Last week’s episode of ”Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” was a great showcase for the two Asian American women in the cast, Ming-Na Wen and Chloe Bennet. Since the first season of the ABC action series, we heard whispers that agent Melinda May (Wen), referred to as “the cavalry,” once single-handedly took out a building full of thugs, but it ended in tragedy and it irrevocably changed her.
Skye (Bennet), the young computer hacker searching for clues to the identity of her mother, was in January revealed to be Daisy Johnson, a Marvel Comics character known as Quake with the power to create earthquakes. We eventually learned her mother was Chinese and an “Inhuman,” a descendant from another planet.
Because she didn’t age between World War II and 1989, a Nazi dissected her, eventually using her body fluids to help him become as youthful as he was back in the ’40s. He then callously discarded her body, leaving her to die.
In this landmark episode, we saw that seven years ago, May was married to Drew (Blair Underwood) and she playfully reminded him that they were trying hard to have a baby. When a young girl is taken hostage in Bahrain and all of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s men are neutralized, Agent Coulson (series star Clark Gregg) sends May in.
She expertly kills everyone she comes into contact with, confronting a Russian woman who absorbs people’s pain while turning them into zombie-like vampires like her. After getting shot in the leg and being surrounded by a crowd of agents, May impales and kills the woman.
But then the girl “hostage” emerges and continues her mother’s work, her mere touch dropping men to the floor. May tries to reason with her, but the creepy kid just smiles, reaching out to her. May realizes she has to shoot her, and it leads to her emotional breakdown. She requests a transfer to a desk job, and we can assume her marriage soon disintegrated because she became cold and distant (so now we know why since Day One she’s usually looked pissed at everyone).
This season, Skye was exposed to the Terrigenesis mists, which give people super powers. When she got nervous or upset, she involuntarily created earthquakes, which freaked out both her and some of her S.H.I.E.L.D. cohorts. One of the Inhumans took her away to an unknown place called Afterlife, where people with powers are taught how to control them.
We’re shocked when her long-dead mother, Jiaying (Dichen Lachman), shows up alive, though with scars across various parts of her face as if they were stitched together. Turns out when her husband, Dr. Calvin Zabo (Kyle McLachlan; in the comics, Mr. Hyde), found her in the field, he was able to patch her up and revive her.
As the leader of the Inhumans, she gently trains Skye without revealing her relationship to her. Skye confides how difficult it was throughout her life not knowing who her parents were or even her real birthday. Every time she made friends, she had to move. After listening sympathetically, her mentor promises her, “We’re not going to turn on you or abandon you. This is a safe place.”
“See, you say that, but I know you’re not being straight with me. Why do you care if I stay or go? Or why are you —” Unable to hold back, Jiaying blurts out: “July 2nd” and turns away. “You were born on July 2nd.” She turns to her in tears.
It’s a beautiful moment. Skye tears up too, realizing this is the mother she’s searched for her entire life. For years, her parents “scoured the Earth. We were ruthless in hunting for you.” But they finally had to give up.
This leads Skye to reluctantly agreeing to have dinner with her father, whom she’s wanted nothing to do with because he’s killed people because of his anger management issues. Seeing the parents finally tell their daughter about how she was born and filling in the gaps of her life was heart-warming. They were finally a family.
Of course, nothing remains hunky-dory for long. This week, we learned that Jiaying was planning on casting Cal out of Afterlife because he doesn’t have any powers and doesn’t belong there. Skye returns with him to Milwaukee, where he was based, where they walk the streets and he recalls the big plans he’d had for her before she was taken away. You can’t help feel sorry for a father who wanted to take his little daughter for ice cream and attend father/daughter dances, but she’s now 26.
When he realizes she’s going to dump him and return to Afterlife without him, he goes berserk, throwing people around.
