[SPOILERS ahead for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 2, episode 11.]
This week, for the very first time, the big-budget world of Marvel explodes on to television in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 2 premiere. If you want the best comic book-based experience on air (now with feature film effects), or to step inside an honest to goodness addition to a growing billion-dollar Cinematic Universe, there really isn't any place else to turn to on the small screen except Tuesday night on ABC.
The series’ dual showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, who penned tonight’s episode “Aftershock”, have once again evolved the series during its hiatus. This time an eyeless teleporter, Gordon (Jamie Harris), jumps in and introduces more of Daisy “Skye” Johnson’s (Chloe Bennet) Inhuman, comic-based origins, and future as “Quake”. If that’s not enough, the world of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., though once small and without focus, seamlessly expands behind the series’ most successful episode to date, officially establishing an exciting world worth exploring past any film ties. As in Marvel Studios' movies, though, and to the show’s credit, every plot thread from small to large now has great value and every character has a purpose.
In the wake of Triplett's (B.J. Britt) death, the S.H.I.E.L.D. team is forever changed. Skye recognizes the strength of her powers, which can be fueled by her emotions, accentuating the heated conversations that occur as everyone deals with the loss of their teammate. Fitz (Ian De Caestecker), for example, grows and is able to comfort Skye even though he recognizes her danger; Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), however, has seen how dangerous someone like Raina (Ruth Negga) can be, and she’s now prepared to "neutralize" all similar threats. Meanwhile, Mack (Henry Simmons) and Mockingbird (Adrianne Palicki) might be traitors, and Hydra is now blood-thirsty following Daniel Whitehall’s (Reed Diamond) death. Fortunately, Coulson (Clark Gregg) has also changed.
Coulson told Skye that he is going to crush Hydra; and, after a surprising string of assassinations, he seems to be keeping his word – on ABC, no less. It’s funny to think now how, after Thor: The Dark World, Team Coulson was relegated to cleaning up the aftermath of the fight. Jump to the present and Team Coulson's leading full-scale global security operations while superheros (and villains) are birthed and heads are just being sawed off S.H.I.E.L.D.’s enemies. It’s as if the old Coulson, who shot Loki and died in The Avengers, is finally back from “T.A.H.I.T.I.” and now on TV.
Gordon, an Inhuman since 1983, is one of many that Skye’s mother (Dichen Lachman) has guided through their Terrigan mist transformation. This revelation represents a shocking bit of ingenuity on the show-writers' part; it also results in the episode being peppered with quality effects rarely seen on television before. Each time Gordon teleports, it feels like a Marvel movie effect, and the frequency of its use – especially early-on - feels like money is of little concern here. That says a lot, especially since this series can never truly afford Marvel movie effects, no matter what. Ever. (Respect the cost of visual effects.)
Even so, Gordon is now an anchor to a new, exciting world which we’ll soon see more of, especially now that Raina (Ruth Negga) has truly become a threat to our heroes. It’s impressive to see just how all of the series’ many parts can transform around a clear direction - something that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. now very much has.
Make no mistake: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is officially a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – in tone, first and foremost. Any television series can use an iconic comic book name to leverage an audience, but none have been able to build themselves up to comfortably fit in to a film world which doesn’t really need it to be success - until now. If anything, this show is now important enough that it could become a liability to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, should it suddenly start going down-hill.
The problem with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was that it could never fail. As a brand for Marvel, it simply couldn’t be a clear and apparent failure connected to the film world. What’s surprising is just how far it’s come, earnestly, to transform itself into an adventure which, arguably, when watched in a specific order, may be more enjoyable than a few of the lesser Marvel Studios theatrical releases. If anything, the fact that you must take a moment to think whether or not the last statement is true, is a success on its own.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns next Tuesday with "Who You Really Are" @9/8c on ABC. You can check out a preview of next week's episode below: