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Agents of SHIELD, Ep. 2.21-22, “SOS Part 1 and 2”: Goodbye, Cal

IAIN DE CAESTECKER, CLARK GREGG, ELIZABETH HENSTRIDGE

Agents of SHIELD, Season 2, Episode 21: “SOS Part 1”
Written by Jeffrey Bell
Directed by Vincent Misiano

Agents of SHIELD, Season 2, Episode 22: “SOS Part 2”
Written by Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen
Directed by Billy Gierhart
Airs Tuesdays at 9pm (ET) on ABC

Audiences should consider themselves warned that “SOS”, the two-part season 2 finale of Agents of SHIELD, does not mess around. Five named characters (plus two very unlucky SHIELD redshirts) die, Coulson loses his forearm like Ash from Evil Dead, and Simmons is dragged off, Drag Me to Hell-style, by that mysterious Kree stone. (Did the writers have a Sam Raimi marathon just before writing this episode?) A few storylines get resolved, like the May-Dr. Garner relationship and Cal protecting Skye, but there is also a lot of set-up for season 3 in the midst of this epic showdown between SHIELD and Jiaying. For everything it is setting up, however, the episode never loses steam for an exposition dump, nor does it rush to resolve season 2’s story arcs. It easily tops the season 1 finale “Beginning of the End”, and really, “SOS Part 1 & 2” are the best two episodes that Agents of SHIELD has produced so far.

The big revelation at the start of “SOS” is that Gordon and a few of the other Inhumans are in on Jiaying’s plan. They escalate the situation by stealing a Quinjet and firing on an empty building, making the other Inhumans think that SHIELD is attacking. While both sides go on the defensive and retreat to lick their wounds, other subplots are hashed out. Cal tries to attack SHIELD from within. Raina confronts Jiaying, and Skye witnesses Jiaying killing Raina, effectively deciding which side she is on. Bobbi is brutally tortured by Ward and Agent 33 using anesthesia and long needles under her fingernails. When Hunter and May show up to rescue her, Bobbi is shot and Agent 33, disguised as May, is accidentally killed by Ward. All of this unfolds before the big confrontation, between Coulson’s team and Jiaying, Gordon, and the other Inhumans, even begins.

After all the good that Gordon did in season 2, his turn to the dark side is unexpected and kind of sad. There are so many lingering questions about Gordon, and it is a shame they will go unanswered. He is one of the more senior Inhumans currently on the show, and he provided a look into the leadership’s inner workings. It is forgivable, however, because his siding with Jiaying leads to an epic fight between Gordon (who uses his teleportation to his full advantage) and Coulson, Mack, and Fitz, which ends with Coulson reenacting Captain America’s fall-on-the-grenade moment and Mack taking an ax to Coulson’s forearm.

In general, the action sequences in “SOS” are incredible. Like in “The Dirty Half Dozen”, the fight choreography is very similar to the work on Daredevil, especially a hallway brawl between Bobbi, Ward, and Agent 33. There is a good balance of stylized fight sequences, like Skye taking on Alisha and her four replicants, and rough-and-tumble slugfests, like Bobbi and Ward. Almost all of the principal cast has a fight scene in “SOS”, with the exception of Simmons, and the actors and stunt coordinators clearly came prepared to raise the bar again.

CHLOE BENNET

Acting-wise, the entire cast brings their A-game to the finale, but there are a few actors who really stand out and deserve to be recognized. Kyle MacLachlan is already the season MVP, but in “SOS”, he is especially great. It is like the writers realized his character arc would be done after season 2, and they decided to throw everything at him in the best possible way. He gets to play the villain when Cal transforms himself into a monstrous supervillain with his special chemical formula (a nod to Mister Hyde, his character in the comic books) and goes on a violent rampage through Coulson’s lab. MacLachlan has a knack for transforming himself into these frightening characters without needing make-up, like in the final scene of Twin Peaks, but the make-up team gives him a little bit of help, with a few enormous bulging veins on his neck and what looks like some minor prosthetic padding on his face.

