Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. began by promising to tell a story about the Marvel heroes that aren't super — but it's hard to deny how much more lively this show feels when it starts throwing superheroes around. In theory, "Who You Really Are" starts on a strong note by bringing in one of Thor's closest allies: Sif, the battle-hardened Asgardian played by Jaimie Alexander.
Sif previously appeared in season one's "Yes Men," and it's easy to see why Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was so quick to bring her back. She's an ideal guest-star for the series: memorable, likable, and Über-powerful, but not such a major character that dropping her into the mix overwhelms the rest of the story. If Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ever brings Thor or one of his fellow Avengers in for a guest spot — no matter how briefly — it will overwhelm the episode. Sif, by contrast, adds just the right amount of kick.
Unfortunately, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. squanders its promising guest-star almost immediately. Sif isn't the only non-earthling to play a major role in "Who You Really Are." The episode introduces guest-star Eddie McClintock as Vin-Tak, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s first living Kree. As the episode begins, Sif has endured a losing battle with Vin-Tak, who fell back on an unexpected secret weapon: a truncheon with the ability to induce amnesia in his enemies.
The problem with this ultraconvenient plot device is that it also erases much of what makes Sif such a fun character in the first place. Without her memories, Sif the badass warrior sheds her armor and becomes Sif the fish out of water. Enter Coulson — or "Son of Coul," as Sif calls him in a running gag that gets less funny every time the episode returns to it. Sif may not remember the purpose of her latest mission on Earth, but she does get all giggly at the mention of Thor's name — even if she doesn't quite remember who Thor is.
Fortunately, once S.H.I.E.L.D. manages to corral him, Vin-Tak is more than happy to return Sif's memories and explain the purpose of his own trip to Earth. He insists — like hundreds of disingenuous space invaders before him — that he comes in peace. In a dizzying burst of exposition, Vin-Tak spins a yarn about Diviners, Terrigenesis, and an ancient alien war. The Cliff's Notes version: Vin-Tak knows that certain Inhumans have used Kree technology to activate their powers, and he wants to destroy them before they fall into the hands of a different faction of Kree, who would use these "abominations" for evil.
Of course, we know something Vin-Tak doesn't: His list of "abominations" includes Skye, whose unstable earthquake powers kick right back in. To Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s great credit, it didn't drag out Skye's big secret for longer than a couple episodes; as soon as Skye confesses to being the source of the earthquake, Coulson and the rest of Skye's S.H.I.E.L.D. allies rush her to safety and stand against Vin-Tak and Sif. Bobbi gives Vin-Take a taste of his own truncheon, removing the memories that caused him to target Skye in the first place, and Coulson appeals to Sif's better nature, convincing her that both Skye and the rest of the Earth will be safer if Skye stays with the team while she sorts out her newfound powers.
As it turns out, "the rest of the team" might soon grow even smaller. "Who You Really Are" spends its B-plot exploring who Bobbi and Mack really are. The good news: They aren't rogue Hydra agents. The bad news: Their unspecified plan is risky or traitorous or evil enough that they're not willing to bring anyone else in on it — including Bobbi's ex-husband, current fling Hunter. With that in mind, Mack insists that Bobbi cool it with Hunter before he realizes that they're up to something.
It's nice to see Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. take steps toward paying off the long-teased Mack and Bobbi twist, but caring about the outcome of this story requires an emotional investment in Bobbi and Hunter's relationship, and I've never been able to make that leap. I like Bobbi, and I like Hunter, but they're never less interesting than when they're together, doing their sub–Mr. & Mrs. Smith routine. Splitting them up is great. Pitting them against each other — with an actual betrayal, not a series of flirty quips — would be even better.
Fortunately, next week's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. may have no choice but to shift the story in that direction. At the end of "Who You Really Are," Hunter confronts Mack and demands to know what's really going on. Mack responds by choking him out, and whenever Hunter wakes up, he'll probably have a question or two about that. Like Skye's confession, it's the kind of game-changing revelation that represents an existential threat to Coulson's band of ragtag agents — and with Ward, the Inhumans, and the remnants of Hydra in the wild, S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't need any more of those.
- "Who You Really Are" ends with one big question left unanswered: What is Mack and Bobby's grand plan, anyway? The show keeps it relatively vague, but given Mack's wistful reference to "a world where we'll all friends again," I'd love to see something as unexpected as the characters accessing some kind of parallel reality — if only so we can retain a glimmer of hope for a small-screen adaptation of one of Marvel's many bonkers multiverse spinoffs. Here's hoping for Earth-8311!
- Mack the hypocrite is very angry that Skye didn't reveal her new powers sooner. "Secrets don't help any of us," he complains. Tell that to Hunter.
- Skye ends the episode with a travel bag over her shoulder. She hasn't left yet, but what's the over-under on the number of episodes before she bails on S.H.I.E.L.D. to hone her new powers with her fellow Inhumans?
- The name "Vin-Tak" doesn't show up as a preexisting character in any of Marvel's online databases, but it is the name of a real-life brand of tackboard designed to resist stains and odors. The more you know!
- Simmons remains frustratingly out of character, pushing for an upgrade to the icer guns with even more concentrated toxins. I get it: She's had a rough year, and she really liked Trip. But there has to be a happy medium between the chipper agent from the start of the series and the joyless, ruthless agent she's become.
- Next week on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Kyle MacLachlan returns with all his cool Inhuman buddies in tow.