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Agents of SHIELD Recap: “Yes Men”

Recap

Oh wait, I get the title of this episode now.

Ext., desert, Lorelei ditches the fiancée she hypnotized in last week’s stinger and instead acquires Rooster, the leader of a biker gang, and his gang, and why wasn’t this scene the stinger because it contains exactly the same elements?

On the Bus, Skye is awake and grateful for everything the Team did for her, though she is resisting her bed rest like every character ever in a superhero universe. Frankly, it’s a wonder all hospital beds in sci-fi universes don’t just come equipped with restraints. “Should we use the restraints, doctor?” “Of course, nurse, we’re barely twenty minutes into the movie.”

Ward shows up to tell her it was brave and not stupid for an untrained agent to walk into an Italian villa full of a dozen armed men completely by herself in a situation of unclear urgency (it was stupid). The episode uses him to deliver a bunch of exposition about an unresolved plot line: now that she’s awake, SHIELD knows Mike Petersen is alive, and Garrett is on the hunt for him as part of his investigations into project D.E.A.T.H.L.O.K.

Elsewhere in exposition, Simmons can’t find any residue of a strange substance in either Coulson or Skye’s blood, and there isn’t enough residue left in the ampule that the GH-325 came in to test. She’s stumped and wants to send her research to SHIELD HQ for help, but Coulson has ordered her not to, even though if they could figure the drug out it would represent a massive medical breakthrough.

And now, a Coulson interlude: Agent Sitwell does everybody’s favorite SHIELD dad a favor and meets him secretly in a parking garage. He tells Coulson that Director Fury has gone off the grid and is unreachable. Will this be relevant to Captain America: The Winter Soldier I wonder, or is it just a SHIELD plot twist? Sitwell tells him he shouldn’t complain, since he’s no stranger to going off the grid. After all, he’s done it himself. Sitwell is referring to “Tahiti.” Could this (spoiler if you haven’t been watching the trailers closely) possibly take place after Winter Soldier?

We return to the main plot of the episode, where the Team is ordered to be the welcome wagon to some energy readings that indicate an Asgardian has just crossed over into Midgard. Pretty teeny welcome wagon compared to Thor, and that was before a (nominal) Asgardian tried to take over the world. Also it was just a hammer. They track down the energy readings to the site of a sudden massive energy bolt that turns out to deposit our patron lady of Asgardian badass, Sif. Her message: “Your world is in grave danger.” Why is it always grave danger?

By way of explaining Sif, Coulson describes my favorite part of Thor, so I approve of that. May presses him to tell her what happened in the Guest House for his own emotional health, which is boring but important.

Before she can explain the problem of the week, Sif is shocked to see Coulson. Thor told her all about his untimely demise. Coulson says that SHIELD fixed him, but asks her not to tell Thor about it so that Age of Ultron can go on its merry way without revealing his resurrection. Or so it can show that big reveal, but my money is on the former outcome.

But we were talking about Lorelei, who used her mind control powers to lead a mighty army across the nine realms six hundred years ago. She’s been in prison since then, but escaped during the events of Thor: The Dark World and came to Midgard using one of Loki’s secret passages. Her mind control powers work through her voice and touch. Strong willed people can resist her voice, but not her touch. Also she can only control men, who have an “inherent weakness” not found in women.

Sif has a collar that apparently blocks both Lorelei’s speaky-mind-control and her touchy-mind-control. They just have to find her somewhere near the Nevada/California border and get it on her.

While the Team looks through police reports to see if they can find Lorelei’s movements and Fitz reveals a diverse array of brand new, three times as powerful Nite Nite guns (now known by the much more acronym-loving, SHIELD-friendly name of ICERs. I dunno, I kind of liked how adorable Nite Nite Gun sounded), Coulson and Sif chat about blue aliens. She knows a bunch, but not any who have ever visited Earth, for those of you keeping score at home.

