Remember how emotionally shut down Olivia Dunham seemed in Fringe season one? And then, watching her open up and display the full range of Anna Torv's formidable acting abilities was one of the show's great joys. After last night, I'm wondering if Agents of SHIELD has something similar in store for us.
"Repairs" was our first Melinda-centric episode, in which we get some more info on her backstory and why she hates her nickname, The Cavalry. As is usual for a lot of shows these days, we got an "A" story that in some way mirrors Melinda May's personal story, although not quite in the way you think at first.
The case-of-the-week this week is Hannah Hutchins, a safety inspector from a particle acclerator whom everybody blames for a disastrous explosion, and who apparently now has telekinetic powers. There are some fun Carrie-esque early scenes of people messing with Hannah and getting blitzed. But in fact, Hannah is being stalked by Tobias Ford, who caused the particle accelerator disaster in an attempt to flirt with her, and is now warping between dimensions and messing shit up. (Some seriously creepy "teleporting ghosty stalker" moments in the episode's second half. Like what The Tomorrow People could be, if it went a bit darker.)
And meanwhile, Fitz and Simmons decide to prank Skye — by spreading misinformation about Melinda May's nickname, for reasons which remain unclear to me. (The "mop" thing, later in the episode, is a way better prank, and one of the episode's best moments.) Fitzsimmons tell Skye that Melinda shot 100 people when she was riding a horse, and later Grant amends this to just 20 people and no horse.
But in fact, as Coulson explains in the video above, it was murkier — it was a "welcome wagon" mission that went wrong, where a "gifted individual" had a cult following who took hostages, including SHIELD agents, and Melinda went in alone and did what even Batman couldn't do: took the cult apart. Something about that changed Melinda from a playful daredevil to a bitter introvert.
And Melinda May is being stone cold in this episode, sleeping with Grant and then just walking out on him, and then later shooting Hannah with a tranq gun to put an end to an escalating clusterfuck in Lynchmobville, Hannah's home town.
So the episode's big surprise isn't that Hannah's not telekinetic — that's pretty well telegraphed — but that the parallel in the episode isn't between Melinda and Hannah but between Melinda and Tobias, Hannah's stalker. Tobias has made a terrible mistake and feels like he's gone to Hell for it — the same way Melinda apparently feels haunted by whatever she had to do to those cultists. And just as Tobias tries to protect Hannah, Melinda feels the need to protect the people around her — which is why she tried to hide in a basement instead.
In the end, Melinda tells Tobias the same thing Coulson said to her after the cult incident: you did things you can't undo, and they'll be with you forever. You have to let go. And then Melinda seems to be warming up a bit, doing a prank on Fitz and letting Skye ride shotgun in the cockpit.
So now I'm wondering if we'll see a similar evolution for Melinda May that we got to see for Olivia — maybe minus the flirty doppelganger — and a year or two from now we'll be marveling at how much of a range Ming-Na Wen is showing off all of a sudden? I sure hope so — way more than watching Skye become a "real SHIELD agent," or even Coulson dealing with his mysterious resurrection, seeing Melinda slowly open up could turn out to be the show's most compelling arc.