Agents of SHIELD Recap: “Girl in the Flower Dress”

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In which a Hong Kong street performer gets fed up.

The street performer is Renshu Tseng, our POC guest star who will only last one episode. Hey, when four out of five episodes meet that criteria, I get to make jokes about it. He’s fed up with the folks who think his magic tricks are fake (they are) and shows them his real superpower: pyrokenesis. (Also the ability to not be burnt, but I get ahead of myself.) He doesn’t have actual magic, though, and I know I shouldn’t be disappointed but I am. You’re gonna have to have real magic eventually, Marvel Entertainment. You’re not going to be able to pass off Doctor Strange as “sufficiently advanced technology” like you are the Asgardians.

Anyway, his brief pyrotechnics display appears to make a mysterious woman in a flower print dress (the awaited debut of Ruth Negga) become interested in him. She wants to know how he did it, so they go back to his place. He developed the ability to summon and control fire a few years ago when everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked, and he’s a frustrated starving artist who has been told by ominous “people” to keep his abilities under wraps. Needless to say, Ruth Negga, or Raina, tells him he has a gift and then has him carted away by men in silver fireproof beekeeper outfits because she’s eeeeevil.

On the Bus, Ward and Skye are playing battleship and eating pretzels and I mention this only because I’d like to add that I’ve been very impressed with the Bus’ strategic snack reserves. Perhaps its design was stolen from Irken technology

Thus ends what is probably the most obscure reference I will make in this recap.

Melinda and Coulson chat about how he doesn’t seem to be sleeping much, he protests that he just has “a little energy to burn.” She says she can lay out the mats if he wants and they can spar like the old days. Melinda and Coulson have old days. I ‘ship it. I am also going to assume that the writers know that every time Coulson talks about being different since New York every audience member’s eyebrows hit the roof, and they’re enjoying it.

They stop talking because it’s time for everybody to stand around the Microsoft Surface and talk about their new mission. SHIELD has become aware that Tseng is missing, and the reason they know about him is because he was on The Index, a presumed list and subprogram of caseworkers or “case agents” who keep track of people who have superpowers and keep them from becoming too visible. Coulson says it’s “for their protection,” Skye is rightfully, I think, creeped out by this. They know Tseng was abducted from his apartment because he managed to tear one the badguys’ hazmat suits and fabric was left behind.

But more importantly, Tseng’s case agent relates, they know how he was found by bad people: Tseng’s information on SHIELD China’s servers was hacked, stolen, and released by the Rising Tide. Everybody gets pretty peeved and Skye attempts to explain to Ward and Coulson that the Rising Tide is a large organization and it could have been nearly anyone who hacked them. It definitely wasn’t her, and she’ll trace the hack to prove it. The hack traces to Austin, Texas, and a ludicrously handsome super hacker named Miles Lydo.

And yes, I do find his handsomeness more absurd than Skye’s fashion sense and well coiffed hair for reasons that are too long to get in here but boil down to how women are expected and usually instructed on how to be more put together, clean, and personal-appearance-conscious than men even in a field of work where physical appearance and dressing to impress are not prioritized.

But I digress. The team attempts to chase down Miles but he escapes using Teh Haxxor Trix only to find Skye waiting for him, alone, in his apartment; the show finally turning over the “Skye has ulterior motives” card that’s been sitting on the table for most of the season so far. It turns out she tipped him off that SHIELD was on their way because he’s her hacker sensei and lover/former lover, but that doesn’t mean she’s not incredibly pissed that he endangered her by hacking SHIELD in a way traceable to the Rising Tide while he knew she was working them from the inside. Then they bang, even though one of the first things Skye said when he walked in was “I don’t have much time,” and I’m just super bored. SHIELD, you are an ensemble cast, not the Skye and Ward Sometimes Show. By episode five, there should be a better balance of character focus. For all the hints you’ve been dropping, we are overdue for an episode on May, and Fitz/Simmons are still basically interchangeable as characters.

Post bang, Skye and Miles argue about how much of an idiot he is and talk vaguely about the hidden memory card she shoved in her bra in the pilot and still has around. He says he’s really sorry for being a really huge idiot who could have gotten her DISAPPEARED BY A CLANDESTINE GOVERNMENT AGENCY WITH ALIEN TECHNOLOGY. He offers to help her with whatever she’s doing with the information on the card, but DOY, then they’d have to communicate and that would likely also blow her cover.

