So much for making it easy for new viewers to jump in.
At this point, “Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.” seems to be serialized in a major way, and if you haven't been watching from the start, things just aren't going to make as much sense to you. That's fine with me, but it seems like their plans for the show have changed fairly dramatically since it went on the air.
Then again, maybe this has always been the plan. After all, this week's episode lands at the perfect moment before “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” and next week's episode looks like it's going to take the ideas from that film and run with them in a parallel way. This is the sort of thing I was hoping for when this show was originally announced, and this is the first moment they're really having to juggle everything at the same moment.
Does it work?
So far… yeah, sort of. It depends on the eventual answers we'll get, of course, but it certainly feels like they've finally started telling the stories they wanted to tell and they're doing it in a very aggressive manner right now. It felt like this week's episode was in motion from the very start. Mike Peterson has become Deathlok full-stop now, and there's a great moment midway through where Skye sees that x-ray image of him and we get a peek at just how much work they've done to him at this point.
Two things became very clear this week. First, Coulson's team really is a team at this point. I think back to the first four or five episodes and how labored the interplay between characters was, and then I look at the way they handle things now, and it's not just because we've spent more time with them that the show is better now. It's also because the cast has gotten very comfortable together, and the writing has gotten leaner. There's very little fat on this week's episode, and they seem to reveal quite a bit of information in a very compressed period of time.
A few quick thoughts on things from tonight.
First, of course the guy in the chair isn't The Clairvoyant. That would have been way too easy and anti-climactic. Still, the bread crumbs they lay out that lead the S.H.I.E.L.D. team to find him in that weird surveillance room below the abandoned race track were nicely handled, and it does seem credible at first that this might be the face of the person who's been hounding the team the entire time.
Second, I like the way they're handling May's storyline. She's always stood apart from the team, and revealing that she is answering to someone without anyone else onboard the Bus knowing about it is pretty great. My theory is that it's Nick Fury on the other end of that dedicated line, and that May is still very much a good guy. But her actions are going to destroy any chance of ongoing trust between the characters.
Third, Fitz/Simmons had the potential to be the year's most irritating creation in any TV show, but they've done a great job of making them into characters who work on their own and have very different personalities while still taking full advantage of the team dynamic between them. It's a tricky balancing act, but they've handled it really well.
It was nice to have Skye back in action this week. There were so many returning characters that I was surprised how smoothly they handled all of them. We saw Agent Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernandez), Victoria Hand (Saffron Burrows), Agent Garrett (Bill Paxton), and Agent Blake (Titus Welliver), who was also in the Marvel One-Shot film, “Item 47.” I hope they continue to build out the supporting cast with all of these interesting actors who they can bring back for one or two episodes at a time. It makes the world feel bigger, and they've done a nice job of making them into people we'd like to see again. Hell, if they ever talk Bill Paxton into joining the show full-time, I would be okay with that.
This entire episode was about sowing the seeds of mistrust in the team. May's not crazy about Fitz and Simmons running blood tests on the samples they got from Skye, but then again, May's got her own agenda so far.
They're very careful to make sure that we see Mike Peterson still wrestling with his own humanity, which suggests to me that they're not simply going to make him a bad guy and leave it at that. At some point this season, we're going to see a final struggle for who owns Peterson's soul and how much of him is left inside of Deathlok.
When Fitz discovers May's dedicated secret hard line and Skye puts together that the Clairvoyant isn't getting answers from psychic powers but rather from SHIELD intel, it's a great moment because everyone on the team is presented as capable and involved. That's hard on shows like this, and more often than not, you're left wondering what role some of the characters even play in things.
I've already seen “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” and I can tell you that they timed this all perfectly. This episode serves as pretty great prep for that film, and then the ending of that film should lead into next week's events beautifully. It all makes me wonder what they're going to call this show next season, because I'm not sure the title will still apply.
Still, if that's the big question I have, then it seems like they're on the right track, story-wise, and it's nice to be legitimately enjoying the series week to week now instead of waiting for it to kick in.
So next week is Victoria Hand against everyone? Bring it on.
“Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.” airs Tuesdays on ABC.