So all the hype around the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" (aka all those Iron Man and Avengers movies), combined with the staggeringly high box office receipts for The Avengers, means that it was probably a matter of time before a television show materialized. That show is Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which arrived on ABC this past week.
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (hereafter Agents of SHIELD without all the periods) follows a small group of SHIELD agents, selected by not-actually-killed-in-The-Avengers-after-all-because-this-is-still-basically-a-comic-book Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), who specialize in investigating strange new (presumably) superhero-related happenings. The first episode focuses on a guy who seems to have enhanced strength and damage resistance, seen rescuing someone from a burning building. SHIELD want to locate this guy before something happens to him.
This pilot really looks like one, concerned with setting up mysteries while introducing the characters. The introductions start to feel like Torchwood, especially when the two techs with accents from Great Britain show up (and given how that show developed during its first season, we'd better hope for the sake of Agents of SHIELD that that ends up being a fleeting comparison). There's also an effort to overtly tie in the series with its cinematic siblings (even beyond the presence of SHIELD and Agent Coulson), with a technology at one point said to be derived from virtually every movie seen thus far.
Yet for all this set-up and introduction, Agents of SHIELD spends a fair amount of time making jokes -- you can tell this is a Whedon script. It juuuuuust about gets away with it, although I'm not sure if an entire series could maintain that balance. This might be a case of not enough plot meaning that other things have to take precedence, so perhaps the balance will shift appropriately once the showrunners feel confident that we're familiar enough with the characters to focus on other things. We'll see.
So is it any good? The answer is a guarded yes. The show currently has the possibility to go any number of ways, and it will be curious to see which path it ultimately decides to take. Hopefully it'll end up more like The X-Files or Fringe than Torchwood, but at this point it's too soon to tell.
Random thought #1: I hope the superhero in the pilot comes back and adopts the name "Luke Cage", with him getting the last name from actor Nic Cage -- thus bringing it around full circle.
Random thought #2 (MINOR SPOILERS): There's some groundwork being laid that Agent Coulson is not what he seems. Maybe he's a robot. Maybe he's really Ultron! After all, the next Avengers movie is Age of Ultron...
Review written September 29, 2013
Coulson's team is sent to Peru to investigate an Incan temple and a strange artifact that inexplicably has absolutely nothing to do with the Eternals. But they're not the only ones who've heard about it...
Pilot episodes are a bit of an odd bunch when it comes to television shows. They have to do a lot of setting up and getting people interested in continuing to watch the show, but that often doesn't leave much room for stylistic choices, for really establishing what a show is going to be like. That job is frequently left to the second episode, to say, "Ok, you saw who we are and what we're doing; now it's time to see how we're really going to go about it."
So it might be a little worrying that the second episode doesn't seem to have any more sense of the show's identity than the first one did.
In many ways, this actually feels more like the second half of a pilot -- we'd seen the team form, now we see them start to work together as they chase after more leftovers from the movies. But there's not really much to distinguish this episode beyond that. We learn a little more about the characters, and that's about it.
Of course, it doesn't help matters much that the main audience identification figure, the hacker named Skye (Chloe Bennet), isn't particularly likable -- despite the show's best efforts to prove she is. "Look, she's got a Hula Girl doll!" the show yells at us. "Yeah, but she's still kind of smug!" you want to yell back. This means that the little twist at the end doesn't have as much impact as it was supposed to. "Oh, ok then," was my reaction, rather than "Oh no!" Agent Ward (Brett Dalton) isn't particularly likable either, but at least he's not supposed to be. At least the rest of the main cast do fine (although I'm not sure how worried I should be that the older Asian woman is also stereotypically an expert in martial arts; Ming-Na Wen, who plays Agent May, is probably the best character here, so perhaps it's best to simply acknowledge this with a little headshake and move on).
The thing is, there's nothing particularly wrong about "0-8-4". It's a decent story even if slight, and they've dialed back the humor from last week. It's just that there's not anything to make it stand out from all its brethren. Maybe this was a fluke, a brief exploration of one of the paths Agents of SHIELD could have taken before it went in a different direction. Or maybe this really is what the show is all about. At this point it's too difficult to say.
Review written October 2, 2013
When a high-security asset is impossibly stolen, it's up to Coulson's team to find it and bring it back...