But it’s okay, because her cover is already blown and May busts them and I’m so glad that we have other characters to talk to for a while now. Coulson is about as POed as he’s been on the show so far about her tipping off an active suspect, and despite her protests he has no way of knowing if she was tipping him off because he’s a friend and not a collaborator, because he knows she’s lied to him before. She’s cuffed and the rest of the team is variably angry and sad that she betrayed them.

I’m not sure how the show wants us to feel here. Fitz gets all “how could she betray us :( :( :'(” But like, dude, she’s a hacker whose whole deal is freedom of information and individual privacy. SHIELD is a clandestine international government organization with nebulous jurisdiction and a bunch of technology you don’t let anyone else have which you use to keep a lid on emerging technology, to zip in and out of Peruvian war zones to get your job done without any thought spared for the political situation, and to surveil innocent people who have the misfortune of having a superpower that isn’t super enough for them to say “fuck you” to SHIELD like Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, and Thor. There are plenty of reasons why she might want to betray you.

Oh, I forgot, your agency also almost nuked New York City.

Like I said, I’m honestly not sure how the episode wanted me to feel about the rest of the team being angry at Skye. The show has presented pretty equal upsides and downsides to SHIELD as a program, which I like, but it means that I can’t really agree or disagree with either side of the Skye/everyone else dilemma I was presented with.

They take Skye and Miles back to the bus.

Oh, right, there’s also Tseng and the flower lady! Basicaly she convinces/manipulates him into submitting to their tests, through which she says she can increase is abilities so that his will gain fame and recognition under the new identity of “Scorch” that he can’t get under the stifling control of SHIELD. They shoot him full of a drug that will allow him to produce larger fireballs until it wears off, which everybody should recognize as a recurring plot element from the first episode. The power clearly goes to his head.

May and Coulson discuss I Told You So’s over Skye, Coulson thinks she’s still hiding something, which, of course, she is. Miles and Skye argue his idealism vs. her actual lived experience of SHIELD while the SSibs look through his stuff, finding that he didn’t hack Tseng’s information because he believed that it should be publicly available, he did it because he was paid lots of money (Skye gets even angrier) by a girl in a flower dress who told him he had a gift. Does Miles know that women can wear more than one dress or do we just want to get the episode title in? I mean, he even says he investigated her, so you’d think that would mean that he got a name or something.

Speaking of, in his investigation he apparently found out that she worked for a place called Centipede and inferred from that and only that that it was a company that was studying bugs, because Google works only in large number mathematics and ING is an etymological research firm. This guy just seems like the brightest of bulbs. I can only assume that he can blow up the Hoover Dam by hacking it or something because otherwise he’s really not coming off as a guy who taught anyone everything about anything, much less who Skye learned her computer skills from.

But now that we’ve named dropped Centipede, on cue we return to Raina talking with the pretty white lady damsel who turned out to be an evil scientist in the first episode whose name is apparently Debbie. They talk about Tseng’s unique biology for a bit and then ominously decided to “drain him” and he gets drugged by some pretty absurd looking surprise gas vents. When he wakes up, and frankly I’m not sure why they’d ever allow him to regain consciousness after this point, he’s tied down and is having his blood platelets removed and packaged for distribution. His platelets are what make him fire proof, they’re why he doesn’t burn himself when he creates fire, and they’re the last ingredient in keeping the Extremis/Gamma radiation/Asgardian DNA/Super soldier serum cocktail from the first episode from making its subjects explode. Centipede is going to milk him for them forever and he’s doomed.

Our SHIELD team gets ready to invade the Centpede lab with the help of SHIELD China, Coulson leaves Ward in the Bus with Skye and Miles and the SSibs. Building’s are penetrated, butts are kicked, and they reach Tseng easily. But then a scientist locks down the building and Tseng decides that he doesn’t want to be beholden to anybody any more and starts burning folks regardless of the damage he’s doing to his own body without any platelets and Coulson and May get pinned down by “Scorch.” “Ah crap,” grouses Coulson, “they gave him a name.”

