Finale Fever – Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D
There’s quite a lot going on in this episode as all of the plots come to a conclusion as well as setting up stories to be used in season two.
First up is the resolution of the cliffhanger in the previous episode which sees the team using the Asgardian weapon that was introduced earlier in the season to get out of the ambush that awaited them while Skye hacks the information that they need. Somewhat predictable and simplistic resolution but it was well done by showing the other side of the ambush. It’s revealed that the aggressors are controlled from a normal looking office where people issue commands from their booths. It’s a nice juxtaposition of the mundane aspects of day to day operations against the high intensity spy themes, it did subvert expectations a little which I also enjoyed.
Elsewhere it seems that Garrett has a notable reaction to the formula he was injected with that causes him to furiously scribble some complicated looking diagram that has yet to be explained, it kind of reminded me of Sam doing the same thing in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and that’s not a good comparison to make. I feel like the explanation of what this diagram is will be disappointing so I’m not overly invested in the mystery. The more interesting thing about this is the change in Garrett’s character, he seems to have access to knowledge and understanding beyond what humanity has achieved scientifically and he definitely comes across as being driven a little insane by it as well as having something of a spiritualistic quality to what he thinks and believes, the episode doesn’t really do enough to really explore this which is a shame because more elaboration on what knowledge was given to Garrett through the formula could have been fascinating. Instead it basically boils down to isolated cryptic phrases that on analysis don’t mean anything.
Surprisingly some of my favourite scenes involved Fitz and Simmons sitting in the escape pod that has sunk to the bottom of the ocean. There is a morbidness to Fitz as he seems to accept the certainty of death in this situation. Most of his dialogue centers on how dead the two of them are going to be in a short space of time where Simmons seems to be annoyingly optimistic about it all, she does eventually accept the inevitable and admits she’s scared. I really liked how she takes reassurance from the fact that no energy in the universe is wasted and her death will allow some part of her to become part of something else. Naturally they use science and technobobble to get themselves out of trouble but I like that there are consequences to it in the form of Fitz being badly injured, he’s alive but it’s unknown if there’s permanent damage as a result of this experience. I enjoyed these scenes because they allowed time to explore the relationship between Fitz and Simmons. Throughout the season they’ve not had much chance to define this as they always came across as the same character simply split in two so it was great to see them interact in an interesting way as well as explore what they really mean to each other.
There’s a further attempt to make Ward seem more well rounded by having him question Garrett as he seems disgusted by the murder of a United States Military official. This makes no sense at all as Ward has killed without mercy on several occasions so it’s inconsistent that he would start to feel regret at this point. I don’t buy that it’s because he loves Skye and I also don’t think being reminded that he cares slightly about Fitz and Simmons is enough to make him question his beliefs.
I really liked the sequence that featured the team’s assault on Cybertek, the plan that was put together was completely insane yet fiendishly clever at the same time. It ties in nicely to a theme that has permeated throughout the season, the fact that Coulson understands people. He understands how people think and how people will react to certain situations, the entire plan hinges on that knowledge and it pays off. Some of it is slightly contrived but for the most part it works.
Something that factors nicely into this action is the presence of Mr Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury who conveniently happens to find Fitz and Simmons in the middle of the ocean. I can let this contrivance go since if there’s anyone still monitoring S.H.I.E.L.D frequences then it would be him. I got a kick out of Fury standing with Coulson pretty much ignoring Garrett’s threats due to how unimpressed he is by all of his plans. There was almost a running gag where Fury inexplicably appears with nothing to announce his presence. It was also a nice touch to see the weapon Coulson used against Loki in The Avengers make a return.
Dramatically, Deathlok was used really well at the right moment. It made perfect sense for his programming to be broken with the incentive of his son being used to encourage him to do the right thing in attacking Garrett.
I really enjoyed Coulson’s discussion with Fury over the reasoning behind his resurrection. It makes a kind of sense that Fury brought Coulson back because he believes in the ideals that S.H.I.E.L.D was founded on which uniquely qualifies him to lead a rebuilt version of the organisation. It’s well known that Fury has trust issues so bringing one of those few back from the dead is a smart decision on his part.
The episode in general repeats the theme of becoming or being a part of something bigger, there are repeated references to it throughout the episode such as Simmons talking about how all energy in the universe becomes a part of something else. Fury directly mentions this when pointing out that Garrett missed the point of that speech. Garrett himself becomes a part of something bigger when the formula gives him innate knowledge of the universe and increased understanding of things we aren’t actually told about. Coulson shows signs of this knowledge towards the end of the episode as well since he was injected with this same formula.
Skye’s origins and the truth about her are alluded to repeatedly over the course of the episode. Ward and Flowers seem to know something about those origins and the darkness within her…whatever that means. I can’t say I’m too impressed with this idea. Skye being some kind of anomaly that is hugely important for some reason is a stupid idea, what was wrong with the badass hacker with a mysterious past? She was the most human of the lot of them at one point. What they come up with might be amazing but I don’t think the show or her character needs this.
