It’s not exactly who killed Laura Palmer, or what happened to Mulder’s sister, but the question of what happened to Melinda May that earned her the reputation of being a one woman army is one of the unknown mysteries of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Although we know the broad strokes of how Agent May became known as “The Cavalry,” any threat of the episode named after her becoming somewhat anticlimactic was washed away thanks to a solid script that plausibly tied together flashback action and the story in the present day. It also allowed Ming-Na Wen to put on an acting clinic as we watch May transform from a talented agent and wife eager to start a family, to the steely face of determination and dependability.
May’s problem in the present is the secrets that Coulson’s been keeping, a second life he’s been leading as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. that’s involved travel, construction and something called the Theta Project. May’s poker face loses some of its effectiveness upon being told that Coulson’s been perpetrating a massive Furyian conspiracy on his own, and that it includes her ex-husband Andrew and about 100 bunk beds. Mack thinks Coulson’s building a facility to train and recruit super-powered people, and while comic fans may enjoy the speculation that Coulson maybe forming his own Secret Warriors*, I think it’s just as likely that Coulson maybe the victim of a set-up.
*For the record, the Secret Warriors were a group of young people with powers formed by Nick Fury after the Civil War. The comic book originator of Skye, Daisy Johnson, was a member of the team and she was as close to Fury as Skye is to Coulson. With a Civil War on the horizon for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, perhaps the idea that Coulson has a Secret Warriors going is not such a far fetched notion.
May’s concern about Coulson’s dabbling with powered people dates back seven years to her legendary mission in Bahrain, where she and Coulson were part of a S.H.I.E.L.D. team sent to bring in super-powered Russian Eva Belyakov.
I’m not sure if the casting of Winter Ave Zoli as Eva was purposefully meant to evoke Bridget Regan as Agent Carter’s Russian nemesis Dottie, but in did subconsciously make Eva all the more threatening, especially later in the episode when her and May fight in one of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s most brutally violent fight sequences yet. Perhaps that was the lingering influence of Daredevil there?
However, as much as the sight of May fighting through dozens of guys on a solo mission to bring in an out-of control super-power was the draw, the flashback’s final twist, though kind of predictable, added just the right heartbreaking note to make May’s turn complete. Yes, it turned out that the little girl May thought was a hostage was really the out of control super-power with pain-sucking powers that sadly reminded one of the bad guy in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Wen’s mix of horror and sorrow portrayed well the subtle but substantive change in May from where she began as a smiling almost lighthearted woman that we meet at the beginning of the flashbacks. But there’s more to the story than May knows…