On the D/L – Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D
Season 2 Episode 1 – “Shadows”
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D returns for a second season with some new characters and a new direction. The first season was considered problematic for a great many people because of the ill developed characters, uninteresting plots and often cringeworthy humour.
As I said in my write-up of the first season I like a lot of what the show was doing. It was very uneven and definitely stepped up massively after the midseason break once the tie in to Captain America: The Winter Soldier happened. I really liked the back to basics approach where they were alone in the wilderness without access the the limitless resources that S.H.I.E.L.D has to offer.
I’m glad to say that season 2 so far seems to be continuing with this plot and appears to be focused on Coulson rebuilding S.H.I.E.L.D to be the organisation that he wants it to be and imprinting his own values on it. The way the episode plays this is really interesting; the field agents don’t see much of Coulson who mostly relays their orders through Koenig. It seems that Coulson doesn’t want to get emotionally attached to his agents even if he recruited them because he knows that realistically there are going to be a lot of sacrifices ahead and he can’t have his judgement clouded by emotional attachment. Whether that’s the right approach or not is up to debate but there’s a very Nick Furyesque quality to Coulson in this episode, maybe they’ll have it build to this rebooted organisation making some of the same mistakes as before through Coulson’s misguided approach.
Coulson’s new role as director of S.H.I.E.L.D has definitely changed him beyond the afore mentioned detached attitude. In season 1 he would sometimes come across as foolishly idealistic which might come from the inherent arrogance of having an unlimited budget to solve whatever problem he was facing. Failure was never an option for him so he was pretty unprepared when things didn’t go his way. This time he seems much more realistic in how he approaches problems and more willing to make the tough choices as we see towards the end of the episode. He is also absent from the field missions entirely which is something I really liked, it makes more sense for him to be leading from his office rather than taking point on dangerous missions.
Skye’s role has changed a lot since last season, when we first see her she is a skilled and focused field agent after receiving extensive training from Agent Mae. All of her uncertainty is gone and she no longer complains about anything, it’s refreshing to see her be issued an order and then follow it. I like this change in her character and I’m sure it’ll give her lots of potential for different participation in stories. Her hacker background is still there and used in this episode but it’s no longer all she can do.
Fitz and Simmons are still around but Fitz is suffering from brain damage after his ordeal in the first season finale. Coulson has given him the task of working on developing cloaking technology so that they are better able to sneak around but his brain just won’t work for him and he is unable to concentrate for long enough to get any work done. Simmons is around to try and help him focus but it really isn’t much use and there is a twist surrounding this that I won’t spoil. This story was probably the weakest part of the episode but I didn’t mind it too much, it is nice to see consequences that will affect characters for a while to come but I am still waiting for the miracle cure to present itself.
Ward is back as well but has a more reduced role so far. After his betrayal and subsequent capture he has been locked in a hi tech cell that seems inescapable. Coulson is keeping him close because he has a lot of knowledge of HYDRA and that will be useful. Ward’s presence in the episode is really unsettling, he acts as if he’s found some kind of inner enlightenment but there’s a sinister subtext to everything he says and the way he acts. He is only willing to release information to Skye who really doesn’t trust him for obvious reasons. I get the impression that Ward has an agenda but the question of whether he is regretful of his actions is one that will burn for quite a while, to my mind he’s irredeemable but I like this Hannibal Lecteresque use of the character for now.
I’m glad to see that Triplett is back as he was one of my favourite characters in the first season once he entered the show. He doesn’t have much to do in the episode but his professional optimism is still prominent. He still seems to be the only character who is hopeful for a postive outcome but it doesn’t make him naive to darker possibilities or affect his determination. I’m not sure what is planned for this character over the rest of the season but I’m glad to see that he’s mostly unchanged by everything.
Koenig is back or more specifically Billy Koenig. The mystery surrounding this character is alluded to but not solved yet; at this point there doesn’t seem like there’s much to him but his role in this episode is mostly to act as Coulson’s proxy in giving the team their orders and helping to organise things. My money’s on Life Model Decoy but I’m sure we’ll see.
There are some new faces as well in the form of Lucy Lawless’ Isabelle Hartley and her team which consists of Wilmer Calderon’s Idaho and Nick Blood’s Lance Hunter. We don’t really find out much about them but their inclusion is a welcome one since they come across as an effective team who are very good at what they do.
Adrian Pasdar returns as Major Glenn Talbot -who has actually grown his own facial hair instead of having it awkwardly stuck on- giving the audience the face of the Government and the military trying to hunt down Coulson and his organisation. His appearances last season were brief but he’s got much more to do here and is used very well. He comes across as a competent officer who is very committed to his mission as well as being very skilled in his methods. I hope he continues to be something of an antagonist causing complications throughout as he is a good character who has a clear history with Coulson that has lots of potential to be explored throughout.
Something that can be applied to the episode in general is that there’s an undercurrent of professionalism with far less emphasis on the humour which is only a good thing. I really liked that the bulk of the story was a team of specially trained agents just getting on with their job, it’s something that I feel that the show has needed for quite some time so I’m delighted to finally see it. Hopefully it’ll continue on in this vein.
Another thing the episode does well is tie itself into the wider cinematic universe in ways that they haven’t previously done. Instead of having vague references to characters from the comics we have a fully formed Carl “Crusher” Creel, aka the Absorbing Man (Brian Patrick Wade) who has his powers superbly realised and comes across as a genuine threat to the team. It finally feels like these characters live in a world where super powered foes are completely common place, long may this continue and I hope to see more villain characters introduced this way. Similarly we have the cameo from Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter and the remaining members of The Howling Commandos acting both as a tease for the upcoming Agent Carter series as well as connecting their story to the plot of this episode and establishing the mystery of Dr. Whitehall (Reed Diamond) who doesn’t seem to have aged in the 70 years between the two time periods.
It was great to see Peggy and The Howling Commandos albeit briefly as I really liked them in Captain America: The First Avenger but that film didn’t allow much time to develop them properly, not that they have much to do here either but it does help to enrich the wider universe. Hopefully they’ll feature heavily in Agent Carter when that airs.
Between this cameo, the inclusion of an established supervillain and the general professionalism I felt like I was watching a S.H.I.E.L.D TV show for the first time since this series began, it’s a shame that it took an entire season to get to this point but I’m glad they finally seem to be on track, judging by this episode anyway. So far I really like the new direction and I hope that they can keep up this momentum.
Aside from a slightly weak subplot involving Fitz and Simmons this is a very solid and strong first episode of the season that nicely brings us up to speed on the state of the organisation and the current happenings with the characters. The story is tightly paced and the villain is effectively used. It feels more like the show knows what it is and where it’s going with this episode than it ever did in season 1. This show now feels like part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe instead of being off to the side.