Marvel Monday :: on the SHIELD finale

18 May

So here we are on a brand new theme day to talk about the SHIELD finale.  These bullet points will be frustrations wiith the plot and metanarrative grievances mixed with analysis, positive points, and observations, and will be primarily about the finale but partially about the season as a whole.

  • Jemma (Elizabeth Henstridge).  Jemma Simmons is an angel, a precious sweet science princess, and I went into the finale basically expecting her to be the one to take a bullet for someone.  I didn’t want my girl to be hurt, I just wanted her bravery to be large-scale acknowledged and intuited that at this point in the narrative her self-preservation instinct was at perhaps 10%.  And she helped at Afterlife, as much as she was able; she saved Bobbi’s (Adrianne Palicki) life medically.  These things were wonderful.  The things with Fitz (Iain de Caestecker) are still unclear and open for interpretation, as far as I’m concerned, so I’m going to continue to sit in my corner just praying for it to turn out not the predictable way.  I’m talking about the very end of the episode.  There’s Jemma Simmons doing science and then the rock-liquid-thing bursts free (because Fitz accidentally left the latch open) and swallows her.  That’s it, that’s the end.  This wouldn’t bother me as a cliffhanger week-to-week, because week-to-week cliffhangers are just ridiculous sometimes but you have them answered soon, but as the summer cliffhanger it strikes me as an insult: Elizabeth Henstridge has confirmed that Jemma’s alive, but we don’t know more than that, and this way she comes off as more something being used for shock value and less a character whose agency is respected.  I’ve since thought of several possibilities for where she’s gone and what’s happened, and they’re comforting if nonsensical, so I’m not going to be raging about it all summer, but to say that I was upset about it is rather an understatement.
  • That scene between Fitz and Jemma that seemed to be framed as him asking her on a date…that gave me really horrible flashbacks to the Warehouse 13 series finale, in which the male and female leads suddenly, despite four seasons of material that would suggest otherwise, got all awkward-crush with each other and confessed their love. I’m really worried that they’ll do the same thing to Jemma that they did to Warehouse’s Myka (Joanne Kelly), because Myka’s repeated explicit refusal of interest in Pete (Eddie McClintock) in a romantic way got completely steamrolled in the last season in order to give Pete the romance subplot he’d allegedly wanted. Hopefully, this won’t happen, but it was a little close for comfort for my tastes.
  • While I understand the narrative reasons for the deaths of Kara (Maya Stojan), Jiaying (Dichen Lachman), and Raina (Ruth Negga), and I’m not really upset about two out of three of them (Kara’s I’m mostly sad because I find it suspicious at best that what apparently tipped Ward over into explicitly being a villain is…the death of a lady…okay), I do kind of find it awkward that all three of them were women of color. To its credit, the show does have a higher amount of women of color than the majority of TV shows on the air right now. And in the past, it has brought two of them (Anne Weaver [Christine Adams] and Jiaying) back from the dead. Also, in pretty much no series ever has there been a woman of color getting killed by another woman of color in order to protect a woman of color. This episode had a lot of interesting little things like that (I also can’t really think of too many female antagonists of color who have been written as the hard-hearted general who is trying to protect her people and fuck everyone else), but when you step back and look at the facts, they’re all still dead. And Coulson (Clark Gregg), Ward (Brett Dalton), and Cal (Kyle MacLachlan) are still mostly fine. It’s an unfortunate habit that this show seems to have fallen into.
  • STOP TRYING TO MAKE HUNTINGBIRD HAPPEN.  I actually have a theory, vaguely supported by canon, that Bobbi is aromantic and either unaware of it or unable to make Hunter (Nick Blood) understand it. She says at one point, “Hunter’s always worn his heart on his sleeve, I don’t know how to do that… maybe something’s wrong with me.” Which is not, of course, an ironclad identifying statement, but it is an interesting thing for a character who has been shown to form emotional friendship bonds with people, while having a tumultuous relationship with her designated love interest (wherein he seems to care far more about the non-sexual aspects than she does). The likelihood that the writers actually know what aromanticism is is miniscule, but it’s something that I find kind of comforting, much like imagining that Fitz is asexual.
