Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is coming back, which means we get to see more of the show's key storytelling approach: grounding the Marvel Cinematic Universe in science. As we prepare for Fitzsimmons’ theory on how a man can spontaneously engulf his head and car in fire, let’s explore five previous times the show's dynamic duo explained superpowers.
Powers: Teleportation and force fields.
Among the first Inhumans we meet on the show, Gordon is one of the councilors at Afterlife, the secret Inhuman getaway introduced in Season 2. Gordon is unable to see and has the ability to teleport anywhere he desires. Fitz explained his powers through Quantum Field Theory.
According to Stanford University’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the Quantum Field Theory can be described as:
The extension of quantum mechanics (QM), dealing with particles, over to fields, i.e. systems with an infinite number of degrees of freedom.
Fitz was able to momentarily stop Gordon from teleporting when he used a Quantum Field Disruptor, causing Gordon to momentarily stay fixed in one space. From this we can infer that Gordon’s teleportation affects his body on the quantum level, meaning he can control every one of his body’s protons, neutrons and electrons, and the individual properties that make up those elements. This could theoretically allow him to relocate his body anywhere in space. How can he go to a place he’s never been before? We'll leave that answer up to you.
Power: Sentient shadow with phasing abilities.
The General appeared in the episode Parting Shot, when the S.H.I.E.L.D. team traveled to Russia to save the Prime Minister from an assassination attempt. The General had the ability to control his shadow, making him one of the team’s most difficult foes to apprehend. Fitz and Simmons explained his powers to be of some dark force:
It’s not just a shadow, Fitz and I believe the General has the ability to manifest a form of sentient dark force, able to shift its density at will.
Explaining density-shifting can be a bit tricky, and I've found the best explanation to be from Kyle Hill at Nerdist. Hill explains that when heroes and villains "phase" through walls, as in the case of Androvich's shadow, they are actually engaging in quantum tunneling. Kyle says:
Even if a particle doesn’t have the energy to get over or through some barrier, you still might see it pop over to the other side. In quantum mechanics, particles are more like probabilities than solid objects.
The only way to defeat the sentient shadow was to ultimately kill the General, a deed that was done by Bobbi. This implicated the S.H.I.E.L.D. team in actions that were the cause for Bobbi and Hunter’s departure from the team.
Power: Superhuman speed
Yo-Yo was first introduced in Episode 11 of Season 3, Bouncing Back. When the S.H.I.E.L.D. team went to Bogota, Colombia due to the presence of a new Inhuman there, that character, Yo-Yo, used her speed to attack Mack, leaving him unconscious. She was captured on camera in the act, which left Jemma Simmons to conclude that she was accelerating at an incredible rate:
Approximately 6 meters in a thirtieth of a second, that one frame of video.
Which means, according to those numbers, that Yo-Yo in one frame of video was accelerating at 180 meters per second. That’s pretty fast! Though it hasn’t been fully explained how Yo-Yo can move as fast as one of her heartbeats, we can speculate that like Quicksilver and the Flash, it’s that “highly accelerated metabolism.”
Hive’s Control Over Inhumans
Grant Ward died in the episode Maveth in Season 3 of the show, but his corpse was then used as a host body for the Inhuman Hive. One special ability that Hive possessed was that he could sway any Inhuman to his will, making them in essence slaves who were “addicted” to him. Fitzsimmons described his power as a form of parasite, with similar effects to cocaine:
Hive’s parasites swarm the brain’s pleasure center, releasing so much dopamine that infected Inhumans not only feel bulletproof, they actually are.
While Hive’s parasites only affect an Inhuman's central nervous system, when infecting a human, the consequences are much worse. When Hive infects a human, the parasites eat away tissue and flesh. He could use this as a weapon to kill, or to regenerate his host’s body, like he did with the corpse of Grant Ward.
Mr. Hyde’s Super Strength
Power: Super strength
Calvin Zabo, aka Mr. Hyde, was a scientist who, after his wife’s supposed death, swore to destroy HYDRA and its leader Daniel Whitehall. After Whitehall was killed by Phil Coulson, Zabo switched his attention to S.H.I.E.L.D. and his own daughter, Daisy Johnson. Mr. Hyde developed a formula that granted him superhuman strength, but which in the process also altered his physical attributes to that of a monster once artificial adrenaline entered the mix. Jemma Simmons described how he was able to achieve this in Episode 21, S.O.S. Part 1:
I haven’t fully sequenced the formula yet, if only for the multitude of trace drugs found, but my initial list includes anabolic-androgenic steroids, a liver enzyme blocker, various metabolic enhancers, methamphetamines, what appears to be gorilla testosterone and -- no lie -- a drop of peppermint.
Mr. Hyde’s motive for the formula was to protect Daisy, since he himself did not have any Inhuman powers. (Unlike his wife, Jiaying.) Ultimately, it was Mr. Hyde who ended up killing Jiaying, who was draining Daisy’s life force via her Inhuman powers. In Episode 22, S.O.S. Part 2, Mr. Hyde was the second person to undergo project TAHITI, erasing all of his memories.
'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' And The Science Behind Ghost Rider
These were just some of the times the show tackled the tough questions regarding superpowers. With Season 4 of the show premiering on September 20, it will be interesting to see how Fitzsimmons explain how a man can suddenly turn his head into a skull on fire, and then return to normal.
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