Melinda May’s backstory was finally revealed on “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD,” and the Bahrain storyline ended up being a lot more tragic than many might have imagined.
In April 14’s episode, appropriately titled “Melinda,” viewers learn that having to kill a young girl is what emotionally crippled May and gave her reservations about powered people.
The mystery of what changed May from kick-butt fighter to desk agent was established all the way back in “Agents of SHIELD’s” series. When Coulson called on May to pilot the Bus, she was working as a Level 3 agent doing paperwork. Still she was respected by her peers as an incredible field agent, despite her unwillingness to discuss her personal life or why she’s called “The Cavalry.”
“Melinda” shows that May actually was once a softer, more personable version of her current self. The episode’s flashbacks show a time when she and her then-husband Dr. Andrew Garner (guest star Blair Underwood) were ready to start a family. That’s why she was so sensitive about the safety of a young girl who was caught in the crossfires of a SHIELD mission.
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Coulson and May were sent off to bring in Eva Belyakov, a powered person — later revealed to be an Inhuman — who was causing trouble in Russia. Through a series of bizarre circumstances, all of their backup was captured, and May had to run a solo mission to try to save them.
It turned out that Eva wasn’t actually the enhanced person to be concerned about, but rather her daughter, Katia. In a different scene, Skye’s mother Jaiying (Dichen Lachman) revealed that Eva was a rogue Inhuman who used the Terrigen mist on her daughter without the approval of Afterlife’s (the Inhumans’ home base) leaders.
Because of Eva’s impatience, Katia wasn’t able to handle her abilities and went insane. Her power allowed her to leech emotions, so she took control of her mother, the SHIELD agents and many others, desiring their “pain.” Ultimately May had to put the girl down, a move that was full of consequences.
By the time Coulson found May and the rest of the SHIELD agents regained their senses, she was already emotionally devastated. She became known as the Cavalry because it looked like she had killed dozens of enemies, when only she knew that they were actually murdered by Katia. Because she wasn’t able to handle the situation, her marriage fell apart and she resigned to desk duty on Level 3. She also remains cautious of people with powers, which is why the reveal that Coulson has been gathering them made her (maybe?) decide to help the real SHIELD.
But those weren’t the only repercussions. The terrible situation forever changed how the Inhumans at Afterlife handled transitions through the Mist, and that’s why Skye’s situation is so precarious. After all, she underwent her transition outside of Afterlife’s system, thus making her a potentially dangerous outlier. Jaiying might be Skye’s mother, but they need to keep that a secret. The guide doesn’t want her people thinking she did for her daughter what Eva did.
“Our people know too well what a woman will do for her daughter,” Jaiying says.
So not only is May’s life still a shambles, but Skye can’t have the relationship she’s always wanted with her mother and the real SHIELD is using May’s anti-powered people slant against Coulson. Hopefully May has softened up a bit since getting to know Skye — as close to a mother/daughter relationship as she’s had in a while — and will come to terms with the fact that the death of Katia wasn’t actually her fault.