  • Grant Ward is horrible.  I never had strong feelings about Grant Ward prior to the reveal that he was Hydra, and after that my feelings progressed from “oh my god they’re doing it they’re making their Mr. Cheekbones the bad guy I’m so happy go to hell Mr. Cheekbones” to “oh my god what an asshole I hate him actively” to “how about Melinda and Bobbi beat him up, Jemma hits him with poison somehow, and then Skye shoots him right in the head” to their current state, “I DON’T EVEN CARE WHO DOES IT GRANT WARD JUST NEEDS TO GO AWAY.”  (I, on the other hand, hated him on sight from day one, and my feelings did not improve at any point in season 1 prior to the Hydra reveal. Then I felt very smug when he turned out to be the worst.) There are two interesting things about Grant Ward, though: his rabid fanbase of apologists (people who bend over backwards to excuse and justify him and his actions because he is an abuse victim and an attractive white guy – Kara pretty much recited all of their main talking points in this episode, finishing with their rallying cry/hashtag “I will always stand with Ward”) and the way that the narrative seems intent on decrying him and proving over and over that there is nothing good to come of him.  2.19 was an exercise in watching the entire team be done with his shit – Bobbi, who prior to this point had had minimal personal interaction with him (more on this in a minute) but knew of him, was trying to hold it together when the thoroughly if not “technically” brainwashed Kara was going on about him; the conversation on the Bus about how Skye (Chloe Bennet) was glad she’d shot him and Jemma and Fitz and Melinda (Ming-Na Wen) agreeing; Jemma’s attempt to off him.  Interestingly the only one who wasn’t entirely done with his shit was Coulson, but then again, Coulson was the one least personally affected by Ward.  And then, if I personally needed any more reasons to hate Ward, he brought Kara into a plot for her “closure” that involved kidnapping and torturing Bobbi: Bobbi was having none of it, saw right through what was going on and tried to get Kara to see through it too (deconstructing the incredible level of manipulation on Ward’s part), tried to defend herself and her people to the best of her ability but didn’t apologize for doing what she’d had to in the past (which yes, it was shitty that that had happened and avoiding it would have been better, but it hadn’t been done maliciously).  Bobbi was, well, amazing.  And Grant Ward tortured her, among other things with needles (I couldn’t tell you the details because I only watched these scenes with my ears, given that needles are one of my only hard nos).  I really, really hope that Grant Ward doesn’t hurt anyone else I care about, but I also really hope that Grant Ward is so evil in season three that it ends with his death.
  • Coulson, come to think of it, is an unreliable narrator.  It’s not necessarily good or bad singularly, but it’s interesting what we only or primarily get his POV on (Cal being the thing that comes to my mind first).  It’s also probably why “real SHIELD” had grievances, honestly.  When one person’s POV becomes the thing dictating everyone’s actions and fates, there are going to be fuckings-up.  (Being entirely honest, I spent most of the season genuinely angry at Coulson largely for the reasons that “real SHIELD” cited and also for his improper handling of mental health situations.)
  • Anne Weaver and Jiaying, though.  As mentioned above, both characters (both of them women of color) were brought back from the narrative dead, Anne a death by default (we hadn’t heard about her fate, she was probably dead) and Jiaying a very explicit death.  Yet within a couple of episodes, suddenly here they both were again, both with an increased and multifaceted role in the narrative.  Anne was, as part of the “real SHIELD,” one of the voices against Coulson’s leadership style and choices, yet she also managed to show more overt respect for both Jemma and Melinda than other characters had in ages, maybe all season.  Jiaying was introduced as a mentor figure, for all of the Inhumans but also for specifically Skye, and the narrative spent a nice long time allowing us the audience to get to know her as a person and understand her motivations before the eleventh hour reveal of her unstellar choices (which were in large part prompted by others’ previous unstellar choices in the past as regarded her as an individual).  And the amazing thing about this is: I called both of these situations.  I’ve been quietly screaming “but what about Anne Weaver” since the beginning of the season, I’ve been sitting here going “but Jiaying could be alive, though!” at least since the winter hiatus.  This latter plotline/character development is also significant because of the honestly eerie similarities it has to a certain other plotline/character development in a certain series of books that is the increasingly loose basis for a certain television program, a plotline/character development that those in charge of said show decided to forgo altogether.  It’s like these guys said “well, if they’re not going to do it, then we’re going to do it.”  And considering that I think Jiaying was handled mostly well, I’m going to go out on a limb and say I’m glad that that was the interpretation we got, not the one that originally was supposed to be given us.