Certainly it's different from last week's episode. Last week felt like a character study that someone wrapped a (slight) plot around. We still have the character study this week, but at least it takes a back seat to the story this time. The main downside is that the character being studied is still Skye, who still seems determined to be unlikeable, despite all the efforts of the script. Well, to be fair, the script is a bit schizophrenic: for every effort to give her a sympathetic moment, it also throws in a smug wisecrack to bring things back to square one. I think it's an attempt to show that Skye is damaged and is always presenting an impenetrable front, but if that's the case then that front's working too well. We get self-satisfied Skye and vulnerable Skye, but never in the same scene.
Still, at least it's not all about her; we also get a story with crazy comic book elements and rich powerful CEOs that's reasonably engaging and finally not referring back to the movies -- and hey, it looks like we even get the origin of a supervillain! Things are looking up.
What "The Asset" resembles, more than anything else, is an early episode of Fringe, but it has just enough personality to distinguish it. If this really does turn into a setting-up episode for the series, as it appears to be, then things might be looking up.
If, on the other hand, none of this is referred to again, then that's a problem, as there hasn't really been any other set up of (in Buffy terms) the Big Bad. But that's something we can only determine in hindsight...
It's not a perfect episode, but it doesn't really try to be. This is really where Agents of SHIELD appears to settling in, after two episodes of pilots, and declaring to the world the sort of show it's going to be. And if this is where things are headed, then it might actually be worth sticking around for the destination.
Review written October 10, 2013
Someone has been pulling off complex, seemingly impossible heists -- and it looks like it's a former protégée of Agent Coulson's...
(Apologies on the delay on this. CenturyLink screwed up our cable for a week, and then the first version of this disappeared when Facebook decided to get rid of my drafts, so I'm still playing catch-up...)
The thing about "Eye Spy" is that this looks so much like an early first-season episode of a television show, one of those episodes that looks like it might end up be significant in the future but is largely a dead-end, that it's actually slightly impressive. It's concerned with telling a story that may or may not be followed up on later, and because it doesn't know that much about the characters yet it's chosen to focus on the plot instead.
That may actually be its biggest strength. It certainly throws everything into sharp relief.
The problem with the first three episodes, character-wise, is that they were all trying way too hard to develop the characters, which meant we kept getting annoying "quirks" that are never followed up on. "Eye Spy" is much more interested in its plot, which means that the characters get a chance to be. Suddenly we get a much better sense of these characters and how they tick than we have over the previous 3 episodes. That said, we don't completely escape the Annoying Quirk of the Week, as this time around Fitz and Simmons are its main victims, but at least it's over early on. And it also doesn't hurt that most of the jokes are actually amusing this time around (like the "short bus" gag). Is it a coincidence that this is the first episode that Jed Whedon and Marissa Tancharoen haven't had a significant hand in writing?
It also helps that the plot is interesting, and not nearly as hackneyed as it looks like it's going to be. It's nice to be surprised.
So if Agents of SHIELD continues down this path, of being more interested in its plots than in being relentlessly idiosyncratic with its characters, then things are definitely looking up.
Review written October 26, 2013
Someone's leaked SHIELD information about a Super who's been kidnapped as a result...
Oh my word. Has there ever been a more schizophrenic episode of a television show than "Girl in the Flower Dress"?
On the one hand we have some more developments in the "centipede" storyline that began in the pilot. That stuff is quite interesting and engaging, and there are some suitably dramatic and entertaining moments throughout. On the other hand there's more Skye stuff, and it's of the sort that could lead to serious sprain from all the eye-rolling going on.
I guess a part of me is glad that they're dealing with this "is Skye a traitor?" crap that they introduced in the pilot now instead of as a "dramatic" season finale, but for heaven's sake, could they have made it any more hackneyed and annoying? Without trying to give too much away, her actions are completely unjustified and no sympathy is engendered for her position -- rather, I suspect, the opposite of what they were intending. The one saving grace of this story thread is that, as I said before, they're nipping this in the bud now rather than further down the line, as if the showrunners realized it was a mistake but knew they had to acknowledge it somehow. But when mercy-killing a plot strand is seen as the only positive, that's probably a sign that something went wrong.
But as I said, contrasting with this is more about the "centipede" stuff, which actually is interesting. To be honest, this part of the episode is a major con job, as we hardly learn anything that we didn't know before -- but at least it's stylishly done, and as a result manages to salvage this episode from being a total write-off.
It could have easily been much worse. But what we got isn't very good, and veers wildly from watchable to un-. But at least we seem to be moving on with the Skye subplot. That said, if there was one episode to show someone what Agents of SHIELD is all about, this would probably be at the bottom of the list of candidates.
Review written October 28, 2013
A freak electrostatic charge kills a Boy Scout leader -- and more people will die if Coulson's team can't figure out what's going on...
In many ways this felt like it could have been a generic episode of any "special team investigates weird goings-on" show. This was just as easily an episode of Fringe (or Torchwood, or The X-Files, or Threshold, or Warehouse 13, or...) as Agents of SHIELD. Other than a tenuous link back to The Avengers, there was nothing here to distinguish this specifically a Marvel problem (i.e., superheroes and their world). This might be the most average, undistinguished episode of the series yet.
This extends to the characters. Everyone gets some nice moments, but there's not really anything here that feels like a natural progression of the characters from the last five episodes (with a couple small exceptions). This even extends to expository dialogue that lets you know what happened last time, as if that's a substitute for actual characterization. Skye is still in trouble with the team, and she never lets us forget it, but it doesn't feel like there's a reason to bring it up -- just that the writer feels the need to acknowledge it happened.
Admittedly the episode takes an interesting (albeit not unpredictable) left turn halfway through which makes things more personal, but there's never really any doubt that things will work out. It does allow Fitz and Simmons a bit more characterization, mind (the aforementioned exceptions), which is nice, since up to this point they've been little more than cyphers.
But at the end of the day, "FZZT" is a very average episode -- largely unmemorable and simply there to fill 45 minutes of screen time, rather than advance the overall plot or allow the writer to work through a few personal demons. Which, somewhat worryingly, might make it the best episode thus far.
Review written November 13, 2013
When a dangerous weapon threatens to destabilize the South Caucasus region, it's up to Agents Ward and Fitz to disarm it before it's too late...
So last time I made a somewhat snarky comment suggesting that the previous episode, by virtue of being a generic, unmemorable science fiction conspiracy show, was the best that Agents of SHIELD could muster. So it was heartening to see such a massive upswing in quality this time around. "The Hub" was easily the best episode yet.
Part of its success is that "The Hub" is using the basic concept a lot more effectively. For the first time, we really got a sense of the larger picture surrounding Agent Coulson and his team, that SHIELD really is a multinational organization with hundreds of agents at their disposal and Our Heroes are only a small part of the big picture. After all, the show's called Agents of SHIELD, not Agents of Coulson. This is what this series needs, and it brings us to a larger point.
At its core, the most frustrating thing about Agents of SHIELD is that they've been given a great concept (essentially, a chance to play in Marvel's sandbox, with all the toys that entails at their disposal) that they've been squandering. The first few episodes have been more or less interchangeable with any number of other shows -- they could have all been dropped into a show like Fringe with a minimum of effort. They've been content to tread well-worn paths without adding anything different or interesting, and the result is, frankly, rather poor. (And here I'm reminded of this past Monday's Penny Arcade (explicit language in that link, FYI).) They should be dealing with other superheroes, or helping coordinate with a larger mission, or something other than handling the small-time threats we've gotten for the past six weeks. This was the first time in which it felt like we had an episode that was actually an Agents of SHIELD episode, rather than another show that someone quickly rewrote to change the names to the right characters.
It also helped that this really felt like the first time that someone was writing for the characters as characters, rather than as cyphers. Everyone got a chance to behave as actual people, from Fitz getting the cart stuck in the door to Coulson's reactions to both Skye and Agent Hand. Even Skye's rebellious nature felt like a natural extension of her character, rather than an awkward Quirk™. Plus it helps that the humor was once again natural, not forced (something we haven't really seen since 1.4, "Eye Spy").
A part of me is worried that this was a happy accident, rather than a sign of things to come, and that we'll be back to sub-X-Files episodes next week. But for 45 minutes, the true potential of this show was clear. "The Hub" was an episode firing on all cylinders. Add some superheroes and villains into this mix and they'd be all set.
Review written November 16, 2013
An extremist group have located an ancient deadly weapon -- and it's up to Coulson's team to stop them from using it...
Apparently this is the official tie-in episode with Thor: The Dark World, and you can tell because the first few minutes are about cleaning up after what happened in the movie. Soon things move on to a different, related-but-not-really story. This is probably a good thing, since that initial set-up probably wouldn't have sustained a full episode.
So last time we had an episode that showed how to do the globe-trotting aspect that this show needs. This week, pleasantly enough, we get a comic-looking episode. By being about something that specifically ties into the world you're creating without having actually referenced it before (in this case, something from Asgard), they're expanding their horizons. They're starting to work out that not every episode needs to deal with some different aspect of the Chitauri (you know, the not-actually-Skrulls that invaded in The Avengers), or yet another use for the Tesseract (you know, the not-actually-Cosmic Cube from The Avengers). In other words, this feels a lot more like a comic book than yet another generic sci-fi conspiracy drama.
It doesn't hurt that the characters are continuing to settle down and become characters; they're not quite there yet, but it's still leagues ahead of where we started, and there's some good characterization presented here -- we learn more about Agent May in one line than we've learned about Skye in 8 episodes. Of course, we may have to resign ourselves to the fact that Skye is just frequently an annoying person, but at least it's being downplayed now.
It's not the greatest episode ever, but it is a solid one, and certainly on the trajectory towards improving. Keep it up, Agents.
Review written November 26, 2013
A woman appears to have developed telekinetic powers, but when Coulson's team investigate they find that the truth is far stranger...
Another week, another episode that could have been on Fringe.
All right, to be fair, the central idea at work here is also very comic-booky (comic-bookesque? what's the adjective for something being akin to the work of a comic book?). But it's not taken far enough in that direction, and so it still ends up looking generic.
And at least it's well done. Despite the initial horror promised in the first few minutes (Fitz and Simmons are going to prank Skye! Hilarious!), things actually settle down to be reasonably entertaining. The script wisely chooses to focus on the main plot, and the "prank" subplot only occasionally gets a look in. (That said, their first--and really the only successful--devious prank against Skye is to, er, exaggerate a true story about Agent May. We're not even into Ashton Kutcher territory here.) And thankfully that main plot is quite good, and the twists come at the right time and keep things interesting.
But still, there's nothing here that couldn't have been done elsewhere -- but at least what we got probably wouldn't have been any better on a different show. A solid effort, but not outstanding.
Review written December 4, 2013
When super-soldiers spring a dangerous criminal from prison, Agent Coulson decides to bring in an old acquaintance to help them get him back...
Oh hey. Long time no see. Sorry about that, but you know how it is; you decide to put off watching a not-really-that-exciting show for a week, and then the next thing you know it's been over two months.
But to be honest, this isn't too bad. There's still that annoying trait common to virtually every episode where it sounds like they're just trying too hard to make the dialogue full of one-liners, but everyone behaves like reasonable human beings. And it definitely doesn't hurt that they've brought back Luke Ca-, er, Mike Peterson, the guy from the pilot, to be some added muscle as the team goes up against the Centipede people again. Which means we actually get some superhumans fighting superhumans. Ok, it's not the most visually exciting fight ever, but they're still punching each other hard against shipping containers and generally doing things that go beyond the realm of Fringe, so we're doing all right.
Seriously though, they should make Peterson a member of the team. J. August Richards shines as a man just trying to do the right thing, even though he's been forced into uncomfortable circumstances, and as such he's one of the best things about this episode. Even when he has to make a very difficult decision at the end, you can understand why he does what he does and you can't help but feel for the guy.
It's a big cliffhanger episode (probably because the series then went away for three weeks), but I have to say I felt more for Mike Peterson than any of our main characters, even given the fate of one of them. But maybe the next few will shake things up a bit at least. Probably not for the better, but hey, we can hope, right?
This is a decent episode; it's not spectacular (although you do occasionally get the feeling that they were in fact going for spectacular), but it doesn't drop the ball in any way. So let's call it a win this time around.
Review written March 8, 2014
The people behind Agent Coulson's kidnapping are trying to figure out how he came back from the dead, while his team tries desperately to track him down...
This episode continues the trend of reasonably decent ones. Because it's following on from the end-of-year cliffhanger, there's a sense of tension and a ticking clock that hasn't really been present before. This certainly helps no end.
What also helps is May's removal of Skye from the team's plane -- we therefore get to see Skye work on her own and try and bluff her way through situations, an awkward confidence (if you know what I mean) which just about works for her character. This is a much better use of Skye than "wise-cracking computer know-it-all with occasional parent issues", which so far has been the summation of her character.
But really, this episode belongs to Clark Gregg, as he fights against his captors before starting to succumb to their temptations as to what really happened after New York. Gregg pitches his performance so well, wanting to learn more about Tahiti but not being willing to give the Clairvoyant's people what they want to know -- a way to cheat death. He does a great job, and his scene opposite Ron Glass is fantastic.
The nature of this episode means we're unlikely to get more like it, but this is definitely one of the more watchable episodes yet -- not perfect, but heading in the right direction.
Review written April 5, 2014
When a bizarre incident happens at SHIELD Academy (or whatever it's actually called -- I can't be bothered to check), Fitz, Simmons, Ward, and Skye all go investigate.
Normally I try to keep these things relatively spoiler-free, but I don't think I can adequately discuss this episode without giving a bunch away. So consider yourself warned: SPOILERS AHEAD.
So Agents of SHIELD has started to establish itself as a somewhat reliable show; it's not what you'd call "must-see TV", but they've managed to avoid most of the pitfalls that plagued the earlier episodes, and so lately the episodes have been entertaining if forgettable. "Seeds" continues this trend fairly successfully, except for two (well, two-and-a-bit) concerns.
The stuff at the beginning I was on board with. It was entertaining without being dumb, and no one's saying things that make you want to punch them. And they give Fitz a chance to be serious and a real person, rather than just the comedic relief/technobabble provider. The scenes with him and Donnie are really nice without being cloyingly sweet. And I liked the twist regarding the perpetrator of the attacks.
No, the problems are about the "Skye's origins" subplot, and the ending(s) of the main storyline. Although Clark Gregg and Ming-Na Wen are both excellent in these scenes, the story thread itself is fundamentally flawed. See, it turns out that Skye is special and magical and who the hell knows what else. Which, other than bringing Skye dangerously close to "wunderkind" territory (aka "Wesley Crusher Syndrome"), feels wrong on a basic level. We haven't seen any indication that Skye is special (other than a talent for hacking), and perhaps more importantly, the show hasn't done a good enough job of making us like and care about Skye for this to succeed. It's pitched as an "oh my goodness" moment, but it comes across as "oh great" instead.
The other issues are smaller but no less irritating. Ok, so Donnie and Seth try to soup up their ice machine and end up creating a super storm that appears to be threatening a substantial portion of the United States. The Coulson Jet (actually, what are we supposed to call their mobile HQ?) swoops in and rescues Donnie (Seth was killed earlier), despite all the danger. And they fly off and all is well. Well, except for the gigantic storm still blowing that will damage hundreds of buildings and probably kill people too. But I guess we'll ignore that.
Oh, and it's a little too "neat" to make Ian Quinn (from 1.3, "The Asset") also an agent of the Clairvoyant. Honestly, there are only like two agencies hiring in the world: SHIELD and the Clairvoyant.
But even with these problems, it's still a decent episode.
Review written April 30, 2014
Cybertek is delivering a special package to Ian Quinn via train, so Coulson decides to use it to track Quinn down.
This is only an issue if you looked it up (or saw it on the DVR or something), but...what is up with the name of this episode? It doesn't stand for anything in the episode...
So they've taken a fairly standard-feeling plot and played with the editing a bit. It feels a bit gimmicky (and they're clearly doing it to preserve the surprise of "what happened to the train?"), but it does work.
But this feels less like an episode in its own right and more like a set-up for bigger things along the way. Which isn't a bad thing, honestly, but this is fairly clearly building up for the "shocking" ending and its cliffhanger. I won't say more than that about those events (although it'll come up with the next episode). And the stuff with Mike Peterson is also good (and his final reveal suggests that this show might finally turn into the show it should have been from the beginning -- which is to say, more like a comic book and less like every other current sci-fi show out there).
It's not the best or most exciting episode, but as part 1 of a 2(?)-part storyline, it does its job well enough.
Coulson and Ward trying to figure out how to use the holotable is easily the best part though.
Review written May 2, 2014
In a desperate bid to save Skye's life, Agent Coulson must turn to the people who brought him back from the dead...
(Why yes, I am trying to catch up on this show. Glad you noticed.)
So we left last time with Skye in dire straits and unlikely to do the walk of life (yes, I see what I did there), and everyone on the team blaming themselves about it. Her condition is extremely critical, and it seems desperate measures are called for. So enter Bill Paxton as a fellow Agent who ultimately agrees to help Coulson save her in exchange for Ian Quinn, who he's been tracking down for some time and is currently on board the mobile HQ. (The bus? I think I heard someone call it the "bus".) Bill Paxton is a great addition to the episode, and you really get the sense that he's known these people before this episode. And his second, Antoine Triplett, is also likeable. And thankfully neither of them are traitors.
But this episode is really about learning more about what happened to Coulson when he was "in Tahiti", and Skye's condition is used as an excuse for this. So we get a super secret bunker with only two guards who won't talk, and no sort of identification or anything. Yes, it's one of those "just leaves more questions" episodes, but as this is probably the most interesting plot arc of the show (much better than the "Skye is special" or "the Clairvoyant knows all" ones), I'm willing to give them some time. Still, waaaaaaaaay more questions than answers -- and that shot of what Coulson saw in that tank is a bit of a headscratcher too.
And finally! The end teaser indicates they're going to do something that really feels like it's from the comic books. 'Bout time.
Still, this was an entertaining episode with almost no real concerns. Looks like Agents of SHIELD have finally hit their stride.
Oh, and bring back Bill Paxton. He can be a recurring character on this show any day.
Review written May 3, 2014
When an Asgardian named Lorelei comes to Earth to build an army and rule the world, it's up to Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) to stop her -- and she needs Coulson's team to help her.
At its heart, "Yes Men" is a stand-alone episode, one that could be easily skipped over (save for a scene or two) without affecting the storyline of later events (well, at least that's how it seems -- I suppose things could turn out differently from my prediction here). But while previous episodes like this have seemed bog-standard and pointless, "Yes Men" succeeds by finally fully embracing its comic book heritage and bringing us a character from the comics.
The story itself isn't anything special, but it's done with a certain amount of fun; this means that the end result is quite entertaining. And while it sort of looks like this episode was designed to give a special guest role to Jaimie Alexander, that's actually a good thing because Lady Sif is great fun and a portrayed as a kick-ass character. And by actually dealing in Lorelei with someone that's a) from the comics and b) not from the movies, we get a look into the rich history that Agents of SHIELD should be drawing from more frequently. To be fair, it's a hard line to walk: you want them to create new things and innovate, but you also want them to actually use the Marvel universe -- otherwise, why call it Marvel's Agents of SHIELD? But this is an episode that errs on the right side of this equation. I don't know that I'd want every episode to be a guest Marvel villain of the week, but up to this point the balance has been tilted too far the other way.
And so now we just have one episode left before Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out in theatres -- and given what happened in that movie, it'll be interesting to see where they go from there. But "Yes Man" provides nice breathing space before those events start to unfold on the small screen.
Review written May 5, 2014
SHIELD is ready to find the Clairvoyant -- but will the Clairvoyant and Deathlok find them first?
Oh hey, Bill Paxton and B.J. Britt are back as Garrett and Triplett! I guess I wasn't the only one entertained by them.
Actually, this episode brings together all the SHIELD agents we've encountered thus far (well, except for Nick Fury, and even he shows up at the end, albeit in a clip from Captain America: The Winter Soldier). They've decided to go after the Clairvoyant, and they've narrowed down the list of suspects to apparently three. Pretty soon they narrow that list down to one, and so we get a taut, action-packed episode, as SHIELD goes up against Deathlok in the Clairvoyant's base. By the way, they've done a really nice job with Mike Peterson's character arc, and I have to say I didn't see him becoming Deathlok. But it really works (and the X-ray scan of him where he looks more like the comic book version of the character was a very nice touch).
This is an episode that pays off a lot of the things that have been building this season, but it also raises just as many questions and leads to even higher stakes. After the fight with Deathlok and the confrontation with the Clairvoyant (as played by Brad Dourif), you'd think things would start to wind down. But, smartly, they actually end with a payoff involving a possible traitor on board, followed by a nice twist that was only sort of signposted -- in other words, you knew something along these lines was going to happen, but you weren't quite sure what. It's a very effective ending.
It took them six months and sixteen episodes, but Agents of SHIELD has finally become as compelling and worthwhile as it promised to be.
Next up, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the fallout from that.
Review written May 6, 2014
A major takeover has left not just SHIELD but Agent Coulson's team in turmoil. As their world collapses around them, who can they trust?
So this is the episode that aired the Tuesday after Captain America: The Winter Soldier (and woe to anyone following this show who didn't see that movie opening weekend), and given the events in that movie, one expected that there would be dramatic repercussions in Agents of SHIELD. Fortunately, "Turn, Turn, Turn" delivered.
As might be expected, this was an action-packed episode with lots of twists and turns. The paranoia that's always been mildly present in this series (and the versions of SHIELD we've seen in the movies as well) is cranked up significantly as each member of Coulson's team seems to be under suspicion of being loyal to Hydra. There are certainly quite a few plot twists (some expected, some not) that keep the viewer engaged and guessing.
And so, much like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, this episode is an action-packed thriller that deals squarely with the events of that movie, shaking things up in ways that it will be interesting to see the consequences of in coming episodes. And it's always good to see Bill Paxton -- and it sure looks like we'll be seeing a lot more of him in the coming weeks. Plus, the action sequences are also good (although I have to ask -- in the climactic fight, how does Agent May get free of her handcuffs?), even if the CGI plane sequences are somewhat less-than-impressive.
So this is ultimately an episode to tie in with CA:TWS rather than to answer major questions that the show itself has been exploring -- as it is, the only question we seem to get a definitive answer to is, "Who really is the Clairvoyant?", and even that revelation still leaves a number of unanswered questions -- but given the fate of SHIELD in the movie, the result here is an excellent (and, if we're being honest, much needed) shakeup of the show.
Review written May 11, 2014
Still reeling from Hydra's internal attack on SHIELD, Coulson has to decide who to trust as he follows up on what might have been Fury's final message...
They probably could have called this episode "Aftermath" and been just as accurate. This episode is all about trying to pick up the pieces from last week's revelations (themselves fueled by Captain America: The Winter Soldier (and if we're lucky, this'll be the last time I have to mention that movie)). SHIELD is still in tatters, and to make matters worse, the government wants to shut them down. And they send in Colonel Glenn Talbot to do it. Talbot, of course, is from the Hulk comics as Bruce Banner's rival for the affections of Betty Ross (among other things), so we're getting some more nice tie-in moments with the comic book universe. (And the fact that Talbot wasn't in The Incredible Hulk, and thus no recasting is needing to be even considered, is probably an added bonus).
But this episode is about two things: Coulson trying to pick up the pieces of not just SHIELD but his whole world, and John Garrett becoming an immediate threat to SHIELD. The Ward subplot that we get as a result is actually quite nice, even if a little clichéd, but it looks like there's at least a little mileage to be gained from the potential betrayal angle. That said, it would probably be a good idea not to drag things out too long in this regard, as it would be all too easy to push this idea over the edge into "get on with it already" territory.
And Clark Gregg gets a nice opportunity to show his acting chops too. All too often he has to be the calm and collected member of the group, but here he gets to expand a bit, as we see just how much the recent events have affected him. His outburst about 3/4 through the episode is very well acted. And the introduction of Patton Oswalt as Eric Koenig (who's also a comic book character, albeit a less well-known one) is also a nice moment.
Still, this is essentially a transition episode, as we move into a new phase of the show, but it does a good job regardless. There's enough here that's worthwhile to make "Providence" a success, and it looks like we've decidedly left those early, rudder-less episodes behind.
Review written May 12, 2014
Coulson has to stop an escaped supervillain from harassing his one-time girlfriend, while Ward tries to get Skye to unlock the hard disk of data that she encrypted...
This feels a lot like a transition episode, and consequently the main focus is on the continuing story of Grant Ward's betrayal (not that anyone knows that yet) rather than the ostensible A-plot, protecting Coulson's former flame Audrey Nathan from an escaped Fridge inmate named Marcus Daniels (hooray for Nova villains!). Daniels has control of something called the Darkforce (so we can expect future appearances from Cloak and Dagger?) and he's using it to stalk this poor woman. As you might expect, Coulson and his team are successful.
No, it's the Ward plot that has the most meat. The lie detector scene is a nice moment (and hooray for Doctor Who references!), even if Agent Koenig is awfully trusting, given how many red flags Ward is throwing up. And the moments with Skye and Ward, both before and after Ward goes to the bathroom (look, I'm trying to avoid spoilers here -- just accept that that's not as odd a pivotal moment as it might seem), are also really well done. In fact, it makes Skye much more interesting after we see her behavior post-bathroom break (I'm just going to embrace this), as we're curious as to how this will unfold.
It's not the most exciting episode, but it's continuing the solid trend that Agents of SHIELD has been maintaining, so ultimately, the only complaint is that it feels a bit slight. Which isn't that big a complaint at all, to be honest.
Review written May 21, 2014
After the team discovers that Ward is a traitor, they try to get Skye back from him -- before it's too late...
This feels like the climactic season finale, so it's a bit odd that we have two episodes to go. All the pieces are here, though: a chase, lots of double-crosses, Talbot coming into their secret base to arrest them all... it feels big and important. And not only that, but it also feels final, in a way; there's a sense of coming full circle, as Skye leads Ward back to the place where she met Mike Peterson in the pilot, only for her to betray him. All this and a fight against Deathlok.
It's a good episode, and it solves a lot of the immediate problems that Coulson's team has been facing, what with SHIELD disintegrating and all the Hydra stuff. And there's even a sense of closure at the end; no cliffhanger ending this time, but instead a sense of new beginnings (and I would like to say that I'm glad Agent Triplett appears to be staying on). Obviously not everything is solved (or else they wouldn't have a second season), but enough is to make it satisfying. One therefore gets the sense that the last two episodes of the season are going to be about setting up the second season plot arcs than about dealing with any of the unresolved issues here. But if you're looking for a natural climax to this first season, you could do worse than "Nothing Personal".
Review written September 3, 2014
Coulson and his team -- now with no official status -- try to track down Garrett and Ward via the only lead they have: Cybertek.
OK, so I was wrong; there apparently were some more details to address without launching into a brand-new plotline. And while we do get some new revelations (such as about Garrett), they seem more like additional details than game-changers. But the stuff that we get is (largely) interesting -- even the Ward flashbacks that I initially found terribly pointless -- and I only had to yell at the characters on the screen once (during the Ward-Raina chat about Skye, where I was roughly ten lines ahead for the whole scene; give your audience some credit, guys). Plus, all the stuff about Triplett's grandfather in the Howling Commandos, and the gadgets he had, were fun.
And there also seemed to be a neat theme about compassion running through the episode, with Garrett regarding it as a weakness and Coulson as a strength, which seems like it might tie into Ward's future on the show. That was a nice touch.
The episode ends on a good cliffhanger, too; as such, this feels like a transitional episode, with the resolution coming up in the season finale. That's not a bad thing -- it just means this is essentially just the first part of a multi-part story.
Review written September 4, 2014
Coulson and his team face off against Garrett and Hydra in this explosive season finale! 'Nuff said!
This was a surprisingly entertaining send-off, with lots of action and some fun guest appearances, and honestly more storylines were wrapped up than I thought would be. I assumed this would be a standard end-of-season cliffhanger, but it wasn't. If the show had been cancelled, this would have been an acceptable stopping point -- not ideal, but acceptable.
There's certainly some fun to be had -- a lot of the episodes have been somewhat serious lately, but this one manages to balance action and drama with humor that doesn't feel forced. "If you told me this whole Hydra path thing you took is because you misheard my damn 'one man' speech..." one character says to Garrett, and you can't help but smile. And as I said before, there's a decent amount of storyline wrap-up occurring, which means we do get some answers and resolutions that are much welcome.
I'll be honest; if you had told me at the start of this series that we'd get a season finale as good as this one, I wouldn't have believed you. But, somehow, Agents of SHIELD managed to turn the ship around midstream and change from a dull and derivative action-SF series into something more interesting, and that didn't happen just because some plot lines finally started taking off; no, it seems there was a conscious effort to change the tone of the show into something more individual and unique, and this was definitely a good decision to make. It's not the greatest show ever, and it's not on the same level as the Marvel movies that this ties in to, but by the end it has at least become something worth your attention, and if season 2 continues on this path then the show will be in good shape.
Review written September 25, 2014
Page last updated: September 25, 2014