(Scott’s out this week, so I’m filling in.)
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has always gone back and forth between trying to emulate the fun action of the Marvel movies while taking on a stodgier seriousness that comes from dealing with the superpowered with a kind of bureaucratic bullishness. But “One of Us” managed a balance between these two in a way that reminded me of animated superhero shows like X-Men: Evolution or Justice League. While the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are learning to become more trusting of each other, the villains are teaming up to create a gang of superpowered misfits not unlike Lex Luthor’s Legion of Doom or Mystique’s Brotherhood.
We open up on a stormy night in Coney Island where Drea de Matteo (whom I last saw in New York, I Love You, back when Bradley Cooper had appropriately aged romantic partners) is trying to cut meat while wearing metal robogloves like the one Beyoncé has in the "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” music video. But Drea’s cover her whole hands, don’t bend at the joints, and just don’t look as cool.
Cal knocks on her door flanked with his quiet minions — one with serial-killer glasses being a kind of technophile and the other the stocky muscle — and preaches talk about S.H.I.E.L.D.’s tyranny when it comes to the Gifted Index, where he found Drea and her awful power. He convinces her to join them by promising to take off her “shackles,” which reveal what I first thought was an ill-advised manicure, but turns out to be claws grafted on her fingertips. There’s a lot about this episode that doesn’t make sense (I said it was good, not realistic) but … but how does she do anything with those? Like … pick her nose? Or go to the bathroom. Or text someone. Or ... anything??
Meanwhile, May and Coulson decide that since Skye’s going into the Gifted Index and needs a psych evaluation, they should bring in “Andrew.” Andrew turns out to be played by Blair Underwood (!), who turns out to be May’s ex-husband (!!), who is interested first and foremost in Skye’s personal well-being and not keeping any secrets from her (!!!). (Sidenote: why do people on AoS keep divorcing people they seem to really like? Okay, like, I get why, but it seems like such a shame.)
While Fitz is trying to get over the fact that May was married once, Simmons is suggesting dulling Skye’s emotions. Oh my gosh, Simmons! When did you become so patriarchy adjacent?! Andrew dismisses this, thankfully, because while Skye’s Inhumanity is emerging a bit like a mental illness, it seems like a short-term solution to dull her feelings away instead of dealing with them. Skye tries to deflect Andrew’s questions by asking about his and May’s marriage — “Instead of pillow talk, did you have pillow stern looks?” — but Andrew points out that Skye shot herself to control her emotions.
Cal’s Gang of Morose Murderers have broken into an Ohio psychiatric hospital — where it turns out S.H.I.E.L.D. has a secret subbasement of superpowered prisoners — so Coulson and Bobbi go to check in on the situation and find that Skye’s dad is behind it and has stolen David A. Angar, a.k.a. the Screamer, whose scream can immobilize anyone who hears it. We also find out Drea de Matteo’s character name: Karla Faye Gideon, who is taken from the comics but has kept nothing but the abusive boyfriend, which is probably why she gives Cal all those appraising looks when he goes on a rant in the diner on their villain road trip.
Maybe it’s because the Screamer’s wearing a face muzzle or the fact that they’re at some random diner where no one is side-eying their weird crew, but this part gave me Hannibal vibes — I kept waiting to hear the keening shrieks of violins in the backgrounds. We learn that Karla grafted those claws on herself to defend herself against said boyfriend, But also, why didn’t S.H.I.E.L.D. just remove the grafts?! You can’t tell me it would’ve been that much more expensive or difficult than making those crappy robogloves. Just give her some metal fingernails and she would’ve been fine. Also, it was incredibly gross seeing her take off the Screamer’s face mask to see the infected skin underneath. Dear Lord, S.H.I.E.L.D.: Why not just sedate him and give him a new mask every few months? Jeez!
While trying to discuss Hunter’s disappearance with Bobbi (not realizing she and Mack have locked him up in a bathroom Saw-style after Mack bopped him on the head last week), Coulson realizes they’re going to his hometown in Wisconsin thanks to the “FIGHT ON” message Cal left for them. Cal’s GMM do indeed go to visit Coulson’s hometown high school team the Outlaws, and immobilize the whole football and cheerleading teams (and some birds, creepy). I personally thought of USC first, but it’s easy to forgive Coulson because he says he never went to that high school, even though his dad taught there. Do we know what happened after Coulson’s dad died when he was 9?
Cal tries to make a big deal by broadcasting the whole fight through radio (seriously? He couldn’t even get public access? I guess they couldn’t have used a football field then). May pretends to hold Skye hostage, which throws Cal into a frenzy as he threatens to have the Screamer yell into the radio — but then our favorite deus ex machina Gordon shows up and spirits Cal away. After a bit of stupefied silence, Karla attempts to reassert control, but gets a run for her money when Bobbi grabs her from beneath the bleachers she’s sitting on. Their fight mirrors May’s fight against the muscle, and their battles follow a beautiful, well-choreographed symmetry until — surprise! — Bobbi and Melinda go for a total K.O. at the same time. Coulson also smashes the technophile in the face with his suitcase. Good for you, Coulson!
Unfortunately, Skye reacts badly to the tense situation, and while she stops the earthquake she started, bruises cover her arms and she faints. She wakes up to Andrew and Simmons telling her she’s internalizing her powers instead of controlling them, and has hairline fractures from “her clavicle to her fingers,” which is why she has a compression-style cast.
Andrew tells May Skye should leave S.H.I.E.L.D. altogether, but May says they’re Skye’s family. Unfortunately, they’re both right, since Skye really does have no one else.
Meanwhile, her father is scolded by Gordon, who tells him he’s not even one of them, and takes him away to meet their leader for a real talking-to. Mack has dragged Hunter to reveal who he’s working for: the real S.H.I.E.L.D. Uh. Okay. Next week, we thankfully find out what that means, although it looks like it’ll tear the team apart again, because nothing gold can stay.
- I liked that Coulson cooked macaroni and cheese for Skye, like the steak dinner he cooked for Simmons in the beginning of the season. Coulson should cook for his team regularly, especially since it turns out May’s a terrible cook.
- Despite Drea’s non-power, I burst out laughing when she trilled, “Hi!” and then cut the guard’s throat with a single swipe. I don’t know if it was her delivery or her sad-sack cardigan or simple surprise, but I might’ve rewound it because I couldn’t believe this show would get that morbid.
- Also, the serial-killer-glasses guy: “I don’t like food.” What does he eat? Outdated iPods?
- Looks like Simmons and Fitz have returned to their nerdy banter again! I miss Fitz and Mack, to tell you the truth.
- Mack mentions Dubai to Hunter to gain his trust, while Andrew references Bahrain to May to warn her, because the whole “It’s just like Budapest all over again!” joke from the Avengers has now been done to death. No one ever has these memorable rendezvouses in Maui, huh?