that and tells her, “No. You’re just different now, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

The episode ends with a lovely send off for Trip as the whole group sits around reminiscing about him. It may well be the last time we see the group together in this way. It’s clear sides are being taken as to who supports the inhumans and who does not. It certainly seems that we can include Fitz, Skye, Coulson, and May on the side of the inhumans. Simmons, Bobbi, and Mack would seem to be clearly on the other side, and how hard is it going to be to see Simmons and Fitz at odds in this way in particular. Hunter, I suspect, will come down on the side of the inhumans, mainly because Bobbi hasn’t trusted him with whatever she and Mack are doing, so I think she knows he won’t be onboard.

This was a terrific episode and a great return from the mid-season break. It’s clear that the showrunners stepped in to write this very important episode that will no doubt tie in very closely with the upcoming movies. Once again, the episode demonstrates the careful writing at play as we see the reasons behind Fitz’s accident really come into play. The episode features the terrific special effects and stunts that it’s easy to take for granted. And again, there are a number of really outstanding performances. If the actors don’t believe in the universe, it falls apart, but it’s also the very human elements of this story – what it means to be different, to be an outcast, that also help to make the show really resonate. What did you think of the episode? Who do you think will be on the side of the inhumans? Do you think that Bobbi and Mack are up to no good? Do you think they are working with a larger group? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

About the Author - Lisa Macklem
I do interviews and write articles for the site in addition to reviewing a number of shows, including Supernatural, Arrow, Agents of Shield, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Forever, Defiance, Bitten, Glee, and a few others! Highlights of this past year include covering San Diego Comic Con as press and a set visit to Bitten. When I'm not writing about television shows, I'm often writing about entertainment and media law in my capacity as a legal scholar. I also work in theatre when the opportunity arises. I'm an avid runner and rider, currently training in dressage.