They find the bar where Lorelei is holed up, yelling at bikers and making them choke their angry wives to death, but have trouble getting in (due to some mind controlled cops) until Sif kicks an Airstream trailer the size of a bus into a barricade for them. And I love Coulson for being like: yeah, Sif can go in alone, we’ll cover the exits. So Sif goes in.

AND THEN THEY FIGHT. And it’s great. It’s easily the first fight scene in the show I’ve actually paid attention to in ages and I’m not at all ashamed to admit that it’s because a lady with superpowers is doing the fighting. Rooster and Ward have their own fight out back of the bar, but

Predictably, because you knew this was going to happen the moment you read about Lorelei’s powers on Wikipedia after finding out she was going to be on Agents of SHIELD, Lorelei slips out back and mind controls Ward, the manliest, most sexually active man on the show, and they ride off together.

The other bad news is that the collar Sif was going to use on Lorelei was damaged by a shotgun blast from a biker in the bar. Asgardian technology: weak to plot requirements. Coulson gives it to Fitz to fix, and ropes Skye into using her Hacker Skills to figure out where Ward is going by uncovering his secret spy stashes of gear. Simmons confronts Coulson about why he won’t let her share her data on GH-325. He won’t tell her why, just that she can’t. Furiously, she says she’ll send it because SCIENCE and SAVING LIVES, and I’m proud of you for standing up to your dad, my little science baby.

He tells her that two men died willingly and easily to keep it secret, and then the whole place blew up, so yes, they are definitely, definitely keeping it a secret. This seems to end the argument.

Next, in Vegas, Lorelei and Ward bang in a room in Caesar’s palace. Because of course. And the episode will not acknowledge sex-under-mind-control as rape. Because of course. This is after he tells her that she’s so much cooler than the woman on his team that he has feelings for. And I think to myself “wouldn’t it be a silly twist if the show meant Skye or Simmons and not May.” Ha ha. Lorelei’s partially attracted to Ward (in a power hungry way) because he has the “rage of a berserker inside him,” which I mention only because it’s a good callback to Ward’s problems as established and created in “The Well.” He says he’ll bring her an army and she says in return she’ll bang him. So much for SHIELD’s pretty decent record of women, even villains and spies, not using sex to get their way. Or their record of not depicting rape, I guess. Or not depicting rape as sexy!

Later, once they’re done and Ward has, like any good post coital television character, put his underwear back on for no reason, Lorelei talks about how she likes being free and hates prison so much, would he please kill Sif for her? Good line alert: “The graves of Asgard’s enemies are littered with men who underestimated Sif.” I guess women don’t underestimate her.

Cut to: May and Sif have a warrior lady bonding moment.

Sif lets May check out her magical double sword and they talk about Lorelei. Basic trope stuff, she controls men because she likes the thrill, looks for the strongest warriors, like Ward. Sif hints that a man she cared for was once taken by Lorelei, telling May that she should be prepared to kill Ward: he’s not Ward anymore. May’s all “Ward won’t kill me,” and Sif’s all “Did you hear anything I just said?” and May’s all “Well, he can try,” and Sif’s all “Props, my warrior sistah, props.” Cue one of those great Jaimie Alexander smirks.

The Team busts Ward and Lorelei’s hotel room, but they’re not there, and the episode makes a point of focusing on May finding the rumpled bed. Even Coulson calls attention to it. They go back to the Bus, where Fitz was unable to find either of their marks on any of Vegas’ one million security cameras, but he says he’s got SHIELD satellites looking. In the meantime, he fixed Lorelei’s collar and invites Sif to check his work in the hexroom where she’s been staying. Coulson asks May what she would do in Ward’s place and she says that she’d come to the Bus and DUN DUN DUnnnn mind controlled Fitz locks Sif in the hex room and Skye and Simmons are already locked in the med room, and Ward takes the plane up with Lorelei in the cockpit.

Point of order: So, Lorelei and Ward mind control Fitz after he’s fixed the collar. Why not break it again? Why not chuck it off the plane just before they leave? Why not hide it? Why not do anything other than put Sif in a room with it, is what I’m saying.