MacLachlan also gets to play Cal as a reluctant hero. He finally admits to himself that the Jiaying he loved is long gone, and that he will have to work with Coulson if he wants to protect his daughter. His monologue about killing an entire village to bring Jiaying back to life is the emotional peak of the episode, and shows once again how far Cal is willing to go for his family. The story reveals that Jiaying abused Cal’s loyalty and let him do her dirty work while he disintegrated emotionally and mentally. Later on, when he breaks her in half with his bare hands, it is a tragic but necessary conclusion to his story arc. He is finally able to see things as they are, not as he wants them to be. Cal is able to let go of his dream of a family with Jiaying, and thanks to a little trip to TAHITI (“a magical place”), he gets a whole new life as a friendly neighborhood veterinarian. The last two scenes between Cal and Skye, before his memory wipe and after, are heartbreaking, but it is still a much happier ending for his character than anyone expected.

Coming back to Jiaying, Dichen Lachman is terrific as the surprise big bad of season 2. Her true intentions were not revealed until the penultimate episode “Scars”, but the writers have been dropping hints that she shouldn’t be trusted since she first showed up in “Afterlife”. In “SOS”, she is full-blown evil, but she is more controlled and manipulative than Cal. She speaks calmly about protecting her people and wanting to be left alone. She seems reasonable, never raising her voice even in the midst of a battle, but then she sucks the life force from an unlucky SHIELD agent, slashes Raina’s throat, and nearly kills Skye. With the way her death plays out, it isn’t completely out of the question that Jiaying could return to the show. Agents of SHIELD is based on comic books, and comic book characters don’t always stay dead. If she survived Whitehall putting her organs into jars, she can probably survive Cal’s death squeeze.

ELIZABETH HENSTRIDGE

Speaking of survivors, Adrianne Palicki as Bobbi is worth mentioning, and not just because ABC can’t decide if they want to give her a spin-off show or not. Bobbi’s torture scene is one of the most brutal moments on Agents of SHIELD so far. Anything involving needles is scary, but needles under the fingernails is nightmare fuel. Palicki has to convey that level of pain while also working through Bobbi’s guilt about lying to Hunter. To make matters worse, Ward rigs up a gun to shoot Hunter when he shows up to save Bobbi. The editing in the scene amps up the tension, cutting between Hunter going room-by-room through the building and Bobbi trying desperately to get loose. Palicki commits to the scene completely. At first, she tries to keep her cool and find an escape, but when she realizes that Hunter is on the other side of the door, she flails around so much that she breaks her chair free and throws herself in front of the gun. In addition, when she tries to escape, she yanks the needles out of her fingers and jabs them in Ward’s neck. That is hard core.

Henry Simmons as Mack is the last actor to get a special shout-out, partially because Mack decides not to leave SHIELD forever, but mostly because he gets the best lines of the episode. His face-off with Gordon is perfect: “You’re Gordon, right?” “And you are?” “The guy who kills Gordon.” Plus, he turns down a gun and opts for an ax instead, which is really impressive.

If there is one shortfall of the episode, it is that Simmons doesn’t have as much to do as everyone else. Her biggest scene of the episode is when she tries to talk to Fitz about their relationship, just as he is leaving to fight Gordon. Not only is it the worst timing ever for this conversation, it restarts the Fitz-Simmons romance subplot for no good reason. Why can’t Fitz and Simmons continue being best friends? Why do they have to be a couple? Fortunately, any romantic prospects are cut short for Simmons in the episode’s shocking final moments, when she is seemingly swallowed up by the Kree artifact. Unfortunately, this also means waiting until season 3 to find out what happened to Simmons, and after the season Agents of SHIELD has had, it cannot come fast enough.

On a last note, right-wing radio is going to have a field day with Mack’s Fox News joke, but it is totally worth it.

Season Finale Body Count, with “In Memoriam” Song Suggestions:

1. Raina, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” – Poison
2. Agent 33, “(I Just) Died In Your Arms Tonight” – Cutting Crew
3. Agent Oliver and the 2 Unnamed SHIELD Agents, “Another One Bites The Dust” – Queen
4. Gordon, “(Turn Around) Total Eclipse of the Heart” – Bonnie Tyler
5. Jiaying, “Somewhere (There’s A Place For Us)” – West Side Story
6. That Poor SHIELD Agent Who Got Sucked Dry By Jiaying, “Drain You” – Nirvana


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