Review: ‘Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD’ – ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’

Drew McWeeny has been covering “Marvel's Agents of SHIELD” for us all season, and like usual he had a thoughtful take on last night's episode. But given both how pivotal and unusual “Turn, Turn, Turn” was, I figured I would check in as well with a review – featuring spoilers for both this episode and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” – coming up just as soon as I have thoughts on Chachi…

As Drew talks about often in his reviews, what Marvel is trying to do with this show in having it interact directly with the movies is pretty much unprecedented. The Picard/Data “Star Trek” films came out when other spin-offs were still on TV, but while there may have been some small bits of crossover (the Defiant from “Deep Space 9” getting damaged by the Borg in “Star Trek: First Contact”), it was never to the extent we got with the pairing of this episode and “Winter Soldier.” Within days of the movie's release in theaters, we got an episode of the show that either expected you to have seen the film, or else to not mind having many of its major plot twists spoiled. I imagine you could have probably followed “Turn, Turn, Turn” without seeing “Winter Soldier,” but the impact of it is much greater if you can picture all the stuff that Cap and Black Widow are going through elsewhere. This isn't quite the “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” of “Agents of SHIELD,” but it's still a small part of a much bigger story.

And having seen both the movie and this episode, I wonder again why Marvel insisted on making SHIELD be the subject of this show. They've known for a couple of years that “Winter Soldier” was going to end with SHIELD crippled at a minimum, and possibly disbanded altogether (the show suggests the former, but the movie suggested the latter – hence Maria Hill taking the job with Tony Stark and Nick Fury bugging out for Europe), and that the TV show was going to require a massive retooling late in its first season. There have been plenty of shows that had to reinvent themselves due to low ratings, an actor departure, network demands, etc., but none of those were planned in advance. Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen (who wrote “Turn, Turn, Turn”) knew going in that they'd have to reboot midway through the first season – even if “Agents of SHIELD” had been much more popular and beloved than it's actually been. That doesn't seem like a sound strategy, unless all Marvel needs the show to be is a place to fill in the blanks between films.

As it turns out, though, the original incarnation of “Agents of SHIELD” was one that very badly needed to be rethought from the ground up. As I've written about before, the characters were all terribly bland, with Whedon and Tancharoen designing them more as puzzles to be solved than as complex individuals, and the adventures many weeks seemed indistinguishable from a non-superheroic police procedural or spy show.

“Turn, Turn, Turn” was easily the show's best episode so far. As far as Whedon-affiliated shows trying to fix themselves with an “everything you thought you knew about our premise is wrong” hours go, I'd take “Man on the Street” from “Dollhouse”  over this, both as a piece of entertainment and as something making me more interested in what comes next. But this was a vast improvement over what had gone on before, full of good action(*), suspense and even some recognizable human emotion from the characters. And tying the series to the events of “Winter Soldier” pointed the way to at least some sustainable changes.

(*) Though the downside to making an episode that all but demands a recent viewing of “Winter Soldier” is that even a well-choreographed action sequence like Ward taking on a squad of Hydra agents solo winds up looking less impressive with the memory of, say, Cap's fight with Batroc so fresh. 

For starters, Agent Ward as square-jawed wooden hero wasn't working, but Agent Ward as traitorous Hydra operative just might. The best-case scenario for this is something like Angelus in “Buffy” season 2, where a previously wooden David Boreanaz became vastly more entertaining as a villain (and then was able to carry that over to Angel's return to heroics). My fear is that Ward's going to be a conflicted villain from the start – as we already see in the tag scene where he's tuning out Garrett's war stories – and that the goal is to get him back to flirting with Skye and boring the rest of us as quickly as possible. One of the many weaknesses of the season's first two-thirds was the way that the rest of the team largely shrugged off Skye being a mole; what Ward does in this episode alone is vastly worse than that, and much harder to forgive.(**) 

(**) This is, of course, assuming Victoria Hand is actually dead and this isn't all a triple-agent game. And I'm hoping it's not that, both because we have ample evidence of how lame the heroic incarnation of Ward is and because it risks turning “Agents of SHIELD” into a show that relies entirely on “surprising” changes of allegiance for all plot movement. To bring up “Dollhouse” again, Joss Whedon said at one point that they had to be careful not to reveal too many characters to be dolls, or else the audience would stop trusting them on anything.

And even if the Hand/Coulson conversation about the state of SHIELD didn't entirely seem to track with what we saw at the end of “Winter Soldier,” the idea of Coulson's team operating with minimal resources and battling Hydra for what's left of the agency's infrastructure is a much more promising direction than Superfreak of the Week, or Skye searching for her parents, or any of the other things the show has tried and failed with in the past.

I still think the characters need a lot more TLC (though Ward's betrayal gives them the opportunity to bring in some new blood, whether it's Triplett or a character we haven't met before), but the show at least has a clean slate now. And “Turn, Turn, Turn” was an hour I was glad I watched as much for what was actually in it as for the very strange real-world decisions that led to the episode's existence (and the show's).

What did everybody else think? Do you have more interesting “Agents of C.A.R.C.A.S.S.” than you did in the show's earlier episodes? Do you want Ward to be a villain or a triple agent? And have you grown to like any of these people over the course of the season?