We’ve now arrived at the mid-season hiatus of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. We’re 10 episodes into a 22 episode season, so, yes, there is still more room for continued improvement, and the show has, after the early episodes pretty much undid all the good of the pilot, managed to put together some interesting bits and bobs. But with 10 episodes under the belt, the show’s overall tone and goals have become clear and all I can say is…yikes.
Are your Disney overlords the problem? Is it ABC’s family-friendly branding that’s doing you in? Or is this just entirely too much television-by-committee? These are honest questions, and I would love some honest answers. Agents of SHIELD has some fundamental issues that somebody somewhere better be addressing during the hiatus. Because as the show stands now, I don’t care about it. I barely even care about Coulson anymore, because the burden of trying to carry a show that is failing him is killing everything interesting about Clark Gregg’s truly excellent characterization. At several points this season I have wished for everyone on “the bus” to die in a fiery explosion, except for Coulson, so that the writers could just start over with a better crew.
Let’s start with what is actually working. First and foremost, Gregg is a very good actor who clearly loves playing this character, and he manages to skate over the worst of the show’s habits and then indulge in the best. Coulson makes a good protagonist, especially as he wrestles with the residual effects of whatever was done to him in order to bring him back from the dead (I’m almost certain he’s an android), and they’ve seeded some interesting character bits for him to play with (this last episode’s scene where he talks about his lost love, The Cellist, was surprisingly touching). So Coulson, keep going. Still the best part of the show.
And though the early episodes did everything they could to waste Ming-Na Wen as stoic Agent May, the last four have actually lifted her character up and made her worth watching. The surprising relationship with Agent Ward is a bonus—an interracial, May-December romance where the woman is older AND controls the power balance?! ON NETWORK TV?!—but the slowly-evolving thread of her trying to balance SHIELD directive against loyalty to Coulson is intriguing, too. Ward is still not my favorite, but the writers have clearly made the effort to bring him more into focus. I don’t give a shit about his troubled past, but between his disdain for meta-humans (“powers are cheating”) and his random predilection for artisanal sandwich making, there is at least a better sense of him as a person.
The stand-outs, though, are science duo FitzSimmons. They were pretty obnoxious in the pilot but in 10 episodes they have become the most clearly-defined characters outside Coulson. They also have the best chemistry, as Elizabeth Henstridge and Iain De Caestecker prove not only capable of handling that rapid-fire, Whedonesque dialogue, but can hit the more serious beats, too. I’ve actually become fond of FitzSimmons, and care about what happens to them.
Which is way more than can be said for computer hacker Skye. It’s not actress Chloe Bennet’s fault. She’s trying, she really is. But Skye is, was, and remains completely uninteresting. Several late episodes have made jokes out of the fact that she is redundant and useless and in the way, yet there is little chance the show will simply off-load her and move on. Bennet was meant to be the breakout star, but Skye sucks and everyone hates her. She’s actually keeping the rest of the ensemble from gelling and growing, because they have to keep stopping to deal with her and her whiny problems. She’s intolerable, and either the show needs to do serious character-surgery, or they just need to bite the bullet and get rid of her.
Skye may be the biggest character problem, but SHIELD’s biggest issue overall is one of tone. I never expected this to be a gritty drama—Marvel has never made a gritty movie, why should their TV show be any different?—but the case-of-the-week format is killing the concept. NCIS: SHIELD is boring as shit, and I don’t want to watch it. If incorporating procedural elements is so important to some network exec, then please study Chuck as a good example of how to combine cases of the week with serialized plots. SHIELD is a show crying out for a narrative direction.
SHIELD has given me a handful of characters I kinda-sorta care about—and one dead bore I cannot stand—but when the stakes are so undefined it’s hard to get invested. I want to know how Coulson survived, and then I think I’m done. Unless there’s a miraculous second-half recovery, I’ll just wait for the much-less-oversighted Netflix shows to start airing. Because for a television representation of the Marvel universe, this isn’t very…Marvelly.
- After episodes “0-8-4” and “The Hub”, I am convinced SHIELD is run by complete dipshits.
- Which is a missed opportunity because Captain America 2 is about an internal schism at SHIELD, and it seems like this show would be a good place to start seeding the idea that all is not well back at HQ.
- The continuity with the movies is bizarre. I never expected to see actual Avengers, but besides some (largely forced) name-dropping, there is almost no real continuity. Why so afraid to let your comic book TV show actually be comic booky?
- I don’t know why we need this Centipede group when Hydra and AIM already exist. Again, blown opportunity to connect with the movieverse.
- Odds we’re going to meet this famous cellist at some point? I’m giving 3-to-5.
- FitzSimmons are truly adorable and if the show was just about them learning to be field agents with Coulson as their CO, I would be perfectly happy.