Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is finally back, and I was surprised to find myself eager to tune in. Would the series take a step forward from its jumpy and awkward first season and reach its potential? I very much hoped so. Unfortunately, while we have made some progress, the show still seems to be stuck in a rut.
Spoilers below the jump.
The episode begins by introducing the 0-8-4 of the episode in a flashback to the forties. It’s a weird obelisk that appears to turn people to stone, and it’s scooped out of Nazi hands by Peggy and the Howling Commandos themselves—hi guys! I love you!—and boxed up in an SSR facility.
Back in the future, we get down to what is the new business as usual for S.H.I.E.L.D. 2.0. They’ve gathered some new recruits, comprised of Lucy Lawless and some forgettable other dudes, and Coulson’s trying his hardest to pull a working organization together out of the rubble of HYDRA’s reveal. They’re hobbled by the fact that the Bus is grounded until Fitz can fix its cloaking mechanisms. Fitz, still suffering the long-term effects of the oxygen deprivation last season, is struggling with tasks he once found simple, and striking out at Simmons as she tries to coach him.
The baddie of the episode is a dude whose powers totally eclipse any superhuman ability we’ve seen from a human being so far in the MCU. After he crashes an operation, the team are forced to turn to Ward, whom they’re keeping in a highly secure cell under their base. Skye goes to speak with him, and, amidst numerous attempts to manipulate her, he reveals what he knows about the guy in question: he can turn himself into any material he comes in contact with. The other antagonist this episode is the comically stereotypical military man, Brigadier-General Talbot, who considers both S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA equally dangerous and worthy of incarceration. He’s got loads of seized S.H.I.E.L.D. stuff locked up on his military base, including the 0-8-4 from the flashback. Cue a heist, which is immediately complicated by the appearance of Touching-Stuff-Guy.
Although the agents successfully espionage their way into Talbot’s base and get their hands on the 0-8-4, when Lawless’s character Hartley is attacked by Touching-Stuff-Guy, she grabs the object barehanded and it starts to turn her hand to stone. Her companions move to evacuate her, and the rest of the team go after their other objective: one of the old Helicarrier’s Quinjets, which comes with the cloaking tech that Fitz has been failing to replicate. Hartley and Co. don’t get far, though; while they’re trying to simultaneously mount a getaway and amputate Hartley’s rapidly stonifying arm, Touching-Stuff-Guy busts up their car. We leave them in their rolled SUV at the end of the episode as the HYDRA goon collects the 0-8-4.
Finally, we cut back to Coulson, who’s clearly relieved to have his hands on a working Quinjet. Fitz isn’t showing much improvement, he says, and they can no longer depend on him to deliver the results they need. And then it’s revealed that the Simmons we’ve seen talking to and coaching Fitz all episode is merely a figment of his brain-damaged imagination. Roll credits.
This development is insulting to both Fitz and Simmons. Simmons doesn’t actually get to be in the episode—she’s just there as a hallucination with no real agency. And it’s worse for Fitz. When his condition was revealed at the beginning of the episode, I thought that perhaps we would get a nuanced portrayal of someone dealing with a new disability and how it affects his relationships with his teammates and his own ideas of self-worth, especially since he’s always been a prodigy. The reveal that he’s not just struggling with formerly simple tasks, but is also hallucinating an imaginary friend and is only really being kept around out of pity ramps him up into ~Tragic Disabled Genius~ territory. It forces viewers to view him as a pitiable object rather than a character who still has agency.
The episode wasn’t all bad—I did love the Agent Carter cameo, as I mentioned, and it gives me hope that her own show will be just as awesome. Also, Skye seems to have taken a level in badass – she’s clearly been training and trying to improve herself. I was proud of the way she dealt with Ward as well. He attempts to manipulate her emotionally from the moment she walks into the holding room, even telling her that he’s attempted suicide several times in the cell to encourage her to pity him. Despite his best efforts to elicit an emotional response, Skye remains impassive and insists he remain on topic.She’s clearly done being manipulated by Ward and I’m glad to see that she’s starting to take the upper hand in manipulating him.
As far as Hartley and her crew were concerned, though, I felt like I missed an episode somewhere about them. They were just thrown into the episode as full members of the S.H.I.E.L.D. team and I didn’t really care about or connect with them because of their lack of backstory. Adding to the list of people I don’t really care about, let’s talk about Coulson. His character could not be blander if he tried. I’ve said it before: the crouching-accountant-hidden-badass thing works in small roles like those he had in the movies, but it’s not interesting enough to carry a whole show and I’m not sure what they can do to fix it besides cut his character entirely. Unfortunately they’ll never do that because 1) Coulson’s resurrection was the whole impetus for the show’s creation and 2) what would the audience do if the show lost its one remaining good abled straight white guy? Who would they relate to? I know that the sheer financial cost of having Sam Jackson in episodes keeps them from having Nick Fury around all the time, but I’m really astounded that they gave ownership of S.H.I.E.L.D. to Coulson and not Maria Hill. I’d much rather see her as the leader. May’s also got the skills to lead the team, in my opinion; why couldn’t she give it a try?
I do want to keep watching this show; I’ve grown attached to some of the characters, and I want to see them shine in the way I know they’re capable of. I’m also excited to meet Bobbi Morse’s Mockingbird, and see where the show goes with her. Maybe the series will find its feet next episode—only time will tell.