This week we visit the Hogwarts of SHIELD, complete with a scheming Dark Lord behind all the conflict, some Marauders, an adolescent business plan tested on the student body, and a female British braniac who loves homework more than life. I promise I won’t refer to Fitz as Seamus for the duration of my recap.
In our post titles intro, a bunch of SHIELD academy students (including curly-haired Cally and lank-haired Seth) take a celebratory dip in the pool, only to have it start turning to ice (but I wonder what kind?) with supernatural speed, trapping Seth’s leg. Fortunately, class loner Donnie is there with a pool skimmer to bust his leg out and nobody is permanently hurt.
A highly advanced freezing device is discovered, and it turns out it was based on some discarded techniques developed by none other than youngest graduates of SHIELD Academy’s Science and Technology division Fitz and Simmons, the Science Siblings. They are called to the school to investigate the device and its origin, and also to give the student body The Talk about “Potentiality” and reassure them of their safety like the Big Damn Science Heroes they are. Other exposition handed out over breakfast includes Coulson’s been holed up in his office and is barely talking to anyone since they rescued him.
Can I say that one of the things I genuinely like about SHIELD is how often the characters are depicted while eating meals or snacking? Sure, there isn’t quite the same character development in these scenes as in, say, Firefly or Battlestar Galactica, but it’s hard to think of a character as having no human vulnerabilities when they’re grabbing a handful of pretzels from a large bowl.
May and Coulson drop the kids off at school so they can go to work: in Mexico City. May has found a lead on Skye’s ultimate origin, and is going to try her damnedest to use it to get Coulson out of his funk. They know the woman who dropped Skye off at the orphanage is a fallen SHIELD agent, but her partner merely disappeared. Recently, however, SHIELD surveillance found him in the background of a Mexican teenager’s selfie, so that’s not a horrifyingly wide reaching and precise use of facial recognition technology, no sir.
Skye, Ward, and the SSibs meet up with Agent Weaver, the headmistress (or whatever) of SciTech. She’s confident the person who put the device together is one of her students, narrowed to the top 10% smartest because of the complexity of its design. Then she escorts the SSibs to their lecture hall while Ward takes Skye to visit the Wall of Valor, a memorial wall with the names of fallen SHIELD agents (at least the ones whose deaths are non-classified, no one ads, but can be safely assumed).
While there, Skye points at the plaque and name drops Bucky Barnes, which, while exciting, is a little hamfisted under scrutiny. Of the dozens of names on there, she just happens to feel like saying “Bucky Barnes” out loud? I didn’t get the sense from Captain America or The Avengers that Bucky’s exploits, and the effect his death had on Steve Rogers, were common knowledge in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the way that they are in the Marvel Comics Universe, so as far as I know none of the characters have any reason to single his name out as notable. This could have been explained with the list of names being chronological (it’s reasonable to claim that Bucky was the first SHIELD agent to fall in the execution of his duty), but Skye points to the middle of the display as she says it. The episode could even have just showed the name as one of a few random ones in a closeup and give the audience the same jolt.
Anyway, back to the SSibs, who give a speech about the values of scientific caution that’s right in line with SHIELD’s weird conservative attitude about emerging technology. You know, the one Reed Richards and Tony Stark and Hank Pym would probably all blow raspberries at. With a machine designed for never ending raspberry blowing. A never-ending raspberry-blowing robot, or N.E.R.B.R. It can also destroy Galactus and get grass stains out of fine Italian suits. Fitz and Simmons drop some even crazier names than Skye when they say SHIELD was formed to combat Hydra, and that the department has even fought AIM. Scratch that theory off, “Centipede is really AIM” believers. More Marvel nerd baiting is interrupted by a student in the audience (Donnie again) who suddenly starts to freeze solid from the feet up.
A device is located under his seat, and one good kick from Ward disables it while Fitz and Simmons keep Donnie from dying. Meanwhile, Ian Quinn (remember, the eeeeevil industrialist from the episode with the gravity machine?) engages in a tense conversation by phone where somebody has done something to disappoint him. He eventually tells them to “take care of it before I arrive.” I’m certain this is completely unrelated to the other events in the episode.