  • I watch this show with a few other people, and one of them, while not thinking about it enough to be considered a true SWWer, has been fond of throwing the phrase “redemption arc” around as far as Ward is concerned.  The first time I rolled my eyes.  The second time I growled.  The third time I believe an expletive was used.  Etcetera.  I’m not sure if he truly believes this or just says it to annoy the rest of us (the rest of us are avid anti-SWWers, after all) but he says it a lot.  I bring this up now and not above because I find it fascinating that the “r-word,” as I’ve come to call it, can properly be applied in this but, instead of being applied to Ward, can be applied to Raina.  Raina my manipulative crazy knowledge-and-glory-hungry girl, who spent the first part of the season building to the transformation, then spent the immediate time following her transformation disconsolate and confused and in pain both emotional and physical, then after her gift of prescience was revealed settled into an understanding of her purpose and role and filled them admirably, sacrificing herself because she knew it was the right thing.  Who saw her fate and in accepting it and understanding how it filled what she’d always wanted went out just how she wanted to, which is to say gloriously, if unmagnificently.  Another interesting point to note: Raina, for her entire run on the show, has been “Flowers,” the girl in the flower dresses who filled her prison cell with origami flowers and spoke fondly of them, but to my remembering was never in the same shot as flowers that had been cut – until the scene where she predicted her own death to Skye.
  • And then there was Skye. Skye is my girl and I am so proud of how far she’s come from the pilot, where she was just a mouthy kid in a van who didn’t want anything to do with the establishment and may or may not have been a mole. Part of my affection for her is me projecting like crazy, because I can count the number of mixed-race characters I’ve encountered in fiction on both hands and none of those characters have been half-Chinese, like me. So when the show went out of its way to canonize her as a half-Chinese character I had a lot of feelings. (I still find it irritating that apparently the writers just didn’t want to even entertain the possibility that a person born in China to a native-speaking mother might perhaps have a Chinese name – hell, I’m fourth- or fifth-generation and I have one! – but oh well.) But I’ve also loved watching her grow and mature and evolve over the course of the last two seasons. She has gone from someone who was closed off and selfish and snarked her way through pain to a girl who is willing to do whatever possible to protect the people she cares about, as well as people she doesn’t even know. She became the first superpowered woman in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and she learned how to use those (seemingly destructive) powers to her advantage, to save and protect people. And she found her parents, and they didn’t turn out to be anything like she’d imagined, and she found a way to accept that and stop making them and their absence an integral part of her emotional journey. I admit, also, that part of my glee is in the knowledge that the viewers who have hated Skye from the beginning and were calling for her death since the first episode are probably really mad right now, because not only is she a canonical 616 character, she has full Protagonist Immunity. She basically can’t die, because the story is about her now. I think the last time I saw anything remotely like this was Nikita, maybe? And that was a very different sort of story. Niki was the anti-hero on the hunt for redemption; Skye is a superhero classic, the flawed but ultimately good-hearted person who wants to protect and save people. And she’s so important.
  • statistically speaking, I do believe every episode of the season passed the Bechdel test, if barely (some conversations slid between being about men and not about men, but at the least women spoke to each other in every single episode).  And 2.17, “Melinda,” which was one of the strongest episodes of television I’ve seen this year, probably, involved male characters exclusively appearing in flashbacks designed to explain a woman or providing a support role to a woman, with the exception of the last short scene.

–your fangirl heroines.

secret smile

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