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How Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Became Marvel's Best-Reviewed TV Show

Agents of SHIELD Built Its Own Mythology

When Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. began, it was essentially Marvel’s "tie-in" series. The show went to great lengths to create none-too-subtle ties to the movies, with a stream of references to the Avengers. The first season ultimately turned this into a strength, with Captain America: The Winter Soldier transforming the series beyond recognition. Little by little, though, S.H.I.E.L.D. has moved away from the films. Since Season 3, there have only been more subtle tie-ins.

There’s a sense in which Season 2 was the defining period for S.H.I.E.L.D.. On the one hand, the series continued its tie-ins; one arc linked directly to Avengers: Age of Ultron, while Jaime Alexander’s Sif made her last cameo in the show. On the other, the season saw S.H.I.E.L.D. take major steps in defining its own mythology. The Inhumans and Terrigenesis allowed S.H.I.E.L.D. to begin carving out its own identity. Although these arcs received mixed responses from fans at the time, they were a crucial part of the series’s evolution.

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Five seasons on, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t really do explicit tie-ins any more. Instead, the showrunners and writers look at the next Marvel movies, and identify key themes they want to develop. When Marvel Studios released Doctor Strange, for example, S.H.I.E.L.D. introduced the Ghost Rider. They did so within the confines of their own mythology, though; back in Season 1, S.H.I.E.L.D. had introduced the concept that particle accelerators could create "ghostly" beings who were out of phase with reality. That principle became the foundation for Season 4’s "Ghost Rider" pod.

Agents of SHIELD Is A Great Superhero Series

There’s a sense in which Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has succeeded by abandoning its initial concept. Back when Season 1 began, S.H.I.E.L.D. was touted as the story of everyday people who lived in an extraordinary world. As the years have passed, that concept has been forgotten; S.H.I.E.L.D. is now as much a superhero TV series as Supergirl or The Gifted. Terrigenesis has allowed the series to introduce countless "enhanced" individuals, and Daisy – a.k.a. Quake – has gradually stepped up, to the point where she’s almost the series lead. Coulson, for his part, is now a cyborg, with a robot hand boasting all the bells-and-whistles you’d expect from a superhero show.

In line with this, the show’s allies and enemies have gradually become more fantastical. In Season 1, the "big bad" was a corrupt S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who was trying to save his own life. By Season 3, S.H.I.E.L.D. was tackling an ancient Inhuman who survived by reanimated corpses. Season 3 introduced a new Inhuman hero, Natalia Cordova-Buckley’s Yo-Yo Rodriguez; Season 4 upped the ante with Gabriel Luna’s Ghost Rider. Fans were thrilled when Season 5 introduced Coy Stewart’s Flint, although he sadly seems to have been written out of the plot at the moment.

In this light, it’s best to view Seasons 1 and 2 as an origin story for the superheroes. Those early episodes lay the foundations, exploring the mystery of Coulson’s resurrection and explaining just who Daisy Johnson really is. Now, the origin stories have been told, and the show is able to build on those foundations. It’s true that S.H.I.E.L.D. took a little too long to redefine itself, but now the series handles superhero plots with a sure-footedness it could never have managed in those earlier seasons.

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Five seasons on, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has transformed itself into Marvel’s best-rated TV series. The show’s future is currently uncertain; the showrunners have prepared for a potential cancellation, although ABC President Channing Dungey is "cautiously optimistic" about the series’s future. Whatever happens, though, Marvel Television has good reason to be proud of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

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