Melinda Qiaolian May
Played By: Ming-Na Wen
Job Title: Specialist Agent
Clearance: Level 7
Special Skills: Pilot, Martial Arts
Height: 5′ 6" (1.7m)
First Appeared: 1×01 Pilot

Melinda Qiaolian May[1] is a Level 7 clearance Specialist agent working for S.H.I.E.L.D.. She is a pilot, combat expert and former administrator who is "soulful and slightly damaged by her combat experiences". She is known for going beyond the call of duty and has earned the nickname "The Cavalry", though she dislikes it deeply.


  • 1 Biography
    • 1.1 Season 1
      • 1.1.1 Uprising Arc
  • 2 Training and Abilities
  • 3 Relationships
  • 4 Memorable Quotes
  • 5 Trivia
  • 6 Other Appearances
  • 7 References

edit] Biography

Not much is known about May’s early life, except that she’s been married once before[2]. It can be inferred that Phil Coulson was her contemporary and close friend, as they were known to have sparred frequently in the old days. Coulson described her wistfully as a person who has always been quiet, but unlike recent years, May was "warm, fearless (in a different way), getting into trouble, pulling pranks, thought rules were meant to be broken", and she also despised the bureaucracy surrounding the organization, though she believes fiercely in the good that S.H.I.E.L.D. does. She can also be honest to a fault, a trait useful to get people to trust her.[3]

The turning point came during an Index/Asset Evaluation and Intake in Bahrain, an operation involving both Coulson and May, where an Unregistered Gifted and his/her followers or worshipers turned hostile and took a civilian woman and a few S.H.I.E.L.D. agents hostage. May volunteered to "fix the problem", and went in alone to cross off the enemy force. No details were known about what actually happened in the compound, but while May successfully took down all the hostiles in the building, she came out a different person than before, and refused to reveal the happenings inside the compound even to Coulson, who eventually told her that "you can’t undo what’s been done. That would be with you forever. But trying to hold onto this life, clinging to the person you thought you could be, that’s hell." Subsequent to this mission, she became outwardly hard, jaded and cynical, withdrawing into her shell and began following S.H.I.E.L.D. protocols strictly by-the-book, though she was internally tormented at what she’d been driven to do that day, likely constantly reliving the terrible experience, and reacted negatively to her new nickname "the Cavalry".

While the "legend" of this mission was passed around S.H.I.E.L.D. and its Academy in whispers that grew wilder with each passing year, May eschewed field work from then on and transferred to the S.H.I.E.L.D. administrative offices where she languished, alone and quiet in her cubicle, refusing to ever be put in a position like that ever again (it is not known if she experienced PTSD after Bahrain, though she was shown to be reasonably controlled when she later returned to the field). However, it is assumed that she kept herself combat ready and kept up with her piloting certification in the interim. She is also a practitioner of Tai-Chi, which helps stabilizes her emotions to keep her calm in times of stress.

It is not known whether she was, along with the rest of the Level 7 agents, aboard the Helicarrier during the events of The Avengers

edit] Season 1

Months after the Battle of New York, she was summoned from her office and briefed about her transfer into the new mobile command unit spearheaded by Phil Coulson, with a select small team and herself as the pilot. It is likely that she flatly refused the assignment, necessitating a personal visit from Coulson himself in order to persuade her to accept the transfer, cajoling her that he only needed her to drive The Bus (the nickname of Agent Coulson’s mobile command unit aircraft), liaise ground transportation, and conduct some onsite supervision, reassuring her that it wasn’t a combat op, to which she bitterly answered "then you don’t need me".

Eventually however, she was either persuaded or ordered to accept her new assignment, and reported for duty on The Bus, where she was joined by teammates Grant Ward, Leo Fitz, Jemma Simmons. Despite her best efforts, she was drawn again and again into combat situations, unavoidable due to the nature of their work, until she put her foot down in 1×03 The Asset, only for the mission to go south. She was then shown to chaff at her self-imposed exile from the field for the first time, and while all three of her teammates on that mission returned relatively unscathed, she resolved to re-join the field and offered herself as a combat agent from then on.

Initially against Coulson’s invitation to Skye to join their team, she voiced her objections together with Ward about the civilian’s blatant unsuitability to join, citing her lack of combat clearance in addition to Fitz and Simmons’. Her objections were overruled, but while she remained skeptical about the girl’s loyalties as well as her abilities, she kept quiet during the 0-8-4 investigation in [[Peru[[. The subsequent plane hijacking and Skye’s role in the retaking allowed her to relax her initial suspicion about Skye, and she suggested that Agent Ward take her under his wing if Skye chose to be a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.

