On the D/L – Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D
Season 2 Episode 2 – “Heavy Is the Head”
This episode picks up directly after the events of last week where the team has to deal with the consequences of their less than textbook mission this week. A victory was gained in the stolen Quinjet but the human cost was substantial with the loss of two agents.
Casting Lucy Lawless as Isabelle Hartley seems to be a major missed opportunity given her genre pedigree but it seems clear that she was cast to artificially graft characteristics onto her that don’t otherwise appear in the script. Audiences know the actress from other roles so will mentally fill the gaps that are all too present in order to give her death more meaning.
Unfortunately it’s a stunt that doesn’t work and her death feels fairly meaningless. A large part of the story involves Lance Hunter feeling angry at the situation and wanting to avenge her death. This only works on a superficial level as the close relationship constantly referred to wasn’t established well last week so it generally feels a little empty, maybe if they’d saved her death for a couple of more appearances it would have had more meaning but at this stage it feels somewhat empty.
Lance Hunter seems similarly uninteresting at this point by fulfilling the standard bad boy who plays by his own rules character trope and not actually doing anything interesting with it. The story even does the well worn idea of keeping Hunter’s loyalties ambiguous. So far Hunter seems to be the Ward replacement down to the perceived attitude and implied skill level, the only difference is that Ward seemed more loyal in the beginning and followed orders without question. I can see that the show wants to keep the audience guessing about Hunter’s true allegiance as he seems to be a man who only does what he feels is best for himself. I hope that they won’t do the Hydra defection story with him as it has already been done and I’m not really interested in seeing it again. In theory it could be interesting to see Hunter questioning his reasons for staying around after he feels that his best interests aren’t being served but it remains to be seen if the character can gain a personality in subsequent episodes.
That’s not to say that this was a bad episode, far from it. It did a lot of things very well such as continuing Coulson’s detachment from his team. There were some moments where Coulson slipped into awkward less than funny one liners but on the whole the hardening of his character is being done really well. One thing that’s clear is that Coulson now sees the bigger picture beyond his team and is doing what he thinks is right for rebuilding the organisation. Coulson is seen to be affected by the loss of two agents under his command but is aware that he can’t lose sight of what he needs to do. It’s a subtle shift in his character and it’s done very well. His understanding of people and how they work is key here as he uses that talent to manipulate Hunter and negotiate with Talbot.
Skye seems back to lacking understanding of what her clearance level actually gains her. There are several moments in the episode where she directly questions Coulson after he tells her what to do, while this is good that she doesn’t blindly accept what is being told to her it seems at odds with her more disciplined attitude from last week, hopefully she’ll settle into a hybrid of the two that makes sense for her but for now it’s a bit of a contradiction. I do like that she finds it difficult to accept Fitz in his current condition as it adds a little realism to dealing with someone who has mental problems, it’s a sad fact that some people will have trouble with it so that is good to see.
After feeling that Fitz was the weakest part of the last episode I found his inclusion to be among the strongest here. The revelation that Simmons is a figment of his imagination representing everything he has lost but can still access through this hallucination seemed a little ridiculous last week but it’s used to good effect here. I like that it makes people find it difficult to approach Fitz because he’s constantly talking to himself and becoming agitated at his lack of effectiveness. The episode boasts some really genuine interactions between newcomer Mack and Fitz where Mack treats him like a human being and shows him the proper patience and respect while being a calming influence. The two characters have a good dynamic soon and after a lack of presence in the last episode Mack is nicely fleshed out to be a compassionate presence.
The Absorbing Man is back and used to great effect here with his powers on display and looking great. There’s a sympathetic element to his story in this episode as he seems to only be doing what he’s doing for personal reasons that make it appear that he feels he has no other choice. He is dealt with in this episode but it is made clear that it likely isn’t permanent which I really like since I would love to see him return in the future. I doubt we’ll see him going toe to to with Thor or The Hulk but he is a good villain presence for this show at least.
One major disappointment is Melinda May, it’s mentioned by Skye that everyone has been changed by recent experiences but May appears to be the same as ever. The only truly interesting moment was her having Coulson’s ear like she did in the first season but other than that there’s little going on with her. There seemed to be a moment where she was about to disobey an order but nothing came of it.
Some plot threads are picked up like the strange patterns that Coulson has been carving into walls which connect to the artifact that in turn connects to the surprise reveal of Skye’s father (Kyle MacLachlan) who seems to be clued up on what all of this is. Raina returns in this episode as well and seems to have a deep connection to all of this, shown when the artifact doesn’t kill her like it does everyone else who comes into contact with it.
There also seems to be an establishment of a status quo when Coulson drops off The Absorbing Man to Glenn Talbot in exchange for being left alone. Naturally Talbot doesn’t take the deal but Coulson shows him that they have cloaking tech mastered proving that it won’t be so easy for S.H.I.E.L.D to be taken down. I really liked that Coulson was bluffing slightly when he states that the cloaked plane is very low on fuel so it seems that lots of time will be spent convincing people that their organisation is more impressive and well equipped than it really is.
Another strong outing for the show that doesn’t quite match the quality of the previous episode. There is a definite sense that the show is trying but characters without interesting personalities and standardised plot lines are still creeping in. I really like how the plot lines are being furthered and the mix of characters is a lot better. With any luck the show will continue to improve as time goes on.