Clark Gregg in ABC’s “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”
We went into this episode with expectations. Not high ones, but expectations nonetheless. Because the first season of this show turned out to be an epic failure of network-television blandness slathered over what should have been a homerun of a show spinning out from the most successful film franchise of all time, our expectations for season 2 are low. But because the last half-dozen episodes of season 1 showed a marked uptick in quality and we were informed that the previous boring episodes were totally because they had to wait for the Captain America movie to open (an excuse that actually makes the producers look worse, because they essentially squandered weeks’ worth of story time – and hours of the viewers’ time – on stories they all but admitted weren’t really all that good or important in the long run), we at least had some expectations for the new season. The last few episodes of season one really were kind of fun, if not exactly groundbreaking television.
And the buzz on season 2 was that, with Captain America: The Winter Soldier having radically altered the Marvel film and TV universe, the folks in charge of this show were ready to hit the ground running. And they did. Sort of. But we’re glad we didn’t have high expectations, because despite all the noise about how vastly improved the show is now, it’s really only a little bit better and it still has some of the same problems it had last season.
The new status quo is that S.H.I.E.L.D., in the wake of the revelation that it had been infiltrated by their enemies in HYDRA, is now officially disbanded, although it’s operating secretly in a vastly reduced form with Agent Coulson now appointed Director by the departing Nick Fury. In this premiere episode we meet some of the new agents he’s brought onto the team, check in on the status of all the original agents from last season, get a peek at their new headquarters and see them set on a story path, presumably for the rest of this season. All of that is good on paper and along the lines of exactly the kind of changes we wished for the show last season. The original team suffered from overwhelming blandness so new faces were definitely a good idea. The drab, claustrophobic airplane set of last season absolutely needed to go and it looks like the new headquarters have a little breathing room for the characters. The directionless quality of the first two thirds of last season needed to be reversed at the start of this one. All good.
Not one of the new faces were any more memorable or interesting than any of the original team members. As far as we can see, it’s just a lot of quippy, blandly TV-handsome people with low bodyfat percentages. Plus Lucy Lawless, the only one in the bunch with any meat to her character. So of course she’s dead by the end of the episode. We suspect we haven’t seen the last of her and that’ll be good for the show, but all the bland new faces didn’t exactly fill us with confidence that they finally know what they’re doing behind the scenes.
On another, perhaps slightly less important (although not to us) note: we were equally as disappointed by the bland, cinderblock-and-brick, “discrete pools of light over technology” style of the new headquarters. It may as well have been Warehouse 13, so generic was it as an action team’s headquarters. Come on, people. It’s a show about a super-spy organization in a world full of alien technology and people with superpowers. You think maybe you could use a little imagination to make it look cool? The Gotham premiere had more visual style in its first hour than this show has managed during its entire run. And on a similar note: if you really can’t make any of your location shoots look like a place other than Southern California (and they ALL do, including the sandy, breezy, sunny version of WWII Germany that opened the episode), then just set every scene on the West Coast of America or stop trying to make location shoots happen.
But we weren’t entirely disappointed with this episode. There really is a renewed sense of purpose underlying the whole joint. The action sequences are a little more energetic; with the introduction of the Absorbing Man (and the refreshingly unexplained origin of his powers – he just has them), it appears that they’re going to embrace more the fantastical world in which their stories are set; and even though the results are spotty, they’ve clearly worked very hard to define the mostly undefined characters of last season. Clark Gregg’s performance as Coulson still lacks any of the charm the character had in the Marvel films, but Skye is pretty much a completely different character, as is Ward, who’s now something of a hot, steroidal Hannibal Lecter. As for the reveals about Fitz and Simmons, they seem to be more for shock value, although it did sound like both characters were being cut loose at the end of the episode.
It’s all very much still in the “We’ll see” column for us, despite the surface appearance of real change. There are some things to be encouraged about, but even so, it’s still a major disappointment that we’re listing all the things still wrong with the show AFTER they supposedly retooled it to correct all its problems. It’s still a remarkably bland hour, like a CSI episode with occasional superpowers or weird science.
[Photo Credit: ABC/Kelsey McNeal]
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