Coulson is blocked from freeing Sif by Fitz. May encounters Lorelei alone. “You took my plane, I want it back,” and they engage in a little bit of a very one-sided fight (super strength, watcha gonna do?) until Ward arrives, fresh from firing Sif and the collar out of the hex room’s airlock. Lorelei is really after Sif’s sword (I guess she just likes it?), but takes her time taunting may about how she stole her man, or whatever. Apparently Lorelei thinks that telling May (surprise, surprise) that Ward has romantic feelings for someone else is supposed to hurt, but since the show has pretty firmly established that May and Ward’s relationship isn’t romantic, I don’t know why May would be bothered by that.

Anyway, Ward trains a gun on May and Lorelei flounces off into the hexroom, past Fitz, to get Sif’s sword. Coulson, who was unable to rescue Sif from the hexroom because of Fitz, gets Simmons and Skye out of the medical pod. They tell him Sif has been jettisoned with sad faces and he’s like “Pffft. She’s from Asgard. Just open the door and let her back in, dummies.” Between the two of them they override Fitz’ lock on the hexroom’s outer door, and Sif, who is, as expected, clinging to the top of the Bus, arrives just as Lorelei grabs her sword.

Lorelei begs Sif to find mercy in her heart, and Sif answers that her heart has nothing to do with this: this is duty. Lorelei then switches back to taunting, this time about Sif’s unrequited love for Thor. The two of them then become locked in the hexroom for their fight, which is good news for SHIELD’s general aircraft repair bills.

Sif and Lorelei fight. May and Ward fight. Simmons and Coulson stop Fitz from unlocking the hexroom and knock him out. “He’s always getting knocked out isn’t he,” says Simmons. Well, Jemma, he’s no Simon Tam. Ward pins May in his gunsights. Sif pins Lorelei, Lorelei tries to convince Sif to kill her instead of imprisoning her again. Sif says she’d like to, but again, duty calls. Turns out Sif’s so mad because Lorelei seduced Thor, presumably to lead that 600 year old army. This is an entirely predictable reveal. Sif claps the collar on her, Ward wakes up, and May slugs him one anyway.

Denoument! Sif apologizes for damaging their “flying boat.” Coulson remarks that it must have been hard for her to get past all her personal feelings about bad stuff that the episode didn’t show him hearing about. She talks to him about the necessity of code following. Coulson tells May that she should talk to Ward about their relationship problems, and while I do think they have some relationship problems, Ward “cheating” on her while being raped-by-mind-control should not be one of them. A more general lack of communication is one. There are some poor implications in their relationship problems coming to a head with this episode, but frankly it’s the least of the episode’s problems. May tells Coulson to take his own advice, that maybe she can’t know what he saw in the Guest House, but since Skye took the drug, she at least deserves to know what he saw. In her small room that she’s not allowed to leave.

Ward visits May in the cockpit and she says he didn’t hurt her just before she breaks up with him. And I believe her. She tells him that he should face his feelings for whichever SHIELD lady he actually has his romantic eye on, obviously Skye, unless the show is a lot more interested in being tricky than I gave it credit for. Frankly, I find the coworker dynamic of Skye/Ward a lot more problematic than May/Ward, but that’s a discussion for when/if it actually happens.

Coulson tells Skye that the drug appeared to be derived from alien origin and apologizes for allowing her to be injected with it. “So what,” she says. He had it like a year ago and he’s fine. Coulson unleashes my favorite line about Skye yet: “I know nothing phases you, but this should faze you.” She points out that at least they’re in the dark together. This is all the better for his new super secret intense mission of destroying Director Fury and not telling the rest of the team about it to keep them safe. To be fair, Coulson says they’re going after “the person responsible for this” in order to make “him” pay, but the subtext is pretty clear.

Stinger: ONOES there’s a bug in Skye’s med pod and May was listening in and she calls an encrypted line to report that Coulson knows.

