Is There A Plan for S.H.I.E.L.D.? by Alan Decker

Is There A Plan for S.H.I.E.L.D.?

(WARNING: This post contains spoilers if you haven’t seen all of the Marvel films and every episode of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” through October 22, 2013.)

As this Fall’s television season began, all eyes were on “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (Well, maybe not all eyes, but several million of them).  This small screen continuation of Marvel’s big screen adventures had a popular character, Agent Phil Coulson, at its center, and Joss Whedon, the man who wrote and directed “The Avengers,” acting as an Executive Producer.  Whedon is the man shepherding the on screen Marvel Universe for Disney and Marvel Studios, and he’s certainly no stranger to making television series, having created the very well regarded series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly.”  

“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (henceforth to be called “SHIELD” because it’s a lot shorter, and I’m already sick of typing the damn periods) was expected to be an easy home run, but we’re now about a month and a half into the season and articles have been popping up all over the place wondering why the show is just so…blah.  The criticism can be boiled down to three main issues: 1) The characters are dull; 2) The writing and stories are bland; and 3) The show is not making use of the Marvel Universe in which it’s set.

I can’t say much against the first two points.  The Joss Whedon-written pilot episode was fun and interesting, but the subsequent episodes haven’t been able to match it on a consistent basis.  As for the characters, none of them have really taken off, and even Coulson seems to be mostly coasting on goodwill from his appearances in the Marvel movies.  If I was meeting this guy for the first time in the pilot, I don’t know that I’d like him as much as I do currently.

What really gets me, though, is that third point.  Why is this show called “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” (Ok, so I typed the whole thing again.) when the only real Marvel material is references to the movies and one cameo by Nick Fury?  We know that Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Hulk aren’t likely to show up.  We know that the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man and their associated characters are licensed to other studios.  But there are still hundreds of other heroes and villains in the Marvel catalog.  They aren’t all going to get movies, so put them on the show!  We want to see superheroes and supervillains!  This is supposed to be the Marvel Universe, right?  Where are they?!?

Then I calmed down and remembered words from long ago: Trust in Joss.  I’ve followed Joss Whedon’s work long enough to believe that he has a plan, and since he been acknowledged as the architect of the on screen Marvel Universe, I’m certain of it. There is a plan.  

But what is it?

I have no idea.  I’m not Joss Whedon.  Based on what we’ve seen so far, though, I have a theory.  So if I was Joss Whedon, this would be my plan:

First, let’s set the stage.  The Marvel films leading up to “SHIELD” have introduced heroes, but every one of them has a relatively scientific explanation for his origin.  Tony Stark built the Iron Man suits, Bruce Banner was exposed to gamma radiation, Steve Rogers was the lone recipient of an experimental super soldier serum, and Thor is basically an alien (as I said, the explanations are relatively scientific).  At no point in these movies is there any indication that there are other people running around on Earth with powers, much less any other superheroes.

Also, as stated earlier, other prominent members of the Marvel Universe have been licensed to other studios.  The main issue here is not so much the characters but what goes along with them.  As I understand the situation, Fox Studios not only has the license for the X-Men, they have the license for Marvel’s use of mutants in general (See discussions of the situation HERE and HERE.).  This is something of a problem, since mutation is one of the primary ways characters get their powers.  If mutation isn’t an option in the “SHIELD” universe, they’re going to have to find another way to go.

“Iron Man 3” introduced the concept of Extremis, a serum with the capability to allow people who have lost limbs to regenerate them.  It also has some minor side effects: super powers and the unfortunate tendency to make the recipient explode.  Extremis has made a few appearances in “SHIELD,” and the goal of the shadowy group that has been experimenting on people with it has been to find a way to stabilize the serum.  In the most recent episode, “The Girl in the Flower Dress,” they succeeded by making use of the blood of a man who could spontaneously generate fire.  Where this power originally came from, we’re not told, but Extremis amplifies it greatly.  

Scorch, the nickname given to this poor guy, is incredibly important in the evolution of this on screen Marvel Universe.  He is the first person we’ve seen with super powers that developed naturally.  And if there’s one, there are others.  Maybe their powers are incredibly weak or completely latent, but they are out there.  Introducing that concept is the last piece that had to be put in place before we can really move to a true representation of the Marvel Universe on screen.  

So what needs to happen next?

In the “Iron Man” comics, the Mandarian (who is soooo very different than the film version) tried to release Extremis on the population of the world with the idea that a certain portion of the population, 2.5%, would gain powers from it, and the rest would die.  If I was Joss, this is the plotline I’d be adapting, but I’d make it so that the 97.5% that does benefit from Extremis just remains as normal.  I’d also reduce the affected population considerably, since you’d be talking about 175,000,000 people suddenly developing powers.  That’s…a lot.

Release Extremis, and you have a world full of potential heroes and villains.  That should keep the characters on “SHIELD” busy for a while.  A few heroes could be recurring and gain the love of the audience, at which point I’d have them show up in “Avengers 2” just long enough to be slaughtered by Ultron (I am pretending to be Joss Whedon, after all).  Ta da!  Instant emotional stakes!  

I would also have at least one member of the team get powers.  That person now has to deal with what they’ve become, and the team gets to add some more distrust and resentment to the mix.  The “What really happened to Coulson?” mystery just isn’t enough to get us into these characters.  Something bigger has to happen to them to shake things up.

Let me state again for the record that I am not Joss Whedon.  I have no idea what he’s planning or what other constraints he’s dealing with.  Maybe he’s waiting until after “Thor 2” (We know one episode will deal with the aftermath of this film) and “Captain America 2” come out to really change the status quo.  I hope not because “SHIELD” needs something to inject some more life into the show and fast.  

Stabilized Extremis could be exactly what the show needs.

- Alan Decker