William: To say that expectations for Agents of SHIELD were high when the show first premiered last year is a gross understatement. Marvel’s first foray into television was saddled with a grossly high anticipation and certainly took a while to find itself. Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s big twist gave the show the jolt it needed to finish out its first season on a high note, but left a lot of questions as to how the second season would come together.
In a moment that clearly defines the show’s newfound direction, Coulson talks about how this clearly unprepared and underdog version of SHIELD no longer has access to the resources that made them so formidable (and made the stakes so low) in the past, thus they”ll need to take more risks to be successful. Fitting, because it’s the risks that the show takes during this season opener that have me interested in seeing where the show progresses from here. But what were your thoughts Justin? Was giving these Agents of SHIELD a common foe all the show needed to get back on its feet? And what do you think of this new outmatched team?
Justin: Oh, absolutely. Let it never be said that Marvel can’t take a note. As the one person who didn’t seem to mind a few of the early 084-of-the-week episodes, Agents of SHIELD always thrived when our hardscrabble team was going up against a random supervillain. That’s what made the Hydra reveal such a breath of fresh air into the show. Season one always flirted with going full comic book with its melodrama and the cameos, but it never fully committed to it. “Shadows” 100% commits to the new concept of the show and ticks a lot of fanboy boxes. It’s as if Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen just sat down in the writer’s room and said, “They want a supervillain? Here’s a Brian Michael Bendis favorite! Compelling new characters and massive development for the existing ones? You betcha!”. This is finally a Marvel show and all it took was everyone hating the first season.
As for the new team, I’m way into it. While I liked the characters well enough during season one, most of them lacked a rudder or distinctive personality. I loved May, obviously because she’s Carol Corps material, and FitzSimmons charmed me despite myself, yet Skye, Ward, and sometimes Coulson never really clicked the way I wanted them too. They seemed complacent at best and boring at worst and the cases they worked never really had any real urgency to me. Now with “Shadows”, the show feels like an issue of Secret Warriors. It’s a group of interesting, clever, and gorgeous looking rogues saving the world. Let’s get into the specifics of the episode. Now the team, with the aid of a few mercs, is scrounging for tech and resources, instead of jetting around the globe en masse. Do you prefer this new scaled down approach to the show? As well as the new status quo when it comes to the characters and mission?
William: SHIELD is now a DIY operation and that ups the stakes in a major way. They don’t have access to any of their former hardware and certainly don’t have the ability to just call in an Avenger for backup because they’re supposed to be off the grind. I hadn’t really thought about Secret Warriors since Winter Soldier (since the Hydra being a part of SHIELD was a major plotline in that story), but that’s basically what this second season looks to become and if you’re going to mine comics for plot ideas – Jonathan Hickman isn’t a bad person to draw from.
To your point of the characters, everyone is so much more improved already this year. Skye is no longer the wide-eyed recruit she once was. May is less of a cypher. Hell, even Ward gets a moment of empathy and that’s even before we get to the crushing moment with Fitz. However, the new additions don’t get as much work here as the rest of the cast, but I was pleasantly surprised that Whedon and Tancharoen has the guts to kill off Lucy Lawless’ Isabella Hartley.
I’ve seen some complaints leveled at the show for not having a distinct visual style, but I think it’s definitely been improved here when compared to last season. I don’t think Agents of SHIELD’s visuals will ever progress into Breaking Bad levels of substance, but there could be some improvements here and there. What did you think of the overall style of the episode and those late episode reveals: the fate of Lance Hunter (played by the hilariously-awesome named Nick Blood), what happened to Simmons and the reappearance of Dance Whitehall aka the Kraken?
Justin: The turn at the end of the episode when it reveals that the mission was all about getting a Quinjet made the episode for me. Then it crushed me by filling my screen with some tremendous acting by Iain De Caestecker coupled with a rousing Coulson speech. I remember saying during season one that this show could use to take a few cues from Dollhouse, another show that struggled during its first season but greatly improved going into S2 and it looks like they took my advice. The slight time jump along with the introduction, and quick dispatching, of new characters as well as jumping in feet first with the existing ones displays a level of confidence that the show never really had during the first season. This is the first time that the show feels like anything could happen. The origin stories are over and now it is time to get to the action, and get to it they do.
I 100% agree with you that Agents of SHIELD isn’t going to a show that film students pour over in years to come. That said “Shadows” displays an intense visual style that was sorely lacking throughout season 1. While most early episodes looked overlit and downright bland most of the time, the new base offers a darker, hardened look at the exploits of the agents that goes hand in hand with the gut punch of a story that this episode ends up being. It still isn’t completely there just yet (oh look, its ANOTHER werehouse), but at least they are moving in the right direction visually. The sequence at the end of their retreat was both harrowing and triumphant and a welcome change to seeing pretty people just standing around the cabin of a huge plane yelling at each other.
One thing I will say is that I did hate that Lucy Lawless was killed so quickly, mainly because I love Lucy Lawless unconditionally and I liked the idea of having another team within the team that wasn’t as dedicated to the cause, but leaving Hunter alive to fight another day will still bring that dynamic to the show, just on a smaller scale. As for our other main characters, it is almost like a completely different show. It is almost astounding the level of development that Whedon and Tancharoen give our main team in just a short amount of time. Skye and May are now finally full realized people instead of just exposition machines and basically reducing Fitz to a broken shell leaves a gold mine of dramatic possibilities to explore. The same could be said for Ward, which was a truly surprising inclusion into the episode. Though I think it is a bit lazy to just up and make Simmons abandon the team that she loved so much just for the sake of breaking Fitz but, I’m still curious to see exactly what happened.
We keep mentioning Secret Warriors and then the Kraken shows up for a great button onto the episode. I think his inclusion is yet another example of this show benefitting greatly from a single, or at least defined, villain. When the Kraken showed up I got goosebumps because now we have a horrifying face for a great Big Bad, leaving us with very interesting places to go, not only with plots but with character as well. How is this going to affect new badass Skye? Just how powerful is he? And what is that hunk of metal that killed my favorite Cylon? Just based on this episode, where do you see the season going, William? Do you see more mission of the week stories or maybe more contained character driven plots that work into a larger narrative for the season? Also, how awesome is it going to be to see a Quinjet on TV every week?
William: Funny you mention Skye, as it seems that one of the major plots of this season will be about her Father. The Obelisk seems to this season’s MacGuffin, streamlining the whole 0-8-4 plots from last year into one nice and neat package. For the first time I’m not entirely sure how the show progresses forward and that’s a bit exciting. I’m hoping that a lot of the groundwork for the plots of this season were established here, so we can begin to dive deep into exploring more of who the characters are this season.
Agents of SHIELD seems firmly more confident this season than it was last season. Sometimes all we need is a bit of growing pains to get to something good. While it’s certainly not must-see-TV, “Shadows” proved that there’s a lot to like when the show is really firing on all cylinders. And, yeah, having a Quinjet is pretty rad.