This week, Professa delves into pop culture and the ever-expanding world of Marvel cinema and television.
On Tuesday night ABC made a switch between the first two forays into television for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), as the first season of Agent Carter ended and the second half of the second season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. began in the same timeslot. As I’ve previously written, I’m a fan of just about the entire MCU (parts of Thor(s) and Iron Man 3 notwithstanding..) and I’ve stuck with AoS since its beginning, fascinated by Marvel’s efforts to use a television show to fill in and connect the disparate movie volumes of their franchise. Using a somewhat innocuous back-network from the comic books in S.H.I.E.L.D. meant they could expand the MCU without needing a summer blockbuster to do it and for all its early missteps and critics I think the show has done a good job of staying true to the framework it set up for itself. It is a model quickly being replicated by rival comic giant DC in Arrow and The Flash which could presumably connect with their own upcoming super-team cinematic franchise in the Justice League (though with two different Flashes who knows exactly what their plan is…). Agent Carter‘s first season made further connections with the earlier decades of the MCU, specifically the Captain America films and the hero’s former love, Agent Peggy Carter, as well as a few appearances by his team, the Howling Commandos. We also get a look at the history of franchise player Tony Stark through his father Howard, a fan favorite as played by Dominic Cooper. As featured in the Agent Carter Marvel One Shot (which you can watch below), Peggy goes on to be a founding member of S.H.I.E.L.D. with Howard Stark and though the Season One finale “Valediction” doesn’t bring us quite to this point and it remains to be seen if there will even be a Season Two of the show, there are some indications that as far as the MCU development we aren’t far away from the organization’s inception or that of its nemesis HYDRA.
In the films, the now famous post-credits scenes gave the first hints that these characters were all part of the same universe. When AoS began, they promoted with the hashtag #ItsAllConnected and featured a few guest appearances and mentions. Thor: the Dark World and Captain America: Winter Soldier were both released during the show’s first season, allowing for interesting tie-ins hinged around the films’ opening weekends. Winter Soldier was the more important connection as the themes that would go on to define the Avengers storylines – abuse of power, the role of superheroes in the world, how much control is too much – as well as the beginning of the dismantling of S.H.I.E.L.D. from within by HYDRA were key to that movie’s plot. As we look ahead to the Civil War storyline coming our way in the next few years of films, these themes will reach culmination and the organization that’s gained its own identity on television becomes somewhat indispensable (there are even rumors of AoS crossovers in May’s Avengers: Age of Ultron). With Agent Carter, the Marvel brains have built the backstory to that quarrel, exploring the forces that would give rise to such a clandestine government organization, what would necessitate it and how it was formed. In true MCU form, the biggest inter-connection and perhaps the show’s greatest stroke came in the final moments of the last episode as Arnim Zola, a main antagonist in both Captain America films emerges from the jail cell shadows (“out of the shadows, into the light..”). It is a critical moment as the mind control/brainwashing techniques that are central to HYDRA are explained as originating with Dr. Faustus/Fennhoff. It is a moment that links the show, already firmly connected with the existing events of the MCU, with what is still yet to unfold. Per delivery from Jarvis, Carter is also still the possessor of Captain America’s super soldier blood, a MacGuffin that drove the last half of the season and will likely resurface in Season 2 or in an AoS flashback.
–WARNING: INCREASE IN SPOILER LEVEL AHEAD—
Just a notice: I’ll be discussing things from the most recent AoS episode, so if you haven’t yet seen it, you may want to turn back now…
Ok, now onward.
As one show concluded another re-commenced, with a number of connections of its own to be explored. Obviously looming largest from the first half finale of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was the revelation that Skye was actually a character from the comics, Daisy Johnson aka Quake, daughter of Mister Hyde and not entirely human. Her Terrigen Mist transformation has already been highly touted as the lead-in to the 2019 movie The Inhumans, so what other possible connections emerged in last night’s episode?
