Agents of SHIELD is starting to back itself into a corner. On the one hand it’s trying to focus on telling its own story about the rise and fall and re-rise of SHIELD and all the espionage action and thrills that come with that territory. On the other hand, it’s getting bogged down by Marvel’s need to justify SHIELD’s place in the universe’s overall continuity by shoehorning in all this Inhumans nonsense. While the balance has been, for the most part, maintained in the past few episodes, the seams really started to show in Afterlife. Whenever the episode would gain momentum with its primary storyline, it would screech to an immediate halt whenever the focus shifted back to Skye and the Inhumans. Without a clear focus or understanding of how all this will pan out, it feels like Agents of SHIELD is getting dangerously close to the banality of early Season 1. Hopefully, that’s not the case, but only time will tell.
Due to the events of the previous episode, Coulson and Hunter are now on the run, trying to determine their next moves. The two head to a cabin hideaway, which has been fortified to withstand even an attack from the Hulk himself. Through the cabin’s surveillance footage, Coulson discovers, much to his dismay, that Skye has disappeared with Gordon, the creepy eyeless wonder and leader of the Inhumans Resort and Spa. (Seriously, that’s pretty much what it is) Coulson trips the alarm, bringing a whole unit of SHIELD right to their doorstep. Before they are captured, Mike Peterson a.k.a. Deathlok makes a most triumphant return, beating up the pair’s captors and being generally super cool. It is fantastic to see J. August Richards back in the role of Deathlok. I didn’t realize how much I missed him until his surprise appearance and I couldn’t help but give a little shout for joy. Coulson reveals their next mission: finding Agent Ward to determine the location of Skye. Woohoo!!
Meanwhile, Agents Fitz and Simmons are up to some secret spy work of their own. Bobbi implores Simmons to help SHIELD 2 (it’s way easier to number them…seriously, all this two SHIELD’s business is getting confusing) by unlocking Nick Fury’s magic cube toolkit. At first it appears Simmons has decided to do just that, but it turns out she and Fitz are playing SHIELD 2. After she and Fitz have an intense argument, Fitz decides to leave SHIELD once and for all. After he’s left, Simmons insists she can’t open the secret toolkit without Coulson’s DNA. But, REALLY, Fitz is scampering off with the real toolkit! Simmons even made him a sandwich to help him along his way. If that isn’t true love, I don’t know what is.
All the stuff involving Coulson, SHIELD vs. SHIELD 2, and magic toolkit cubes is lots of fun and showcases how awesome this show can be when it keeps focus. Sure the idea of two opposing SHIELD teams is a bit convoluted, but its provided the second half of this season with some much-needed twists and turns. The issue is that by feeling the need to build up the Inhumans storyline, the episode loses focus and impact. Very little happens in the subplot, aside from the reveal of Skye’s mom, which I’ll admit was a nice little twist. Still, it doesn’t happen until the VERY END of the episode. The rest of the subplot involves walking around, lame flirting between Skye and a dull new romantic interest, and some brief displays of static electricity masquerading as superpowers. It feels like the writers are stalling for time. I can only hope it’ll all play out by the season finale, but we’re only a few episodes away from that and it’s still unclear what the whole point is. The Inhumans movie isn’t being released until summer 2018. Is it really necessary to devote this much attention to it so early on and at the expense of more interesting plotlines?
Afterlife is by no means a terrible episode, but it’s not one of Agents of SHIELD’s finest moments. I have faith the season will finish strong, but it needs to hone in on the story it wants to tell before things spin out of control entirely.
Agents of SHIELD's latest episode isn't bad by any means, but hopefully the show will gain some focus in the episodes leading to the finale and the Inhumans plotline will start to reveal its true purpose.