Agents of SHIELD, Season 2, Episode 17: “Melinda”
Written by DJ Doyle
Directed by Garry A. Brown
Airs Tuesdays at 9pm (ET) on ABC
Despite teasing the return of Ward in “Afterlife”, Agents of SHIELD delays the return of SHIELD’s favorite double-agent with a flashback episode. “Melinda” takes a trip back in time to seven years ago, and recounts the origin of May’s nickname “the Cavalry.” Predictably, this is not a happy story, and it involves a young woman whose superpowers are a danger to the people around her, drawing obvious parallels to Skye. It also sheds some light on why May is so protective of Skye now that she is super-powered, and why failing to keep Skye safe could devastate her.
In the main storyline, Ming-Na Wen proves up to the task of leading the episode. May is a fan favorite character as the team bad-ass, but here she gets to show a bit more range. Wen and guest star Blair Underwood have good natural chemistry together, and they establish a comfortable rapport in their few scenes together before May’s mission. Here is hoping that Underwood gets bumped up to full-time cast member, as he and Wen are great on-screen together.
During the mission, Wen’s performance and DJ Doyle’s writing combine to paint a different Melinda May than the one Agents of SHIELD fans have come to know and love. She talks more openly with Coulson and Andrew. Her humor is less sarcastic, or at least less angry. She smiles broadly and talks about starting a family. She is relaxed and happy in her work and at home. Pre-mission May seems to have it all, which makes her transformation during the mission incredibly sad.
In the episode’s other plotline, Skye is developing her gifts and getting to know her mother, Jiaying. Characters like Lincoln and Jiaying keep trying to clarify what Skye’s gifts are exactly, but somehow they all end up saying basically the same thing and using the same language about vibrations. This is a writing nitpick, but it would be better if there was more distinction between the different character voices and how they describe her gift. Whenever Jiaying describes Skye’s gift, it feels more like a TV writer repeating this information for viewers who missed the last episode, rather than a character having a genuine conversation. The visuals of the avalanche and the musical water glasses are much more effective in showing Skye’s powers anyway.
Speaking of writing nitpicks, another frustrating part of the episode is Skye’s trust issues and Jiaying’s attempts to reassure her. One moment, Jiaying is telling Skye that she is safe, that this is a stable home for her, and she has no reason to fear. The next minute, she is telling Skye that she cannot tell anyone that Jiaying is her mother, because the leaders are very strict and bad things could happen if anyone finds out the truth. With Skye’s trust issues, this double-speak from Jiaying should be setting off alarms in her head, and it makes the happy family dinner scene a bit less believable.
Nitpicks aside, all of the story pieces on their own are interesting, and would make for a decent episode on their own. But what turns “Melinda” from a good episode to a really great one is how May’s flashback unexpectedly ties in with Jiaying and, by extension, to Skye. Does May want to protect Skye just because she cares about Skye, or is she still trying to atone for what happened in Bahrain? This piece of knowledge changes how audiences will view her relationship with Skye after the transformation, and why she is so eager to help Skye control her powers. It also might explain why May is seeking common ground with Bobbi and negotiating her way back into a leadership role with Gonzalez’s SHIELD after helping Coulson escape only a short time ago. She cannot protect Coulson and Skye if she continues fighting Bobbi, Mac, and Gonzalez at every turn, and asking Simmons to open the cube is a huge step towards earning their trust.
The final development of note in “Melinda” is Lincoln discovering one of Raina’s special abilities, in spite of her self-loathing and refusing to work with them. In season one, she claims to work for a true clairvoyant, so it is an interesting turn of events that she can now see the future herself. Hopefully the Quasimodo/Phantom of the Opera “I’m a monster” pity party will wrap up before the end of the season, and Raina can learn to love her scary spiky self. Finding out she can see the future will probably help in that regard.
On a last note, it is a really smart move of the writers to throw Fitz into the Coulson/Hunter/Deathlok team right as they are looking for Ward. Fitz probably won’t be thrilled that Coulson’s grand plan includes Ward, the man who sent him to the bottom of the ocean, and it should generate some decent conflict on Coulson’s team.