Agents of SHIELD: Something Actually Happens!
That was actually a pretty thrilling episode of TV. “Turn Turn Turn” was fast-paced and filled with genuine suspense, surprises and meaningful character development. It’s everything the rest of the season hasn’t been. It was also the first time out of 17 attempts where I wasn’t left wondering how a Joss Whedon show could be such a cliché-ridden, corporate product. Faint praise it may sound, but “Turn Turn Turn” is a single step towards new-found respect, and maybe even a long life on ABC.
And there’s no doubt that “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” – an entirely deserving blockbuster hit – plays a big part in the success of this episode. Indeed, to take the thought further, it might seem that The Winter Soldier has saved Agents of SHIELD. Cap has not only defeated SHIELD/Hydra single-handed but he’s brought Agents of SHIELD back from the dead. This makes Cap not just a superhero but a miracle worker.
At least that seems to be the consensus today, if you believe what you read on the geeknet.
I would humbly submit that this opinion is arse backwards. In reality, Agents of SHIELD has been hamstrung by Cap 2’s release date. The show has been stuck in a holding pattern for 16 episodes while post-production was completed on the movie; the plot that changes everything on the show – that ups the stakes and finally gives the audience something worth watching – was held back far longer than it otherwise would have. When you consider the huge amount of flak thrown at the show for the last six months it’s inconceivable that the Hydra twist wouldn’t have been pushed forward in any other circumstance. Agents of SHIELD was accused of being a 1990s throwback show, paced way too leisurely for modern audiences groomed on Breaking Bad, boring, pointless. Many of us wondered if the show had any decent ideas at all, certainly Deathlok and The Clairvoyant suggested they had nothing. But now we discover they did have something cool in store… we just had to wait until April to get at it.
Before that we sat through 16 episodes of tedious, vanilla characters standing around talking in clichés and then engaging in uselessly choreographed fight scenes over some weak sauce stakes. The primary reason for this dreck is the central concept: Agents of SHIELD was a case of the week show about a group of wholesome people working for a slightly creepy secret service. That entire premise sounds like a Rupert Murdoch wet dream. It’s putting a pretty, quipy face onto fascism. It’s hard to imagine that concept getting the green light in any other circumstances than these. But the Disney marketing people spouted some vomit about it being part of a “multi-platform” media product spectacular, and boom comes the green light.
Yet, suddenly and against all odds, it looks like Agents of SHIELD might have a bright future. SHIELD being Hydra in disguise is the first inspired idea they’ve had; Coulson’s team on the run from a fascist and powerful force makes me wonder whether Agents of SHIELD just morphed into an interesting show. And yeah, it might be essentially Agents of Firefly from this point out, but that’s a miles better template for a TV show than boring people in suits shooting anonymous villains with “icers”.
Or perhaps this whole thing is just a season long arc, and by the end credits of episode 22 the world will be back to normal, equilibrium restored and SHIELD back to being SHIELD of old. This would be the cop-out to end all cop-outs, and a total waste of the premise.
THE BALLS OF BUFFY
Something that distinguished Buffy from most other shows was its willingness to change the central dynamic over and over again, and its ability to make that new dynamic work. Very few shows have the guts to do that. Even top tier shows like The Sopranos ended up lacking for ambition and failing to evolve. Other shows, take Veronica Mars, opted to change things up in season 3 and it fell flat. Buffy’s greatness and longevity came from constant, successful reinvention (until season 7 anyway).
If Agents of SHIELD is truly a descendent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer it must understand that change is necessary, and the change must be permanent. Agents of SHIELD has been a geek punch line since last September, a blot on Marvel’s copybook that no one saw coming, but it can still end up a triumph – if it has the guts to follow through on this idea.