Secret Agent Plan
I keep watching. I’m there every week. The previews look good, and I get a little excited. The interest is piqued enough that when the show is over, it’s enough of a fall that I’m almost disappointed. And it hurts me to say that because I really want to like, no love, this show. I want to be able to defend it as much as I can, but the comments against it are too rooted in truth. Perhaps that’s why the central organization of the program is so hell bent on keeping secrets, because the truth hurts.
I am, of course, talking about ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. From this point on, however, I will refer to it as AOS because I frankly don’t need to point out it’s a Marvel creation and put in periods every time I call it by name. That’s just ridiculous, and unfortunately that’s not where the ridiculousness ends.
Before you go face palming yourself and lamenting I will be again complaining about something (I feel like an old nerd on his nerd porch during some of these posts), let me tell you right now- I like AOS. I haven’t missed an episode the night they air, Tuesdays 8 p.m. CST. I even have one of my part-time jobs that evening that I don’t do half-assed, but I certainly don’t go above and beyond to make sure I can get home as soon as possible.
You might be wondering, “Why don’t you just record it, Adam?” I do record it. I actually like it that much, and I wish to avoid potential spoilers from the Interweb. Tuesday night is an event night in our house with Agent Phil Coulson and his merry band of junior partners. That being said, it’s also not the show I want it to be. Not that I want it to be anything else subject-wise, just more excitement-wise. In the words of Jim Gordon, it’s not the show I deserve, but it’s the show I need.
Perhaps that’s where the problem is. AOS is serving a purpose, and unfortunately that purpose is to service or be a part of a larger story. No matter how much the producers say the opposite, or tout AOS as its own entity, this show ultimately pays lip service to something much bigger than itself. And it’s the smallest piece among many pieces of a much bigger puzzle. That is one of the drawbacks of having such a large, interconnecting media universe as Marvel Studios has built. It can’t all be The Avengers. However, I don’t think its place in the larger scheme is entirely to blame.
There are other things to consider. Plot elements, characters, et cetera. I’ve got a few of them. At least, some of the things that seem to be “problems” for the show. The one big thing against the show is perception. Audiences were expecting it to be mini-Avengers, I think. It was never meant to be that. Let’s put it this way, using another comic property as an example.
If this were the universe of the Men in Black, with the movies being the movies, the television show would be about the MIB agents that file the paperwork for the cases, and clean the offices. That’s what this is. AOS is the daily grind of the normal, ordinary people among the extraordinary. Not that it’s bad, it’s just not what people expected. But because the audience is yearning for what they expected, there are a few things that have stood in the way of bonafide success for the show:
1. Coulson Lives…and the explanation thus far as to how has been, well, lame. The show has gone half a season with various teases suggesting something isn’t quite right in the world concerning the status of Coulson’s existence. There are things that have been said by characters in regards to lack of muscle memory that almost imply he has none because it’s not his original body. Other hints have been dropped, but so far all we have is the information that multiple surgeries have been performed, including one on his exposed brain leading to the ever-present ‘Tahiti is a magical place’ reference. The episode in which that particular nugget was revealed did supply some of the best acting by Clark Gregg, especially as his character begs the doctors to let him die. Hopefully, and we’ll get to this a little later, there is something more afoot.
2. The characters…They’ve been okay. They’ve gotten better. Some are obviously much more fun for the writers to bring to life. Fitz and Simmons are a hoot. I like them very much. Big brooding, serious agent is kind of cookie cutter, as is the hacker, Skye (though, her story seems to be blossoming, albeit at a slower than welcome pace- again, more later). Ming Na Wen can be sort of fun, but I think she’s not handled quite right.
3. The guest stars…Gunn from the show Angel is here, and apparently he’s Deathlok. It was teased from before the start of the show that he was an established comic character, but all we knew was the name Mike Peterson. It’s taken about three to four appearances for his arc to get going. There’s that pace again…Otherwise we’ve had a few lesser-known baddies, and a few neat actors stop by, including some sweet Asgardian appearances.