A couple notes on overall plot development before I get down to this episode’s specific problems. Wow, what is so crazy about the Guest House alien that SHIELD doesn’t care whether Coulson knows about how his own employer tortured him with electric memory replacing robots, but May will report on him finding out about an alien. Also, if we remember our Thor: The Dark World twist ending, it will be interesting to see if the next Thor movie decides to run with the possibility, established in this episode, that recapturing Lorelei might be part of a Loki scheme. In comics, the two were often lovers and cooperators, so we’ll have to see.

And now back to “Yes Men.”

Man, I didn’t think I would have another episode I just want to forget ever happened as badly as “Repairs” so soon. Not even Jaimie Alexander herself could save this one. Why did we choose a villain who represents a sexist (the idea that men are specially weak against their own lust is an idea that hurts both men and women) cliche to pit against the closest thing the setting has to a super powered female lead character (so far)? Why did we have to justify the presence of a female hero with a villain that only women can properly fight? I wonder if the guest star had been Rhodey, Fandral, or Volstagg whether the episode would have needed to establish why only they were ordered to bring back the prisoner.

Is the problem that Lorelei is such a dumb trope, a villain whose powers are only a credible threat in a society where men fight and women don’t? Or is it that SHIELD isn’t doing anything interesting with her? Men have an “inherent weakness” that Lorelei exploits, and her powers make them slaves to their lust for her. Why, men having a natural lust that they cannot control (and one that can force them to abuse their female loved ones), that’s not at all a basic tenet of rape culture. That’s really my primary problem with this episode, not that Lorelei is kinda sexist, but that she was sexist in such a boring, obvious, easily noticeable and avoidable way. Here, let me rewrite this so that it’s not incredibly cliché.

Lorelei’s power affects anyone who could be sexually attracted to her, straight, gay, bi, whatever. Keep nearly everything else in the episode the same: keep Lorelei’s line about how she’s bested Sif before, keep Sif’s chat with May about how people who are ensorcelled by Lorelei are entirely different, keep Lorelei’s taunts about how Sif is betraying her own heart by bringing her back to prison, and even keep her references to Sif loving Thor, as audience misdirection and accuracy to comics.

But instead of the completely expected “reveal” that Sif hates Lorelei for seducing Thor and would rather kill her than bring her to justice, have Lorelei taunt Sif with memories of their own happy time as lovers. Then twist again with Sif’s counter: she stopped loving Lorelei the moment her ambitions revealed themselves, but there was no hate in her heart until Lorelei used magic to twist her lover into becoming the champion-general of her evil army. Why can’t Lorelei mind control Sif anymore? Because Sif hates her so much. But she won’t kill her, because she loves her duty as a warrior of Asgard more.

Oh, and instead of making Rooster choke his own wife to death, Lorelei simply seduces her, too.

There, now we have a story that sheds some of its rape culture underpinnings, acknowledges that its villain’s powers are an analogy for abuse, and then has a victim triumph over their abuser internally and externally. A perfect fix? No, considering that demonizing same-sex relationships its its own trend. But at least it’s not a predictable plot predicated almost entirely on the absolutely ancient trope of a sexy lady who is evil because she causes men to stray and makes women fight her for them. It is surely not a coincidence that though the majority of the characters Lorelei mind controls in this episode were made up just for this story, and yet they all happen to be men who are in established relationships.

And don’t tell me that Lorelei is a classic villain, just the product of another era and there are lots of silly/offensive villains from then and there’s nothing we can do about it, because then I will have to assume that you have never appreciated the masterfully reimagined villains of say, incredibly popular cartoon show Batman: The Animated Series or 5th highest grossing movie in the world Iron Man 3.

We’ve got another break from new SHIELD episodes next week, in order to air a bunch of Marvel sneak peeks, but man, Agents of SHIELD, if this episode doesn’t make me want to start counting down the episodes until your season is over.

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