Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D – Meeting My Superwoman Needs Since 2013
I have a confession to make. I watched CBS’s Supergirl and I hated it. On the surface, my reaction makes little sense. I grew up watching Wonder Woman and introduced my daughter to the series as soon as I could get my hands on the DVDs. I am thrilled that 21st-century Hollywood executives have finally built a television show around a female superhero, and I am even happier that the show has become a hit. Kara Danvers’ struggle to find and refine her power will inspire real girls to do the same. My daughter and other girls like her need these stories. And there’s the problem: I’m not a girl. I am a woman who spends too much time working with men who have little idea that their arrogant behavior reeks of sexism. I crave a show where smart, capable women kick the crap out of their opponents, male or female, and don’t apologize for it. That’s why every Tuesday night I soak up Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., soak it up like a cool glass of water after a week spent trudging through the Sahara.
Agents Melinda May, Bobbi Morse, Jemma Simmons, and Daisy Johnson battle physical threats while juggling emotional baggage, yet they never appear weak while doing so. They do not hide their strength or apologize for it. Best of all, their male coworkers don’t ask them to. Instead, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Coulson, Fitz, Hunter, and Mack rely on female power and validate it. They treat the women in their midst as equals and god help the men who don’t.
From the moment she first appears in Season One as Melinda May, Ming-Na Wen’s performance packs a wallop much larger than her petite frame suggests. May punches, kicks, shoots, and takes down enemies with lethal precision. Recently, May fought three menacing men [would-be rapists to be precise] who mistook her for an easy mark. She levels all three and then walks out the door saying, “How ’bout I do you a favor, and not tell anyone . . . that a tiny little Asian woman kicked your ass.” Later she goes after arch-nemesis and Hydra scum Grant Ward. Ward fears little and barely blinks when he sees Lance Hunter come after him. However, when he looks up and sees Agent May standing above him, you can almost see him squeeze his legs together in terror.
Everyone on the team understands May’s essential value to S.H.I.E.L.D., especially Director Phil Coulson. In the current season premiere, he refers to the loss of his left hand [literally, it’s gone] and then says, “May took off on vacation and never came back, so I lost my right hand too.” Coulson recognizes May’s power at every opportunity, and he appears to take great pleasure in watching her destroy her opponents. He treats May as an equal and would be the first to recognize that her superior fighting skills do not diminish his contributions to the team.
Adrianne Palicki’s Bobbi Morse has a Ph.D. in Biology and a pair of deadly battle staves convenient for bludgeoning or electrocuting her opponents. Last season, Grant Ward broke her knee cap and tortured her in scenes almost too brutal to watch. She spent months rehabilitating her knee and rebuilding her confidence. In “Among Us Hide,” Bobbi and May track down a team of Hydra agents, and Bobbi ends up battling one of them near a swimming pool. Like so many others before him, this goon underestimates her. After a struggle during which he tries to drown her, she climbs out of the swimming pool leaving him in the water. He growls, “What makes you think you can beat me?” She coolly replies, “Experience,” just as she plunges her electrifying staves in the water.
Agent Morse and her ex-husband Lance Hunter are often at odds with each other and they have trust issues. Bobbi’s a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent through and through, while Hunter doesn’t like rules much and tends to stick around for Bobbi’s sake. His love for her clouds his judgement and leads to rash decisions, like taking a shot at Ward against May’s orders. Like Spike, another Whedon character, Hunter is “love’s bitch.” He wanders around S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters wearing a track suit, looking like a dejected teenager, not knowing what to do while Bobbi is in the field without him. Like most men in the Whedonverse, Lance sees female strength as a turn-on, not as a threat.
Leo Fitz loves genius biochemist Jemma Simmons more than life itself. As their names suggest, the two complete each other, often lapsing into rapid symbiotic science-speak. Simmons recently hit a bit of a rough patch, spending about six months on a dimly-lit planet devoid of food other than the water beast she kills and roasts herself. Rather than give up on her, Fitz scours the globe for information to reopen the portal that sucked Jemma away. And, it must be said, he looks pretty damn hot while doing so [focused determination really suits Iain De Caestecker].
Jemma, meanwhile, screams and rails at the dark sky and curses the barren planet that has trapped her, yet she doesn’t give up. She fights back even after a faceless being kidnaps her. The faceless being turns out to be a hot astronaut with a vintage computer that Simmons MacGyvers to try and reopen the portal. Fitz succeeds in finding her and does not think twice about helping her return to save the aforementioned hot astronaut who will surely put a crimp in FitzSimmons. Elizabeth Henstridge delivers a staggering performance in “4,722 Hours” that inspires all watching to keep fighting no matter how wretched the circumstances.
Agent Daisy Johnson, played by Chloe Bennet, possesses mad computer skills, can handle a weapon, and she’s an inhuman who can cause earthquakes with her mind. [I probably should have led with that last part.] Daisy’s power connects directly to her emotions. When angry or afraid her powers bring about massive destruction. She has learned to control, but not deny them. Women’s emotions are too often characterized as trivial or as signs of weakness. Not so with Daisy. She learns, like Buffy before her, that “[her] emotions give [her] power.” Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has only given us a glimpse of Daisy’s Quake-like superpower this season, and we need to see more. If I can’t throw men across a room with my emotions, at the very least, I want to watch Daisy throw them with hers.
I hope Supergirl keeps taking to the sky for the girls out there who need her and all of the other female superheroes buried in the pages of DC Comics. As for me, I will stick with the superwomen of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Melinda May, Bobbi Morse, Jemma Simmons, Daisy Johnson—and the men who respect them—motivate me to fly another day.
The punching bag I just installed in the basement doesn’t hurt either.