Last night’s episode was a blast. For the first time since the first episode, I found myself actually interested in what was going to happen. And, spoiler-free, here’s what I thought.

I can trace it to two things. First, and most obviously, the writing has improved. The show looks like it’s finally getting away from Marvel Studios patting it on the head and saying “good job, now run and play and let the adults do adult stuff.”

The second is that I have to admit that Skye is finally a real person. 

Granted, all the characters have gotten significant advancement this season, but it’s been a lot of work to overcome the flat personalities we started with. Skye has been the biggest issue. I’ve talked about it before (here, here, and here), but the summary is that she spent the whole first season looking like a fake tan with a half-assed actor attached. She always had perfect hair and makeup, even though she supposedly was living in a van for two years and then on a plane for a whole season. Even when she was shot up and confined to bedrest, she was looking only slightly mussed.

"I must look horrible! I haven't been to the beauty salon in hours! And I need to touch up my store-bought tan!"

“I must look horrible! I haven’t been to the beauty salon in hours! And I need to touch up my store-bought tan!”

Harsh? Okay, a bit. After all, with the horrid writing she was given, Lawrence Olivier would have had trouble acting his own way out of a paper bag. She still could have done a lot to firm up her character (her body language put her at “walking scenery” level as a default) but there wasn’t a lot to work with in the first place. She’s also proven she’s up to the task if she’s given the material.

One thing I noticed at the beginning of the second season, though, was that she finally stopped looking like she never misses a daily appointment at the spa and tanning booth. Here’s a comparison: two near-identical photos, taken about a full season apart:

Skye Comparison

I couldn’t take the Season 1 Skye seriously. She looked far too airbrushed. In almost every scene, she looked like she was about to be on a magazine cover. You know, the kind at the checkout counter where the models have been photoshopped beyond recognition.

Ironically, Skye looks and acts more human now that she’s, you know, Inhuman.

And, to give credit where credit is due, I think this is mostly because of Cloe Bennet herself. She’s been different ever since the start of the season, despite the continued bad writing treating her like a token member of the team — the tech geek semi-focus character who may or may not be intended as sex appeal (at least until Mockingbird showed up) that occasionally, you know, did stuff. Despite that handicap, Bennet has been doing a fantastic job at overcoming whatever was keeping her from looking and acting like not only someone in a grueling job, but also like a full SHIELD agent.

Last night’s episode, however, cemented this proof. Suddenly, Skye gets to be more than walking scenery. She gets to be more than just a MacGuffin that might or might not be plot-significant. She’s finally treated as a real person who matters as more than just a reason for action to happen. She finally gets to make decisions.

Character growth is all about pivotal decisions. It’s what happens as a result of making hard choices. And in “Who You Really Are,” she shows just that. She shows who she is. At a moment when literally everyone in the entire episode is making choices for her, she stands up and makes her own.

And that is why I’m finally interested in Agents of SHIELD again, as more than just a bystander watching geek shows or a blogger looking for topics. (And admittedly, Agents has given me a lot of topics.) For the first time, I like Skye. And now that Marvel is caring about the show, it looks to be a good ride.