If you haven’t heard by now, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has transformed itself into quite an amazing television show in its second season. The winter season finale made final steps to completely integrate the series into the Marvel Cinematic Universe; next month, Agent Carter will continue the adventure with a 7-episode limited series event. So if you’re at all a fan of Marvel’s evolving cinematic universe, you can’t miss what ABC’s sophomore series has become. The problem: where to begin?
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1 faced many challenges along the way, and then Captain America: The Winter Solider was released and shifted the entire premise of the show. The entirety of season 1 is available for viewing on Netflix right now, and you can absolutely sit down and watch all 22 episodes, then catch up on season 2. This, however, is a very bad idea, as there’s a much easier way to get all the best of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. without suffering through the weak parts. That’s where we come in.
Let’s take Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D season 1 from 22 episodes to a very manageable 9, by focusing on the stories that matter and disregarding the rest. There many additional adventures which you can catch up on at a later date, if you so choose. Right now, though, the goal is to create the quickest and most practical way to get caught up without burning yourself out on episodes that don’t represent the quality of the show as it stands now. You’ll find that all of the storylines of season 2 follow what’s included in our guide list, while generally disregarding many of season 1’s standalone episode.
For those who aren’t familiar, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. centers on the character of Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), the beloved wrangler of the Avengers from Marvel’s Phase I. After seemingly not dying, Coulson returns and leads a new team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents made up of pilot/enforcer Melinda May (Ming Na-wen); super agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton); upstart hacker-turned-agent, Skye (Chloe Bennett); and scientists Fitz Iain De Caestecker and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge). Together, they protect to world from alien threats – or so they thought early in season 1. The real strength of the show now, however, and what season 2 is focusing on, is the mysteries behind several team members and how this, in turns, impacts a world which is under attack by an evil organization, while superpowered beings are becoming a new reality.
1) The Real Pilot – Episode 7: “The Hub”
“The Hub” comes from Rafe Judkins and Lauren LeFranc, who are known for their work on favorite agency shows like Chuck and the very short-lived Christian Slater cult favorite My Own Worst Enemy, and it serves as the pilot you wish the series would have actually premiered with.
This episode takes you deep within S.H.I.E.L.D. and introduces the formidable Senior Agent Victoria Hand. What you’re going to see from this episode is a real look behind the scenes of S.H.I.E.L.D., which neither the series or films have done before. You won’t get a complex breakdown of how all of the components work, but by the end you will be excited to see more of what this world has to offer. This is also where Coulson’s character explores what occurred following the events in The Avengers.
2) A Real Adventure – Episode 12: “Seeds”
“Seeds” is a team -up of Alias and Fringe producer Monica Owusu-Breen and show creator Jed Whedon, and it gives you the best look at what the series can do with an episodic adventure. This story is led by the series’ power duo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) and it takes place at S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy, which gives another look inside the secret organization.
This episode represents the best execution of superpowers from the early run of the series, and helps establish some seemingly unimportant storylines which come into play towards the end of season 1, and into season 2. If you’re looking for more episodes to catch up on before the final push, episodes 13 and 14 will help reveal a tad more backstory – though it may not be worth another 2 hours when subsequent episodes cover the same information.
3) Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Fortunately, $714 million at the box office means that most everyone has already seen the film. If not, take a moment to enjoy the political thriller that transformed the Marvel Cinematic Universe and took Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in an exciting new direction. Everything changes.
Even if you have seen the film, it’s worth another watch before you continue to the final part of the list, as there will be a familiar face or two that cross over to AoS. You won’t find a more powerful introduction to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. than the combination of this film and season 1’s final arc.
4) The Final 7 – Episodes 16-22
This is where you get your first true sense of what Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can ultimately be. The crossover between Captain America: The Winter Solider is handed exceptionally well, and you’ll notice that Bill Paxton has entered the picture as Agent John Garrett. By episode 16 you can (and likely will) officially sign off on the vast world Marvel’s building across big and small screens.
You do still need to watch the remaining episodes in season 1, however, in order to get a better sense of what’s going to come in season 2. Over the course of these 7 episodes, you’ll also find that some tales are stronger than others, as is with most TV shows. Season 2 is not as varying in quality you’ll be happy to hear (it’s consistently strong) – though that fact does help give a sense of the lesser material contained in the episodes you skipped (and perhaps why you were asked to).
You may be wondering why so many episodes are being skipped. After all, starting at episode 7, then jumping to 12, then 16 – with a feature film in the middle – it can feel like you may be missing out on a lot of the AoS story. Interestingly enough, you’re not.
As you continue onto season 2, you’ll find that almost all of the storylines are covered within the episodes on this list; and if they’re not, season 2 will help fill in blanks. Early-on, there were many storylines introduced which generally lead to the same ultimate goal. As the season progressed, those tales were refined and their purpose reiterated, time and time again. So, while it may feel like you’re missing certain “keyword” elements from the episodes you watched, you’ll actually be cutting out the time when the series was till attempting to find itself.
More importantly: trust the people who make the show. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. knows that it had a challenging season 1, and they absolutely want everyone to get on board with what’s going on in season 2. Before every episode of the show is a “previously on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and this is crafted specifically to catch you up on what you need to know in order to understand the current episode. They’re there for a reason.
Where do you go next, after having caught up to season 2? You’ll likely have many questions. Thankfully, you’ll find the answers if you click below: (spoiler warning)
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns on March 3, and the tie-in limited series event Agent Carter begins January 5, which gives you more than enough time to fit in viewings during the holiday season. Now you don’t have any excuse.