Good news, Agents of SHIELD fans! From episode 2x14 (or 2x11, if I’m being generous,) AoS has delivered consistent, well-written episodes. I may have shaded them, sure, but I have enjoyed watching the second half of the season.
There is something that’s bothering me, though, and it’s not so much episode specific as it is an overall show issue. It became especially prevalent this week, though, so I think it’s time to bring it up.
I think by this point, I’ve made it pretty clear that Skye is my favorite Agents of SHIELD character. And I think I’ve complained enough about the selective viewpoints many critics seem to have when it comes to Skye. And this, for once, isn’t about how wrong the AoS critics are (again, it’s very.)
This is about Skye being forced into a narrative she doesn’t deserve. And it’s about other characters around Skye, namely the other women of color in the show, being forced to play a part in this.
Agents of SHIELD has always alluded to the fact that Skye’s got a pretty rough past. Sometimes she will outright mention it, and other times, it comes across in her talents (like her affinity for pickpocketing) or in something she says. Skye has outright said several times this season that family isn’t something she trusts, because it always leaves. One of the main reason’s she held onto SHIELD so tightly is because it was the first lasting family unit she ever really had.
But the thing is, the narrative apparently doesn’t want us to really look that far into that part of Skye. Because she has powers, now, and she’s all cool and ‘badass,’ right? She’s a ‘strong female character,’ so any allusions to her past are purely superficial. Right guys? She’s not suffering at all. Just because she has destructive powers and friends that fear her doesn’t mean she’s got it so bad.
Because look at it this way: despite her hardships, Skye still has her looks.
And that’s more than we can say for Kara Palamas (Agent 33) or Raina, both who have been disfigured physically and crippled emotionally by the narrative. And who do they look at as the ideal? Skye! That’s right. Everyone’s favorite girl, who’s spent the entire show just trying to find a personality that fits, is the ideal for Raina and Kara. And we could argue why that is, but in truth, the show isn’t all that deep. Essentially, it boils down to this: Skye is good because she’s pretty. Kara and Raina are morally dubious because they are not, and envy Skye for her beauty/goodness.
Friends, that’s the plot of Cinderella. It’s got no place in AoS. And for the writers to try and wedge Skye into a Cinderella-esque role while making Raina and Kara her ugly stepsisters? Well, that just turns this entire thing into a weird, sexist crapshoot.
Skye’s happiness shouldn’t come at the cost of other women. That’s not fair to Skye as a character, and it’s certainly not what she would want. For one, we’ve got Kara, who seems to be treating Skye as an ideal because Grant wants her. That, for one, completely sacrifices Kara’s agency, and for another, it shows that no one on the show seems willing to look past the superficial parts of Skye.
In fairness, Kara doesn’t know Skye very well. Kara only sees Skye through the lens of how Grant treated her. On the other hand, we have an entire episode dedicated to Kara finding her face, only for her to have to come to terms with horrible scarring across her cheek. Though she seems to have fixed her mask in the upcoming episode, we have to wonder if her feelings for Skye are still the same. Kara can’t heal if she’s holding Skye on a pedestal. And again, Skye never asked to be put there. It’s the narrative telling us, “Scarred girls look up to Skye because she always gets what she wants. Because she’s beautiful. And if you’re not beautiful, it’s because you’re still doing something wrong.”
And while we’re on that, let’s take a look at Raina. It seems clear enough to viewers that the show is setting up Raina as Skye’s supervillain counterpart. And why is that? Raina seemed perfectly content with Skye until their transformations. And now, according to Raina, “She got everything, and I got thorns.”
The thing is, that’s not true. Skye is still very likely being manipulated by her biological parents. She’s literally jumped from family to family in a matter of weeks, relearning old habits and telling herself that she shouldn’t be comfortable with parental figures. We have to ask ourselves, when we watch Skye with her parents, how the rug will be pulled out from under her this time. How badly this will make her hurt. How badly this will make her shut down.
What the show is doing, instead of creating a safe space for women having a difficult time, is pitting them against each other. Why? I don’t know. I guess it’s good TV. I mean, it isn’t. But that’s beside the point. Skye and Raina have always had a push and pull relationship. Skye is learning that good and evil are not so easily interchangeable, and Raina is apparently learning that she has no choice but to punish Skye for being pretty. While the two of them could be helping each other, instead they are at odds. What could be an excellent friendship turns into an obvious rivalry. And I call that lazy writing.
So where do we go from here, if this is the path we’re going down? Well, Agents of SHIELD seems to actually be encouraging the idea that Kara’s going to make a turn for the better. Because you know, she has her regular, scar-free face back. So she must be a good guy again! Never mind that Raina’s transformation is permanent, so there’s no hope for her.
I’m trying to think of a solution, here. But I’m coming up short. So bottom line: this pseudo-Cinderella plot is bad for Skye, bad for Kara, and bad for Raina. They deserve better than that. They deserve actual growth and depth. And most importantly, they deserve to not be pitted against each other in some sort of mad-grab for happiness. So let’s talk about that.