Catching up with SHIELD: Asgardian Science and a Conflict of Interest

So Agents of SHIELD is semi-regularly back after a break for the Olympics. And evidently another break until April. But the episodes that aired this month were good, and other people are enjoying Agents of SHIELD more now that it seems to have hit its stride. I don’t plan on obsessively following the show on here, but there were some interesting science developments I wanted to talk about.

Simmons, wearing glasses, is seated on the left. Coulson is seated on on the right.  They are on a train and a window shows fields behind them.

On a non-science note, Simmons yelling “And all your prostitutes!” to Coulson role-playing her father in T.R.A.C.K.S. may be my favorite line of the show so far.

The more interesting things happened in this last week’s episode “Yes Men” that featured Lady Sif from the Thor movies, and this should all be fairly free of spoilers.

  • When Lady Sif arrives on Earth, Fitz mentions the energy pattern in the atmosphere matches what Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman’s character) saw in New Mexico. Do Fitz or Simmons know that SHIELD basically stole her data and in Thor 2 she was trying to dodge SHIELD while studying other anomalies?
  • Sif is surprised to see Coulson alive. After seeing the Thor: The Dark World, it seems clear that Asgard doesn’t have pure resurrection technology, but her complete surprise here seems to rule out my previous theory that Asgard may have given some tech to SHIELD to help.
  • When Lady Sif gets on the Bus, Coulson tries to show her how to operate the crazy touchable hologram table they have to show the reports on Lorelei’s potential activity. Lady Sif cuts him off immediately and says “it’s primitive technology other realms had ages ago”, definitely reminding viewers that in the MCU, Asgard has incredibly advanced technology compared to what we have on Earth. I actually enjoyed Sif kind of putting us in our place, but it still seems a bit weird she would operate it so easily. Look at how hard some people find it to just switch from Windows to Mac or vice versa, even though that’s the same basic idea. And going backwards to a technology you’re not familiar with can be incredibly frustrating. (In my sophomore physics lab, my partner and I had to use a computer from the 80s because it had the software we needed to operate the particle detector. We spent 15 minutes waiting for the computer to boot up and finally our professor pointed out that the operating system was DOS and we had to type in commands because graphical desktops had not been developed for operating systems yet.)
  • In Sif’s introduction, we hear of a different aspect of Asgardian life. She openly says Lorelei’s power is sorcery and doesn’t give any explanation to how it works, and when asked about why it only affects men, she says they have an “inherent weakness” women do not. So is magic very advanced science/technology or a separate thing? (Thor says science and magic are one and the same in Asgard in the first movie.) Lorelei doesn’t use any tool over the course of the show to control her men. Interestingly, some sort of electronic collar can neutralize her power, so it does seem like aspects of both.
  • The collar that can stop Lorelei’s power is broken. Fitz is asked to fix it. Lady Sif comments that it may be hard because Asgardian metals are different than Earth metals; in particular, they tend to be denser. It fits into the theme of things from Asgard being hardier than things from Earth, but it doesn’t really make sense from a materials science point of view. Yes, this is nitpicky, but how often do materials scientists actually get to critique pop culture errors in their field?

I’ve mentioned in the past that the reason I love SHIELD is because of Fitz and Simmons’ sense of morality as scientists. And there was an interesting conflict this episode between Coulson and Simmons’, but it’s a bit spoilery if you haven’t seen “T.A.H.I.T.I.” yet, so it will be below the cut. Also, this show really needs to quit making things acronyms just for the sake of it. So at the end of “T.A.H.I.T.I.”, Coulson finds out that GH-325, the mystery drug that was used in the process of bringing him back to life, is extracted from the upper body of an unknown blue humanoid creature. (People who read Marvel Comics seem to think it’s a Kree.) Throughout that episode, Fitz and Simmons found themselves with many unanswered questions about Coulson’s recovery, even with what they thought was the full unclassified report about the treatment. Fitz gets a sample of the drug out to help treat Skye, but he leaves before Coulson finds the alien body. After Coulson finds it, he tries to run run back to the Bus in time to tell the team to not use it on Skye, but she’s nearly flatlining and so Simmons injects the drug literally right before Coulson can stop her.

By the beginning of “Yes Men”, Coulson has been gone for several days and evidently still hasn’t told anyone on the team about the source of GH-325 and why he wanted them to avoid using it. Simmons is concerned about the fact that she injected Skye with a drug she literally knows nothing about and is constantly testing Skye’s blood to see if there are any side effects. When she talks to Fitz about how she can’t find anything bad in her testing, she also gets slightly caught up in the excitement of a drug as powerful as GH-325 and wonders why it’s secret. But she’s bothered by what spooked Coulson, and when she asks if Fitz saw anything weird, all he can say is that “everything was peculiar” in the Guest House. She also wants to talk to other branches of SHIELD to see if they know anything about the drug and keeps getting shut down by the team. Midway through the episode, she makes this request to Coulson face to face and he denies it again. Simmons doesn’t understand why and points out that he is proof its benefits. Coulson just says “that’s an order”. In possibly one of my favorite Jemma Simmons moments to date, she angrily calls Coulson out saying “that’s not a good enough reason!” Simmons points out that while she has a duty to Coulson as her superior, she also has a duty as a SHIELD scientist to better understand this drug and to help save lives. I may have clapped during that scene.

Coulson argues there must be a reason SHIELD is keeping the drug secret. I’m interested in seeing what Simmons’ (and Fitz’) reaction will be when she finally learns why.

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