She was as shocked as the rest of the team when S.H.I.E.L.D. Hong Kong claimed that The Rising Tide recently hacked into their data stream, which instantly renewed her suspicion of Skye, though Skye was not at fault. However, she agreed to tail Skye on Coulson’s orders while they tried to trace the source of the hack Miles Lydon, in Austin, Texas, and was both rewarded and devastated when their suspicions of Skye’s divided loyalties proved true. However, she neither gloated nor comforted Coulson at this revelation, merely remarking that "when someone breaks into my house, I don’t invite them to stay", and implicitly agreed with Coulson allowing Skye to remain with the team after the events of 1×05 Girl in the Flower Dress, though not without her reservations.

While she was leery about joining a team after years of cold, impersonal service in the depths of administration, her innate warmth made it difficult for her to not care about her teammates. Even early in the season, she establishes herself as Coulson’s principal confidante, became fiercely overprotective when Coulson’s former protegee Akela Amador attacked three members of their team (to the point of going over Coulson’s orders and trying to take Akela in by herself)[4], was deeply saddened when Simmons contracted a deadly alien virus ("She’s just a kid"), thawed enough to give silent comfort to a grieving Skye when Simmons requested to be left alone with Fitz[5], and was stressed enough to practice Tai-Chi when Agents Ward and Fitz went off-grid on a secret Level 8 mission in south Ossetia, as well as defying Level 8 mission controller Agent Victoria Hand to rescue the two when she learned that no extraction has been assigned[6]. She even went so far as to ask that Coulson tell her if something was wrong after she learned of his suspiciously premature physical examination as well as him talking about his death to a dying fireman in Pennsylvania, and comforted him over his traumatic death, bonding over their shared traumatic experiences.

She was also shown to be deeply moved when Amador told Coulson that she "should’ve trusted my team" the way Coulson had taught her and was slowly coming back to herself, surreptitiously joining in the team pranking when she covered Fitz’s face with cream while he slept.[3] However, May is still very reluctant to be more deeply invested in the team, evidenced by her spending most of her time sequestered away in the cockpit, and was also hesitant in assisting Coulson to uncover the heavily buried secrets about Skye’s background.[7]

Right after the events of Thor: The Dark World, the team came into contact with a Norse paganist hate group looking for pieces of a magical Berserker Staff that causes rage as well as super strength in its bearer. When infected teammate Grant Ward was drained from the effort it took to control two of the three Berserker Staff pieces to defeat most of the hate group’s followers, she forced him to let her help in the fight, and managed to control all three pieces of the Staff with seemingly little effort, though she was seen to nervously massage her hands later after she’d released the staff, likely not as unaffected by the staff as others thought. While the team was given an overnight at a local Irish hotel, she silently offered Ward companionship, and the two engaged in a sexual affair, keeping it a secret from the rest of the team while maintaining a professional distance on The Bus, though they also began to spend more time with each other sparring on The Bus.

This secret, along with the partial recovery of Skye’s file, which Coulson asked that she keep silent about while they looked for the entire truth, took a severe toll on May’s conscience and caused her to lash out at Skye when Skye caught her talking to Ward about not confusing their personal and professional connections on the Bus, as well as when May herself nearly blurted out the reason Coulson elected to keep Skye’s past a secret from her. The fences between them were mended when the team managed to retrieve a kidnapped Coulson from Project Centipede, and May, impressed with the young woman’s commitment to their team, recommenced the fact finding mission on Skye’s past, though it was partly also to distract Coulson from his new knowledge of his death and recovery. She became one of the four living people who now held partial knowledge of Skye’s origins, and was traumatized by the attempted murder of Skye while on the hunt for Project Centipede.

edit] Uprising Arc

Skye’s hopeless diagnosis at the S.H.I.E.L.D. trauma center in Zurich prompted the team as a whole to pursue the secret to Coulson’s recovery with a vengeance in the hopes of saving Skye as well, though not before May, in a fit of blind rage, almost killed Skye’s would-be murderer, Ian Quinn while he was in custody. She remained on the Bus to take charge of the weakening Skye as her other teammates retrieved the GH325 drug from the Guest House bunker, and was thus mystified when Coulson, previously the most driven person on the team in searching for the miracle drug, suddenly shouted to not inject Skye with it. For the first time since 1×06 F.Z.Z.T., Coulson refused to share the secret with May, something she was deeply disturbed about.

