[This is a review for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1, episode 10. It contains SPOILERS.]
After Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. finally overcame its rocky premiere and established itself as an honest to goodness television show, ghosts from the series' unfortunate beginnings return to bring everything to a grinding halt - all for the sake of revealing Coulson's secret. But not until next year, and only if you're still watching. Will you be?
In this week's episode, 'The Bridge,' written by former Castle story editor Shalisha Francis, Coulson (Clark Gregg) rounds up his ragtag group of agents, calls in some super-powered backup and goes after Centipede. For those who don't remember: Centipede is the nemesis agency attempting to create a stable, stage three version of the Extremis virus in order to inject it into their own agents, creating super soldiers.
There's no real reason why anyone would remember the majority of the plots that were brought together for Agent's of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s mid-season finale, so it's no surprise that - in spite of a surplus of storylines and hints at an eventual reveal of the series' main mystery - the familiar, over-the-top tropes return to wreak havoc on the final episode of the year. This regresses the series back to the point where future viewings are called into question. And with no new episodes until next year, what option do fans have, really?
If you do choose to return next year, a set of over-the-top, Saturday Morning cartoon-inspired villains await Coulson's team - meaning that they, unfortunately, will be returning, and soon. It appears that, no matter how many times ABC and Marvel's TV experiment attempts to correct course, the series continues to be weighed down by an over-reaching premise that none of the producers are willing to let go. This, above all else, is the most unfortunate chapter of the story of a show called Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., as it directly defies all the progress made thus far.
When a new series makes it to air, mistakes are common while the series is still finding itself, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a perfect example of that. Yet when faced with many challenging obstacles, the series was still reaching to become something more than its circumstances provided - and on occasion it did, surprisingly.
With this step back and the inclusion of storylines that called the series' future into question one time already, however, one must begin to wonder whether hubris or earnest confusion is driving the series at this point. Regardless, audiences will now have to sit back and watch as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. attempts to use Coulson's mystery to establish a story-arc strong enough to carry the series into its own Phase II - which hopefully doesn't include cancellation.
Everyone in the episode - including Po, Raina, Mike Peterson (J. August Richards) - is more or less reduced to the original, forced, 2-dimensional versions of the characters that the series originally attempted to make work.
Barring a few well-placed fighting moves from Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) and Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), everything in the episode, character-wise, is as simplistic and unimportant as its worst episode, and the series has still not done much to show that it's able to carry additional characters (in addition to its always-present globetrotting group).
Will Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. once again right itself in the new year? Perhaps, if it's given time. Right now, it appears that a line has been drawn in the sand, and if you want to know the truth behind Coulson's mysterious absence, you'll have to put up with them attempting to hone their chaotic villain characters.
Whether or not Coulson's reveal is worth the price of admission is a question that you'll have to answer for yourself; however, if you've followed Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. from the beginning, you probably already know the answer.
_____Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1, Part 2 will premiere on ABC in 2014.