Whedon Wednesday :: on the SHIELD season’s beginning.

1 Oct

Hey, all.  I’m still… not feeling entirely comfortable with everything yet, after that trailer at the end of last night’s episode shook me up, but we’re not going to talk about that.  We’re not going to talk about that in the slightest because I need the context of the episode to actually form an opinion about it.  And until then I’m not discussing it. Nope.  While I’m not… overall upset, shall we say, I’m a bit mixed in my feelings of the first two episodes.  Surely it’s not the goofy joybomb I found the first season’s beginning to be (I don’t care if I was in the minority about this, but I needed it at the time and it delivered).

So, a pair of lists.  Pro and con.  Coauthored by (who else) my dear incomprehensiblelentils.

Starting actually with the cons.

  • So, um, Isabelle Hartley (Lucy Lawless). Was a creation of the show and was teased to the fans as Victoria Hand’s (Saffron Burrows) ex (Victoria Hand is a lesbian in 616 canon, and also not dead but that’s a topic for another day). Was also killed off, and then in episode two it was hinted that Lance Hunter (Nick Blood) was in love with her and her supposed sexuality and/or previous relationship with Hand was never mentioned. This is, at best, extremely sketchy, and at worst, fridging AND erasing a queer woman all in one go. I’ve also read articles where the writers mention they were “hoping the audience would be attached to her” so her death would hit harder. Which is…not great. Anything is possible, she might still be alive, but all things considered this is a significant problem and I’ve seen people say they’ve stopped watching because of it (not an unreasonable reaction, really).  Unfortunately, this means that this season has also hit a significant square on the No Trope Bingo card (invisible lesbians) already. And, you killed off Lucy Lawless, how dare you??
  • There is something going on with my Jemma (Elizabeth Henstridge) that will be at least partially revealed next week, and I’m nervous as hell about it, because while I’m sure things are not as they seem I’m still worried about what they might involve.  But I’m not talking about that yet.  What I want to talk about is this business of how her only appearances in the first two episodes have been in hallucinations had by Fitz (Iain De Caestecker).  Part of the reason I’m not happy about this is because, well, come on I am so over hallucinations.  Part of the reason is that it makes me worry about her.  But part of the reason is that it… narratively prioritizes Fitz over her.  At least so far.  And mind, I’m not unhappy with the overall handling of Fitz (more on that in a bit) but that annoys me.  Because while he had the injury, while he is in pain now, there is absolutely no way that Jemma also isn’t in pain of a different but no less important kind.  And she’s more important than being a hallucination giving pep talks.  (While wearing her outfit from last season’s “FZZT.”  Which also does not bode well.)
  • Pretty much everything with Ward (Brett Dalton) was in character but so, so skeezy. He kept telling Skye (Chloe Bennet) about how low he felt and he showed her his scars, and it was so clearly an attempt to manipulate her into feeling sorry for him that it made my skin crawl. (There’s also some less-than-kind things to be said about ABC allowing them to allude to cutting like it ain’t no thing, but still.) The whole scene featured Skye being visibly nervous and frightened of him despite the alleged security measures that would keep him in, but I admit I didn’t trust them any more than she did. I’ve also seen some other people criticizing SHIELD for using torture methods on Ward, which is a fair point. Finally, I know the Skye/Ward people jumped all over that scene and I knew they would and it disgusts me. I really hope they address the fact that Skye’s had to go about her day knowing the man who abducted her, killed and tried to kill her friends, and threatened to rape her is a few floors underneath her, because she had to have developed some really good coping mechanisms for that.
  • …Coulson (Clark Gregg) has become something of an asshole, and not in the endearing way. Despite Skye’s clear discomfort with the idea, he basically ordered her to go interrogate Ward. The excuse was that Ward refused to talk to anyone except Skye, but since when does SHIELD comply with Nazis? The way it was written made it feel like Coulson didn’t care at all about Skye’s trauma, only the information she could get from Ward. That’s a pretty big difference from the way he was treating her last season. And… how he’s talking about Fitz.  Or treating Fitz.  It’s, what, a few months off from Fitz’s injury/near death experience, and if they were in the real world, Fitz would still be having at least semi-regular therapy, not being asked to solve complex technical problems by himself.  Also, saying “he’s been hallucinating Simmons” like there’s nothing they can do about it?  I’m… pretty sure that SHIELD would have employed at least one or two therapists that the team could track down and recruit, because buddy should be receiving therapy, not dismissal from Agent Asshole.
  • Actually, a lot of the characters are sort of being assholes.  I forgive Skye for the way she pointed out that Jemma abandoned all of them (it hurt it hurt so much, and also Skye’s got, you know, abandonment issues that come from a valid place), but I don’t so much forgive Trip (B.J. Britt) for the way he said that he couldn’t believe how Simmons abandoned Fitz.  I’m not sure what Jemma’s up to, but it’s like everyone seems to have forgotten that she also would have reasons to need to step back and get a little recuperation done, possibly.  Also Lance Hunter (has the stupidest name, honestly, if your last name is Hunter why would you name your child after a weapon, and) is kind of a garden-variety asshole just naturally.  Etcetera.

