For even the most generous Marvel fan, it had to be admitted that AGENTS OF SHIELD had been a little…underwhelming.
Not that it was entirely their fault. The expectations coming into the series premiere were sky-high, following the unprecedented success of THE AVENGERS in the theatres, the unexpected embrace of the Agent Coulson character as geek culture’s favorite uber-cool martyr, and the news that Joss Whedon would be returning to television to produce the new series that would return Phil Coulson from the dead.
So when AGENTS OF SHIELD began airing and felt like a slightly better than average sci-fi-tinged procedural, fans were disappointed and viewership dropped off. It wasn’t that the show was bad, really, but there was so much potential for what they could be doing, even with the confines of television’s budget. Things definitely improved, with recent episodes providing a horrific revelation about exactly how Coulson was resurrected, and the steady transformation of ANGEL’s J. August Richards into Deathlok, as well an extremely enjoyable guest appearance from Lady Sif, and all the while the series’ producers would repeatedly state in interviews, “Big things are coming for the end of the season. It’s all part of a plan. Be patient.”
I think it’s safe to assume that the “big things” are here, and it is here that we should probably make with the SPOILER WARNINGS, just in case any of you have yet to see THE WINTER SOLDIER but still intend to.
As I sat and watched the credits roll after WINTER SOLDIER, with its status-quo shattering reveal that HYDRA had infiltrated the highest levels of SHIELD, and SHIELD as we know it is essentially no more, one of the first things I thought was “What the hell are they going to do with that SHIELD TV show?” And to their credit, they wasted no time in answering, with the first episode to air following the movie’s premiere taking place during the events of the movie, with SHIELD crumbling all around the series’ protagonists, and several very satisfying and shocking revelations, with Bill Paxton’s recurring character Agent John Garrett revealed not only as a deep-cover Hydra agent, but also as “The Clairvoyant,” the series’ “Big Bad” that Coulson and company had been contending with throughout much of the season. By episode’s end, not only is SHIELD in shambles and Coulson’s team beset with mistrust, but another Hydra agent is revealed, this time series regular Grant Ward, who reveals himself by murdering recurring character Victoria hand in cold blood while on a run to deposit Garrett to his new prison cell.
Okay, then. This is now a very different show.
The question is, will it be a better one?
There’s no doubt that it will at least be a more interesting one, simply because of the untraveled ground we’ll have to be covering over the remaining six episodes. Not only will Coulson’s crew no longer have the unlimited resources of SHIELD to back them up, but ther’es also the mystery hanging over their head: when will the team discover that Ward is a sleeper agent? How much of his relationship with them were genuine? This all a double betrayal, intended to get Ward in with HYDRA? And what does all this have to do with the alien blood still coursing through the systems of Coulson and his hacker protégé Skye (oh, yeah, that happened)? Now that the producers’ hands aren’t tied by the CAP 2 release, will we get to see HYDRA in a big way, taking its place as the series’ main continuing antagonists? Or will the series drop back to its more disappointing episodic ways, with just the occasional nod to Coulson and his crew being on their own now? Only time will tell. But if the series wants to make it to a second season, they need to take advantage of the big second chance they gave themselves last week and run with it, take viewers by the throat week after week and raise the stakes, really take some risks and go for broke.