When September came nobody could be happier to welcome Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD to screens but when people watched the pilot and the first half of the shows inaugural season they were left disappointed with the shows overall tone. Little did fans know that by the 17th episode of Shield’s first season creators Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen had created the show we had all expected but it might just be a little too late for it to matter.
The following Contains SPOILERS relating to the entire of Agents of SHIELD up to the April 29th episode ‘Nothing Personal’ as well as the plot of Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Most of the complaints that permeated AoS’ first 15 episodes weren’t about the stories although there didn’t seem to be much going on in terms of serialised storytelling, it was the fact that the show really didn’t understand the world it was building and for Marvel fans that was disappointing considering how much time and money was spent establishing the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not only did it lack a link to the world outside the show but it didn’t take advantage of Marvel’s rich back catalogue of comics and stories.
Thats not to say there weren’t some entertaining moments within the first half of the season as the show took a case of the week approach to storytelling. It did however mean that the shows central mysteries moved forward at a glacial pace, irritating fans. Episodes like ‘0-8-4’ and ‘Repairs’ were little more than placeholders, episodes that did little to add to the central mythology but bought creators time. The show seemed to be a cash grab, a way for Marvel to squeeze a little more blood from the stone and viewers understandably got angry.
Little did they know that the unfortunate first half was a by product of Marvel getting its ducks in a row. Not only was AoS planning to intersect with the MCU in a major way, it was also going to completely redefine the series as a whole, something that unfortunately couldn’t be planned towards in case of spoilers leaking out.
Marvel had unintentionally damaged its first ever TV series by forcing it to stick to the plot of Captain America. In The Winter Soldier, SHIELD finds itself infected by Hydra agents and the global crime fighting organisation is forced to shutter its doors as their top agents find work elsewhere and head off on their own adventures. Understandably this development crippled AoS at first but it also gave them a great jumping off point, a twist so powerful it could completely reinvent the show and benefit the characters the show desperately needed to make likable.
The twist ramped up the paranoia factor as Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his team struggled to figure out who to turn to and who to trust, including their traitorous friend Ward (Brett Dalton) who has corrupted the team and is working towards their ultimate failure.
The most noticeable part of this change of pace however is the way it has improved the comedic moments of the show. Not only do the funny moments work better but they feel stronger. This may be because the show needs levity to cut the heightened stakes or the fact that the writing has improved but regardless the show has found a way to mesh comedy into its action in the same way that Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer managed. The results speak for themselves.
However its pointless to talk of the improvement of AoS without mentioning some of the episodes that came before. While AoS kicked things off with an action packed and entertaining opening episode it never really developed its characters, instead presenting us with cutouts that we were forced to fill in. The follow up episode ‘0-8-4’, the code the team uses to refer to objects of unknown origin, avoided the team also, choosing to concentrate on the one character audiences understood, Coulson.
The show was so busy living up to the idea of the Coulson from the movies that they never really built a world for him to survive and thrive in. The addition of Skye (Chloe Bennet) as a kind of daughter figure would play out by midseason but until then the show spun its wheels waiting for Cap and his destructive shield. While the rest of the team made for good comic relief or proved useful in an action scene they didn’t really add to the universe Marvel were so praised for creating.
Be it the duo of FitzSimmons, two scientists who didn’t really have characters outside of how they related to each other or Ward, a closed off and utterly boring G-Man striving for attention more than anything. The only really rewarding addition proved to be Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), a closed off yet deeply emotional ex field agent with more than a few moves to show off. Her connection to Coulson would be the one gripping story arc that viewers could hold onto but it wasn’t enough.
If the first half of SHIELD’s first season was designed to bring the team together it did so in a way that failed to explain why any of these characters mesh in the first place. The tenuous link the teams members had were through poorly conceived bonding moments, from Ward and Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) going on a dangerous mission together in ‘The Hub’ to May and Ward’s illogical hookup in ‘The Well’, they all felt too simple to be effective.
