Warning: This review will be covering the entire season of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and due to the nature of the program, certain major plot points of Captain America: The Winter Soldier will be mentioned and spoiled here. If you haven’t seen The Winter Soldier yet, please avoid this review if you are sensitive to spoilers.I cannot think of any show that more hype and a bigger build-up for us here at Free4Geeks.com than Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. prior to it’s debut. Obviously owing to the fact that we are all huge fans of the Marvel cinematic universe and the potentially huge implications the series could have on that universe. In typical Joss Whedon fashion, the series debuted under much secrecy, most notably the question of just how Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) could still be alive after the events of 2012’s The Avengers, and how much of the Marvel films would appear throughout the first season. Those questions, it turns out, would take some time to answer; which is the sole, albeit large, blemish on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s debut season.
By now, if you’re reading it, there’s a better than average chance you’re familiar with Marvel’s S.H.I.E.L.D. and it’s director, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) as well as Agent Coulson. Getting fans to buy into the idea and these characters was the easy part for ABC and Marvel, what they needed to focus on in the early episodes was introducing the large supporting cast of characters, and hit the ground running to keep fans attention. It would turn out to be slightly more difficult to do than it seems anyone would anticipate. In the first half of the season, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would be marred by a mishmash of poorly developed characters and a lull in storytelling, though it would later be revealed that part of that seemed to come from the bigger picture plans Marvel had in store for the spin-off. As Coulson began to round up his new team and audiences were clued into the fact that while the series would still take place in the cinematic universe they’ve grown to love, the scale was going to be toned back considerably for television, and focus on the slightly more logistical side of S.H.I.E.L.D. operations.
Enter Coulson’s ragtag crew who would join him on his adventures aboard The Bus, an advanced carrier plane outfitted with the latest and greatest of spy technologies. Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) the lone wolf, brought onto the team due to his technical proficiency in the field serves as a tactical leader of sorts for the team, sharing the right-hand-man status to Coulson with Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) a long-time compatriot of Coulson known simply as The Cavalry. The unfortunately named Agents Fitz and Simmons (Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge) added a good amount of levity to the series throughout, and served as the scientific operatives, an invaluable resource to this sort of outfit. Lastly, there’s the mysterious Skye (Chloe Bennet), a cyber-terrorist with grand visions to expose S.H.I.E.L.D.’s secrets to the world, though that story line would be dropped early in the season.
It would be unfair to say that any character on S.H.I.E.L.D. was poorly acted, though there were certainly some stand-outs. Clark Gregg fits perfectly into his role as Phil Coulson, and it wasn’t until we started to see Marvel’s Phase 2 films hit theaters that I realized just how much I was going to miss him being a part of the universe on a larger scale. He was truly the connective tissue between all of the Phase 1 films and The Avengers, even more so than Fury. Brett Dalton was certainly believable as the highly trained operative, and his work in the final third of the season should be commended, he had a real chance to shine. Caestecker is the real standout for me, though. Fitz is simply a likable character, and Caestecker’s natural charm and social awkwardness added just the right amount of comedy and sincerity to a show that could have easily been too robotic, given that there are three main characters who are built to be emotionless most of the time. The rest of the cast floated about in relative obscurity, having brief moments of highlights, but not turning in a consistent enough performance to stand out.
While the early episodes lacked a true focus, the show seemed destined to be a clear case of missed potential, living off of the much larger name of the films it was meant to tie into, but never reaching their levels of greatness even when expectations were adjusted to fit the small screen. A few times, S.H.I.E.L.D. attempted to make fans care more by tying the events of the show into the recently released films such as last winter’s Thor: The Dark World, but those episodes actually felt forced at times, and a bit disconnected from the rest of the series. Thankfully, however, in a true testament to just how much of a pivotal moment in Marvel’s overall plans the film was, everything began to change around the time Captain America: The Winter Soldier hit theaters.
In the weeks leading up to the films release, the show took a hard turn for the good by revealing just how much of it’s slow start seemed to be intentional and very well-thought out setup. The introduction of comic book favorite Deathlok caused a huge stir in the viewership and comic book fanbase, and gave the series a swift kick in the pants. By the time Winter Soldier came out, it was like a moment of perfect clarity and timing. That week’s episode was nearly as big an event as the film itself, and it tied in perfectly with the events of Captain America. Giving a more personal and inner-workings look at the hidden threat of Hydra within S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ranks. Seeing the slow reveal of information that was, at that time, already known to most fans was still exhilarating thanks to the enormity of the situation, and the impact that was made clear through the characters reactions. The catch phrase “Trust No One” became abundantly clear in those episodes, and made for a real underground-like run up to the show’s impactful finale.
Speaking of the finale, it might end up being the biggest game changer of the season, as the events of the final 10 minutes have the ability to play a huge role in just how much the agency will interact with the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The only lament I have about the finale is that the big action payoff was mired with far too much cutesy humor and one-liner dialogue for my liking. As some truly intense action was going on, and the story was coming to a climax, to see so many characters breaking the tension with needless joke after needless joke (even if many of them actually landed with a laugh) was slightly disappointing.
That is a minor complaint, however, as it was a fitting finale and I applaud the writers for not backing down on some of the huge changes they made in the final half of the season. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. may not have been the large-scale movie tie-in some fans were expecting. None of the Avengers showed up outside of Fury himself, and there were no gigantic fights in a city full of civilians with special effects oozing out of every single frame costing millions of dollars to the budget, but what it did it did very well. It showed that absolutely everything Marvel has cooking right now has a place to fit into their bigger plans, and that their particular brand of entertainment can work on any scale necessary. If it weren’t for the very slow beginning, this review would be even more positive. I can only hope that the second season will not be facing some of those early struggles, as they will likely not be needing to hold back so many huge events for the release of a new film, though only time will tell on that, as The Avengers 2 is just around the corner, and everyone knows that nothing will take precedence over that.