I’m going to be upfront about this: I was torn on season one of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I stuck with it for the first six episodes, and kind of gave up. It takes a lot for me to tune into a 22 episode network series every week, and it was much easier to wagon hop over to Arrow on Netflix. But I knew I would come back, as a follower of Stan Lee’s Church of Excelsior, but also faith in The Whedon brothers’ vision. I tuned into a few specific episodes on Hulu during the summer to catch myself up:
“Yes Men”: for an episode featuring Jamie Alexander as Lady Sif of Asgard.
“End of the Beginning”: To see how the series will tie into Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
“Turn, Turn, Turn”: because HYDRA.
and, “The Beginning of the End”: for the sake of it being the finale.
I’m noting this in case there are specific details regarding episodes in between all of this, and the first six that I missed out on, although I don’t think anything regarding Gravaton has yet to be made out of Dr. Franklin Hall from episode, like, three.
So, let’s get into where season one left us off, as a refresher. Pretend the following is in an exuberant Stan Lee voice:
“We last saw our heroic Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with HYDRA revealing their dirty work from the shadows. S.H.I.E.L.D. is changed forever as we know it, and after the events in Washington D.C. as seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Nick Fury has gone into hiding, giving Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) the role of Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.
In the event of HYDRA’s resurgence, Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) was revealed to be a traitor, leaving Coulson, Skye, Fitz, Simmons and May in a state of despair, unable to trust anybody for fear of encountering HYDRA, and others believing they are HYDRA.
Coulson’s mysterious resurrection was revealed, and it turns out Tahiti isn’t quite the paradise we thought it was. Not only that, but the mysterious means which brought him back to the land of the living are the same that were used for Skye when she was brutally shot!
Season one concluded with Simmons and Fitz being saved from certain death at the bottom of the ocean, Skye became one step closer to finding her father, Patton Oswalt joined the party, and Coulson began to draw mysterious texts on the walls in the late hours of the night… who knows what adventures, dramas and super encounters we’ll see this season on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”
Thanks, Imaginary Stan.
This week, we have the season two premiere, “Shadows,” opening with an actually quite fun test reel of sorts for the upcoming second Marvel series, Agent Carter, as it reassumed the Indiana Jones adventurer’s tone from Captain America: The First Avenger. We bear witness to our traditional Nazi artifact dig complete with black coats and a name drop of Heir Red Skull, when suddenly the door to the base is blasted open – Boom! – by none other than Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and The Howling Commandos!
I’m not sure if I’ve ever put my opinion in a published format, but not only is Hayley Atwell a prime example of a woman who knows how to kick some ass and is more than justified for her own stories, but I also loved the casting of Neal McDonough (Band of Brothers, Medical Investigation) as Dum Dum Dugan and the other commandos, and would happily see them return beyond cameo appearances, especially permanently if Agent Carter takes off.
Once Peggy Carter’s proof of concept battle sequence is out of the way, they snag the HYDRA unit, and the treasure, labeling it an 084, which is SHIELD code for “we don’t know what the thing is.”
Luckily for us, half a century later, Coulson and his team don’t know what it is either, as we’re reintroduced to the world of SHIELD where it feels unafraid of a serious, grittier tone, as opposed to the sleek Disney product that was season one very early on.
We’re introduced to several new field agents now that SHIELD’s operations are mostly underground, and I was excited by a fun throwback cameo with Lucy Lawless (Xena The Warrior Princess), even if it was short lived, but I’ll get to the reason for that in a moment.
Skye reluctantly accepts when asked to interrogate Ward the Traitor, who is being kept in a glass-walled cell to be dug up here and there for information on HYDRA operations he learned from Brian Cox’s character. In this particular case, on the new superhuman villain, speaking of whom is the first of the, what I would like to call, “Panel Spotlights,” I’d like to feature each week discussing new characters from past Marvel works as they appear on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.:
Panel Spotlight SHIELD 201
Name: Carl “Crusher” Creel
Alias: Absorbing Man
Power: Can alter the molecular structure and durability of his body to that of any material he touches at will. Absorbs exothermic energy and can even shapeshift.
Affiliation: Loki Laufeyson, Masters of Evil
Creator: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
First Appearance: Daredevil #1 (1964), Journey Into Mystery #114 (1965)
Whatever this 084 entity was that Carter and the Commandos captured years ago, HYDRA wants it back, and has employed Creel to retrieve it. I enjoyed seeing a visual effects driven character that was used sparingly such as Creel, yet still is able to pull off a fun easter egg (utilizing what looks like a ball and chain, his original weapon, at the episode’s mid point). And I believe Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. may already be beginning to learn how to use a season two effects budget wisely.
Coulson ultimately sends Skye, May, some rookies and Xena out on a mission to steal the original 084 artifact from a secure military facility. Here, Coulson has to make a tough call about continuing the extraction when things get out of hand, or out of Lucy Lawless’ hand, rather. That alien frostbite doesn’t look healthy, and neither does the resulting car crash. We see Coulson in a form of leadership where he is ready and willing to make sacrifices to restore SHIELD as an organization, but also to restore hope within his crew.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is becoming unafraid to take us to dark places that I know are threatening to unveil themselves by nature of being a Mutant Enemy production. I see your strings behind the curtain, Joss. Now work your magic for us.
This allows me to conclude on the second note that I’d like to search for weekly in recapping Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but the most clever name I could devise was “The Whedon-ing.” Yeah, I know it’s cheesy, but also appropriate.
This week’s “Whedon-ing” hit pretty hard, especially since it took Fitz and Simmons, two characters I was as skeptical about in the pilot episode as anyone else, and brought their lives to a place where their happy-go-lucky world of science came crashing down into the brisk ocean of reality. Season one concluded with a vague ending for Fitz-Simmons, where they were trapped in a tank at the bottom of the ocean. When they devised a plan, they were convinced only one would survive the escape to the surface, and although they both lived, it seems something between them is now lost.
Whatever happened in the events between seasons, it resulted in Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) resigning from the team, but we didn’t know that as an audience throughout this season premiere. We knew Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) wasn’t in the right place. He was disheveled in “Shadows,” broken, even, and unable to finish a thought or sentence without the help of Simmons, an iconic trait they had with their natural chemistry through their time together. Except we see in a dishearteningly roundabout camera shot in “Shadows”’ conclusion that Simmons has left him, and Coulson can’t really use him as a part of the team anymore. As smart as he is, his soul was left shattered in some way, and it was the moment when I realized that now, after all of everyone’s complaining, that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. still has potential to recover.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Episode 2.1. “Shadows” (7.5/10)