Marvel’s AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.: The H.I.G.H.S. and L.O.W.S. of the ABC Series’ Freshman Season

     May 31, 2014

agents-of-shield-season-1-review

And so ends the initial chapter of Marvel Studios’ first foray into the world of network television.  Whether you liked the so-called Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or they weren’t your cup of tea, you have to admire Marvel for attempting to create a running television show that reflected the events of the movie universe that they currently have running.  Since I’ve been with you true believers since the beginning of this season, who better to diagnose the best, and worst, parts of the first season?  Go ahead and grab your level 7 clearance, rock your finest suit, and hop on the “Bus” as we walk you through what aspects the show can focus on for season two and which can be avoided. 

The H.I.G.H.S.: “The Twist” 

agents-of-shield-turn-turn-turn-clark-greggNever was it more apparent that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was deeply entwined in the epic events taking place in the movies than with the arrival of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  In the film, Marvel’s long standing organization, S.H.I.E.L.D., found itself infiltrated by the evil ranks of Hydra and was effectively shut down completely in order to put an end to their nefarious plans.  This presented the agents with a challenge that led them down an unpredictable road where their resources were laid to waste and nothing was as it seemed.  Characters were killed, others changed sides, and there was a general sense that the change was so deep and catastrophic that the name of the show would be changed to “Agents of Nothing”.  It was certainly an apt title as the protagonists struggled to find their place in the world and fight against agents Ward and Garrett, who had turned out to be agents of Hydra the entire time in a devilishly good twist. The creators had clearly known this moment was coming from Cap 2 and did a great job of capitalizing it, as the show sprinted toward it’s finale once the bomb dropped.

The L.O.W.S.: Everything Before “The Twist” 

agents-of-shield-fzztThe show originally started with a solid premiere episode, laying down the groundwork for what could have been a fast paced season, but then it apparently became the show that had to stall its developments and character building to make way for the twist.  The second episode had them tackle the nefarious plans of the Peruvian army, while each subsequent installment seemed to stall on any number of levels.  Storylines seemed to be playing it on the safe side, and were ultimately made the worse for it.  While the subplots of Coulson’s resurrection and Skye’s origins were interesting at first, they were dragged out to the point of infuriating as more and more questions were presented with each revelation.  Characters like Ward, Fitz, and Simmons in the earlier episodes didn’t have much to do and without many conflicts, were relegated to being on the sidelines for many of the episodes.  You could see from episode to episode that there was a good show trying to get out, and of course it did nearing the end, but there just wasn’t enough compelling elements in these early episodes to keep audiences raving.

The H.I.G.H.S.: Clark Gregg 

marvels-agents-of-shield-tahiti-clark-greggIf you go back and read each of my recaps, one positive I consistently point out in each and every episode is Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson.  What made us fall in love with the character from the first Iron Man to his death in The Avengers is still alive and kicking.  Coulson was able to throw out quips like none other, while also turning on a dime, and expressing serious rage in moments such as dealing with his resurrection and the backstabbing from Bill Paxton’s Agent Garrett.  Gregg raises the S.H.I.E.L.D. banner high and his character was definitely what the show had needed in order to connect the show to audiences and be that bridge to the movies that you’d be hard pressed to find.  It’s doubtful that we’ll ever see Coulson come back to the Marvel movie-verse proper, (rumors were originally swirling around that he would portray the classic character, the Vision, in the upcoming Avengers sequel, now confirmed to be played by Paul Bettany) so it was a treat to see him in top form here.

The L.O.W.S.: Not Clark Gregg

marvels-agents-of-shield-season-1-episode-8Now to be fair, the supporting players to the agents were great unto themselves. Bill Paxton as Garrett, Saffron Burrows as Victoria Hand, Patton Oswalt as Agent Koenig, and Samuel L. Jackson and Cobie Smulders reprising their roles as Fury and Hill respectively, all bring their A games to the table.  I just wish that the rest of the main cast had done the same from the get go.  Certainly, when the twist happened, the main cast manages to shine in ways they hadn’t previously, but man was it slow going from the offset.  Skye, Fitz, Simmons, Ward, and May all fell into their typical cliches as the newbie, science twins, and seasoned muscle, making the proceedings seem much more drab and joyless than they needed to be.  Their backstories weren’t explored, their motivations were average, and their banter between one another wasn’t bringing the humor that we saw coming from Coulson.  The show started with a level of predictability and “playing it safe” that shook off a lot of audience members who had tuned in to see the continuing adventures of the Marvel universe at large on the small screen.  Again, these were problems rectified by the twist later on in the season, but these players should have been strong from the start for viewers to rally behind.

The H.I.G.H.S.: Marvel Movie Tie-Ins  

marvels-agents-of-shield-yes-men-lady-sifIt’s like beating a dead horse but considering how intrinsic it was to the plot of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, the Cap 2 tie-in proved that the show knew everything that was happening in the Marvel Studios flicks and wasn’t afraid to pattern its entire show around it, in a few instances to its detriment.  There was also the tie-in to Thor: The Dark World as the agents had to play clean up to the events of that film, battling lost Asgardian tech and even an Asgardian temptress named Lorelei in a later episode.  With the mysterious “blue man” revealed in a later episode, as part of the origin of Coulson’s resurrection, it’s been heavily rumored that he is a member of the Kree, an alien race in the Marvel universe who may feature heavily in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy movie.  Also, the show’s ability to bring on past and present S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who had made appearances in the films so far was a breath of fresh air at times.  It was great to look into the lives of a lot of agents and characters we had known, such as Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) from the Thor series, between the events of the films and hopefully we’ll see more of this in season two.

The L.O.W.S.: Marvel Universe Tie-Ins

marvels-agents-of-shield-deathlokThe problem with an in-continuity universe is that you have to step lightly in fear that you don’t ruffle the feathers of whatever may be happening in the movies, therefore it seemed that Agents couldn’t show off a lot of the Marvel properties that folks were clamoring for, as they themselves may be given movies at some point in the future.  Villains of the week were amazingly “Z-grade” in the forms of Blizzard, Blackout, Graviton, and many others.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing as they could have been injected with new life, but alas, that was not meant to be.  Aside from these villains, the big character that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. went with from the comics was Deathlok.  Mike Peterson was a great character for the show, but Good Lord was the costume design horrid for Deathlok.  At no point did I ever feel fear or anxiety for our heroes as they were attacked by “Cyborg guy with somewhat of a burned face”.  Now don’t get me wrong, Deathlok isn’t exactly an A-List character, but he can be scary in his own right and maybe the show runners should have went with the idea of a walking dead man in a tin suit, rather than what they ultimately decided to go with, notwithstanding that horrid blue and red costume.

Ultimately, the first season had its fair share of ups and downs, and I’m hoping that the creators learned a lot to be used for season two.  We need more engrossing characters, storylines, ties to the Marvel Universe outside of the main Avengers franchise, and innovative reasons to stick around moving forward.  However, considering the final batch of episodes, along with the risks they were willing to take, I’m looking forward to see what happens with the agents next season.  Who knows?  Maybe it will tie in with the Netflix outings in some regard? See you in the fall, true believers!

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