Since the very first episode involving Mike Peterson, the big question on Marvel's Agents of SHIELD has been, "How do you handle people with potentially destructive powers?" And last night's episode, "One Of Us," suggests that SHIELD's answer to that question was... not great.
In "One of Us," Cal is trying to rescue Skye from SHIELD — by proving that SHIELD mistreats people like Skye, with the help of a band of supervillains. And meanwhile, Melinda May's ex-husband Andrew is trying to give Skye an evaluation to see what, if anything, SHIELD should do with her.
In the end of the episode, Cal is defeated — but he also kind of proves his point, that SHIELD doesn't always have the best approach to people with unusual abilities.
Melinda May spends a lot of the episode trying to convince her ex that this is a whole new SHIELD, now that Coulson is in charge. But after seeing how SHIELD deals with Cal's group, and what it costs Skye to try and keep her powers in check, Andrew concludes that "SHIELD hasn't changed." And he decides that Skye would be better off away from SHIELD, for her own safety.
A lot of the episode involves Cal's little army, whose horrible enhancements have been suppressed with a fair amount of brutality. There's Karla Faye, whose fingers have razors implanted in them and has weird metal gloves keeping them from hurting anyone. Plus Wendell, an amoral tech genius who's given the same tech-suppressing implant that Skye had last season; Francis Noche, a mob enforcer on experimental steroids; and David Angar (aka Angar the Screamer) who has superpowered vocal cords and wears a Hannibal Lector mask to suppress his voice.
Once they've all broken free from SHIELD, Karla Faye keeps bringing up the possibility that they could just go on with their lives and not try to get revenge. But Cal insists that they need to expose SHIELD to the world. This somehow leads to them going to Coulson's old hometown in Wisconsin and killing a ton of high-school cheerleaders and jocks using Angar's sonic scream.
Meanwhile, Dr. Andrew Garner evaluates Skye and tries to get past her defenses, while reconnecting with Melinda May. Skye knows how SHIELD handles "Gifted" individuals like herself, because she helped to execute that policy as a SHIELD agent. But she wants to stay a SHIELD agent, and believes she can accomplish that goal if she just keeps repressing her emotions enough to keep her powers in check — basically, taking everything the ultra-repressed Melinda May taught her about focus and putting it into practice. And for sure, Skye seems to be holding it all together.
This all comes to a head when Melinda May pretends to hold Skye hostage to distract Cal, while Coulson's agents take out Cal's followers. Unfortunately, SHIELD's containment measures weren't all that effective at preventing a mass slaughter on the football field. And when Skye's powers start to activate, she gets weird contusions and bruises on her arms. And then Cal disappears.
It turns out that all this time, Skye wasn't really controlling her powers — she was just directing them inwards. And this effort to repress her abilities led to fractures from her collarbone down to her hands. She has to wear a special cast to try and help her heal and contain the effects of her powers — but that's not a long-term solution. So maybe not everything can be dealt with through repression?
All in all, it's not an episode that makes SHIELD's approach to superpowers look that enlightened — even as it also doesn't really bear out Cal's argument, either.
In the end, Simmons has a suggestion. Maybe they need to make a distinction between human-made powers, like the ones Mike Peterson and Cal's people have, and genetically inherent ones. (You know, the "M" word that we're not allowed to say because of legal reasons.) People like Skye and Raina were born with a latent ability, that the Terrigen mists simply brought out. Coulson orders Simmons to research this and look into ways to fight back if these Inhumans become a threat.
Speaking of which, Simmons is still pissed at Fitz for lying to her about Skye's powers — but later on in the episode, they seem to have a moment together, gossipping about Melinda and her ex-husband. They seem to be almost like their old selves again, until they get interrupted.
And with Andrew in the picture, we see a new side to Melinda — she shows a bit more of her sense of humor with her ex, and is even willing to laugh about her terrible cooking. Even though he called her after SHIELD fell apart, and she didn't call back. (So instead he hung out with Melinda's mom, who still hasn't forgiven her for divorcing him.) Andrew has apparently moved on, or at least he has some kind of framed picture of a new girl on his desk.
So the biggest surprise of "One of Us" is the fact that Gordon, the eyeless Inhuman, pops in at the football field and grabs Cal, instead of Skye. Cal's as surprised by this as anybody, because Skye needs the help of her fellow Inhumans. But Gordon says that Cal was making too much noise, and possibly drawing attention to the Inhumans. And Cal isn't one of the Inhumans, he's just a "science experiment." In the end, Gordon says it's not up to him what happens to Cal, and apparently he's taking Cal to meet their leader — who I'm guessing is Yat-Sen, the older Inhuman whom we met a while back.
And in the episode's main subplot, Lance Hunter is held prisoner by Mac for most of the episode. Mac doesn't want to hurt Lance, and even brings him Hawaiian pizza (his favorite) and beer. But Lance blows off all Mac's attempts at bonding — until Mac finally takes Lance to his leaders. Who, apparently, are the "real SHIELD," trying to clean up the organization after the mess that Nick Fury left.
I'm just guessing that the "real SHIELD" is not nearly as humane towards people with superpowers as Coulson's version is trying to be.