While on the subject of what I didn’t like, the execution of many of the elements was really clumsy. After defeating Garrett they just left him on the ground so he could wake up and upgrade himself? This was only done to set up a joke, a funny joke granted but it just made the characters seem stupid to leave him lying around like that. Sufficed to say it’s unlikely that we’ll be seeing Garrett again.
Triplett was badly used in this episode, his role could have been filled by almost any other character. I get that there was a lot going on and maybe not enough time to give all of the characters a moment in the sun. I’m hoping that season two will bring more for this character to do as his introduction has been a bit of a breath of fresh air. Similarly Ward and Mae are woefully underused here which is odd since their relationship was something the show spent quite a bit of time on in previous episodes so I was expecting a bit more of a payoff than what we got. Also a big deal was made of Hydra having access to the Gravitonium but it didn’t go anywhere.
I would say that I liked more about this episode than I disliked. As a series it hasn’t found its feet yet but it is definitely getting there. The Hydra plot was nicely rounded off and a firm foundation for where the series will go next season has been established. There are a number of questions and mysteries lingering where my interest levels vary but they have plenty to work with here. One thing I will say is that this show definitely needs more Nick Fury.
Before this show aired I was really excited about it because the concept of following a team of S.H.I.E.L.D agents lead by Coulson was a really interesting one. They would exist to investigate and deal with all the problems that superheroes weren’t around to deal with. The concept was sound but the execution left a lot to be desired.
The pilot episode was great, I really liked the energy, the characters and the way the show was set up. Coulson was the same guy we’d seen in the movies and the other characters seemed to bring something to the ensemble. Only problem I had was Fitz and Simmons who just annoyed me from pretty much the first words out of their mouths.
It sort of went downhill from the second episode, gone was the dynamism that those characters exerted in the first episode. Biggest example of this was Ward, in the pilot he was a no nonsense field agent who relied on his training and his attitude to get him through situations, there was clearly lots of anger bubbling under the surface and the shades of a conflict to stay calm, sort of like the Hulk except that he’s not the Hulk. From the second episode onwards Ward was just kind of flat. There was really nothing to him which was a shame because that character in the pilot was interesting.
Skye went through a similar transformation. In the pilot she was sassy, determined and fiercely idealistic and then became heavily naive and a little dumb in the episodes that followed. Any spark her personality had was quickly eroded away. Setting up a romance between her and Ward didn’t work for me since they had no real chemistry but Ward doesn’t really have chemistry with anyone.
Mae was similarly flimsy, there was a good story in there somewhere surrounding her desire to not be an active participant in combat any more but it never really went anywhere and didn’t inform her character at all.
Coulson was mostly consistent other than losing his intelligence when the plot really needed him too. He had the weight of being resurrected playing on him throughout the series and the mystery surrounding that deeply affected him. I really liked how he became a broken man when he learned the truth about his resurrection and the fact that Hydra had so deeply infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D.
The stories weren’t very inspiring either. Much of the season involved a conflict against the mysterious organisation named Centipede that later turned out to be a larger plot from Hydra. To my mind it should have been the plot from episode one but I can understand slightly that they were slightly constrained by the upcoming release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Having said that there was no real excuse for the lazy storytelling leading up to that. There is no reason that they couldn’t have told interesting character driven stories in the first half of the season. Infinite potential within the constraints of the show and the universe existed but they didn’t take advantage of it.
Another think that irked was the lack of presence of major Marvel Cinematic Universe characters. I understand that it’s a TV show and that the actors don’t often work on TV but there were other ways that could have been done other than persistent namedropping. Sure there was two Samuel L. Jackson appearances and the one appearance of Lady Sif from the Thor movies but other than that we would just have mentions of the characters like Tony Stark or Captain America without any real payoff, now and again this is fine but the constant onslaught of this became tiresome. There are plenty of great side characters that could have made some kind of appearance or they could have used the show to springboard some lesser known Marvel characters that don’t quite have the clout to be given their own movie yet. They tried this to some extent with Deathlok but there could have been more done there.
That being said, the show stepped up a gear after the midseason break where the organisation was torn apart from the inside out and it was unclear who to trust. Ward flipping to villain status was a good choice as it began to gave him some personality and replacing him with Triplet was very welcome, being the grandson of a Howling Commando fills the character with lots of potential for storytelling and threads him into the rich history nicely. As villains go, Garrett was great. Most of his appeal came from his innate likeability and natural charisma which helped make him an engaging bad guy.
The show had a really rocky start and was plagued by lazy plotting, poor use of otherwise good characters and a supreme lack of living up to storytelling potential. The mysteries aren’t compelling enough and the resolutions are even weaker. I find myself less than interested by Skye’s origins as well as whatever Coulson is up to when drawing that alien diagram. Hopefully season two will yield better results.