There are thousands of desperate people at the borders of Central European countries. In America, we are debating about our border crossing with Mexico and the long-time immigrants, both legal and illegal, who have adopted America, even if America hasn’t accepted all of them. Many still call them aliens.
In the season premiere of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., aliens were also a growing problem for America, but they were real alien hybrids, and they weren’t hiding. They were scared, they were aggressive, and they weren’t asking for green cards. In the Marvel Universe, the US government has created a new agency to deal with the alien threat. Known as the ACTU, or Advanced Threat Containment Unit, it seems containment means death and dissection. With S.H.I.E.L.D. kind of officially defunct, who will protect the world? (Although for a defunct agency, S.H.I.E.L.D. seems to still be funded enough to build really big, multimillion-dollar airplanes.)
Aliens. Well, according to Marvel, Inhumans are aliens with attitude who self-classify as Inhumans. Inhumans first appeared in 1965’s Fantastic Four #45. They possess a dormant gene sequence planted or inherited by the Kree race when they visited earth millions of years ago. Mix a little Kree compound with this sequence, and the gene expresses itself, creating a wide range of powers in those who transform.
At the end of season two, a briefcase full of Kree crystals hit the ocean floor and opened (“S.O.S.” [2.23]), distributing the Kree chemical trigger throughout the seafood supply. The opening scene of the show focuses in on fish oil, just as did the final scene of season tro. Costco sells several types of fish oil, as does Walmart, giving one the sense of how plentiful is the supply, and how widespread the potential transformations. A computer simulation run by S.H.I.E.L.D. shows that every corner of the world will be affected within weeks. Seemingly for humane reasons, those writing the show included a caveat that the deadly part of the crystals, the part that killed regular humans and took Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) hand before Mac (Henry Simmons) cut it off, has been disabled by the watery distribution.
In the comic books, Inhumans were the result of Kree experiments focused on learning how to reignite their own evolution, and ultimately aimed at the creation of an army to fight in their war against the Skrull. An Inhuman society, complete with royalty and royal intrigue, existed hidden from normal humans throughout history. While the Kree experiment storyline was later dropped, this abandonment wasn’t well-documented even among the Marvel literati. In the Marvel cinematic universe, it seems a much more recent occurrence, although one with a history that predates the movies.
Toward the end of episode, we meet the Inhuman known as Lash (Matthew Willig), who isn’t named, but Marvelites know who he is. He would fit well among the immune movement in the world of series The Last Ship, about a group who seeks to create an immune supremacy following a fictional plague. If his characterization is similar to that of the comics, we are see an Inhuman elitist interested in stopping lesser, undeserving Inhumans from surviving, representing another variable in a war with many variables.
With all of these elements in play, season three of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. starts with a bang. Everybody is gruffer and tougher, and seemingly cooler, at least those who are there. Jemma (Elizabeth Henstridge) remains in a rock, or so we think for most of the episode. Agent May (Ming-Na Wen) is seemingly AWOL. Fitz’s (Iain de Caestecker) brain injury has apparently stabilized, and he stands up to an ISIS clone to gain information. Coulson had has gone all Luke Skywalker (I wonder if the two stars ever exchange appliances on the lot?) and Daisy (aka Skye and eventually Quake) has become one badass Inhuman – with all-new, all-leather outfits.
As for the ending: It seems the Kree rock that swallowed Jemma is a portal or wormhole. In the final scene of the episode, Jemma appears, being chased on an alien planet in a very odd orbit. We don’t know where, although the ground seems to having healing powers. While it could be a virtual reality hologram inside the rock, I’m going with the concept that she’s actually somewhere else.
The big deal in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. this season appears to be superheroes and supervillans: a lot of them, and more every minute. Perhaps for the first time, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. viewers are no longer on the edge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe looking in at a side story; this show is now a critical path narrative leading to big film in the future. The only a question is whether viewers will keep watching until the 2019 release of The Inhumans.
In many ways, Inhumans differ little from Captain America, the Hulk, or the Fantastic Four (although they do differ in having Disney and Mutant Enemy produce their stories and therefore actually having good scripts and great effects). They are modified humans with a range of powers who, as Spock might say, “perform each to their abilities.” The tight coupling with the Marvel Cinematic Universe creates a mythic foundation for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that much of Season one lacked.
Both Marvel and DC comics started as ventures for Jewish immigrants who were known as “the other” in their time. As good literature does, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. creates a lens that can help viewers reflect on our own moment in history. If so, perhaps we may realize that we face not a threat from the immigrants of Mexico, Syria, and Iraq, but an opportunity to leverage their unique perspectives and capabilities — a chance to bring them closer so we can share our humanity. That seems to be S.H.I.E.L.D.’s approach. Unfortunately, the writers know all too well the status quo protections taken by governments; that storyline will clearly create key conflicts for the new season. It will be interesting to see how the 2016 presidential campaigns line up with the lessons learned in Marvel’s fictional world.
Now, somebody get on the damn phone to Thor and let’s save Jemma!