Over the next few days, it can be inferred that she tried to gently coax him to unburden himself, to no avail, especially when he suddenly took personal time off the Bus without ample reason, leaving her in charge of the team. The arrival of the Asgardians Lorelei and Sif however, quickly turned her attention back on their latest mission, which unfortunately for May, resulted in the sorceress Lorelei absconding and sleeping with a mind-controlled Ward. This, and the later revelation that Ward didn’t desire her despite their ongoing sexual affair, unbalanced May significantly even though she’d always maintained that their affair had been emotionless, especially on her side. Realizing that things between the two were getting personal even for her, she terminated her arrangement with Ward after Lorelei’s spell had been lifted.

In the aftermath of the Asgardians’ visit, it is finally revealed that she has The Bus (or at least Skye’s medical pod) bugged, and has been making regular reports to persons unknown on Coulson’s knowledge about the source of his recovery.

edit] Training and Abilities

While she was first seen in the administrative offices, it quickly became clear that she was criminally underused in this capacity. As a specialist agent, Melinda is well-versed in hand-to-hand combat, a versatile weapons expert known for her use of staffs and guns, and is a certified ace pilot. She infamously took down a group of civilian followers of a Gifted Individual in Bahrain alone and weaponless, the incident of which earned her the nickname of "The Cavalry" within S.H.I.E.L.D. ranks.

She speaks fluent Cantonese in addition to English.

edit] Relationships

  • Phil Coulson

Melinda May has been friends with Phil Coulson likely from their early days in S.H.I.E.L.D., and the two appeared to have a strong relationship before a traumatic event made May withdraw permanently from the field. He still harbors hopes that the woman he once knew before the Bahrain incident still exists, which is why he requested for her when he was the crew for his team. Currently, as close friends as well as being the two senior members of the team, they frequently discuss issues together, though sometimes Coulson’s reckless and unconventional methods made May, the more level-headed of the two, extremely frustrated. However, underneath the disagreements and exasperation, lies a solid friendship forged in the bonds of shared missions and goals.

  • Grant Ward

From the early days of The Bus, Agent Ward held May in high esteem and respect, and she in turn have a quicker understanding with him than the rest of the team, due to the similar thinking of both specialists, resulting in their ability to bounce orders off one another curtly with the full expectation of mission completion without undue arguments or explanations. Their relationship escalated quickly in the aftermath of their shared torment with Asgardian Berserker Staff[8], and they are now having a sexual affair, though she is very careful that they never overstep any emotional boundaries with it.

While Agent Coulson describes Skye as being similar to May in her earlier days, it is not known whether May sees her in quite the same light. Initially skeptical about the girl’s loyalties, which subsequently proven to be accurate certainly did not help build their relationship, not to mention Skye’s frequent clashes against authority on The Bus, but after seeing how deeply Skye can also care for their team, it softened May’s stance against the girl enough to treat her with a hidden fondness for the outsider, not even minding when Skye kept her silent company in the cockpit. However, her secret knowledge of Skye’s dangerous past has tainted their relationship, coming to a head when May finally exploded at Skye and made her cry. The two later patched up their relationship somewhat, when May was deeply impressed by the level of commitment shown by Skye in the rescue of a kidnapped Phil Coulson, and was devastated when Skye was almost shot dead on a mission gone wrong.

  • Leo Fitz / Jemma Simmons

The FitzSimmons duo regards May with a certain amount of awe based on stories of The Cavalry from their Academy days, and probably would not speak to her unless spoken to. She in turn is rather exasperated at their non-combat readiness, but if one or both of them are in trouble, she would not hesitate to protect them from harm.

edit] Memorable Quotes

edit] Trivia

  • The character was originally known as "Althea Rice" on the casting sheets.

edit] Other Appearances

No appearances outside Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. at this stage.

edit] References

  1. ↑ Name confirmed by episode writer Monica Breen
  2. 1×19 The Only Light in the Darkness
  3. 3.03.11×09 Repairs
  4. ↑1×04 Eye-Spy
  5. ↑1×06 F.Z.Z.T.
  6. ↑1×07 The Hub
  7. TVGuide.com interviews Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen
  8. ↑1×08 The Well

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