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Marvel superfans will love all of the minutiae and movie tie-ins happening, but otherwise “What They Become” is a pretty average episode.

Of all the things about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s second season that have helped turn the series from the redheaded stepchild of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to a fun (if uneven) cult item, its superior set of villains has to be near the top of the list. Absorbing Man? Daniel Whitehall? Evil May? Good stuff, and it’s fun watching the Agents work out how to dispatch them. But for its finale, the series found itself humbled — though not necessarily “defeated” by its greatest enemy of all…

…the budget.

Was it exciting? Fairly so, though it’s hardly the most engaging “action episode” of the season (or the series). Did it answer questions? It did — though I question how much interest casual fans will have in the Marvel minutiae being trotted out here or its connection to the various other Cinematic Universe properties. But the plain truth is, for a show like this to tease a “finale” involving the reveal of strange powers and ancient alien cities and deliver them in the form of a few moments of CGI and people running through dark, nondescript tunnels, respectively… it was lacking, there’s no other way to put it.

It doesn’t help that the promise of “wait until you see this!” was seemingly meant to stand-in/make-up for the fact that the character interactions and story payoffs were either pushed to the side or tabled to pay off when the show returns in March, leaving an episode that was big on action and momentum but light on heart, save for the central business of Skye finally learning her origins and having it out with the Doctor — whose real name turns out to be “Cal.”

Before continuing, be aware we’re diving into spoilers from here on out, so a SPOILER WARNING is in full effect. If you haven’t caught this week’s episode, you can stream it online from ABC.com or Hulu, or buy the latest from iTunes or Amazon.

Not that there wasn’t fun to be had. Coulson and “Cal’s” brutal wrestling match — two quirky, middle-aged character actors slamming eachother around like MMA fighters — was an unexpected highlight, and I liked fan-servicey moments like Skye pumping Ward full of bullets the moment she first gets her hand on a gun, the Koenigs making robot jokes, etc. The big bad-guy surprise (after all that buildup, Whitehall goes out like a punk thanks to one bullet from Coulson) made sense in terms of reinforcing Cal as a nemesis to Coulson going forward, but thinking on it, it may have done too good a job at getting the audience onto the same page as the Doctor… it really feels like Whitehall deserved a worse end. Then again, it’s pretty unlikely from my perspective that he’s “really” dead.

Still, in the end? Okay, fine, from a “fanboy” perspective it’s great to finally know for sure that the Diviner was full of Terrigen Crystals, that Skye and Raina are in fact Inhumans, that there are more “special” people in the world and that things are about to hit the fan in that regard, etc. But otherwise? “Skye just came out of a stone cocoon, there’s an earthquake, will everyone make it out alive” wasn’t quite the WHOA! To Be Continued I was looking for.

Ah well. can’t win them all. And I can’t say it doesn’t leave us in an interesting place going forward on paper. Okay — let’s get into the important stuff:

PARTING THOUGHTS

  • So yeah, more than a few people called this early and were spot-on: “The Doctor” is Calvin Zabo, aka “Mr. Hyde,” and Skye has actually been Daisy “Quake” Johnson the whole time. Well, then, as the codename implies, Daisy has the power to cause and manipulate earthquakes, in case you were wondering how everyone is going to get out of this.
  • It’s not possible that this series just unceremoniously killed off both black people from the main cast, is it? It can’t be.
  • Unless Mr. Hyde is going to be the new big-bad for the back half of Season 2, it’s pretty unlikely that Whitehall is actually all the way dead, right? While I’m at it: Who wants to bet that Christian Ward isn’t actually deceased?
  • No, I don’t recognize whatever/whoever it was Raina seemed to be transforming into. Whatever it was, she appears to have talons, quills and alien/reptilian skin now, so maybe the name wasn’t an accident after all…
  • I didn’t recognize who the eyeball-less Inhuman (with his own Diviner, no less!) in the post-ending stinger, but apparently he’s a newer creation called Reader.

So, then, there we go: Agents of S.H.I.E.LD., up to this point, was acting as a stealth-trailer for The Inhumans and a way to inject said Inhumans into the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a stand-in for mutants. That sets up some new ground, and I’m eager to see it capitalized in the second half of the season (and maybe tied-in with Age of Ultron?).

Bottom Line: Satisfactorily answers a lot of questions, but doesn’t necessarily provide one of the better episodes while doing so.

Recommendation: For fans only — unless you really just need to know what’s going on with the Skye/Daisy plot thread.

[rating=3.5]

NEXT WEEK:
Nothing! Agents is done until March. Now, get ready for Agent Carter to take things over starting in January.

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Bob Chipman
Bob Chipman is a critic and author.

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