Agents of SHIELD, Season 2, Episode 16: “Afterlife”
Written by Craig Titley
Directed by Kevin Hooks
Airs Tuesdays at 9pm (ET) on ABC
After Bobbi and Gonzalez’s big hero moment and Skye’s escape in “One Door Closes”, “Afterlife” is set up to be a bit of a let-down, or at least a slowdown by comparison. There are plenty of good hero moments, like the return of Deathlok, and Fitz-Simmons pulling the wool over Bobbi’s eyes. Even with these moments, the episode’s focus on Skye slows everything down to introduce Afterlife and fit in lots of exposition from Lincoln, played by guest star Luke Mitchell (The Tomorrow People).
It is difficult to gauge Mitchell’s performance as Lincoln based only on “Afterlife”, because as Skye’s guide in this world, most of his dialogue is exposition. The large majority of his scenes with Skye are just Skye walking around the compound and Lincoln explaining who lives there, why people come there, and what she can expect if she sticks around. In the moments where he is supposed to be winning her over with his charm, he comes across as untrustworthy and way too eager to be liked. His dialogue about pizza night is also kind of clunky, and his off-handed comment about Raina feels forced, though the blame falls more with the writing than Mitchell’s delivery. There are so many ways that Skye could discover Raina is staying at Afterlife, and while this way is efficient, Lincoln’s slip of the tongue is not very interesting, and makes Skye a less active participant in the episode. Skye is introduced on the show as a hacker who dislikes secrets, so it isn’t out of character for her to do some snooping around when Lincoln points out an out-of-use building.
Overall, the writing in “Afterlife” is not quite as good as the previous episodes in season 2. Craig Titley has written only one other episode of Agents of SHIELD so far, “The Writing on the Wall”, and otherwise serves as a consulting producer on the show. In “The Writing on the Wall”, Coulson is investigating a murder, and the episode is less like an action-adventure and more like a mystery. “The Writing on the Wall” is a solid episode, so it is surprising that the mystery of Raina in “Afterlife” is one of the least interesting parts of the episode.
In contrast, the best part of “Afterlife” is the new adventures of Coulson and Hunter. Their storyline gets the lion’s share of the episode’s humor and action, and they show off some nifty spy gadgets, like the hologram playing cards. They also share drinks in front of a roaring fire, which will give the Tumblr shippers material for years. The script also sneaks in a whole lot of call-backs to earlier episodes, like Triplett’s Howling Commandos spy kit or Fitz’s prosciutto-and-mozzarella sandwich. In the showdown between Coulson and Gonzalez’s SHIELD, they even break out the battering ram from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The return of Deathlok and the set up for the return of Ward fit right into the throw-back feel of the whole episode, though the fact that Mike Peterson is returning to the show is really sad. He should not need to come back because he is a great character and so underused in the show, particularly season 2. Deathlok is a cyborg who can take out two planes full of SHIELD agents by himself. How is Deathlok not included on every SHIELD mission? Really, there is no good reason why J. August Richards should be a guest star and not a full-fledged cast member.
The other two major developments of note in “Afterlife” are another return, this time of Skye’s mother, and Fitz leaving Gonzalez’s SHIELD. Skye’s mother Jiaying, who is presumed dead by everyone including Skye and Cal, is alive, and offers to train Skye if she stays at Afterlife. Dichen Lachman is really fantastic, and in “The Things We Bury”, it seems like a waste to cast her as Skye’s mother only to kill her off. Fortunately, she is not dead, and much to Cal’s surprise, she does not let him see Skye. It begs the question of whether Jiaying loves or ever loved Cal, or whether she used him for other purposes that aren’t yet revealed. Lachman is slated to appear in at least two more episodes, so the writers have time to flesh all of this out.
Fitz’s departure and the super-secret Fitz-Simmons partnership is a nice payoff for all their tension and estrangement throughout season 2. Coming out of season 1, these characters are in desperate need of individual development, and Simmons running away and Fitz resenting her for leaving is the conflict that they need. They are at each other’s throats or pushing the other away almost constantly until Gonzalez takes over SHIELD. When Fitz unwraps his sandwich from Simmons, it is a genuinely sweet moment, but if Coulson succeeds in taking back SHIELD, it is still possible that this friendship will disintegrate without a common enemy.
Compared to the rest of season 2, “Afterlife” is a wholly average episode. There are character developments and set-ups worthy of note, but the writing and Lincoln’s introduction could be so much better. At least Ward is returning to the show to shake things up, though it won’t exactly be a fair fight, as Deathlok is on Coulson’s side.
On a last note, it is always good to see Huge cast members getting work. Stoney Westmoreland, who plays the camp handyman Wayne, makes a brief appearance as Honest Eddie, the car dealer with the bolo tie.