Sunday, 15 December 2013

Hiatus report: MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D – season 1, episode 6-10

Sunday, 15 December 2013
F.Z.Z.T ★★½ | The Hub ★★½ | The Well ★★★ | Repairs ★★ | The Bridge ★★½
So how is Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D faring, halfway through its first season? Well, I've enjoyed the last five episodes more than the first five, as the characters are beginning to develop personalities, and the writers are clearly attempting to improve matters. I'm still unsure we really need two young geeks on the show, but Elizabeth Henstridge at least makes Simmons a delight whenever she's put into unfamiliar circumstances. Iain De Caestecker's Fitz has a nice rapport with her too (more familial than sexual), but he's yet to really carve a place out for himself. He could vanish and I wouldn't notice; and, this being a Joss Whedon co-creation, maybe that's on the cards and explains why two eggheads are along for the ride?

Oh yes, geek doyen Joss Whedon. Having his name attached to the show hasn't helped because it's inflated expectations that were already too high. The show and its dialogue doesn't "pop" as it did on Buffy and Angel, although the whole set-up feels inspired by the 'crew-becoming-family' angle of Firefly. The team's HQ is likewise a "ship" that whisks them to various trouble spots, which is a handy way of avoiding the contrivance that all global threats occur around California. There's no convenient Hellmouth here.

The canonical tie-in to Marvel's live-action universe is proving to be both a blessing and a curse. The fact most episodes shoehorn in a reference to Tony Stark or Captain America stopped being fun after three weeks, but still they persist. It's more interesting when they weave in some of the movie lore directly; as with "The Well", which took place during the aftermath of Thor: The Dark World. Beyond "spoiling" the fact Thor must have saved Earth, it worked fine even if you hadn't seen the movie—with a fun storyline about Norse mythology and a "magical staff" that imbues holders with super-strength and rage. There was even a suggestion Agent Ward (Brett Dalton) had been forever altered by brandishing it, but this hasn't been mentioned since, so maybe he won't have a Bruce Banner-style anger management issue after all...

It's easy to be tough on AoS, because feels like a decent 1998 show in modern clothes... but I've seen much worse. (I ditched Stargate Universe weeks before this point, for e.g.) The actors are agreeable presences, if not a huge reason to watch yet, and the stories are largely entertaining if ultimately trivial. It feels there's a chance AoS will come into its own the more it discovers about itself, and perhaps starts developing a better serialised narrative. The mystery of hacker Skye's (Chloe Bennett) parentage and Agent Coulson's (Clark Gregg) post-Avengers "resurrection" isn't working for me. The latter is a particular issue because it just feels like a given he's a clone or automaton endowed with the late Coulson's memories—especially when one episode's flashback to Coulson in Tahiti used Dollhouse dialogue, which was a show all about implanted memories. Or maybe that's a red herring?

The mid-season episode "The Bridge" left us with obligatory cliffhangers until the show resumes on 7 January: Agent Coulson was kidnapped by the villainous Centipede organisation (who want to know about the day after he died), erstwhile "villain" Mike Petersen (J August Richards*) was apparently blown to pieces in an explosion, Agent Dalton was riddled with bullets from an escaping helicopter, and the rest of the team staring on in horror. Naturally, there's enough haziness for super-Mike and Dalton to be fine, so I'm not going to be on tenterhooks until New Year...

What's your opinion of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D right now? Has it improved? Can it get better? What's working and what needs to be jettisoned? Is the Marvel or Joss Whedon connection actually quite damaging, or the main reason you're watching still?

(* who is perhaps going to be added to the regular line-up; thus performing a first season salvage of the show similar to how he perked up Angel's first season?)