Agents Of SHIELD – Did Season One Live Up To Our Expectations?
Friday nights are much quieter now that we won’t have Agent Coulson and his team to entertain us on a weekly basis. For those who stuck with the show in the uncertain early days, we were rewarded with an explosive final run of episodes that accelerated Agents Of SHIELD onto a new level.
But was it enough? For a show that stumbled along its way, did it iron out those faults or gloss over them altogether in favour of a grand HYDRA-fighting, SHIELD-collapsing extravaganza that flipped the premise of the show on its head? Were characters developed to the point that that we cared about them or even knew more about them we did in the pilot episode? Most importantly, was it a worthy TV spin off of the mega Marvel cinematic universe?
Way back in September we watched eagerly as Agent Ward was introduced to level 6, Agent Coulson returned from the dead and audiences watched with intrigue as Maria Hill and Shepherd Book – sorry - Dr. Streiten – warned that Coulson must never know the truth behind his resurrection. With a dynamic pilot episode directed by none other than Joss Whedon himself, a personal mystery behind a favourite character and the chance to explore the world of SHIELD brought to life across Iron Man, Thor and The Avengers, the sky was the limit.
So…what happened? Where was that global-trotting dynamite of a show we all had in our minds. Well quite simply, it was unlikely to ever live up to our expectations, because a) it’s a TV show and there’s always budgetary considerations to consider and b) it wasn’t designed to be as dramatic as The Avengers or Iron Man 3.
That’s not to say Agents Of SHIELD didn’t have its faults. First and foremost, the supporting cast were watchable but nothing special. Think of the earliest days of Buffy The Vampire Slayer or most importantly, Firefly – those shows had a cast that sparked off each other from the get go. Is might be unfair to compare SHIELD to those shows, but given the Whedon connection, it was always inevitable. Fitz and Simmonds didn’t feel like two separate identities. May was cold and emotionless. Ward was a bit bland. And Skye just seemed a little irritating at times. Most importantly, the agents seemed forced together.
In that first run of episodes there was the sense that we were being endlessly teased. The creation of super villains that never went anywhere. References to the big guns in the Marvel universe without any appearances. To top it off, the stories themselves felt small compared to the movies. Again the result of a TV show with limited budget, or just a limited imagination?
It was also a show that struggled with its tone more than once. Whereas Whedon, the mastermind behind Buffy and Firefly, could expertly blend humour with drama, the quips in Agents Of SHIELD didn’t blend right with the story. The show often flitted between serious and light in a rather erratic way. Apart from the teased mystery of Coulson’s resurrection, there wasn’t much in the way of compelling drama for this host of SHIELD agents. There needed to be a stronger narrative to drive the show forward.
But perhaps the early days of season one were absolutely needed. Not only were they fun, but they established the world of these characters. It gave them the experience of working together so that when it all fell apart, we could understand the impact it had on everyone.
While Simmonds jumping out the plane in FZZT might have been the highlight of those early days (and it was a rare moment of thrilling drama), returning from its mid-season break, the seeds of a darker tale – and a more engaging show – were born. We started to see something special and episode like T.R.A.C.K.S. and Yes Men certainly upped the ante.
Fitz and Simmonds became two distinct characters. May opened up. Phil’s façade began to break as he learned the truth behind T.A.H.I.T.I. Skye found a role within the team and Ward…well we had something bigger coming up from him. It helped that the creation of Deathlock (even if it ultimately failed to make an impact in season one) brought in some bigger elements from the comic, the arrival of Lady Sif tied Agents Of SHIELD to the Marvel cinematic universe far more superbly than the disappointing ‘The Well’ ever did. Garrett was another great addition that added some dynamic into the show, both for Coulson and Ward.
Then we had the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and suddenly Agents Of SHIELD went from good to great. Everything fell apart – all those places and people we had visited for 15 episodes – suddenly we understood what the impact of HYDRA’s infiltration of SHIELD really meant.
The show began to reach its full potential in the closing moments of ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ when the bland Agent Ward killed Victoria Hand and was revealed to be someone much more dangerous. It turns out Ward had always been HYDRA and that unengaging persona had been a ploy all along. Given that it was apparently the plan of series creators Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon for Ward to turn traitor, it puts those early days into a new perspective. Most importantly, it made the entirety of season one would be worthy of a re-watch from a whole new perspective.
Turning our heroes into fugitives, making Ward and Garret the villains, breaking apart the connection between May and Coulson and destroying everything that had been established was a bold move for the show, something you might not expect to see until season two. It was definitely a cases of the Marvel cinematic universe giving the show a helping hand.
As we entered the final run of episodes, featuring the return of Maria Hill, new characters like Colonel Glenn Talbot and Eric Koenig, the long awaited return of Nick Fury and the addition of the far more dynamic Tripp as a replacement for Ward, the show was a far more confident one.
Was the show perfect? Not yet. There were still some issues with tone and humour, but they were far less noticeable. May still needs some work, but she is far more engaging now that her relationship with Nick Fury has been exposed and she has rebuilt that broken trust with Coulson. The pivotal drama of season one, the fall of SHIELD, has reached an impasse and will be tough story to follow. J August Richards is still a little wasted as Deathlock. But the potential is there. Remember Buffy The Vampire Slayer was only a very good show in its first season and fellow superhero TV show Arrow only went stellar it in its second year.
By developing its existing core cast (and that includes making sure Ward stays a villain), stop teasing us with super villains that don’t go anywhere and be as bold as those last run of episodes were, Agents Of SHIELD has the opportunity to become awesome.
Here are some on my season highlights…
Biggest laughs: “Large File Transfer” in Ragtag and Coulson taking out Garret after her resurrects himself with Deathlock technology in Beginning Of The End. (Pure Whedon!)
Biggest shocks: Simmonds jumping out of the plane in FZZT and of course Ward killing Hand in Turn, Turn, Turn.
Best surprise cameos: Nick Fury in 0-8-4 and er…Nick Fury saving Fitz and Simmonds in the finale (It’s just a shame Samuel L Jackson’s named appeared in the opening credits)
Most improved character: Skye…and that was a surprise for everyone!
RATING: 7/10 STARS