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

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “Afterlife,” was written by Craig Titley and directed by Kevin Hooks. Once again, the team is split up, but that’s a little mitigated by the return of Mike Peterson (J August Richards) as Deathlok. There’s plenty of action in the episode thanks to the new action pairing of Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Hunter (Nick Blood), who I’m really enjoying. The episode also features some great special effects.

Skye wakes up in Afterlife – the name of the compound or ‘way-station’ of those who are “descendants.” Gordon (Jamie Harris) is there to greet her and reassure her that she is safe – and the super-acupuncture is healing her. We learn later that one of the reasons she was out for two days was a side effect of the power-dampening gloves. He introduces her to Lincoln (Luke Mitchell) who is to be her transitioner. I have to admit that I wasn’t thrilled when I heard Mitchell was joining the cast as I hadn’t been overly impressed by him in The Tomorrow People. However, he has created a terrifically engaging character in Lincoln, and I hope he’ll be around for a while!

Lincoln shows Skye around and explains that only Gordon can let people in or out and only he knows where they actually are. Lincoln tells Skye that no one lives at Afterlife – and that really is an odd name for it, though appropriate for the life they lead after the transition. He tells Skye he’s from Cincinnati and a medical student. He shows Skye his power and it’s a pretty cool effect. Gordon has already dodged helping Skye get a message to her team. Lincoln says it’s to keep them all safe, but Skye also points out it’s like a prison. Lincoln also breaks it to Skye that there is no going back – her powers are irreversible.

While most of what Lincoln says sounds reasonable, there are some holes in his story as well, which may be inconsistency in the writing, but that seems less likely. He contradicts himself about when people begin their training, for instance. He also lies about Raina (Ruth Negga) and Cal (Kyle MacLachlan) being there – though he may not know about Cal. I did like that they were affording Raina the same care and safety as they did Skye. And it seems that Raina needs protecting from Skye as we see a somewhat disturbing display of Skye’s power. It seems she is able to focus it on physically hurting Raina. It’s interesting that Raina has changed completely outwardly while Skye’s changes all appear to be internal. Lincoln says they haven’t even determined what (if any) power Raina has. Presumably if Raina is still as destructive after her training/transition is complete, they will deal with her then. I feel bad for Negga having to wear all that make up and those prosthetics! She does a great job regardless.

One of the more shocking revelations in the episode is that Skye’s mother, Jiaying (Dichen Lachman) is still alive. She doesn’t tell Skye who she is though, just that she’s there to help her transition. It’s clear that Skye immediately feels drawn to her, and Jiaying asks only that Skye give her a few days to establish a bond between them after which if Skye feels nothing she if free to leave and never see her again.

Jiaying goes to Cal, who is being held very much a prisoner in a windowless room. He is a danger to himself and others, however. I had to wonder if they were keeping him isolated while he came off of whatever medications he’d been giving himself. Jiaying thanks him for bringing her their daughter Daisy, but doesn’t seem in any hurry to release Cal, and she’s certainly not letting him near their daughter. MacLachlan continues to be terrific as unhinged and angry Cal.

The opening sequence with Coulson car shopping and how totally off Honest Eddie (Stoney Westmoreland) is about him is hilarious. As is Hunter showing up in the Jeep and making it impossible for them to keep a low profile. They head to the compound only to find the devastation left by Skye. Coulson is almost defeated after watching the footage.

        Coulson proves why Fury was right in appointing him Director. Hunter wants to blame Mack (Henry Simmons) and Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki), but Coulson won’t hear a bad word against them, insisting they are good agents. Hunter says Coulson is one of the very few people he’d thrown down for and condemns Gonzales (Edward James Olmos). Again, Coulson defends him as a brilliant tactician and a good man who’s dedicated his life to S.H.I.E.L.D. There clearly is no split in S.H.I.E.L.D. in Coulson’s mind and he doesn’t hold a grudge. He can see it from their point of view. He was dead after all. It’s as maudlin as we ever see Coulson when he muses that perhaps he shouldn’t be here, but by the time Hunter wakes up, he has a plan.

He’s tripped the alarm to lure S.H.I.E.L.D. there with a jet he can steal. Hunter is freaked out, but Coulson assures him the cabin can resist a Hulk-sized force. Coulson assures Hunter that they aren’t surrendering, and he’s not going down without a fight. He’s determined to find Skye and take S.H.I.E.L.D. back. Coulson insists that they use icers only because they’ll be shooting at other agents – just as Bobbi insisted on icers last week and insists to Gonzales that Skye is also an agent.

Coulson tells Hunter that he has reinforcements coming. When Coulson tells Hunter there’s only one reinforcement coming, Hunter hilariously and incredulously says, “One? That’s not reinforcements, that a gravedigger!” We see that Coulson’s suitcase is actually a twenty-first century version of the Howling Commandos Kit that Tripp (BJ Britt) and Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) put together for him – awwww! I loved Hunter’s face as Coulson asks him if he plays cards! The cards, of course, create a brilliant holographic diversion. I also loved Coulson’s line that it worked because “We had the better hand.”

The plan seems to go awry when there’s a second jet that Coulson wasn’t expecting, but Deathlok show up just in time. I loved the shot of just his fingers stopping the ramp from closing – was I alone in cheering at my television??? I also loved Mike shooting the second jet down – also safely with a giant icer.

