A review of tonight's “Marvel's Agents of SHIELD” coming up just as soon as I give a button to a 300-pound Hawaiian dude…
Season 2 has introduced lots of interesting new characters and made better use of the pre-existing ones, and as a result is a much better show than it was in season 1, but also a much busier one. Most of this season's episodes have bounced around from group to group, location to location, giving us satisfying mini-chunks of story without always cohering into a great whole. There are wonderful individual moments, like the May vs. May fight a few weeks ago, or Skye's two daddies coming face to face tonight (more on that in a bit), but I'm still waiting for season 2 to give me an entire hour that feels like more than the sum of its many excellent individual parts (on-screen and off).
A decision was made, understandably, to abandon the Artifact of the Week structure that bored everyone at the start of the series, but I fear the show may be pushing too far in the other direction, moving the story incrementally each week without episodes that stand out on their own. I think back to the way that “Buffy” (another show with a Whedon at the helm) was structured, or “The X-Files” (a show this one has modeled itself after in part), and while the arc episodes cold be great, those shows also did kick-ass standalone episodes – or, at times, arc-related episodes that were still powerful as isolated hours of TV. Some people say that the audience just doesn't have the patience for the standalones anymore, which is why “Fringe,” “Dollhouse” and other sci-fi series eventually shifted to purely serialized storytelling models. But the issue, I think, isn't that the audience doesn't want to watch the standalone episodes, but that they want to watch good standalone episodes, and early “SHIELD” wasn't at all providing that. In the structure of this SHIELD vs. Hydra race for the magical city, there doesn't seem to be room for this show's equivalent of “Hush” from “Buffy” or “Home” from “X-Files,” but I'd like to at least see the story tighten up now and then in the middle of this arc, rather than waiting for the end of it.
All of that having been said, “The Things We Bury” was very much of a piece with this season, offering new bits of information – how Whitehall has managed to stay so young, what happened to Skye's mother (played, in a role that seems like a waste if this is the last we see of her, but not if there are more flashbacks – or “Agent Carter” appearances – to come, by “Dollhouse” alum Dichen Lachman), what ties the obelisk/diviner to the hidden city – while also providing some good character moments along the way, plus another fine Hayley Atwell cameo/tease for “Agent Carter.”(*)
(*) Note to ABC: I really want to watch “Agent Carter,” but every time I hear the “Sometimes, the best man for the job is a woman” tagline, I want to watch it just a little bit less. I get that one of the themes of the show will be Peggy dealing with the sexism of the time, but these ads exist in 2014, not 1945. Please find a new tagline.
Tripp hasn't had much to do this year, but he got to give his speech in defense of Coulson – again putting a lot (too much?) of his faith into his commanding officer – shortly before he got shot, and Fitz got to prove himself useful in the field again. Ward got to the truth about the well incident, and if I'd have preferred that he have always been the monster who kept blaming others for his bad deeds, the fact that he burned his brother and parents to death sure marks him as a monster now, no matter what they did to him in the past and no matter what his plans may be to destroy Hydra from within to protect Skye. And if there are times I wish the entire show as being retro-fitted into “Bobbi Morse, Agent of SHIELD,” with Coulson, et al as her supporting characters, it's only because Adrianne Palicki is so good in so many different phases of the spy game, here with Bobbi interrogating Bakshi into a suicide attempt before falling back into bed with Hunter. And I appreciated the efforts, brief though they were, to tie some of the stories together thematically with Ward and Bakshi both questioning how much they've been brainwashed over the years.
But the main attraction this week was the brief encounter between Coulson and Skye's father(**), and the continued opportunity to watch Kyle MacLachlan play this wildest of wild cards as only he can. Wherever this big story is going, I can only hope for more and more of him as it goes along, possibly with some kind of extended sequence (if not whole episode) just featuring Skye, her father and Director Coulson hashing out their many issues together.
(**) Who still has no name; ABC's press notes refer to MacLachlan's character as “The Doctor.”
What did everybody else think?