And now, pros.

  • Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) is a queen and a saint for putting up with everybody else, basically. She spent a good portion of the first two episodes mentally rolling her eyes even more than usual, but here she is soldiering on because if she doesn’t look after her kids, no one else is going to (certainly not Agent Asshole). She was the only member of the team to voluntarily stay with Fitz in the premiere episode, and she’s now Skye’s SO (more on that in a minute). She called Coulson out for being a dick and has clearly been managing him the whole time (because that is what the Hand of the King does). And she wore leather and rode a motorcycle and that was really nice, visually. Basically, if you don’t love Melinda May at this point you’re wrong.
  • And on the note of Melinda May and her relationship with Skye… well!  There was a lot of ridiculous misplaced pearl-clutching from certain fans when it was revealed that May would be Skye’s new SO; they were apparently concerned that Skye would “go dark.” This not only shows that they have a poor comprehension of Skye’s character but also of May’s, because while May is emotionally more stilted than every other member of the team and seems to be willing to go to greater lengths than the others, she is not “dark.” And even if she was, it’s made very clear that she’s concerned about not letting her hardness rub off on Skye more than is necessary. What we see in the premiere episode is a relationship of mutual respect and caring, where May tells her to “stick close to [her]” and Skye clearly trusts and looks up to her. She’s taught Skye how to take care of herself, but she’s still protective of her. And, selfishly, I loved these moments because they felt like mother-daughter interactions and that makes me really happy. Melinda May is being a much better parent than Coulson right now.
  • Trip and Skye are friends now! And that’s really good, because Skye needed someone to cry on after all the stuff from the first season, and Coulson clearly wasn’t available, May is hardly the best option, Fitz has his own stuff, and Jemma…isn’t there. So my heart felt a little lighter when I saw that she and Trip drink beer together and she knows all his theories and they’ve clearly spent a lot of time with each other over the last few months. They’re good for each other, I think. The scene where he comes in wearing the general’s uniform was adorable and probably the emotional highlight of the first episode for me. (Also, he looked very nice in that uniform. And Skye’s new hair is very nice too.)
  • Back to Fitz for a moment.  I’ve never really gotten into the subject of brain injuries before, because I don’t like to talk about it (in at least some conversations it has unnecessarily othered me in the past) but it’s a really personal one for me.  The year before I started this blog, I experienced one, so I’m ridiculously (or not ridiculously, probably) selective about how they are portrayed in media.  (Also injury-injuries like the ones I suffered; the final straw with Glee for me, the thing that actually got me to stop watching, was the way Quinn’s car accident was handled.  But I digress.)  But I’m actually very pleased with the way that Fitz’s brain injury is being handled (not by Agent Asshole, but) and written.  Mostly because… yes, it’s accurate to me.  Mine was thankfully much less severe, and by a few months out I was mostly healed already, but I have distinct memories of not being able to find the right words for things, feeling frustrated like I should remember something but couldn’t.  The feeling that everyone babies you also hit much too close for comfort.  It’s a sort of disconnect: remembering what you were previously capable of and coming to terms with what you are now capable of and having to rationalize the difference.  It’s a nasty feeling and this is one of those times where the hurt means they were doing something correctly.
  • RAINA (Ruth Negga).  Raina is so important to me, this mysterious true believer lady who definitely isn’t one of the good folks but isn’t entirely clearly aligned with the bad things that the bad folks do.  (Her line about world domination being “so 1945” was great for that reason and also because it reminded the audience that Hydra is a Nazi organization. I am all for recurring reminders of that sort.)  She’s hyper-feminine and hyper-articulate, she clearly has some background in science despite her spiritual leanings and metaphysical theories about human evolution, and then there’s the fact that she’s the most fun kind of fictional crazy.  (Or potentially not crazy, who knows at this point.)  She’s got those giant cartoon eyes and the mouth that’s somehow capable of mimicking Melisandre and Margaery both and that cadence to her voice that’s so sure of what she believes even if it sounds crazy but also almost airy and light, like she’s just flying through the words and leaving crazy pixie dust in her wake.  It’s the sort of thing I get attached to in my usually girls and stealth characters (and honestly, what was intrigue and appreciation in the first season somehow morphed into a full-on Situation for me over the summer, so I guess that does make her one of those stealth characters) pretty regularly.

–your fangirl heroines.

being held not doing the holding

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One Response to “Whedon Wednesday :: on the SHIELD season’s beginning.”

  1. Julia October 2014 at 10:52 am #

    So glad you guys feel exactly the same way I do about not seeing any ACTUAL Jemma for two episodes. It especially wasn’t justifiable this week, already knowing she was just a hallucination. Seems like a lazy tactic for putting off writing her back into the story for another week, just to fit in…a lot of story I cared about far less, frankly. All the problems you’ve laid out with the last couple of episodes have made me pretty uncomfortable, too, so I’m hoping we have more pros to focus on by next week.

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