You’ll remember that a few weeks ago, I discussed the lack of agency for Agent 33, a former SHIELD agent that had been brainwashed by Hydra. I pointed out how troubling it was that no one seemed to show concern for a woman that had been forced to do the bidding of her enemies, none of which was of her own free will.
This week, we’re going to beat a dead horse, but now, we have more people to discuss! Whee!
You’ll notice that I titled this week’s Agents of SHADE “The Expendables.” We all know of Sylvester Stallone's movie starring a bunch of aging white action stars proving that everything we believe about them is entirely true. What’s ironic about the film is not the overwhelming sense of homosociality, but the fact that it’s title doesn’t actually apply to it’s characters. Think about characters that are actually expendable in action films. It’s not the protagonist white guy. It’s his girlfriend, his POC friend, everyone that is not our white hero. The real expendables are not main characters, and are usually non-white. I sometimes get the feeling that we’re not supposed to care about the actual ‘expendables.’
But we do.
This week, we saw the team sacrifice Mack and show minimal concern for Agent 33. Both are people of color. Both were being controlled by some other force, and both were left to rot for ‘the safety of the team.’
Here’s why that’s BS. In Mack’s case, we have to consider that we as an audience knew something bad was going to happen to Mack the moment they lowered him down into the tunnel. Why? Because he’s a man of color, and the cliché about men of color not surviving horror movies still bodes entirely true in film and TV. We know that the writers don’t give Mack the same weight that they give the main team. He’s someone that could be killed off with a minimal ripple effect, because they’ve literally just kept him around so that he could eventually be sacrificed.
If that’s a negative way of looking at it, think about it this way: this is a show that constantly teases that it will kill people off. And when it does, who do we lose? Victoria Hand. Isabelle Hartley. Idaho. People that aren’t our main cast. People that Coulson, who is supposed to be compassionate, has determined are a ‘worthy sacrifice.’
Think about Skye’s mom, too. Think about how she was an Asian woman with no lines that was literally used for spare parts. Is she going to get justice? Is she going to be avenged or even discussed? Or was she less of a character, and more of a prop? Are we not supposed to feel for her?
And while it’s true that Mack is not actually ‘dead’ (Chloe Bennet accidentally leaked a picture of Henry Simmons on set yesterday) it is unlikely that he will ever be returned to his original state. It’s also unlikely that anyone besides Fitz or Bobbi (another potential ‘expendable,’ despite her 616 alter ego) will care to mention Mack or care for him in the future.
If it were Fitz, Simmons, Skye, or May in that tunnel, Coulson would not have hesitated to go after them. But it was Mack. It was a person who was not a member of his original team. Coulson has very clearly played favorites with his team since day one, but it’s never been quite so dangerous. Because Coulson’s hierarchy shows us who the writers think are important, and who they think of as fodder. And it’s a hierarchy we should have in mind as we continue.
Let’s look at Agent 33. In the entire episode, concern is shown for her twice. Twice. Once by Skye, who says ‘we can help you,’ and once by Trip, who says ‘you just left her there?’ Everyone else, and I do mean everyone, seems to consider Agent 33’s predicament as some kind of joke.
At one point, May remarks to Coulson “She still has my face.” Like she’s bitter. Like she’s completely forgotten that it wasn’t Agent 33’s decision to become another person. What’s worse is that Coulson remarks “Lucky her,” in what I assume was supposed to be him flirting, but just highlights how insensitive he and May have become.
Imagine how terrified Agent 33 must be, somewhere in what’s left of her mind. She doesn’t recognize herself. The face she has, that is not her own, is ruined. Her voice sounds wrong. And she’s obeying orders without even realizing why. That’s really funny, Koenigs. I’m so glad the show is making a point to mock someone who is completely trapped. That’s really makes me feel good.
Hey, you know what else is funny? How we seem to have an infinite supply of Koenigs. We can get rid of Tori and Izzy and Mack, but don’t worry, the character you really care about will still be around! And I do get that he’s supposed to be a comic relief character. But when the writers are willing to kill of queer characters and POC and not him, you kind of get the feeling that something’s not right, here.
I hope that Mack is alright. I hope that concern is shown for Agent 33 in more than just passing. I worry that we’re not expected to care about these characters. I worry that not enough people do. Care about Mack, and Agent 33, and Tori and Izzy and Idaho. Care about Skye’s mother. Care about the real expendables. Because I, for one, am tired of seeing the same old way that they’re used.