The Team sends an unfrozen Donnie back to his dorm room as Agent Weaver explains the sort of student he is. See, Seth, the guy who nearly got frozen at the episode’s opening, fingered Donnie as a weird loner who was hanging around the pool. She says he probably wasn’t hanging out with the other kids at the pool, because they were “popular” and he wasn’t, like SHIELD academy is a middle school and not a post-post graduate institution full of adult scientists. But I’ll table a further discussion of the emotional age the episode depicts SHIELD academy students exhibiting until the end of this recap. Donnie is smart: too smart for the academy, really. He’s obviously bored and is so socially awkward that he can’t make friends even among fellow academics, so she’s been thinking of graduating him early (just like the SSibs) and assigning him to the Sandbox. (That’s the SHIELD equivalent of the Giant Warehouse at the End of Raiders of the Lost Ark except there are actually Top Men there.)
But enough about freeze rays and inexplicably immature PhD-havers, lets go to Mexico City! Coulson and May drive Lola up to their stakeout, waiting for former Agent Richard Lumley. May holds up a one sided conversation, asking Coulson if he’s so wrapped up in knowing the truth about what SHIELD did to him that he’s going to defect like Lumley. Coulson calls her bluff on talking just to get him to open up, and since when does she even like Skye and want to help her? May says Skye proved herself last episode, and that’s a getting-stale conflict I’m happy to be done with. Coulson is worried that if SHIELD could change his memories of a traumatic event, they could have changed who he is fundamentally. May reassures him he hasn’t changed, and dares him to call her a liar. He doesn’t.
I do love me some wounded warriors propping each other up with tough love.
Coulson concludes by saying he’s tired of secrets, and May blurts out she’s been BANGING THE HELL OUT OF HER HOT YOUNGER COWORKER BECAUSE SHE’S GOT GAME LIKE EA but their target arrives at the same time and they go on the chase.
Ward points out they won’t get anywhere by directly asking students for what they know, since a large part of SHIELD training is teaching them to keep secrets. It’s better they try to infiltrate the student population and manipulate information out of them. To that aim, he, Skye, and Simmons infiltrate the student hangout in the campus boiler room (so situated because it’s the only place on campus free of SHIELD surveillance equipment), while Fitz is ordered to go befriend Donnie since Donnie is kind of a giant Fitz fanboy. Turns out Donnie’s got some inventions in his room that impress even Fitz, like a miniaturized nonlethal pressure gun. But Donnie has even bigger stuff going on, and is glad to show him his quarter-size prototype for a very powerful battery. He’s still got some kinks to iron out before he can build the full version, though.
Meanwhile, May and Coulson corner Agent Lumley, and even keep him from swallowing a standard issue secret agent cyanide pill. He is immediately relieved when he finds out they are from SHIELD, and he knows why they are there. He explains that more than twenty years ago, he and his team were called in to investigate an 0-8-4 in the Hunan province of China. An entire village had died trying to protect it. Then an entire SHIELD team. When he and his colleagues went in, they found one remaining dead agent, cradling the 0-8-4, a baby girl, in his arms. They never saw her use any supernatural powers, but once they brought her back to SHIELD, his team started to be systematically rubbed out. In order to save their remaining lives, and the girl’s, they decided to erase all evidence of her and her origins. The dead agent’s stolen level 8 credentials served to lock her file, and they ordered the foster system to move her every few months in order to keep her safe.
Which sounds to me (I did this research for writing, I swear) like the sort of early childhood development situation that would produce an adult almost completely incapable of connecting emotionally to other human beings, but if the proper thing to do with orphans is to dress them up in green, yellow, and red and teach them to punch Two-Face in the noggin, I guess I can accept Skye being a relative social adept.
Coulson and May let him go, because Coulson thinks SHIELD probably isn’t any safer than elsewhere for him, and with his final words in the episode, Lumley warms him to stay away from baby 0-8-4.
