[SPOILERS for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 2, episode 14 ahead!]
Weeks of superheroics - no matter the Inhumans connection - can only amaze audiences for so long before fans begin to wonder where legacy characters like Ward (Brett Dalton) and Agent 33 fit in to Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. plans to dominate television. This week, we received that answer - and now, the world of S.H.I.E.L.D. (and the “real S.H.I.E.L.D.”) is not only fully connected, but also a much larger, more impressive adventure than anyone could have imagined.
Co-executive producer Brent Fletcher returns from introducing the double-triple agent Bobbi Morse (Adrianne Palicki) -“Mockingbird” - in last year’s espionage-based tale, “A Hen in the Wolf House”, to write this week’s episode, “Love in the Time of Hydra". "Love" turns the tables on Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) rag-tag team of misfits and a would-be Avenger in Skye (Chloe Bennet); they're now seen as a threat to this new S.H.I.E.L.D. agency, which is seeking for more transparency in this ever-destructive Marvel film/TV world. The show's producers even hired fan favorite actor Kirk Acevedo (Fringe, 12 Monkeys) to play Agent Calderon, part of the “real S.H.I.E.L.D.” - one more reason to be excited about the direction this series is taking. More importantly, this world built through episodic television is now massive in scope. Its many lingering storylines (including, Ward and Agent 33's journey together) are slowly being folded in to the brilliantly crafted superhero world - one which ABC, logically, shouldn’t be able to afford to produce, week to week, with all of its impressive visual effects (not on this level, at least). Fortunately, every cent of the series’ (likely) new-found budget can easily be seen on-screen, as well as a clear direction as to how to execute it successfully.
Case in point: every change to Agent 33’s face also comes with a change in actress, from Ming-Na Wen to Maya Stojan. Agent 33’s ability to transform her appearance still represents the most ingenious way Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is able to create a “pseudo-superpower” threat with a little CGI and and practical editing tricks.
As far as story goes, Ward and Agent 33 are currently not a huge concern in a post-Hydra world; and as such, they only receive a brief bit of lip service from Coulson, who is not surprised of their return, in any way. For that reason, Coulson is quick to focus instead on Skye’s situation. That’s not to say their story in this episode - fixing Agent 33’s face tech and breaking out the late Daniel Whitehall’s right-hand man Sunil Bakshi (Simon Kassianides) - isn’t strong enough to stand on its own. It simply doesn’t need to at this point. There is still a hint of unnecessary romance between the spy duo (nothing new for Ward), but it still feels like something that pulls the series too far back to its humble beginnings - even if Ward has no interest in pursuing any sort of activities. Seems that the one-time “boy scout” has now learned his lesson, in spite of canon.
At the core of the ever-growing Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. world is Skye, who is no longer purely an earthquake phenomenon, internally or externally. We are now at a point in the series where the producers are able to leverage relationships to help propel the overall tale forward - and their success in that area should not be dismissed. It’s not simply the powers of Skye which is being leveraged to make great TV, but the actual idea of what it means when someone like Skye receives a superpower gift. No matter Coulson’s relationship with Skye, she has put him in a position - one where “real S.H.I.E.L.D.” simply cannot ignore the dangers of having a free-flying vigilante running around with a team of experts.
When Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. began, fans will remember that the show didn't know what it wanted to be (or what it needed to be) - and it struggled to find a compelling story to take us further into Marvel’s world. S.H.I.E.L.D. is currently the best way to enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe (as far as small screen options go) - even the upcoming Netflix series Daredevil will be hard-pressed to compete with the deeply rooted connections to the MCU that S.H.I.E.L.D. can now reach (and use to produce stories with ease). After all, there’s no denying that we’re all watching a show which has benefited greatly from the hard work its cast/crew have put into over each and every hiatus. This type of evolution doesn’t happen often in TV, no matter how “hard” everyone is working.
S.H.I.E.L.D. is now sitting in a comfortable position where it's become a top-notch genre TV show - there is a strong argument against you, if you don't believe it. Sure, Netflix has House of Cards and CBS has The Good Wife - both exceptional shows - while HBO has Game of Thrones (easily one of the most epic tales ever on TV) and so forth. S.H.I.E.L.D., however, is just pure fun. Perhaps it’s just that now, when it comes to TV, “fun” is seen in the same light as “funny” - and usually not rewarded for it. Either way, the success of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is something that should be accepted as the next best thing to fact.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns next Tuesday with "One Door Closes" @9pm on ABC. You can check out a preview of next week’s episode below: