[This is a review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1, episode 11. There will be SPOILERS (like the one above).]
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is back from hiatus and takes the Coulson (Clark Gregg) mystery head-on… kind of (not really). But hey – at least Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) are now thoroughly entertaining and pleasant to watch onscreen.
In "The Magical Place," written by the newly paired Paul Zbyszewski (Day Break) & Brent Fletcher (Spartacus: War of the Damned), Coulson, still separated from his S.H.I.E.L.D. group, is exposed to poking and prodding by Project Centipede’s Po (Cullen Douglas) and Raina (Ruth Negga) under the direction of the mysterious Clairvoyant to find out the secret of his resurrection.
Meanwhile with Coulson missing, Victoria Hand (Saffron Burrows) steps in as the new team leader, which results in the group separating itself from its junior member Skye (Chloe Bennet), forcing her to find alternative methods to track down her missing superior.
“How did Coulson come back?” is the question that fans of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe have been asking themselves since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was first announced. After the first few episodes aired, however, many fans decided to step away from Marvel’s TV experiment indefinitely. These brilliant many may have made the correct decision all along, as it turns out, because there’s not much that’s contained within this episode – explanation included – to truly justify the investment of time required in order for Whedon and co. to right this upended series.
This week’s episode is a curious one, and not just because of everything that happened (or didn’t), or because Coulson’s resurrection reveal was less than revealing. For the first time since the series began, two solo writers, Zbyszewski and Fletcher, were paired up for the mid-season premiere following the winter hiatus.
Pairing up writers isn’t particular strange (though it is unusual); however, one of the writers created a cult TV show and wrote the first thoroughly entertaining episode of the series ("F.Z.Z.T."), while the other wrote a poor episode which introduced Scorch, Raina and Project Centipede ("Girl in the Flower Dress"). With a bit of Captain Planet logic likely behind the decision to team up writers, the “with your powers combined” idea unfortunately falls apart early on, leaving audiences with a story of two minds – neither of which are all that competent or worthwhile.
For the majority of the episode, Coulson is away from his team, and with it, we were finally able to see what the series would be if Coulson isn’t present to help smooth out the series’ rough spots with his charm. As it turns out, the series without Coulson’s direct involvement is much like the S.H.I.E.L.D. team in this episode: awkward, chaotic and… unfortunate.
Without Coulson, or the fond feelings that many terrific Marvel films instilled, the team aspect essentially falls away under Hand's control, and two unnecessary tales – one with Skye, the other with the team – pop up to help fill time until the non-revelation ruse is unveiled to all those watching. Neither story is really all that in-depth or unique, and the same end result could be attained with a more streamlined adventure.
Coulson, too, had a bit of difficulty handling what this episode threw at him. Agent Coulson is a character with established behaviors and settings, and it’s within these familiar confines that audiences’ fondness grew. Now outside of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers, strapped to a mind-reading device and forced to relive the pain of leaving love behind, this relatively two-dimensional man is forced to heavily emote and respond to reflections of a life and time that audiences were never truly aware of.
As much pain and heartbreak that Clark Gregg is able to convey in this episode, there’s no doubt that it would have been more impact if he wasn’t secluded in the “town that the bomb forgot," or if audiences were able to meet him halfway, emotionally, and not require him to carry such weighty stories – not to mention the future of the series – on his own.
No matter what, there was a reveal, as promised. Coulson’s Tahiti charade turned out to be anything but vacation, as he was strapped to a gurney, dead for days and going through multiple operations throughout his getaway. How did Coulson come back? A machine poking at his exposed brain is the answer, apparently.
This is as much of a reveal as viewers get right now, and you’ve got to give them credit for believing that fans will tune in for the next chapter of this unnecessarily complex mystery. Will Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ever get that chance? The numerous powerful entities involved makes it too difficult to tell.
If the ratings continue to follow in the path of No Ordinary Family, then Michael Chiklis and J. August Richards will be able to agree on at least one thing: it’s not easy being a superhero on ABC.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns next Tuesday with “Seeds” @8pm on ABC.