Review: ‘Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD’ – ‘The Writing on the Wall’

Senior Television Writer
11.11.14 29 Comments


A quick review of tonight's “Marvel's Agents of SHIELD” coming up just as soon as I have some Enya albums I've been hiding…

“The Writing on the Wall” brought the arc of Coulson's incessant doodling to a welcome end, in an episode that was a good showcase for Clark Gregg – playing something deeper and more complex than the role usually affords him the opportunity to do – but also darker and/or more graphic than this show is probably meant to go. As Brian Van Holt's Sebastian carved up his victims, threatened Hank Thompson's family, and talked about cutting the information out of himself and others – on top of the return of all the horrific imagery from Project TAHITI – I began to find myself empathizing with Mac, who spent much of the hour wondering what kind of horror show he signed up for. “SHIELD” is obviously a show with life-and-death stakes, but this episode played like the DNA of some other show – possibly one run by Kevin Williamson – had been superimposed over its own, in the same way that the Kree corpse's DNA was driving all the TAHITI subjects crazy.

(Speaking of which, I'm assuming the city in question is Attilan, the home base of the Inhumans – who share a history with the Kree, and whom are reportedly going to be Marvel's workaround for how to present a film and TV universe without mutants, given that they outsourced those rights. If I'm right, the fact that Attilan has appeared in so many locations and forms over the years would give “SHIELD” some flexibility on how to depict it; I wouldn't expect to see May and Tripp flying to the moon anytime soon.) 

Good as Gregg was in that half of the episode, I found the manhunt for Ward the more compelling end of things: a tight mix of spycraft (Ward's faked suicide vest, the team having a backup plan in place in the event Bobbi got made), suspense, and the ongoing question of what exactly Ward's agenda is, and what the show intends to do with him long-term. For the moment, it appears the creative team has recognized that a full face turn isn't viable, but positioning him as a sociopath who thinks he's on the side of the angels works. He'll keep “helping” Skye, even as she and the rest of the team understandably want to put a bullet between his eyes, and this smug villainous side suits Brett Dalton so much better than when he was SquareJaw McBoring in season 1. This could be a David Boreanaz situation – where playing Angel as a villain unlocked talent he hadn't previously demonstrated, and that he was able to carry over when the character became a hero again – but I'm comfortable with the show maintaining this particular status quo for now.

What did everybody else think? And did anyone else wonder if Joel Gretsch's new identity as Mr. Thompson was an homage to Homer Simpson's brief stint in Witness Protection?

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