The freshman season of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was a high-profile experiment in multi-media synergy; it took Marvel’s increasingly popular cinematic universe, and gave it another avenue of expansion on the small screen. That venture into synergistic television has not been without trial and error; in fact, some would say the experience of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been one long trial, rife with error.
We here at Screen Rant took a fair amount of heat week-to-week for our critical evaluation of the show, but it’s a mistake to think we are simple “haters” or bull-headed fanboys of that OTHER popular comic book movie/TV show camp. We love the Marvel brand – which is why we want nothing but the best to come of it – and we are fully capable of admitting that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. managed to finish out season 1 in a way that honored that brand in much better fashion than earlier episodes in the season.
We’ve already identified some lingering issues needing to be addressed in season 2 – and the showrunners have a lot of challenges to overcome – but in a rare bit of Internet optimism, let’s discuss 4 Reasons Why Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. still deserves to exist as part of the growing Marvel Universe.
4. It Found a Way to Implement the Comics
One of the biggest challenges facing Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. from the very beginning was finding a way to implement the fantastical elements of Marvel Comics into a television show that a) had to be relatively grounded and believable, and b) centered on characters who are not (yet) endowed with any super powers. With the exceptions of Thor‘s otherworldly beings and the monster movie tropes of The Incredible Hulk, not even the MCU movies have (as of yet) provided enough foundation for a world where humans can fly, use psychic powers, fire energy blasts, etc….
Early on, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. flirted with the idea of opening the MCU up, but it never seemed to fully deliver on that promise. Recall the disappointment of that “Clairvoyant” red herring: many fans expected a psychic or advanced A.I. (like M.O.D.O.K. or Arnim Zola) to be the culprit, but we were eventually reminded that in this universe, the impossible is only slowly becoming possible. However, that hindrance didn’t stop Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. from laying groundwork for a future of “miracles” and marvels – including true supervillains (Graviton), alien beings (The Kree) and other larger-than-life characters born of experiments gone wrong (Deathlok, Centipede, GH.325, etc.).
It’s ironic, but two of the most grounded properties in the MCU (Captain America and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) have actually been the most effective avenues for sowing seeds of a more fantastical comic book universe to come (advanced tech and science, aliens, mysticism – the whole shebang). Where Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. deserves credit is for finding the means to bring so many of these pulpy comic book elements to life in a grounded enough way – conceptually, if not visually (sorry Deathlok, your back story was okay – your armor was not).
Going forward into season 2 – and with new films like Guardians of the Galaxy opening some bigger doors – Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is already poised to capitalize on some well-placed comic book potential. (In Mahr Vehl we trust!)
3. It Cracked the Characters
Personally, I was ready to cut the cast of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in half after the first string of episodes. I can admit now that that was presumptuous. Despite starting off with some cookie-cutter character types – led by the watered-down version of a fan-favorite (Coulson) - Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. managed to get each member of the principal cast into a fully-earned and worthwhile place by the time the season 1 finale aired.
Ward (Brett Dalton) went from boring lone wolf to an insidious double-agent threat (with hints of a well-armored heart of gold). Skye (Choloe Bennet) went from snarky (read: annoying) blogger to a worthwhile fledgling agent. Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) went from Zen mute to a more complexly-layered (and believable) woman warrior. Coulson got his groove back and proved he’s an honorary Avenger. Fitz and Simmons proved themselves the heart and mind of the squad, respectively. We even got an upgraded “specialist” in the more charismatic Agent Triplett (B.J. Britt), and a fun new administrator in Eric/Billy Koenig (Patton Oswalt).
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. managed to pull one of the biggest (and unlikely) character turnarounds that I’ve ever seen – let alone with an entire ensemble cast. While there is no guarantee that the momentum at the end of season 1 can be used to propel these characters through another 22 episodes in season 2, the show at least deserves a shot at doing so.
….Just don’t expect the same benefit of the doubt if compelling character arcs aren’t established quickly. The same mistakes are rarely forgiven twice.
2. It Managed to Justify Its Own Existence
Our reviews of early Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episodes all hinged on a crucial question: Why does this show need to exist? At first coming across as an Avengers knock-off with non-superpowered (ergo, less interesting) characters, there was little incentive to make the show part of your larger Marvel Cinematic Universe experience. However, that changed during the course of season 1.
