Final Assessment

A couple of times over the course of this television season, I’ve written about Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Henceforth to be called just SHIELD because typing the full name of the show is really damn annoying) mostly to express dissatisfaction with how the show was progressing.  I last wrote about the series back in January in THIS post, where I contemplated giving up on SHIELD entirely.

I didn’t end up taking that drastic (for me) action and instead stuck with SHIELD.   After this week’s season finale, I can say with no hesitation that I’m glad that I did.  Really for me the turnaround came with the season’s thirteenth episode, “T.R.A.C.K.S.”, an episode that combined a creative presentation and some major plot and character developments to propel the show into its next phase.

The major event affecting the series both in terms of story and quality was the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier at the beginning of April.  By the end of the film (Spoiler Alert) S.H.I.E.L.D. has basically ceased to exist (the agency, not the television show) as a going concern, many of the agents were revealed to be actually working for HYDRA, and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury is believed to be dead (the audience and a few select characters know he’s not, but the rest of the world thinks he’s gone).

As the television series is called Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Yes, I typed it again.  It was necessary in this case.), the events of The Winter Soldier were absolutely going to have some impact…such as removing the show’s entire reason to exist.  Or so it seemed.  Instead the SHIELD writers used the last six episodes of the season to tell an exciting story as Phil Coulson and his team struggled to deal with multiple betrayals and the destruction of the world they knew and also to examine who they are and what their mission is now that S.H.I.E.L.D. is no longer around.

Characters who seemed wooden and bland in the first half of the season, such as Agent Grant Ward, took on new levels, and story elements from the early seemingly-standalone episodes were weaved back into the larger narrative leading to this week’s finale, which provided an action-packed wrap-up of the season’s arc and put multiple elements in place for next season.  Perhaps most satisfying, though, was that the finale brought back a lot of the fun and humor that made The Avengers and other Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films so entertaining to watch.  I know I’m going to be watching the last 20 minutes of the season finale a few more times between now and next season because it was just a blast.

For a moment, I had a thought that I would apologize to the show’s creative team for what I said earlier in the season.  I really can’t, though.  While I stuck with the show until it picked up, many people (including several I know personally) didn’t due to the issues in that first batch of episodes.

I am very obviously not privy to the creative process, but there are certain things that we know.  The most important piece of information as far as I’m concerned is that Captain America: The Winter Solider was well underway by the time SHIELD went to series.  Based on the film’s Wikipedia article, filming began in April 2013, which means that the basic storyline was in place long before that.  So the fact that S.H.I.E.L.D. was going to be destroyed was well known to the SHIELD creative team as they were creating their series.  I am certain, though, that they were not allowed to foreshadow HYDRA in the show, since that would risk spoiling the plot of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. 

So the question becomes how do you launch the SHIELD television series knowing that you’re going to be dealing with a major upheaval near the end of your first season.  The obvious and general answer is that you develop the characters and your corner of the MCU as best you can.  Based on the reactions of many people who drifted away from the show, the creators didn’t quite succeed…at least not at first.

I have no idea what went on behind the scenes.  Maybe they followed their plan to the letter regardless of the negative feedback.  Maybe things were revamped as they saw the reactions to the first several episodes.  Maybe it’s just plain old first season growing pains.  What really matters is that the show did find itself and produced a very solid and enjoyable second half of its season.

Now the challenge is to continue that momentum into season two.  With the characters now established and a new direction in place (Nick Fury has tasked Coulson with rebuilding S.H.I.E.L.D. and named him the new Director), the show has a lot of strengths to build on.  Additionally, the creators shouldn’t be as beholden to events in the movies for the next year.  This Fall’s Marvel film, Guardians of the Galaxy,  appears to not involve Earth at all, and The Avengers: Age of Ultron will be released on May 1, 2015 as season 2 of SHIELD is coming to an end. 

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is going to have things in the MCU all to themselves for quite a while.  And unlike 6 months ago, I’m now really looking forward to seeing what they do with it.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter