I’m not sure if tonight’s episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. answered more questions about Melinda May than it posed new ones, but it was great to see the character showcased, albeit in an indirect way. I actually wonder if we’ll ever get a front-and-center look at May, or if the series will intentionally force us to constantly see her from the vantage point of other characters. In some ways, it wouldn’t be so bad to keep her cloaked in mystery. But I want to know more! Let me into her head!
Tonight’s episode, “Repairs,” comes from series co-creators Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon, and proved to be a bit trickier than I anticipated. I’m also a little bit confused by the outcome of this week’s big bad but we’ll get to that.
It didn't look like the episode would be especially Melinda focused from the start. That kind of snuck up on me, which actually isn't a bad thing. Earlier in the episode, Fitz and Simmons were talking about how they never got to play any pranks on freshman when they were at S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy — or S.H.I.E.L.D. Hogwarts, as Skye refers to it — so they decided to play a prank on her during tonight’s episode. But the joke was on us, as the prank we were made to think was the prank was actually not really a prank. That is, assuming I'm not alone in believing the "Cavalry" story was a prank pretty much until the real prank emerged. I had my doubts at certain points, I'll admit, but the real gasp didn't come until that mop popped out of the closet. We're getting a head of ourselves here...
While transporting Hannah -- a woman suspected to have uncontrolled kinetic abilities -- to “the fridge” via SHIELD plane Skye asked Fitz-Simmons why May was called the Cavalry, there was a mischievous glint in their eyes as they responded with some outlandish story about how May stormed into a hostile situation on horseback, guns blazing and killed a hundred mercenaries to save some S.H.I.E.L.D. agents that had been taken hostage. The story seemed too far-fetched to be real, but the idea that they’d play a prank that involved May seemed kind of poor-timing at that point, as they were mid-mission when they told this story to Skye, and May was under Coulson’s watchful eye after she took a shoot-first (with a tranquilizer) approach to detaining the girl in custody.
Ward corrected the story later when Skye brought it up, which made it seem like he was in on the prank. And then Coulson corrected it again later on. By that point, the mission was headed south, as Hannah’s supposed kinetic abilities were actually the doing of a ghost(ish?) named Tobias who died during an accident at Hannah’s job — one of numerous recent disasters surrounding Hannah, believed to be connected to the abilities she doesn’t have. Tobias was flitting in and out like a ghost, messing with the agents on the plane, and messing with the plane itself, causing it to go down. So when Coulson took time out to give Skye his side of the story, I was once again confused. We know Coulson has a sense of humor, but the timing seemed all wrong for him to be playing jokes.
Coulson’s story — which is probably the true one, or some of the truth anyway — is that there was a “Welcome Wagon” mission that May was involved in. It went South. The worshippers of this gifted individual that S.H.I.E.L.D. was trying to approach and detain were keeping the SHIELD agents stuck in a building. May took it upon herself to get the SHIELD people out. She went in and “crossed off the enemy force.” She didn’t say how. Coulson said she lost herself in there. She was different from how she used to be.
It seemed like a real story. Coulson seemed a bit too sad about it for it to be part of a prank. And then later in the episode, a mop or something came popping out of a closet and Fitz admitted it was his booby-trap. So it seems that was the actual prank, and the May story was the real deal. Or Coulson’s version of it was, anyway. It appears to have become the stuff of legend for people like Fitz-Simmons, but the reality of it is that whatever May went through during the ordeal has changed her. But the end of the episode did indicate that there’s some small part of the old May still there, as we saw her smiling to herself while Fitz demanded the agents tell him which of them put shaving cream on his hand while he was asleep. I like to imagine May tickling Fitz’s nose to get him to rub the stuff all over his face before returning to the cockpit to fly the plane. I adore her. But now it's time to theorize...
There are a couple of things I’m unclear on, and feel free to toss your theories and explanations into the comments. The first is Tobias Ford. Was he really caught between our reality and hell? Like actual hell? Or did his situation have something to do with working at a particle acceleration place. While the religious aspect of the story was interesting from Hannah’s perspective — she thought God was punishing her — and May's (we'll get to that), I don’t feel like we got a full scientific/S.H.I.E.L.D. explanation for what was actually happening. But maybe I missed that. Or maybe hell dimensions are a thing, in which case, ok... I guess.
But I do think religion and faith play a bigger part in May’s background. For one thing, the obvious common denominator between the story Coulson told about May and tonight’s episode is the “welcome wagon” aspect. Both missions involved May taking action on her own, so there's a link there. But there’s also the religious side of both situations. In the back-story, Coulson said May said or did something to “cross off the enemy force,” which from what Coulson believes (he didn’t seem sure) were people who were worshiping a gifted individual. Maybe they thought there was something god-like about the person with special abilities. The vagueness of this “gifted individual” seems intentional, so let’s add that to the mystery here. And then in tonight's episode, a girl is being haunted by a guy who may or may not be hell-bound, and the girl thinks it’s God punishing her. Once again, May is involved, and clearly very affected by it.
There are two other things that jumped out at me, related to faith/religion and May:
1. May interrupted Skye when she was repeating the “God is love” quote. I don’t know if May was annoyed or what, but she definitely jumped in at that point, which suggests it affected her.
2. May told Tobias that God won’t forgive him for what he did.
Those are harsh words, which could be seen as judgmental if May were the preachy type, which she isn’t. So I’m going to assume there’s something else going on in her background that’s related to religion and faith, which has made her angry, possibly at herself or God or both. Maybe she was devoutly religious at some point and then something happened to change her beliefs. Or perhaps she was once involved in some kind of cult-like following that worshipped someone with special gifts, not unlike the group that took those SHIELD people hostage. Whatever it is, I think there’s definitely a story there, and I feel like tonight’s episode was really just the introduction to it.
On the bright side, as I said, she played that prank on Fitz, which shows us that she has a lighter side. And also, she’s sleeping with Ward. Apparently that wasn’t just a one-night thing, but they’re keeping it under wraps, and May’s quick exit the morning after seemed like an indication that this is just about sex. At least for now.