Raina likewise experienced a Terrigenesis transformation, with only a small hint peaking through in the finale. Which Inhuman has Raina become? That will certainly be a plot development through the season as she is guided by the Man With No Eyes (more on him in a moment) but the interwebs are alive with speculation. There are two main theories, each with their own merit. The first is that she is actually Raina, a resident of the Savage Land possessing superhuman strength, agility, and durability (such as taking two gunshots) as well as fangs and claws. While her on-screen appearance doesn’t really jive with the reptilian Raina from Uncanny X-Men, many other aspects fit and it would certainly be an awesome move for the showrunners to have given us her name straight from the beginning. The other popular theory is that she is the MCU-version of Naja, also somewhat reptilian in nature, with fangs, claws and even a tail who possesses the ability of flight and even invisibility. More importantly, she is an active character in the newest iteration of the Inhuman comics and as a Nuhuman in the original material her transformation and discovery by the existing Inhumans would be a logical follow on the tv show.
Speaking of Inhumans…who is the Man With No Eyes? He was first seen in last half season’s finale with his awareness of Skye and Raina’s transformation. In this past week’s opener he’s revealed to be a child named Gordon raised by Jiaying (Skye’s mother) and “shown the way” by her after his Terrigenesis transformation as a teenager. His repetition of the “showing the way” concept as he rescues Raina from her suicide attempt makes it clear that he has taken up the same guide mantel. One of the prevalent theories on the interwebs is that he’s The Reader. Part of his mission in the comics is the gathering of new Inhumans (not always for good), and, oh yeah, they’re both blind. Whether that places him and those he represents (Ennilux Corporation?) as heroes or villains as the show progresses remains to be seen. The excitement is more important as real, actual Inhumans, along with some explanation of their origins are becoming part of AoS, a 4-year lead-in to the Inhumans feature film. PLUS Fitz said the goddamn word in fantastic, cheesy, Whedon-mugging fashion:
Fitz: Your heartrate was recorded at almost 300 bpm.
Skye: That’s very fast.
Fitz: No. That’s Inhuman.
They could reveal new members of the Inhumans as the season goes on and it would seem that we will encounter whomever he was speaking to on the phone. But it’s a long time until the movie so I would wager that big reveals like Black Bolt or other royal family members will wait until a little further down the road.
Last night’s episode also laid the groundwork for a few other MCU connected plotlines. Firstly, we begin to see hints of what will become the Civil War storyline, as heroes choose sides in a tug-of-war over the right actions to take towards folks with special powers and abilities (Avengers, aliens, Inhumans, etc.). Simmons nearly single-handedly introduces the debate as she talks about “eradication” with Skye, while Skye (admittedly-biased) holds to a larger worldview that now includes those non-humans as facts of life.
Meanwhile Bobbi Morse and Mac seem to be secretly planning some kind of subversion, though it’s presented too openly to actually be HYDRA or another evil in my opinion. My first thought was that they were working for Fury, with the line about his toolbox meant to mislead, i.e., they are actually retrieving it or its contents on Fury’s orders. But further consideration and a little online forum reading has me thinking they’re working for Maria Hill, who is working for Tony Stark (as shown at the end of Iron Man 3). Together they are working on an initiative to defend against supernatural and/or extraterrestrial forces, again a lead-in to the Civil War. The other theory that I thought interesting and not at all mutually exclusive to the above was that they could be the beginnings of SWORD, a clandestine section of SHIELD meant for the purpose specifically outlined above. It’s Mac’s fiery passion on the subject (though admittedly alien-brain influenced) that pushes me in this direction, as he’s worried like Simmons about the dangers associated with messing with alien technology and/or DNA.
The final probable link to the outside MCU comes with the HYDRA assassination and the reveal earlier in the episode that Baron von Strucker is the “real leader” of the organization. With Coulson devising a Mafia-style plan for taking out HYDRA’s other heads, the path would seem clear for the Baron to become a central antagonist. Featured in the post-credits scene for Winter Soldier with his “miracle” creations, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, it would seem this tie-in to Age of Ultron is definite as the latter two characters are known to play heavily in the Avengers sequel. All in all, last night’s episode brought a whole lot to the table for the MCU, hinting in various directions at future connections and giving just enough information about the characters’ transformations to inspire feverish fan speculation.
In what’s called “Phase Three” of the MCU, the creative minds behind the inter-connected universe will be looking to pivot from the existing, successful characters that make up the Avengers franchise to other, often lesser-known entities (Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther, The Inhumans) while maintaining the basic tenets associated with the previous films’ success. The possibility that any or all of Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, or Thor could be dead and/or replaced by 2019 is very real, a key piece of the cinematic success plan with stories based in comic book canon. What role will their television counterparts take as the heroes take sides and what further connections will they find as the players change? We’ll just have to watch and see.