While the diehard Marvel fans have rallied around Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., everyone banking on the ABC series' success knows that some work is needed to keep viewers tuning in - and hopefully win back those who've left already. Few points have been more divisive than the mystery of Agent Coulson's resurrection - and just how slowly the show's writers have been addressing it.
A mystery is useful in hooking viewers, especially the millions who lined up to see The Avengers, but the lack of any answers has clearly worn thin. According to star Clark Gregg, the second half of the show's debut season will face that issue head on. First, by answering the question: what exactly happened to Agent Coulson?
Everyone who witnessed Coulson's death at the hands of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) knew that if Joss Whedon and his team of writers were making the Marvel mainstay the star of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., they must have a darn good explanation for why he's still alive and kicking. Whedon maintained that the question would be answered, but even now, all that's been provided are vague teases and a mysterious link to Tahiti (we hear it's a magical place).
That growing impatience among fans is something that Gregg admits to understanding, and explained in an interview with Zap2It that the mystery of his return being solved won't just be the climax of the season, but a launching point for all that comes afterwards:
"People have been patient in really wanting to know the true nature of the secrets. ... We're going to get a big fat window at the real truth, and it's going to be very, very surprising. When I read the sequence, I just stopped and put the script down and went 'Wow. That was worth waiting for.'"
Gregg's reaction isn't entirely surprising, as producer Jed Whedon has promised that the writing team is doing their best to make the reveal surprising, if nothing else - a task made difficult by the hordes of online theorists. So if the answer to Coulson's escape from death is enough to make the actor's wait worthwhile, hopefully fans will feel the same way.
Exactly how many fans there will be by the time that happens remains to be seen, as a tie-in episode with Thor: The Dark World, finding a unique voice for the series, and promising more Marvel connections in the future have all been used to help slow the declining ratings. But there's nothing that will grab headlines and eyeballs like a full-blown reveal of just what happened to Phil Coulson.
But Gregg explains that the revealed secret won't be simply checking off a box on a list of nagging questions, but setting the stage for the storyline which brings the show's first season to a head:
"The way our team has kind of turned the back half of this season into a reveal that uses the mystery of Coulson's death not just as a standalone reveal but as an integral part of the bigger reveal, which is that this organization Centipede, run by this person the Clairvoyant, has been part of almost everything we've done and connects on a deep level to everything going forward. [Centipede] is determined to destroy SHIELD and, to Coulson's chagrin, has some of the same questions about SHIELD that Coulson himself is starting to evolve."
"The fact that they've already managed to kind of make the reveal of what Coulson's doing alive [be] the one thing that the Clairvoyant wants is just part of the way the back half of this season is going to be -- more exciting and more satisfying than the first half of this season, where so much work had to be done to kind of set up this world of these people and this team, and all these separate pieces get kind of woven together."
There's no question that Gregg is determined to play the company man for Marvel, even as Coulson's loyalty to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s methods is wavering - a plot point that Gregg claims is similarly integral to his character's arc in the coming episodes. But at this point, most viewers will likely hold off on granting the benefit of the doubt.
The showrunners have a lot of work ahead of them, but if the long-awaited answers truly are worth the wait (and truly avoid the most obvious explanations), then they're off to a good start.
Reinforcements are also on the way in the form of a new supervillain, two new S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, and a potential crossover with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, so if the second half of the season continues to struggle, it will be hard to come up with excuses.
Do Gregg's comments renew your hopes that the show can be turned around in its second half? Or do your issues with the show lie elsewhere? Share your thoughts in the comments. resurrection
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1, Part 2 will premiere on ABC on Tuesday January 7, 2014.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.
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