Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode 15 review: Yes Men
Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. comes close to a good episode, but no cigar. Here's James' review of Yes Men...
This review contains spoilers.
1.15 Yes Men
Last week's episode of Agents of SHIELD was a return to form for the show. By which I mean it was entirely composed of the main cast running around, virtually at random, disregarding the SHIELD chain of command and then cramming the only interesting developments into the last five minutes. (And just to get it out of the way, that blue thing in the tube? That was a Kree. As in, "member of the alien race appearing this year's Guardians of the Galaxy").
Luckily for us, things were mostly better this week, save for one rather large problem which I'll save until I've got the positive stuff out of the way.
It certainly helped this episode that it guest-starred Jaimie Alexander as Sif: a great actress playing a great character who was already established in the Marvel canon. And on top of that, it also introduced Lorelai, a fairly prominent character from the comics who was making her debut in the MCU. This, frankly, is the sort of thing I'd hoped to see in Agents of SHIELD doing from day one: expanding the MCU and re-using secondary characters from the films. If they could follow up on Samuel Sterns from Incredible Hulk and/or use an LMD at some point, my wish list would be fully ticked off.
That said, one of the problems with having someone like Jaimie Alexander guest for an episode is that it shows up how one-note and uninteresting the rest of the cast is. In particular, Ward and May's interactions (which were supposed to form the main emotional investment in this episode) fell completely flat. It's hard to tell whether the actors are buttoning it up too tight in an attempt to appear repressed, or so wooden there's no room to emote, but more than anything they just seemed bored by one another. Sif putting aside her personal anger to do her duty induced far more feels than anything Ward and May have ever done.
And if you needed any more convincing that the main cast is a problem, Lorelai and Sif's scenes together positively sparked, even though this was the first time they'd ever met. I particularly appreciated the development of Sif's backstory and the fact that she had more to do in this episode than she did in the entirety of Thor: The Dark World. If there's any way to get her and Lorelai back without making it seem gratuitous (and this episode made it seem natural that one would follow the other) then I'm all for that.
Now, with all that praise in mind, I did suggest that there was a big problem with this episode, and I'm going to make a very serious point here, so look away if you can't deal with those. One of the things the writers saw fit to include in this episode was a scene where Lorelai has sex with a mentally incapacitated Agent Ward. Or, to put it in blunter terms, Lorelai rapes Agent Ward. Because what else do you call it when a person takes sexual advantage of someone who is unable to willingly consent due to a diminished decision-making capacity? The fact that he's affected by a "spell" rather than something real doesn't really matter, because fantasy and sci-fi are all about metaphor. In this case, Lorelai's spell was essentially a metaphor for drugs or hypnosis or brainwashing. None of which it's acceptable to use to help you have sex with someone, just so we're clear on that.
Unfortunately, because this scene was presented as a ripped dude being lucky enough to have sex with a hot dudette, it's completely glossed over rather than treated as the physical and psychological violation that it quite plainly was. Mentally flip the character genders around and it'd be easy to see that this scene is not okay. Mentally change Lorelai to something other than a prime physical representation of female youth and beauty and it'd be similarly easy to see that this scene is not okay. It therefore follows that it's not okay the way it did happen.
In fairness, maybe they're going to follow up on this in future episodes, in which case I apologise for jumping the gun. But they certainly didn't follow up on it in this episode, and they really should have. Ward should be traumatised, or at the very least he should be able to explain why he isn't. As it is, he was raped and no-one else seems worried, or even interested, which is a fairly toxic message to put out, however unintentionally.
Even if you remove this pretty big misstep from the story, the episode still starts to flail once the Sif/Lorelai plot is brought to its conclusion. Rather than accept that The Mystery of Skye isn't actually interesting anyone, the end of this episode shows Coulson redouble himself towards her yawn-inducing cause. And if that wasn't bad enough, it then sets up more tensions within the group as May is revealed as a mole. I say again: when your main cast is the least interesting thing about the show, my advice would be to find ways of spending less time with them, not more. Case in point: was anyone who watched last week's episode thinking "Hmm, I really hope Skye comes out of her coma." Because I know I wasn't.
So there we have it. Even when Agents of SHIELD is giving us exactly the sort of thing its critics have been crying out for, it can't help sabotaging itself. So close, and yet…
Read James' review of episode 13, TRACKS, here.
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