In the Boiler Room, Skye makes a successful Gather Information check and figures out Cally, the curly haired girl who was reluctant to get into the pool, was first in line for a promotion to the Sandbox until Donnie came on the scene. Ward makes a successful Bluff check and gets her to darkly admit Seth and Donnie getting frozen was “probably the best thing that happened to them all year.” He pounces on her weird attitude and she says she only said it because it let them meet Fitz, and they’d been talking about meeting him when he came to visit for weeks.
But… our SHIELD team were only called to SciTech after Seth got frozen.
Simmons calls up Fitz to tell him Donnie and Seth are now topping their list of suspects, and Fitz is all “no, Donnie’s great, I just helped him fix his science thing ooohhhh… I bet that was totally the evil science thing wasn’t it.” He dashes back to Donnie’s room, but Seth and Donnie are both there readying their “product” and Seth shoots Fitz with Donnie’s nonlethal gun.
A commercial break gives the whole team time to rendezvous on the Bus, where Coulson refuses to say where he and May went. Seth and Donnie are missing, as is their device (devICE GET IT?). Fitz is confident that Seth manipulated Donnie, and if they’re thinking of the invention as a product, that probably means they have a backer interested in purchasing it. As it turns out, Seth’s dad works for Ian Quinn. “This is Quinn’s MO, he finds young talent and he takes advantage,” says Skye. “Kinda like SHIELD?” I mutter at the show that had two scientists telling a room full of young scientists about how dangerous their special science brains are to humanity, and they should definitely be telling SHIELD agents all about their new discoveries just to be safe, even as the agency spies on them 24/7.
Skye corners Coulson to ask why he hasn’t looked her in the eye all briefing, and he tells her he doesn’t want to keep secrets from her anymore, and explains what he and May found out in Mexico City.
Meanwhile Seth has been arguing with Quinn over the phone. A large part of their deal was that the ice weapon would remain a secret: now that SHIELD knows it exists, Quinn is far less interested in shelling out cash for it. But Seth and Donnie have already reached the point of no return by assaulting a SHIELD agent. Quinn promises (obviously lying) that if they give him a good show with it, he’ll send in a helicopter to ferret them off campus (they are apparently hiding in an empty parking structure? yeah, a lot of cover there) and give them the agreed upon massive sum of money. He hangs up and immediately tells his pilot to turn around.
Then he asks a pretty lady who is on a prohibitively expensive vehicle like a private plane, yacht, or submarine but is not dressed like a stewardess to “freshen up” his drink because that is the writing equivalent of sticking a great big plastic sign next to a character with an arrow labeled Really Really Evil Guy Right Here.
Seth and Donnie argue as they prep the machine, going through the usual mutual blaming of each other for the plan going sour that happens when a couple of sorta-bad folks get betrayed by the bigger bad. They turn the device on and it appears to fizzle. Until a few hours later, when they realize it has created a superstorm.
I mean, I’m assuming it’s a few hours later, nothing in the plot really happens, but suddenly it’s daylight and we can see Seth and Donnie and their pickup truck are in the middle of an empty parking lot.
The super storm gets super bad, and Donnie finally breaks down and starts trying to “reverse the process” his machine started like we knew would happen as soon as we realized Seth was the “connection” and Donnie was the “brains.” The SHIELD team know where Seth and Donnie are (because the eye of the massive storm is directly above them and the ice machine) but can’t get there on foot. So May flies the Bus over the storm, into the eye, and then hovers down it like the badass pilot she is. (Coulson grabs Skye’s hand as they make the rough descent, and I get some of those involuntary dad feels that I get.)
To be fair, if I knew more about meteorology or aeronautics I have a feeling I would feel less positive and more cynical about May’s piloting skills in this episode.
While the SHIELD Team was working that out, though, the ice machine gets struck by lightning as Donnie and Seth are fumbling with it. It gets fried, but Seth is tooootally dead. Too bad, he’s gonna miss out on some sweet ice powers. SHIELD gets Seth’s body and Donnie out of there as the storm dissipates.
