The ‘Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ confront death in the most dramatic episode yet

Death must be a part of this show, even more than any of the other Whedonverse shows. If you are willing to work in this world, and if you are willing to put yourself on the line, then we must see that death can happen, and that’s just part of it. For that to work, though, there can’t be a cheat code that will always save every cast member. If you’re not willing to destroy the status quo, then none of it matters.

Having said that, tonight’s episode of “Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is the first time I’ve felt any emotional connection to the show, and it seems like it establishes some key things about these characters in a more direct way than we’ve seen so far.

For example, I was getting tired of the “Fitz carrying a torch for Skye” thing after just a few weeks of it. It feels like very familiar ground, and I don’t just want to see earlier Whedon characters renamed and plugged into this show. Xander’s crush on Buffy was fine for a while, but that show learned quickly that he couldn’t just pine away for her forever. It’s a dead end for a character.

This week pushes the Fitz/Simmons relationship to the foreground, and in doing so, it may have clarified who or what these characters are to each other. I’ve noticed that they seem to be the most irritating team members to people who are, in fact, irritated by the show. It seems like each week, the same complaint is leveled against them, that they’re twice the cast fro half the return, that they both do the same thing, that there’s no reason to have two of them. I think it’s as simple as “no one person can know everything,” and the two of them are shown to have different interests. They are both incredibly smart and inventive, but in different ways, and that combination of the two of them is what makes them a major asset to the team.

I was surprised how simple this week was. It looks at first like it’s going to be a tie-in to “Thor: The Dark World,” and that film’s got some very strange and lovely images involving portals to other worlds and broken gravitational fields. This is not what it appears to be at first, though, and I like that this ties directly back into “The Avengers,” a reminder that there is fallout from an incident like what happened in New York that would continue for years after the actual event.

Coulson’s on a very personal mission this week. He’s becoming more and more curious about his own nature, and he orders a full physical work-up to test his own identity. Everyone who keeps dismissively asserting that he is a Life-Model Decoy might want to pump the brakes a bit. He seems to fully, routinely human, and yet he knows that there’s something about who he is that has changed in some fundamental way since being killed.

For me, the only real value to doing a show like this that runs supplemental to the ongoing film franchises is if we see continuity that matters. I want to see cause and effect. I want to see that there is some sense that whatever happens, whether it’s in the show or in a film, it matters, and there are long-term effects that will play out. This week, we see that Skye is still paying for breaking everyone’s trust last week, and that’s as it should be. I don’t want to see things snap back into the status quo right away.

I don’t blame the firemen for taking an artifact from the New York incident. If you were there at ground zero the first time human beings made contact with aliens, you’d probably keep something, too, and there’s a good chance you’d get sick from whatever weird-ass microbes were all over whatever you picked up, too. It’s just stupid luck that poisons these particular guys, and I like that not every week of this show is going to be about someone who gets powers and becomes a bad guy. This is still a threat worth calling in S.H.I.E.L.D., but it’s not a villain, per se.

Interesting structure this week. I got lulled by it. Halfway into the episode, it felt like they were done, like they’d told a whole story. I particularly liked Coulson’s scene telling the fireman about what comes after death. What’s really nice is how the whole second half of the episode takes the set-up and makes it very personal to the S.H.I.E.L.D. team.

When Fitz realizes that he might lose Simmons, it’s the first emotional moment that it feels like the show has fully earned. In general, the entire second half of the episode is some of the best work they’ve done so far, and a strong representation of what the show can be.

Coulson seems motivated to find answers in a new way now, no longer willing to accept whatever the story is that he’s been told. “I don’t feel fine. I feel different.” I’m sure May’s monologue to him helps a bit, but Coulson’s no dummy. He knows that he should have never survived what Loki did to him, and he’s asking questions. It’s just a matter of time before he gets the answers he’s looking for, and I’m curious what he’ll do once he does.

“Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.” airs every Tuesday night on ABC at 8:00 PM EST/PST.