4. Secret programs named after bugs…Centipede is apparently the brains behind the evil-doing operations on the show. There’s a temptress in a flower dress, implants that kill unwilling assassins, and a formula for super soldiers that takes a cue from Extremis as portrayed in Iron Man 3. Oh, there’s also some clairvoyant person who has been named but not seen. For over half a season there has been build-up after build-up, and not too much payoff, a la the death of Coulson. Hopefully the steam doesn’t run out before the train hits the station.
5. Pacing, build-up, payoff, and all around general mysteries…If I’ve set up any theme at all, it’s this- get to the juicy bits already. This show was co-created by Joss Whedon, who has a great track record in his storytelling of setting up for future events without the audience even realizing it. Things from episodes earlier come back to bite the kiesters of the characters involved. Hell, on the show Angel, storylines continued a season later. But, in that case, the audience didn’t know something was coming.
Here, we know Coulson died and something ain’t right on the western front. The foreshadow isn’t necessary. The shadow has been fored already. Whedon’s shows also have a tendency to start slow, and I don’t think this is a good place for that. The story started back in 2008 when Iron Man hit the big screen. As much as everyone wants this to stand alone, I’m not sure that it can. And the moments when it shines, it doesn’t stand-alone.
References to Thor: The Dark World, and the death of Bucky Barnes, and things going on in S.H.I.E.L.D. as an organization work because they have weight, they have consequences. That is where Whedon and his stable of players excel- when dealing with the weight and consequences of choices. Unfortunately, the audience is looking for payoff to the movies, and in the absence of something heavy happening on the show, they’ll get impatient for anything, anything at all to happen.
So what I’m saying, if I’m saying anything at all, is the show isn’t bad, but there’s definite room for improvement. The danger with doing a write up like this before the end of the season is the home stretch could provide some mind blowing awesomeness/reveals and make me look like a total jackass. I have a feeling the closer we get to the next Captain America flick, the show will tie more directly into that movie and will impact as well as be impacted going into a second season. I sure hope so, because for all its faults ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can indeed be a little Tahiti.
**P.S.- The last few episodes appear to be on this track as the story and development have grown leaps and bounds. Unfortunately, there was only one new episode after the now mandatory winter break, and then a couple weeks off until the next episode, after which there has been another few weeks off for the Olympics I assume. That can sometimes be the other Whedon-killer…time slot and scheduling.**
I’m enjoying this show and am not hung up on the qualms that most people have with it. Perhaps it is because I had zero expectations of it. I wasn’t eager to watch the show at all, despite the name Whedon being attached to it. So I just find it an entertaining 40 minutes of television.
While the overall plots are generally ho-hum, I find the characterization to be really nice and I like the actors. I personally find Chloe Bennet (Skye) to be a really strong actress. I have actually been a little confused by the lack of warmth she’s received because I think she’s that good. She’s extremely authentic in her style. That said, I too was pretty disappointed in the Coulson “secret” but I’ll keep watching the show.
FYI, Joss gets attached to this show a lot but I wonder how much he actually has a hand in it. I think it’s more his brother and Maurissa Tachereon that navigate the show (right?) and I haven’t ever been impressed with her writing.
Crystal, I do agree the actress playing Skye has done a terrific job, especially now that her character is beyond that can we/can’t we trust her arc. She’s probably made a less than great character better. Joss’ level of involvement is very suspect, yes. It does remind me of Angel when he wasn’t as hands on- good, but not great. I have a feeling after Age of Ultron he might get more involved?
I’m a fan as well. I’m not deep enough into the Marvel universe to care how much the show interacts with everything else. The few references I pick up on are nice, but I just enjoy the show itself. I’ve never even heard of Deathlok. So perhaps expectations does play a large role. Fitz and Simmons are definitely my favorite, but I like almost all of the characters, and I don’t actively dislike any of them.
I’m basically in the same boat, except I’m not watching ANYTHING until the season ends, and will then watch it in one gigantic, gluttonous gorging of Whedon-fueled… something. Hopefully the something is awesome and not just “…meh.”