Now that Donnie perceives himself to be responsible for his only friend’s death and has secret ice powers (Donnie Gill is the alter ego of the second Marvel character to go by the super villain name Blizzard), he gets graduated early and shipped off to the Sandbox, which, it goes without saying, is where our other nascent supervillain Doctor Franklin Hall (Gravitron) is hidden. Maybe they can get together and start an I Hate Ian Quinn club and trash him on message boards.
Haha, no they’ll probably team up by the end of the season with a third villain yet to be revealed and fight the main characters.
May asks Coulson if he heard her when she said she was banging Ward like a box of nails and says, “Yeah, whatever, you’re grown freaking adults. Also f*cking adults, hahaaaaa high five.” Then there’s a montage as he saccharinely describes how Skye’s ability to see the bright side in what she now knows about her origin (that instead of abandoned, she’s been protected all her life) has made him feel better about his life or something, and that it’s how we respond to adversity that matters more than what has happened to us. Cue shot of Donny using his new ice powers.
Lightning! Try and get struck by it, kids, it’ll almost certainly give you superpowers.
STINGER: Coulson calls up Quinn and tells him not to fly over any countries with SHIELD jurisdiction, or he’ll be blown out of the sky. Quinn tells him the Clairvoyant says hello. Then they kiss. (They don’t kiss.)
“Seeds” was a nice little episode. I loved the look into SHIELD training, however silly it was in places (see below), I’m all for introducing more infamous Marvel Universe characters to the show, and I’m curious to see where this “Skye is an 0-8-4″ thing is going to take us.
Speaking of silliness and SciTech division: you need a PhD just to get in? Look, I know the Marvel universe has an above average number of science prodigies, but the student body as shown here is waaay to young to all have science PhDs. Even assuming they all went straight to graduate school they should be in their late twenties, not acting like seventeen year olds (and I’m not just talking about Donnie, mostly about Seth). Even if the Marvel Universe has a lot of combined masters/PhD programs, the student body seemed implausibly young to me.
I’m curious as to whether we can interpret Skye’s origins in Hunan province as SHIELD confirming that Skye, like her actress, has at least partial Chinese ancestry? Certainly it’s not a huge reach to assume Skye’s race and Chloe Bennet‘s race match up, but we know from a lot of recent experience that many people will take any excuse to assume a character is white unless their race is spelled out for them in plain, undeniable terms. (Cynically, I’m wondering how many viewers out there are thinking to themselves that part of the mystery of Skye’s origins is how a white baby ended up in China.)
While I think challenging audiences to relate to more characters whose status as a person of color cannot be willfully ignored or glossed over by folks who don’t want to think about it that much is probably more… productive? effective? towards the goal of encouraging those people to accept and welcome diversity in media, I’ll admit that pushback against the erasure of multiracial identities is a cause close to my heart. Society is very comfortable viewing race as an either or sort of label (for lots and lots of different reasons), and this leads to the concept of “coming out” as biracial, because many if not most folks will assign your features to whatever closest single racial background they can match them to, rather than considering you might be mixed race. I myself, a biracial person, am not completely innocent of this.
The identification of characters played by actors who “pass” as other than they personally identify complicates this even further. Is Zoe Washburn black and Latina if Firefly never confirmed to her be multiracial like Gina Torres? Did Battlestar Galactica present Admiral Adama as Hispanic like Edward James Olmos, if his blood relations are portrayed by non-Hispanic actors?
Personally, I’d be really excited if SHIELD would clearly state and canonize a multiracial identity for Skye, provided the character has one (and Skye isn’t like, a Skrull or some other kind of alien, for example), if only to confront some folks with the complexities of multiracial identity who might not have thought about it before. But maybe that’s just the “me with a bug up her butt about being mis-identified by both strangers and US government surveys as white intend of biracial white/Latina” talking. (And yeah, I’ll be the first to admit being the kind of biracial that passes for white counts as winning the multiracial genetic lottery in American society today.)
A final plea: AIM was name dropped this episode and oh my sweet lord can we please have M.O.D.O.K. in SHIELD. I will never ask for anything for Christmas ever again.