Set 7 years ago (slightly before the events of Iron Man, which kick-started this whole cohesive cinematic universe experiment) "Melinda" follows Agent May and Agent Coulson on the much talked about Bahrain mission as they attempt to recruit a woman with super-strength onto a new initiative that Fury is setting up - a not so subtle nod towards what we know will later become the Avengers. As the title would imply, this episode is predominantly concerned with finally revealing the meaning behind why May is referred to as the Cavalry, and why she hates it so much.
The stark contrast between the Agent May we know and the Agent May we see in the flashbacks goes a long way towards making May a more sympathetic character by the time the episode is over. Despite all the hints and build up towards finding out exactly what happened in Bahrain (which often leads to an underwhelming explanation in shows like this), the reveal doesn't disappoint - the Bahrain story may be one of the darkest that both the show and the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe has offered so far, and it's understandable why May's marriage failed afterwards, and why she left field work until Coulson recruited her to pilot the Bus way back when Agents of SHIELD first started.
We also drop in on Skye and Jiaying, who are attempting to help Skye better control her powers (while at the same time providing a nice thematic gel between the mother-daughter dynamic present in both halves of the episode). I'm half hoping that from now on, Skye can just use her powers as she sees fit - Agents of SHIELD has been getting better and better and cutting to the chase recently, and I think we've spent enough time watching people struggle with new found abilities - not just in the show, but in various forms of entertainment, particularly in the last 15 years.
Not a whole lot happens in the SHIELD vs 'real SHIELD' side of things, but that's OK - the small developments we do get are clearly building towards something bigger, and the two sides of this battle grow increasingly larger and less morally well defined. The concept of moral ambiguity and the idea that a confrontation is not made of 'good' and 'bad' people is hardly new, but it's great seeing a show like Agents of SHIELD embrace this idea after the clear cut, black and white first season.
"Melinda" is a solid episode on the whole, humanising Agent May expertly and adding a layer to her character that has only been hinted at in the past, as well as adding bits and pieces to the ongoing Inhuman and SHIELD vs 'real SHIELD' storylines that are no doubt about to explode. I'm struggling to see how exactly these stories can be reconciled into one before or during the season finale, but I'm not worried - Agents of SHIELD has earned the benefit of the doubt throughout its second season, and I look forward to seeing where the show takes me next.