Thursday, May 14, 2015

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2 Review

The second season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is almost the exact opposite of the first season. Season one was founded on a good idea, drawing its setting from the Marvel universe and its dynamic from Firefly. But Firefly it was not. While that show could leap from genre to genre and tone to tone with ease, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. couldn't settle on anything. One minute it was so campy that it felt like a kids' show, the next the characters personal lives were right out of a soap opera. All of this compounded by the fact that there was no real sense of danger.

But then, suddenly, Danger! Intrigue! Character development!

The show pivoted off the events in Captain America: The Winter Soldier to become a surprisingly engaging and tense story. The team were now lovable outlaws rather than benevolent civil servants. There were enemies under every face-altering mask. Things mattered.


Season 2 was building to a similar pivot, but when Avengers: Age of Ultron came along, its effects were depressingly minor. The first half of the season spends its time introducing the new members of the team - Mack, Tripp, Hunter, and Bobbi Morse - while Coulson is dealing with wacky alien schizophrenia and Skye's got daddy issues.

The half-way point for the season wrapped up Coulson's subplot, gave Tripp a heroic exit, and provided a fresh direction for the next half of the season with Skye's new powers.

This works for a while. Coulson's base is invaded by S.H.I.E.L.D. 2.0, who consist of a bunch of stuffed shirts who never matter all that much. The fact that Mack and Bobbi were double agents for said stuffed shirts is a pretty big deal at first, but since there were rumors of a Hunter-and-Morse spin-off, this was patched up quickly.

The turmoil separates Skye (Chloe Bennett) from the rest of the team. She's taken in by her own kind: the Inhumans. They're an eccentric bunch of recluses with extraordinary gifts. Gordon, teleportation, Lincoln, electromagnetism manipulation, and Skye's mother, Jiaying, super-healing. Skye has a lengthy vacation in their mountain HQ, learning to control her powers and having a little family bonding with Jiaying and Cal.

The story is bumping along at a reasonable pace when Age of Ultron drops.

The revelation that Theta Protocol was a helicarrier which the Avengers used to save thousands of lives went some way towards explaining Coulson's Big Brother secrecy, but not very far towards justifying it. But instead of dealing with the mistrust which has grown in the team (May breaking with Coulson? What? This is earth-shattering, people), the knowledge is tossed off in a brief helicarrier cameo (helicameo?) and the show must go on. S.H.I.E.L.D. is reunited, the Inhumans are the new villains, and the stakes have plummeted.

Of all the bad guys to choose for the season finale, the Inhumans? That bunch of underdeveloped mountain-dwellers? For another thing, Dichen Lachman's Jiaying is too understated to be a villain. She hasn't had time to overcome the general impression of Gentle Wise Mother and pass over to psychopath. Speaking of which, Kyle MacLachlan as Skye's father, Cal Johnson, gets the exact opposite storyline, turning from nutty mass murderer to reasonable, caring father in the space of about ten minutes. Like Jiaying's storyline, and the last few episodes in general, all of this is too rushed.

Taking a page from Age of Ultron's book, the finale simply tries to do too much in too little time. Bobbi has been kidnapped by Ward and Kara (Agent 33), who are actually both crazy (here I was thinking Ward was using Kara for some undisclosed purpose). Bobbi gamely keeps her composure during torture and attempts to turn her captors against one another. It ought to be a lot easier, because their plan doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Meanwhile, a rescue team is incoming.

Back with S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson refuses to act, waiting till the waters clear before moving in on the Inhumans. With the help of a mortal sacrifice by Raina, Skye figures out about Jiaying's treachery quite soon. Again, I wanted the show to linger here, but they needed Skye back with the good guys.

Jiaying takes the battle to S.H.I.E.L.D., conquering their battleship without much ado. Her big evil plan doesn't entirely make sense, but who cares?

Mack and Skye go toe to toe with a few new powered Inhumans while Cal - granted some powers of his own by a wild mix of drugs - keeps Coulson and co. busy. MacLachlan is as terrific as ever (next show on my list: Twin Peaks), though the prosthetic face he dons in his shift to Mr. Hyde is a little too...heh...on the nose. Coulson manages to talk Cal over to the good guys, and they team up to stop Team Jiaying.

The body count is mounting. Not only has Raina been dispatched, but Kara is shot by Ward (mistaking her for May), Bobbi takes a bullet for Hunter (don't worry, she'll be fine), and Gordon is killed by Fitz (suitably: by mistake). Thus, there's a sudden sense of worry when the stone starts creeping, horrifyingly, up Coulson's arm. Thankfully, Star Wars references and Mack's ax are here to save the day (would have made for a tremendously gut-wrenching climax, though.)

Jiaying is so far gone by now that she tries to kill her daughter, only to be stopped - permanently - by Cal. It's a bittersweet ending for Skye's family, and presumably it is the end, since Cal has his memory wiped and heads off to become a happy-go-lucky veterinarian. A little bit convenient that his story wraps up so cleanly, but there you have it. He's been a fun part of the MCU.

Speaking of Chloe Bennett, she's really come into her own this season. Last time around she was just an annoying teeny-bopper, now she can kick butt like nobody's business, and approaches problems with far more maturity than before. She's grown up. As has the show itself. It's had its missteps, but things are still generally better. It remains to be seen whether the improvement will continue into season 3, where the direction remains ambiguous. There isn't really anyone left to fight. Hydra's gone. Jiaying's gone. Ward's got some thugs. The only menace is terrigen-laced Fish Oil, which is probably very menacing, but seems kind of funny.

Perhaps one should focus on the good things. It's great that Hunter and Morse are staying. This duo is officially the best thing since sliced bread and it's absolutely the right decision to keep them on the show. Having more super powers is bound to be fun. I'm actually pretty curious where Simmon disappeared to, and I'd like to see more of Melinda May and her psychologist husband.

There aren't really many other things, because there aren't many loose ends. Equilibrium has been reached, which isn't really a good place to leave the story. Hopefully next season will turn up some chaos early on.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2: Certainly better than last season. Lost traction trying to accommodate Avengers: Age of Ultron, but had some good moments. Interested to see where it goes.



  1. The first two seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. turned out to be the origin story of Skye (Quake.) Somehow I didn't see that coming--even though I was watching.

    1. I had picked up on that, but I didn't notice that her father was someone from the comics until I read about it in a review. I've never really kept up with Marvel.

  2. Off topic, Agent Carter is moving to L.A. next season and so far, Hayley Atwell is the only one cast.

    1. That could be good. I do hope Jarvis and Stark return (the loss of Dominic Cooper could be fatal), but none of the others matter all that much.

    2. Hayley Atwell is talented and lovely, but I don't see them giving her a one-woman show. I would be disappointed if Jarvis was not around, even though Stark has officially been cleared.

    3. True, she's no Michael Kitchen. She needs someone with equal charisma to make it really work.

      James D'Arcy might have been able to provide that, but Jarvis certainly can't. Howard Stark can, but he's only been doing cameos so far. As it is, we do know she gets married and has a daughter (who appears in Captain America 2). Said husband is neither Jarvis nor Stark, so a new love interest must be introduced (here's hoping it isn't Nice Limp Guy or Secretly Cowardly Blond Guy).


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