Agents of SHIELD Season 1 Ep 9 (TV Show Review)

Last week I talked about how uneven Agents of SHIELD was in terms of story quality, and I mentioned that the show flip-flopped with good and bad storylines every other week with almost a regularity to it. Still, it is very early days yet for the show, we are barely two months into it in fact, and so I can sort of accept such unevenness since a lot of shows struggle at this point in their development. The creators have to work from scratch, have to spread themselves around and hit on the magical story that will truly resonate with viewers and keep bringing them back in droves every week.

I’ve said again and again that this show is a very promising one and that it needs to take chances and be truly bold. It has a solid premise, it just needs to work on its execution, which is where it is most lacking for now. This week’s episode does some really interesting things and best of all it finally gives a reason for why Agent Melinda May gave up field-work and took a desk-job. At the same time, we also get an indirect Thor: The Dark World tie-in, which is just in keeping with last week’s episode which was much more of a tie-in than this one. However, the show still continued its “villain of the week” pattern and that was most disappointing, more so since there was a distinct lack of any story elements related to the previous episodes.

Agents of SHIELD Logo 0001Let’s get the good stuff out of the way first. The best thing about this episode was that we see May’s backstory. Its been hinted previously that she used to be one of SHIELD’s best field operatives, extremely talented and extremely skilled. Until something terrible happened and she quit all field-work. It turns out she was involved in an operation where she ended up going in solo to rescue some SHIELD operatives and that what she had to do while there haunted her so much that she was never the same person. This story, which I’ve tried to tell as briefly as possible and without spoilers, is told to Skye through the other characters. First we get FitzSimmons’ version of the story, then Ward’s, and finally Coulson’s, the man who known her the longest and was part of that same op. It added some colour to her character, and justified her attitude thus far in the series.

This whole revelation plays into the episode’s narrative when May has to do for someone what Coulson did for her all those years back and it was quite a touching moment, almost as good as Fitz and Simmons’ personal moment when the latter contracted a debilitating alien virus.

Then, we see some really goofy moments with the team as they play pranks on each other. The team hasn’t really chilled out like this thus far and its nice to see them all take some time off even while they are, so to speak, on the clock. Its not all doom and gloom all the time in the show and this entire sequence does much to emphasise that point.

There’s also the opening scene between Ward and May which is an extension of the ending of the last episode. I’m surprised that the writers went in this direction. I had hoped that it would be otherwise, but I have to say that I’m intrigued now where these two characters go from here. This is going to be an interesting subplot in the coming episodes, that’s for sure.

And finally, I really liked the premise of the episode, and its tie-in to Thor: The Dark World, though I found that connection to be far too immediate really. To be honest, all the story lines in the series so far have been very promising ones, and some have been more successful at capturing my imagination than the others. This one is the same, although it balances between those two ends. There could have been a lot more done with the premise, but I liked that they are starting to acknowledge more of the weird and (apparently) inexplicable.

But its not a bed of roses all the way. This episode made a lot of missteps, and they outweigh the positives.

For one, we don’t actually hear May reveal her story on her own. We get second-hand conflicting accounts all through, with varying levels of authenticity. And we never get to see that life-changing event. Given how the show has treated most of the characters, this is not so surprising I suppose, but I did expect more than this. A flashback sequence would have added immensely to that whole arc, especially if put from the perspective of May herself. They needn’t have done anything complicated either. Nightmares could just as easily have been employed to show that the calm and collected May does indeed have some demons of her, as was hinted at in the last episode.

Second, the show is getting frustrating with each episode by its lack of commitment to the Marvel universe. The writers are content to sneak in some random references but they never actually connect with the setting at large. This has been a criticism of mine from the start and I can’t accept that the writers are so, I don’t know, scared of creating some major characters for the show to play around with. Pseudo-namesakes of various villains/heroes/characters are used, and its all subtle, nothing outright. The show continues to tease and tease but never delivers. One strong example from this episode was when Coulson mentions who May had gone up against on that op in Bahrain. No names are dropped, and no real references other than it being a dangerous individual and someone with a lot of followers, worshippers perhaps. Come on writers, give us something to play with!

Another thing was that for a team featuring two scientists who are meant to be rational thinkers in a setting where we have a God-like being running around in a cape and wielding a hammer, where a scientist took such a large dose of gamma radiation that he turns into a green-coloured rage monster whenever he gets angry, where aliens have invaded through portals at least twice, and just a few weeks ago we actually mythological dark elves destroying parts of England. And yet, the concept of telekinesis and dimensional travel is inexplicable to them. Something that can’t really exist. That is such a foolish dichotomy that I have trouble believing it exists in this series. Seriously, the team recently went up against a guy who could spontaneously combust and throw fire from his hands. And yet the scientists on this show play around with the notion of magic is magic and highly advanced science is more magic. Or something like that. I got confused.

And the biggest negative of this episode was that it was once again the same villain of the week cliche. I would have thought that the Whedons would have learned from Buffy and Angel, that they would have learned from what CW’s Smallville and Arrow did in their first seasons. If each season of the show has 22 episodes, then we are at almost the half-way point. And yet there is no actual, confirmable hint of an over-arching plot, something to connect all the episodes together. The team is going from episode to episode, solving some really weird cases and that’s all they are doing. Procedural. This is like watching CSI or any other police/cop show. There’s no glue to hold all these episodes together other than just the characters and those are uneven at best.

The lack of a clear direction for this season is hurting this show right now. I wonder if their budget is really limited or something, and that’s why they can’t do anything flashy. If that is correct, then it is a completely dumb move to make. If not, then I’m honestly lost. Other than the obvious, there’s absolutely nothing in any of the episodes that says, “this is a show based on the Marvel Universe from the comics”.

Agents of SHIELD Cast 0002

And then there is Skye, the most uneven character on the show. Any progress that the writers did in the recent episodes was undone by this one. She came across as petty, judgmental and demanding. Not to mention extremely annoying. She hasn’t been this bad in a long while, and the regression is painful. All the character is on the show is a nuisance and someone who really can’t work with this team because she is too egotistical and proud of her own ways to acknowledge anything different or better.

After all the pains the last couple of episodes took to resolve bits and pieces of Coulson’s history and recovery in Tahiti, we get absolutely nothing this time around. And I was extremely frustrated by that. His development has pretty much plateaued. As it has pretty much for Ward. The writers throw us a bone now and then, and expect us to keep up. That approach is just not working out for me.

That’s all I have this week. The show creates too many expectations but it fails to meet beyond a small minority of them.

More Agents of SHIELD reviews can be found here. I’ve reviewed every episode so far.

Posted on November 28, 2013, in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Review Central, TV Show Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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