I've been enjoying Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. since it first came out in 2013 and I've already done one Heroine Fix about the laconic and powerful Agent Melinda May, aka The Calvary. But today I want to look at another of the awesome ladies of S.H.I.E.L.D: Skye/Daisy Johnson/Quake, played by Chloe Bennet.
As I went back to rewatch some of the early episodes, it occurred to me that the character's story is really a modern Cinderella story with a superhero twist and no need for a rescuing prince. When we begin, Skye is living in her van and running a resistance movement online. She's an incredibly talented hacker (which strikes me as a more useful skill set than cleaning house with the aid of lyric-directed mice and birds) and is recruited by Agent Phil Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Bennet gives a masterfully nuanced performance, showing Skye's suspicion of Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D. as well as her desire to belong, both which make sense for someone who has been surviving on her own with no family and who has been subject to the foster care system. For the first season, she is the Everyman, getting to demonstrate the audience's wonder at the amazing things that S.H.I.E.L.D. has to deal with. There's a bit of a stepmother vibe between Skye and Agent May, who is continually pushing Skye to do better and Skye resisting those expectations as unrealistic. And there's a prince, the handsome Agent Grant Ward, who definitely shows signs of being smitten.
In season 2, the story shifts outside of the usual expectations for a fairytale or superhero narrative. We learn Skye's father, Cal, is still alive and searching for her (and is apparently a bad guy). When they meet, Cal tells Skye that her real name is Daisy and that H.Y.D.R.A. killed her mother. We also discover that Ward is a double-agent working for H.Y.D.R.A., making him forevermore ineligible as any kind of Prince Charming. Daisy is transformed, not by a fairy godmother, but by alien terragen crystals. She is cocooned in stone before shattering free.
Daisy is devastated by the multiple betrayals and shuts herself off from S.H.I.E.L.D. She has these incredible powers but they are destroying her. This part of her character arc was my favourite because it showed the value of chosen family. Agent Coulson and the others may not be Daisy's blood family, but they care about her in a way that her father can't. Her father's love is conditional, she must behave in a way that he approves and follow his example or his love is withdrawn. Her family at S.H.I.E.L.D. loves her and cares about her no matter what. They will protect her, fight beside her, and when necessary, fight against her to keep her from doing something she'll regret. They put themselves on the line to reach her.
The next complication in Daisy's life is the reintroduction of her mother, Jiaying, who runs a sanctuary/training camp for inhumans (those who gain powers from the terragen crystals). At first, Daisy is seduced by the apparent acceptance of those like her. And there's another handsome prince on the scene, the dashing Lincoln. And this one really does love her and want what's best for her. But Daisy's mother isn't what she appears. She only cares about the inhumans and doesn't care if the rest of humanity burns. She's also willing to sacrifice anything, including Daisy, to achieve her goals.
The power of Daisy's arc comes from the fact that she is given everything she wishes for in season one: her parents are alive, she becomes a respected member of S.H.I.E.L.D. (even leading the team for the most recent season), and she learns to fight so that she'll never be vulnerable again. But those gains also come with loss: her parents aren't the caring, supportive people that she hoped for, Ward is a traitor and Lincoln sacrifices himself for her, S.H.I.E.L.D. isn't always the good guys, and knowing how to punch and force-fling enemies aside doesn't mean she'll never be hurt again. When faced with this pain, her instinct is to cut herself off from the world and bear the burden alone.
But the other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents won't let her. Whether she wants them there or not, they are always there to support her, just as a family should. And they may not always get it right (because families are still just people and people make mistakes) but they don't give up.
That kind of family means a lot to me and it's one that I create for my own characters. No matter how strong, badass, and powerful a person is, a family always makes them stronger and DNA overlap is not the only kind of family. When we're most damaged, families are the ones who step up and say: don't worry, we got this.
(Keep on reading for more information on next month's Heroine Fix and a special offer on my books.)
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And if you'd like to see how my version of a chosen family with superpowers works, please check out my lalassu series about a secret society of superheroes living among us. Book 4 was just released and Book 1 is on sale for less than the price of a cup of coffee.
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Next month, I'll be going darkside to look at the magnificent and terrifying Hela from Thor: Ragnarok. Join me on July 12th as I take on the Goddess of Death for my next Heroine Fix.