Coulson calls Ward to get Skye to hack the building’s lockdown system open so they won’t die, but Skye says they can only do that from the building itself and as they get ready to go Miles drops a reference to Seal Team 6 which just opens up a giant box of questions. Primarily: Why, in a universe with not just Iron Man and Captain America but also War Machine, did we wind up sending Navy Seals in to kill Osama Bin Laden? Was Seal Team 6 the cover story for superhero action?

Raina reveals a loss her in confidence in Debbie (can we get some last names for the lady bad guys soon, maybe?) as they make their getaway with a haul of frozen platelets, and I do love that this tense scene between the two most powerful and organized villains in the show yet involves only women.

Onsite, Skye manages to get the building unlocked, and Tseng goes after Debbie and Raina so they rendezvous with Coulson and May. Tsung gets just enough time to burn Debbie, abandoned by Raina so that she could make her escape, to a crisp. He’s looking pretty crispy too, though his clothes are still pretty much intact because I guess we only had so much burn makeup money. Coulson approaches and distracts him so that May can shoot him full of Extremis, and then Miles, who I guess is the only one who can do this, selectively locks parts of the building as Coulson requested a few minutes ago in order to vent Tseng’s explosion relatively safely out of the top of the building. Our heroes, who just killed a man who may not have been so easily manipulatable into “evil” if they hadn’t interfered with his life, escape.

“You can’t save someone from themselves, sir,” Agent “Everything is Black and White” Ward tells his superior officer, who responds “you can if you get to them early enough,” and the episode has him look at Skye a little to pointedly.

In the denouement, Coulson offers Miles jail or a small box. He chooses the box, i.e., a bracelet that will give SHIELD information on his whereabouts, will prevent him from using electronic devices, and report if he does anything illegal. Then he strands him in China and donates the money he got for leaking Tseng’s information to the family of a SHIELD officer who died in the operation. Right. A government organization stranded an American citizen in China with no money, no ID, and a prohibition to do anything illegal or use any electronic device. Miles, you should have taken jail, because I bet SHIELD’s got a better set up than the Chinese illegal immigration forces. Sure, Miles is an idiot, but stranding him in Hong Kong is a patently ridiculous thing for Cousin to do to him as punishment.

May and Ward give Skye the cold shoulder as she heads upstairs on the Bus for a talking to from her SHIELD dad. Coulson tells her to either tell him what she is still hiding or “I’m done with you,” so you better tell him Skye or he might strand you as a penniless illegal immigrant in a country accused of numerous human rights violations as well. Skye hands over her secret memory card to reveal all the data she has ever been able to find on her mysterious parents. The best lead she has ever been able to find is an almost completely redacted SHIELD document, which was her motivation both for learning to infiltrate digital systems and for infiltrating the SHIELD physically. He looks at the information, tells her she might not like what she finds, but offers to help anyway. In the meantime, though, she has to wear a bracelet just like Miles.

The Stinger: Raina and a guy in prison talk ominously about how their “other problems” have resurfaced, stage two and three, “the Clairvoyant,” and “getting our toy soldiers off the shelf” in a way that we are undoubtably not supposed to understand yet.

All in all, I was bored by yet another episode focusing on Skye (I still don’t hate her character, I just want to see more of anyone else), particularly the completely unnecessary “sex scene,” but I’m interested to see growth from her as she tries to repair her relationships with the other members of the team. Skye’s betrayal wasn’t uninteresting to me simply because I want a break from her as the character focus of the episode: the show has simply presented SHIELD in a grey light often enough that I honestly didn’t feel like she’d done much wrong. I’m beginning to wonder if perhaps the show isn’t as aware of how SHIELD comes off as I thought. Well, at least this episode didn’t have a reference to seduction as a lady spy technique. The four episode streak of subverted but still present references to the trope was beginning to seem a bit weird.

Previously in Agents of SHIELD Recaps

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Susana Polo
Susana Polo thought she'd get her Creative Writing degree from Oberlin, work a crap job, and fake it until she made it into comics. Instead she stumbled into a great job: founding and running this very website (she's Editor at Large now, very fancy). She's spoken at events like Geek Girl Con, New York Comic Con, and Comic Book City Con, wants to get a Batwoman tattoo and write a graphic novel, and one of her canine teeth is in backwards.