As we head into Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s midseason finale, I can’t help but notice that S.H.I.E.L.D. is having a similar problem to Sleepy Hollow. That is to say, both shows are adding characters without rhyme or reason, and it’s often to the detriment of the narrative and the other characters. In Season 2, we’ve added Lance Hunter, Bobbi Morse, and Alphonso “Mack” Mackenzie to S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s already large cast, and the result is that many of the existing characters have seen interesting plotlines reduced.
Spoilers for all of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. below.
First, Lance Hunter. In the lead-up to Season 2, most of the news was about the S.H.I.E.L.D. producers getting Lucy Lawless, a.k.a. Xena, to guest star on the show. She did, much to everyone’s excitement, and then was immediately fridged, leaving her companion, Hunter, to stagger onward under the weight of his enormous manpain. Despite this, Hunter never became very interesting. I couldn’t even remember his name for most of the episodes, so I persisted in calling him British Boyfriend—a mistake I sometimes still make even now. Coulson wants to bring Hunter on because Xena (and as we find out later, Bobbi) believed in him, but other than numbers, I’m not sure what Hunter brings to the show. And if Coulson really needed numbers, you’d think Agent Triplett would have more than three lines tops in each episode.
Then there’s Bobbi Morse, a.k.a. Mockingbird. She’s introduced as the Hydra security chief and quickly reveals herself as a S.H.I.E.L.D. spy when she needs to bail Jemma Simmons out of a sticky situation during Simmons’s own Hydra spying gig. Like most S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, Bobbi is incredibly good in the field, has many contacts in the international world, and can speak several languages to boot. Unfortunately, she and British Boyfriend—I mean, Hunter—have a previous relationship, and much of their screentime together is devoted to bickering (and then make-up sex). And they say all heterosexual relationships are totally necessary to the plot.
Finally, there’s Mack, who joins S.H.I.E.L.D. to work with Fitz with the science side of things while Simmons is gone. So far, though, Mack’s contributions seem confined to helping Fitz, whether it’s helping others to understand Fitz or helping Fitz to be understood. When Simmons returns to the team, Mack also forces the two former friends to talk to each other. In the latest episode, Mack is the first to make contact with the City the team’s been looking for, and as a result he’s turned into some sort of superpowered, red-eyed creature who attacks his teammates. Although we don’t yet know for sure if he’s dead, seeing a Black man literally turn into a demon, thus forcing his white teammates to attack and kill him, was particularly ill-timed after the recent reveal that the Ferguson testimony also painted Michael Brown with the same stereotypical “Giant Negro” brush. This sort of pop culture portrayal absolutely will not help remove this stereotype from our collective canon.
Mack is the only new character of color, and seeing his plotline unfold in this way as opposed to how Bobbi or Hunter’s plotlines went certainly seems a little suspect. However, I’ll save the post on S.H.I.E.L.D. and race for another time; for now, it’s enough to consider how each new character has been folded into the cast. When editing a piece, one is often taught to cut or combine characters if said characters serve the same purposes, and this is clearly not something that the S.H.I.E.L.D. writing team did. Of the three new characters, Bobbi is probably the one who has served the most unique role, given her language abilities, her interrogation skills, and her fighting abilities. These are things that Grant Ward likely could have done, if he weren’t the sole occupant of S.H.I.E.L.D. Traitor Central. Because Ward has been so neatly and effectively sidelined by the narrative, it’s easy to see where Bobbi could slide in and take over his role.
Hunter and Mack, however, do not fit in so easily. Hunter is added muscle, and having him on the team—promoting him to a main cast member over Trip, which means that we’re devoting significant screentime to him—has suddenly meant that we’re seeing much less of Trip. Now, Trip has not been sidelined through his own actions, like Ward, or been sent on a nonsensical mission, like Simmons, so it makes no sense that he’s on the Helicarrier not doing anything. What makes this worse is that Trip himself is also an added character, coming in when we were almost two-thirds of the way through Season 1. I’m not even saying there can’t be a lot of agents in S.H.I.E.L.D., because obviously there should be—it’s just that they should all be doing something, especially given that we don’t exactly have a lot of options any more. Trip’s sole role can’t be “the backup pilot” and “the guy who gets patched up by Skye’s dad”. If Trip has to play recurring character to Hunter’s main character, Coulson could at least send him on some interesting missions
As a more science-y type character, Mack often seems like he’s the Simmons stand-in for Fitz in the lab. In order to get Simmons out of the way, at the start of the season, the writing team decided to send Simmons off to be a Hydra spy, despite our finding out in Season 1 that Jemma can’t lie for shit. By splitting up the FitzSimmons combo, the writers clearly wanted to add some drama, but said drama rang very false. Bobbi is shown to be a very effective spy; are we really meant to believe that Bobbi couldn’t have gotten her hands on Hydra’s top-level secrets by confiscating an actual Hydra scientist’s plans? If someone new were really needed to help Fitz, couldn’t Trip have been that person, as 1) he’s not doing anything and 2) Fitz didn’t know him particularly well before Season 2? And if it really turns out that Mack is dead, that will mean that the writing team literally just added and killed him for pity points.
Adding more characters to an ensemble cast is often hard. That’s not to say it can’t be done well—Supernatural, for all its flaws, added Castiel in Season 4, and it worked because there was no one previously in that role; there had never been angels on the show before, and the writers needed an angel to explain things to Sam and Dean as well as help them with things that they couldn’t have done on their own (like raising both Sam and Dean from Hell). But in other cases, the new characters aren’t as integral to the show’s direction. Devoting more time to these new characters also means that older characters are neglected, resulting in the audience being unable to relate to or care about both sets of characters. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has really been finding its own way in Season 2, and I hope that the writers figure out unique, personal plotlines for the characters they want to keep—and that they don’t add any more characters to their already bloated cast.