However by the Midseason break the show had introduced some much needed questions and had deepened the mythology so that there was more to AoS than merely fighting the good fight against devices and people stronger than the average human. The reveal that Skye was herself an 0-8-4 and had a dark connection to SHIELD made her instantly more interesting and Bennet sunk her teeth into the new reveal. The reveal of how Coulson came to be among the living after his heroic death in The Avengers proved to be just as twisted as fans expected and yet the show would struggle to maintain its viewership.
Many of the shows loyal followers believed the only way was a major reboot of the series, a new direction and the removal of some of the least effective characters, most specifically Ward. Little did fans know that they were about to get exactly what they were asking for. It wasn’t until ‘Turn Turn Turn’, AoS’ 17th episode that things would really hit the fan storywise but the writing was on the wall earlier than that as the episodes building up to the monumental twist started skewing towards more serialized storytelling as Coulson began getting closer to his mysterious nemesis The Clairvoyant and Marvel started using its back catalogue of villains to enrich the narrative. The addition of Deathlok (J August Richards) gave the Clairvoyant a valuable weapon while also creating some much needed conflict for Skye and Coulson.
The two parter of ‘TRACKS’ and ‘TAHITI’ informed viewers that although this was seen as family programming, the writers weren’t afraid to spill blood if it justified the story as Skye took two bullets to the chest. The double bill introduced viewers to a new version of AoS as well as a duo of new characters who would drastically impact the final episodes of the first season. The introduction of Agent John Garrett (Bill Paxton) and Antoine Triplett (B.J Britt) as two highly skilled SHIELD agents would prepare the show for the violent new era it was entering into.
The issues that viewers had had with AoS, the lack of chemistry, the poor storytelling and the unfortunate use of weak Case of the Week elements had been overcome in a few episodes but the team still didn’t really mesh in the way it should. Creators Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen ultimately used this complaint to their benefit, not only by turning the team against each other but by highlighting it using the plot of The Winter Soldier. The reveal of Hydra and Garrett’s status as The Clairvoyant proved to be the kick up the arse AoS needed to firmly place itself as quality television as heroes became villains and death became a very real possibility for the team.
‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ used the team’s sense of trust to completely reinvent their dynamic from the way May and Coulson’s close friendship has completely crumbled in the face of her betrayal to how FitzSimmons are beginning to question their need to be as close as they are as Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) begins to think for herself, make her own interpretations. The idea that ‘you’ve got to trust someone’ has also added new depth to Skye and Coulson’s already rich dynamic with the shows latest episode ‘Nothing Personal’ heavily featuring the duo.
Thats not to say its been a flawless transition to this new Hydra era of the show, there are still a few unintended setbacks to be dealt with. For instance the high stakes of this Hydra manhunt, with Coulsons team on the run from both the government and Garrett, were effectively muted in ‘The Only Light in the Darkness’ as Coulson went to go ensure the safety of the much talked about but never seen Cellist (Amy Acker) Coulson had had a relationship with. While viewers were clamouring for her appearance ever since The Avengers it proved a dalliance, a waste of time as it avoided the Hydra threat at large and proved a convenient way of getting Coulson and the rest of the team away from Ward and Skye. The creators needed time to plot their next move within the story and this proved a decent way to fill an episode while also giving Coulson a goal to aim towards when his vendetta is over. While it works on paper the episode slowed down the Hydra threat and that proved unfortunate.
The reveal of Ward as a double agent however has proved nothing but revelatory as Dalton has used the twist to create an entirely different character, one more designed to highlight the actors talents making Ward not just a more interesting element of the show but a much more likable character, even despite the various evil and devastating things he has done to those he once called friends.
Only time will tell what the rest of Agents of SHIELD will bring about this season and if there will even be a second season of the newly discovered show but I suggest people sit back and enjoy the final two episodes, the first of which airs tonight, because judging by the way the show has turned out I now trust in the creative vision behind the show and their understanding of the world Marvel has thrust them into.
What did you think of AoS’ first season, did it satisfy you in those early episodes or did you give up? Let me know in the comments.