To be honest, when I heard that this week’s episode of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ would be devoted to finally telling the story of how Agent May got her nickname, my expectations for it sunk considerably. I mean, who even cares about that anymore, right? As it turns out, this is one of the best episodes not just of the season, but possibly of the whole series so far.
Send in the Cavalry
The episode jumps back and forth in time between storylines in the present day and a flashback set seven years ago, in the early days of S.H.I.E.L.D. before the Avengers Initiative had gotten off the ground. Melinda May actually seems to be a pretty happy, well-adjusted person, if you can believe it. She and her husband Andrew (Blair Underwood) have been talking about starting a family. In the meantime, she’s a field agent with S.H.I.E.L.D. and her immediate superior, Agent Coulson (not yet Director), brings her along on a mission to the Middle Eastern nation of Bahrain.
A presumably powered individual named Eva Belyakov has been spotted exhibiting super-strength. Coulson is tasked with convincing her to come in quietly so that he can add her to the Index. Unfortunately, the only place he can approach her is in the middle of an unsecured public market, which is far from ideal.
Coulson gets in a few words with the woman, but it’s clear that she has no interest in joining him. Suddenly, some local thugs show up and have a confrontation with the S.H.I.E.L.D. team. They grab Eva and a young girl off the street and retreat to a nearby building. Coulson sends in 12 heavily armed agents after them, but he almost immediately loses contact with them.
Coulson radios back to S.H.I.E.L.D. for instructions. He asks permission to send May in to find the men and rescue the little girl, but is told to sit tight. Because he believes the girl’s life is in imminent danger, he defies orders and sends May in anyway.
When she gets inside, May also loses communication with Coulson. She finds the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents but discovers that they’re in a trance-like, nearly zombified state. They seem to be under Eva’s control. This must be another of her powers. The agents attack May. She fights her way deeper into the building and finds Eva. They fight, and Eva shoots May in the leg, but May manages to stab her. The woman crumples to the ground dead, yet the zombified agents keep coming at her.
The little girl comes out of hiding. It turns out that she’s Eva’s daughter Katya. She’s the one with the power of mind control, not Eva. She absorbs power through feeling other people’s pain. She can also kill with a touch. May tries to talk sense to her and begs her to stop, but the girl is obviously totally deranged and evil. As she gets closer, May has no choice but to shoot the child dead.
Although the agents released from mind control consider her an amazing hero for single-handedly rescuing all of them, May is left traumatized by what she’s done. Her marriage crumbles and she requests a transfer to a desk job. This is why she hates the nickname “The Cavalry.”
Go Tell It on the Mountain
In their tranquil mountain village, Skye’s mom Jiaying teaches her daughter (who still doesn’t know they’re related yet) how to harness her power by listening to the frequencies and vibrations around her. Skye successfully causes an avalanche on one of the mountains. She’s pretty stoked about that.
Raina, meanwhile, is completely miserable. She’s in pain all the time and has awful nightmares. She wants to leave, but Gordon won’t let her go because she’ll draw too much attention to them. He tries to convince her that as soon as her new power reveals itself, she’ll realize that it’s something wonderful. Raina isn’t buying it.
Jiaying finally tells Skye that she’s her mother, and they have a good cry. However, she insists that they must keep their relationship a secret. She has protected Skye from the usual repercussions of “jumping the line,” and worries that Skye will be perceived as a threat by the rest of their people. To explain, she tells the story of what happened the last time someone underwent the transformation before being ready. Wouldn’t you know it, that person was Eva Belyakov, who also put her daughter through. Jiaying was responsible for the two of them, but failed them and had to watch S.H.I.E.L.D. kill them.
Jiaying asks Skye to have one dinner with her and Cal (Kyle MacLachlan), and promises to send Cal away afterwards if that’s what Skye wants. Cal is thrilled to finally be allowed time with his daughter, and is on his best behavior the whole night. In telling the story of the day she was born, Cal informs Skye that she’s actually a year older than she thought she was.
Lincoln walks into the room and recognizes the scene as something Raina had described to him. Raina must be able to see the future in her dreams.
Secrets upon Secrets upon Secrets
Since May has agreed to play nice with the new S.H.I.E.L.D. leadership, at least for the time being, Commander Gonzales puts her in charge of the base. However, in trying to convince her of how dangerous Coulson is, he tells her about a secret project called “Theta Protocol” that May was completely in the dark about. She discovers that Simmons had worked on Deathlok technology without even realizing it. Gonzales shows May photos of Coulson covertly meeting with her ex-husband. He believes that Coulson was building a secret base for powered people right under everyone else’s noses. May becomes concerned. Is Gonzales right about Coulson after all?
Elsewhere, Fitz manages to get the Toolbox opened in a restaurant bathroom. Coulson’s holographic computer interface pops up. Fitz uses it to contact Coulson and Lance. He tells them that he wants to meet up with them, and asks them how to shake the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents that have been tailing him.
The storylines in this episode intertwine with each other very skillfully, such that things that happen in one are reflected in the others. In addition to that, the episode has a much stronger emotional component than the series has ever shown before. May’s back story is brought into focus and really informs who she is and what she’s doing today. Even the scenes with Skye and her mom work, and I don’t usually care very much about Skye. This is all-around a great episode. Will the rest of the season be able to top it?