The second season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. saw some huge shifts in the series, not just in quality, but in plot elements that would fundamentally change the show for the rest of its life. Here we attempt to pick out the five best episodes of the season, episodes that weren’t just well made, but that stood out as game changers.
5. Episode 15 – ‘One Door Closes’
After the reveal earlier in the season that Mack (Henry Simmons) and Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) were secretly working for another branch of S.H.I.E.L.D., one that’s working against Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his people, ‘One Door Coses’ not only fills in a lot of this backstory but pits the two teams against each other.
The flashbacks to the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. during the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier are great and really show that these aren’t a group of villains, but people that are just as dedicated to what S.H.I.E.L.D. stands for as the heroes. The inclusion of Isabelle Hartley (Lucy Lawless) is a nice nod to the beginning of the season, but also means that Battlestar Galactica fans have the added pleasure of seeing her on screen with Edward James Olmos once again.
The episode is filled with intrigue and action; it moves the plot forward in an exciting way and fleshes out the backstory of not just some of this season’s new characters, but the Universe as a whole. The fact that the ‘heroes’ essentially lose by the end of it just makes it even more exciting.
4. Episode 17 – ‘Melinda’
This episode might not have had too many huge action set pieces, but managed to pack in a lot of character moments and shed some light onto one of the more mysterious members of the main cast.
In Afterlife, Skye (Chloe Bennet) learns that Jiaying (Dichen Lachman) is her mother. Whilst this had already been revealed to the audience, it was something of a surprise that this was shared with Skye so quickly. It’s normally the kind of thing a series would drag out for a number of episodes, keeping the main character in the dark. The fact that it was so quickly revealed to Skye highlights that the show runners may have listened to some of the criticisms about slow pacing during the first season.
However, the best part of the episode is the focus on Melinda May’s (Ming-Na Wen). Specifically, how she came to earn the nickname ‘the cavalry’. Despite some misleads in earlier episodes, we were told that she rescued an entire S.H.I.E.L.D. team on her own, but the details were more than a little vague. Here we discover that she not only came up against an InHuman with mind control abilities, but had to kill them to eliminate the threat. The biggest problem, however, is that the InHuman was just a child.
The revelation that May had to kill a child is devastating, particularly as we get to see how fun and full of life she was before it happened. It makes the change in May all the more sad and adds a whole lot of depth to one of the characters we knew the least about.
3. Episode 21 and 22 – ‘S.O.S.’
The two part finale (I know it’s two episodes so this is a bit of a cheat) manages to not only meet the expectations built up over the course of the season, but beats the previous season’s finale.
‘S.O.S.’ sees a lot of changes going forward, not least of all due to several characters being killed off or leaving the series through other capacities. After all of her changes and the ups and downs of her journey it’s genuinely sad to see Raina (Ruth Negga) die, though the fact that she did it knowing that she was going to her death but that it would help Skye see the truth about her mother was something of a noble end for her.
Jiaying and Cal (Kyle MacLachlan) each get a fitting end, with Jiaying dying at the hands of her husband in order to save their daughter, and Cal being given a new life as a reward. The reveal that Jiaying was the true monster, simply manipulating Cal, was a stroke of genius and meant that the ends for both characters feels incredibly satisfying and well earned.
Outside of the character moments the episode packs in the action with Coulson and his team fighting their way through the InHuman forces across the aircraft carrier. Not only do we get some great, great fight sequences, but some pretty cool super-powered battles too. Plus, Mack’s comments to Gordon (Jamie Harris) still remain some of my all time favourites:
Mack: It’s Gordon, right?
Gordon: And you are?
Mack: I’m the guy that kills Gordon.
Ward (Bret Dalton) also manages to get some good development. His path for revenge is clearly laid out for season three. The brutal torture of Bobbi, as well as the tragic death of Agent 33 (Maya Stojan), puts to rest any possibility of a redemption for the character.
The introduction of the Secret Warriors programme at the end of the episode and Coulson losing his arm certainly sets some interesting elements up for the coming third season.
2. Episode 19 – ‘The Dirty Half Dozen’
After almost two seasons we say goodbye to the Bus. Thankfully, the team’s original base of operations goes down in a blaze of glory as the original team come together once again, including Ward, as they assault a Hydra facility.
The first time that we’ve seen the whole of the original team together since the first season, this episode goes a long way towards showing how much these characters have changed over a relatively short period. The fact that it’s Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) who set out to kill Ward during the assault was a surprising, if not unpleasant, turn of events.
The highlight, however, is getting to see Skye in all of her secret agent glory in one of the best action sequences the series has given the audience to date. Filmed in one continuous shot, Skye dodges and weaves her way through the room, taking down Hydra agents in hand to hand combat, using guns and even utilising her powers. It’s hugely impressive and shows that Skye has gone from a hacker that couldn’t throw a punch to an agent that could fight alongside some of the best in the MCU.
There might not be a huge amount that happens in this episode, but the first season team coming back together, and some great action makes this an absolute standout.
1. Episode 10 ‘What They Become’
There are a number of big, game changing episodes across the seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the first being the reveal that Hydra has infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. and the destruction of the agency, but the most surprising comes in ‘What They Become’.
Bringing to a close the mystery of the hidden alien city, the episode officially introduces the InHumans to the universe when Skye, revealed to actually be the comic book character Daisy Johnson, is transformed and given superpowers. The scene is hugely dramatic, not least because it sees the shocking death of Agent Triplet (B.J. Britt). Whilst we didn’t know Trip for long the death feels so pointless and throwaway that it makes it all the more tragic.
The episode showcases a lot of Skye’s father Cal too, having MacLachlan go through a huge range of emotions, including dorky father and ruthless killer. The scenes with him and Coulson are great, and showcase how good both actors are, especially when their characters both have Skye’s best interests at heart.
Whilst the episode concluded many of the story elements introduced in the early parts of the season, answering the mystery of the city, as well as killing Daniel Whitehall (Reed Diamond), the introduction of super powered people and Ward still out in the world meant that this felt like the start of something bigger rather than the end of certain chapters.