Coulson remarks that Mike is taking well to the new upgrades, and we learn that Mike has been following List – the last of the Hydra heads. Hydra has been hunting and experimenting on powered people. Clearly, this is an operation that Coulson has been keeping to himself. I loved the exchange just after Mike comes on board when Hunter complains to Coulson, “At some point, you could have told me our backup was a lethal cyborg.” Coulson replies, “I just wanted to see your face,” and Mike remarks, “You know, I can hear you up here.” These three could be priceless together! Coulson’s bad option for them to go after Hydra is to go after Ward (Brett Dalton) to help them – and that can only make this away team better! Also? They need to pick up Fitz…

Back at base, Gonzales is still trying to win over the team. It was great to see Bobbi defending Skye, insisting that she’s still an agent and that Calderon (Kirk Acevedo) was the one to blame. Bobbi also defends Coulson, maintaining that he’s as much in the dark in regards to the powered people as they are. It doesn’t look like she’s a hundred percent right about that, however.

Gonzales is determined to get into the toolbox and tries to enlist Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) and Fitz. He tells them he’s had his eye on them since the Academy but that Coulson beat him to them. He suggests that Coulson bribed Weaver with cupcakes. Fitz and Simmons are not impressed and refuse to shake his hand. They want to know if they’re being held prisoner like May (Ming-Na Wen). Bobbi assures them that, like May, once they are debriefed and cleared, they’re free to go. Fitz says he’s going to pack.

Bobbi remarks that you have to admire their loyalty. Gonzales, however, doesn’t. He points out that they are loyal to a man, not to S.H.I.E.L.D., and he feels that’s what make Coulson dangerous. It’s May that points out that Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D. are the same thing – and that’s exactly what Fury said. At the end of the day, people may be loyal to an institution or a country, but it’s always been individuals who have been the inspiration for a movement, that really give those following the courage and the hope to go on.

May also points out that Coulson had nothing to do with Skye getting her powers – that was Hydra and that they had been chasing down Hydra, doing their job all along. Bobbi comments to Mack that Coulson is a good man. Mack agrees he’s a good man but insists that he’s been compromised. We learn that May might have put down a powered person in Bahrain and that’s how she earned the name The Cavalry. May assures Gonzales that when Coulson is ready, he’ll find Gonzales because Coulson is the one man you can never put down. Gonzales’ final move is to offer May a seat on the board – an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” sort of move. He makes the offer as a way for May to help Coulson by giving him a strong advocate on the board. Gonzales maintains that this isn’t about any one person, it’s about giving S.H.I.E.L.D. a solid and united foundation. However, as a soldier, May knows you can’t run an army without having someone at the helm, giving orders.

Meanwhile, Fitz prepares to leave. Simmons asks Bobbi if she’s really going to let him leave. Simmons is going to stay, hoping it will all blow over somehow. Bobbi tries to convince her to open the toolbox in order to clear Coulson, but Simmons doesn’t want to betray him. Simmons asks if they’ll leave once it’s open, and this seems to convince her to help. She tells Bobbi that it’s not a tech solution – they don’t need Fitz – it’s a lab solution.

As Fitz is packing up (including his monkey see, hear, speak no evil statue!), Mack comes and tries to persuade him to stay. Mack says he’ll always be Fitz’s friend – but Fitz doesn’t seem to feel the same way. Mack says he believes in what they’re doing and tells Fitz that Simmons is working on opening the box using genetic markers. Fitz then pulls up the schematics to see what she’s doing – he’s clearly surprised that she’s helping. As he looks at what she’s doing he mutters to himself, “Why would she do that … unless…” He clearly figures out exactly what she’s up to through the schematics. It’s wonderful to see Fitz and Simmons working together without even having to say a word to each other again!

Fitz goes to the lab and Simmons acts like she’s just decided to be the good Agent and do her job. Fitz asks her, “Did you think I wouldn’t see what you’re doing?” Simmons answers, “I was hoping you would so that we can work together on this. Help me get things back to normal.” The others in the room think they are at odds when, in fact, they are completely in agreement on getting things back to normal – with Coulson as Director. However, Fitz then puts on a show: “Things can never be back to normal. You’ve destroyed a man’s life. For what? Because of fear. Rear of what’s inside a little black box.” As he talks, Fitz picks up the box and the guards train their guns on him. Mack is concerned for his safety and tells him to put it back down – but it’s a terrific distraction, and I’m betting that’s when the real toolbox gets switched out.

Fitz continues, “I don’t believe in fear. I believe in trust. I can’t believe you’d do this. You might as well have packed my bags. You want me to leave don’t you, Jemma.” Simmons says, “If we work for S.H.I.E.L.D., we have a duty to carry out our responsibilities. So perhaps it’s best if you do.” Once again, those present don’t realize that for Fitz and Simmons, like May, Coulson IS S.H.I.E.L.D. Simmons is essentially telling Fitz to take the toolbox and go to Coulson.

The final scene has to have been a favorite for every fan still pulling for Fitz/Simmons. We see Fitz in a car speeding away. He digs in his bag and pulls out the toolbox. We absolutely know he’s in league with Simmons when he also pulls out a package with a note attached: “Proscuitto and Mozzarella. Be Safe. Love, Jemma.” And Fitz adds the finishing touch, “with a hint of pesto aioli.” Just the way he likes it, taking us back to the last time Simmons sent Fitz off on a mission with the same sandwich made just the way he likes it.

I thought this was a great episode that really started to amp up the action going into the end of the season, and with Avengers: Age of Ultron just two weeks away, I can’t wait to see how this is going to dovetail with the movie. What did you think of the episode? Were you happy to see Fitz and Simmons working together? Do you think May will consider sitting on the board? Do you think it’s a mistake for Coulson to contemplate working with Ward? What did you think of Afterlife? Can Gordon or Lincoln or Jiaying be trusted? 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.

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