I think it was around January of this year that I finished getting through Buffy and Angel for the first time. I enjoyed both of those shows more than I thought I would, and got a much better understanding Joss Whedon’s career and why I like him so much. They also gave me a reason to stick with Agents of SHIELD, as I had just seen how two shows overcame uneven-to-bad first seasons to become truly great.
When Agents of SHIELD started last September, Iron Man 3 had left me somewhat cool and Man of Steel was devastating (to the city of Metropolis as well) – basically it seemed like we had finally gone too far with super hero stuff and the decline had begun. So the idea of a show centering around Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson seemed like an act of pure hubris, and Agents of SHIELD took a while to dissuade me of that notion. Thankfully, just as Thor: The Dark World kept things interesting and Captain America: The Winter Soldier reinvigorated the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they also helped SHIELD find its footing.
The first episodes of this season set up a pretty simple formula: Coulson’s team hangs out on their airplane (called “the Bus”) and solve crimes perpetrated by mostly regular people using magical/high tech stuff. It was a regular case-of-the-week show save for the occasional references to Iron Man or the Hulk or “what happened in New York.” It was almost as if the show was deliberately trying to lean away from everything that made it appealing – super hero excitement and Whedonesque character development – to instead try to lure in viewers from Hawaii Five-O.
Not that there weren’t things that worked early on, Coulson remained a really fun character, May (Ming-Na Wen) quickly established herself as an ass-kicker, and cameo from Samuel L. Jackson was really, really fun. But things didn’t really change until about halfway through the season, when they did their first crossover episodes, a two-parter set in the wake of Thor: The Dark World. A super powered villain made things interesting, but it was especially great to have Sif (Jaimie Alexander) show up and really show how well Agents of SHIELD can enrich the movies.
That put the series on a hot streak that continued until The Winter Soldier came and changed the whole Cinematic Universe, and finally kicked Agents of SHIELD into high gear – and one of my most anticipated shows every week. Suddenly everything was clicking into place – Fitz and Simmons (Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge) became fun instead of annoying, Skye’s (Chloe Bennet) mystery became interesting, and the show switched to a serialized story. Basically they did exactly what fixed Angel‘s first season, and it really worked. Especially with new recurring roles for James Paxton, Patton Oswalt, and BJ Britt.
Also great: the twist from TWS allowed the writers to transition some heroes into villains. Maybe it wasn’t a surprise to see James Paxton (who seemed like he was having a lot of fun) switch sides, but you had to feel for Mike Peterson (J. August Richards) as he was turned into the cyborg killing machine Dethlok. Plus they took the most boring of all the main characters, Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), the resident handsome tough dude, and turned him into an evil double agent. Suddenly everything that made him boring before made him super creepy. It was like the show had engaged me in a rope-a-dope, wearing me down with bad episodes and then knocking me on my ass with good ones.
With the recent announcement that Lucy Lawless will be showing up in season two and all the positive hype for Guardians of the Galaxy, the skepticism I had for Agents of SHIELD has pretty much entirely melted away. It’s a shame it sucked for a while, but hot damn is it fun now. If you care about this super hero stuff at all, I think you’ll find something to enjoy.