When it comes to comics, a major event story can completely ruin a less-important comic series. It can be derailed and refuse to ever rebuild itself, driving away readers and getting cancelled. When it comes to Agents of SHIELD, it’s kind of the opposite.
I was interested in Agents of SHIELD when it was announced. The Marvel Avengersverse has always impressed me. The synergy and the quality have been great almost across the board. The movies have ranged from awesome to kind of bad but not unwatchable (Iron Man 2). These days it’s rather funny to watch Warner Bros. try to play catch up with the feeling that they’re going to trip over their own feet like a cinematic Goofus compared to Marvel’s Gallant. Meanwhile, Marvel has Netflix shows on the horizon for Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Movies coming up about talking space raccoons and Ultron. There’s a lot to be excited about as a comic fan.
Agents of SHIELD started pretty lukewarm and led to the overwhelming response of, “That was okay, I guess. I’ll give it another episode or two.” The characters were pretty flat, but at least we had Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson. Not only did he add plenty of personality, but it brought in an interesting mystery of how he was back after being impaled to death by Loki back in Avengers. One thing the show did fantastically was troll the fans by shoving in as many hints as possible to play with everyone’s prediction that he was a Life Model Decoy while never intending it to be anything more than a red herring.
While there was the occasional good episode (the one where Simmons is infected with an electric virus), but the show lacked anything genuinely gripping. As it slogged on, the only thing it really had going for it was Bill Paxton joining the cast and the mystery of Coulson’s resurrection. Even that one started to lose its steam as it kept stretching out more and more.
People involved with the show would sidestep those criticisms and say that people didn’t like it because it wasn’t constantly dealing with Marvel movie stuff. To be fair, it did get annoying when the best way they could figure to do that was by having the characters say stuff like, “Blah blah blah gamma radiation blah blah blah Chitauri blah blah Extremis blah blah Super Soldiers.” It didn’t help when they hyped up one episode as being about the aftermath of Thor: The Dark World and all we got was a couple minutes of them literally cleaning up a mess before an Asgard-related plot that had nothing to do with the movie kicked in. It felt cheap.
I stopped watching right when they teased Lorelei for the following episode. I got tired of seeing them build on a wild goose chase of a plot that was in no way engaging. Who is the Clairvoyant?! I don’t really know, but I’m getting tired of caring. The show was spinning its wheels and there were only two reasons why I intended to come back to it later: Patton Oswalt was going to show up and to see the aftermath of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
I say that before even seeing Winter Soldier. While the trailers did a good job not explaining exactly what was going on, at least we knew that it was going to be Captain America vs. SHIELD and there was likely going to be some kind of major aftermath. Then the movie came out and made Agents of SHIELD must-watch for at least one episode because what the hell? The reemergence of Hydra was one thing, but the movie outright ended with SHIELD completely done away with. How can you do a show about SHIELD when a movie with a higher pay grade just told you that there is no SHIELD to do a show about?
And that’s the funny thing about the synergy here. Apparently Agents of SHIELD was spinning its wheels for months because they really were waiting for Winter Soldier to come out and let Hydra out of the bag. It’s like the movie was the go-ahead to move the plot forward and let the show be a good show. It wasn’t just a minor callback like the Thor episode. It completely changed the show and for the better. Bill Paxton’s John Garrett was revealed as an agent of Hydra. Nearly every lingering plot from the show, from the Clairvoyant to Centipede to Deathlok to Graviton, is really a Hydra plot. Which is pretty awesome in the sense that in the first episode, they did hint at it with a line about cutting off Centipede’s head and having another one sprout up.
Most importantly, Grant Ward – Bland McActionHero himself – is also an agent of Hydra and has been from the beginning. This whole time, he’s been playing a role, trying to build trust so he can turn on them out of loyalty to Garrett, doing stuff that can’t be redeemed, such as shooting cops and agents directly in the face. Since then, there have been some serious stakes, most notably when Skye figures it out and has to pretend she doesn’t know while being led around by a man who will likely have her killed when she’s no longer useful.
This all leads to a wonderful scene where Skye and Ward are at a diner and she angrily rants about Garrett betraying Ward while making it increasingly apparent that she’s aware that Ward is Hydra.
“It’s got to be so hard, living a double life like that. Getting close to people only to turn on them. I don’t know how Garrett did it.”
“What about all that time he spent as your S.O.? Getting to know you? Being your mentor? Only to lie to your face. Betray you like that.”
“It was, um… difficult to accept. But thankfully that’s over.”
“Because you took care of him.”
“Can we not discuss this right now?”
“If you could have had one more moment before you shot him in the back of the head – so heroically – if he was sitting right here and you could say anything you want, what would you say?”
“Would you say he’s disgusting? Would you tell him he’s a disgusting, back-stabbing traitor? Or to rot in Hell?”
“What are you doing?”
“I’m just trying to have an honest conversation for once.”
Yeah, that rules. Also later, when she calls him out on being a Nazi serial killer.
While it doesn’t make up for most of the season being just kind of there, it does at least fix one moment from earlier that always irked me. In the first episode, Coulson injected Ward with a truth serum so that Skye could interview him and there’d be nothing to hide. It was one of the premiere’s highlights. A few episodes later, she teased Ward about it and he told her that the serum was fake. They were just playing her. When she asked Coulson about Ward’s claims, he just gave her a smirk and said that that was very interesting. At first I hated that because it rubbed away that clever scene from the first episode. Now I see it as playing into the plot because if it really was truth serum, Ward might have been made a lot earlier.
There are still two episodes left to go and who knows if we’re going to get a second season. I hope they do get it because once the editorial curtain was pulled away, Agents of SHIELD has become consistently good. That is one of Captain America’s greatest acts of superheroism. His own movie somehow made a mediocre show watchable.
By the way, I knew something was up with Ward when he threw away Fitz’s delicious sandwich that one time. Ruining sandwiches is something only a monster would do.