I want to give credit to executive producers Maurissa Tancharoen and her husband Jed Whedon for giving this show such an Asian presence. Although Daisy Johnson/Quake was introduced in a 2004 comic book, she was white and not an Inhuman, so the writers/producers created their own origin for this television version of her.
Although Chloe Bennet is in real life half Chinese, she can pass for white, yet they made her mother Chinese, thereby making her Hapa. And her mother is the leader of the Inhumans (in the comic books, it was Black Bolt, a white male). Ming-Na Wen was signed to the series before they even knew what her character was going to be. If that’s not enough, this week’s episode was even directed by an Asian American woman, Karen Gaviola.
So it’s nice to know that some Asian Americans are not afraid to be advocates for their own community. As I mentioned in these pages before, I had dinner with Maurissa when she was a struggling actress about 15 years ago and she was very interested in what I did in MANAA and was a sweetheart. I’m glad that when she was in a position to do something to raise the profile of Asian Americans, she took it.
“S.H.I.E.L.D.” airs Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. on ABC.
Quit Biting the Show That Feeds You Department: Eddie Huang, the celebrity chef and author of “Fresh Off the Boat,” which the television series of the same name was “inspired by,” made headlines two weeks ago when he criticized the show through a series of tweets on the night of the sitcom’s broadcast:
“For the record, I don’t watch [it]… I’m happy people of color are able to see a reflection of themselves through [the sitcom] but I don’t recognize it… I had to say something because I stood by the pilot. After that it got so far from the truth that I don’t recognize my own life.”
As I’ve said before, I think the more of Huang’s life executive producer Nahnatchka Khan and her writers can include in the series, the better. But I can see why in his infamous January New York article he felt that telling the writers about his life was a waste of time because he doesn’t seem to understand that a lot of what he wants included wouldn’t be appropriate for a sitcom.
It’s important to him that they address domestic violence in Asian American households as his father regularly beat him and his mom. OK, the subject can be included… with other couples. Because if Randall Park beat Hudson Yang and Constance Wu every week, who would want to tune in? Would anyone like Park’s character enough to become a regular viewer?
Huang also mentions that his grandfather committed suicide. In the episode where Louis (Park) was being hard on Eddie and kept telling Eddie how his father used to be tough on him in order to build character, that could’ve been included. But the producers probably thought it was too heavy.
What they did do, however, was very constructive: After watching how Louis was treating Eddie, his mother reminds him that his father wasn’t a happy man (we see a picture of him frowning on his birthday) and in order to be hard working, “you don’t have to be a hard man.” It was concise, memorable, and a terrific message for all fathers… whether suicide was used in the denouement or not.
I’d like to think Huang would’ve enjoyed the season finale this week where Jessica (the mom) worries that the family’s assimilated too much and enrolls her sons in Mandarin class, dresses in more traditional Chinese clothes and headdress, and makes chicken feet for dinner (“Eat your feet!” she barks, as the three kids run away in horror. Pretty funny!).
Grand Celebration Department: As always, it was great attending the annual East West Players dinner. “FOTB” producers Khan and Melvin Mar were honored along with stuntman Jeff Imada and Paula Madison, the former NBC diversity chief. It was great hearing her reveal that while in that role, she felt she would’ve been successful had she gotten a show on the air where an Asian man starred in a romantic role. She even gathered all of the network’s showrunners to bounce that idea… and got blank looks. She didn’t succeed, but ABC did recently with “Selfie” and John Cho.
However, it’s telling that Madison realized that was an important goal because she opened two annual NBC meetings telling me that Masi Oka and Wil Yun Lee were going to have a love interests on “Heroes” and the rebooted “Bionic Woman,” respectively.
Madison’s currently on a book tour promoting “Finding Samuel Lowe,” the Chinese grandfather she never knew but whom she eventually traced back to China for an emotional reunion with Chinese relatives. The movie of the same name is a “must see,” as it defies expectations of how Chinese people receive black people. It reaffirms your faith in humanity.
’Til next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at email@example.com. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.