The pivotal turns of Captain America: The Winter Soldier no doubt saved this show’s bacon. Once that film hit theaters and brought the threat of HYDRA along with it, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had more reason than ever to exist; however, it was up to the showrunners to seize that narrative capital and turn it into a worthwhile investment – and they managed to do just that, despite the massive inconvenience of being told the major HYDRA reveal late in the game.
By having HYDRA tear down everything they were, Coulson’s team (and subsequently the showrunners) were forced to firmly reassess who they are and what their purpose is in this world of superhumans, aliens, and bigger terrorist threats. The final answer? The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. discovered why they are still heroes even if they don’t have powers (or resources or backup). More importantly, the showrunners managed to demonstrate the characters’ heroic status, and their proven value as clandestine peacekeepers committed to rebuilding S.H.I.E.L.D. into an organization ready to take on a world of Marvels.
How Coulson rebuilds the organization – and deals with some big lingering questions - is now a point of importance within the entirety of the MCU. That’s all the reason Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. needs in order to justify its season 2 story arc. Which already helps to prove our final point:
1. It’s a Successful Extension of the MCU
Let’s be clear: when I say “success” I’m not talking about ratings or profits. What I am saying is this: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was a bold experiment in synergistic universe building over television and movies. A large part of that experiment was answering the question of whether or not a universe split across multiple platforms would be better for the sum of its parts. After one season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. it’s clear that – while the quality of the show itself might be in question – the model of multi-platform shared universes is one that essentially works.
How can I make this claim when the quality of AoS is so debated? Well, just look at recent steps this show has taken: The mysterious blue alien that was revealed in episode 14 (“T.A.H.I.T.I.”) could have MASSIVE ties to future of MCU properties like Guardians of the Galaxy or even Avengers 3. We also got a Graviton origin, met new Asgardians – and Maria Hill’s offhanded remark that Tony Stark is “privatizing world security” after S.H.I.E.L.D.’s collapse could be a huge plot-point of The Avengers: Age of Ultron. These developments didn’t come from a big-budget movie; they all came from this show (as did many other potential MCU developments).
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been fully utilized as an avenue by which to advance the MCU at a much more rapid and manageable pace than individual movies made by separate teams of people twice a year. And with the show getting a “cousin” in the Agent Carter TV series, the entire history (or herstory) of the MCU and S.H.I.E.L.D. can be further explored without Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 2, Captain America 3, or any other future properies having to spend screen time laying that groundwork and back story.
In fact, both Marvel TV shows can lay a foundation that actually allows new film properties to be launched within the universe with greater ease. Agent Carter could introduce us to Ant-Man‘s golden era version of Hank Pym; Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s alien DNA plot thread may help launch The Inhumans movie. The possibilities are wide.
Despite some early stumbles, Marvel has learned better interplay between television and films, which will help to make their universe ever-present, keep each segment relevant, and the universe as a whole always compelling for fans who want the complete experience.
Nobody is saying that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has reached its full potential yet; trust us, we sat through enough bad episodes in season 1 to KNOW that the show still needs work. However, that effort should definitely be made, because somewhere under all the wrinkles is not just a television show, but a milestone in synergistic media entertainment that has the potential to be something truly great for dedicated fans.
DC will have no less than five shows airing on television soon (read more about them HERE); however, only two of them will be linked (Arrow and The Flash) – and so far, NONE of them will have any ties to the Batman vs. Superman or Justice League movies. As far as true multi-platform superhero universes go, Marvel has the early lead on its competitor – and really, the industry as a whole (with the exception of Star Wars, perhaps).
There’s always a price for being first out of the gate on a new venture, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1 certainly paid its fair share in mistakes and ridicule. But things did get better (for what that’s worth, to you), and will perhaps continue to get better. So maybe let’s dust away the past and look to the future… Where we’ll likely be the first ones to call out Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 2 if it doesn’t deliver in timely fashion.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2 will premiere on ABC in Fall 2014.
Agent Carter will premiere on ABC during the winter hiatus of AoS season 2.
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