Given that I took "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." to the woodshed last fall, I figured it was only fair to revisit the show this spring to see where things stood as the ABC show's first season wound down.
I'm going to start this off with five things I liked about Tuesday's "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." season finale, just to prove that I'm not an evil person with a heart of stone. All right, in truth, I may be evil, but I'm not going the woodshed route in this piece, partly because the ABC drama has improved since its disappointing start. The first two-thirds of the season was patchy and inconsistent, not to mention frustratingly complacent, but in recent weeks, the show began tapping into some of its potential more consistently. If "Arrow" stays as terrific as it has been in Season 2, if "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." keeps improving next season and if ABC's "Agent Carter" series comes out of the gate strong this fall, fans of comic-book storytelling on the small screen will have many reasons to rejoice.
Without further ado, here are five fun things about the "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." season finale:
Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) kicked a lot of ass. After a very rocky start in this arena, the show's gotten much better at shooting action scenes, and the fisticuffs and kick-icuffs (is that a word?) between May and Ward were pretty tasty. I never really cared that those two were sort of an item at one point, but their final break-up scene (and I mean that quite literally) was fun to watch. I especially enjoyed the start of that sequence: May flying at Ward from the side of the frame was a cool visual touch.
Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) was in the house. The show's relationship with the larger Marvel universe has been hit or miss, though more in "hit" territory since the implosion of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the rise of Hydra, all of which began in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." (By the way, in response to those who said that the show had to wait for the events of the movie to truly get going, well, I disagree. In general, the show has to be able to hold its own apart from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and specifically, it still needs to get better at "mission-of-the-week"/standalone stories, which often weren't so great this season). In any event, in the last five episodes of Season 1, "S.H.I.E.L.D.'s" improvement has been somewhat heartening -- and it was the consistency of that improvement that has put me in a mildly optimistic state of mind. Jackson wasn't around for most of the season, but the higher stakes surrounding the "S.H.I.E.L.D."/Hydra story were welcome and the presence of Fury in several scenes kicked the energy of the finale up a notch or two.
Patton Oswalt is not dead! Or rather, his character, Eric Koenig, was replaced by Eric's apparent twin, Billy. It's nice to know that the other Koenig brother may pop up in the show's second season. Long may the entire Koenig family be persnickety about lanyards.
The table was set for a potentially intriguing second season. The rebuilding of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be a challenging task for Director Coulson (Clark Gregg), and that storyline as a whole has some real potential, given the many obstacles in his team's way. (One of those obstacles: The revived Coulson may be on a trajectory similar to that of Garrett.) The idea of finding out more about Skye's family and the follow-up on Fitz and Simmons' relationship will depend a lot on whether the writers' can deepen these still-tepid characters (Fitz and Simmons still come off to me as emissaries from Cute Emergency). Still, I like the fact that in Season 2, the group will have a huge series of problems in front of them and fewer fancy resources than they had in the past.
Garrett blowed up real good. By far, the best moment in the season finale was Bill Paxton's character, John Garrett, being regenerated and launching into a classic villain speech -- only to have his monologue cut short by Coulson blasting him into oblivion. That was flat-out awesome. It wasn't just a funny and unexpected visual, the moment harkened back to the cheeky side of the Marvel movies -- it subversively played on our expectations about superhero stories with wit and intelligence. In Season 2, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." needs a lot more moments like that. A show about people who get to work with cool tech and outsize, powerful characters should be a hoot from time to time, and if the show can tap into its inner goofball more frequently next season (where appropriate, of course), it could go a long way toward making "S.H.I.E.L.D." must-see TV.
Speaking of what the show needs more of, welcome to my second list. As you may have gathered, my overall issue with "S.H.I.E.L.D." is that characters are still, in the main, not all that interesting. To say that they're a bit more nuanced than they were in the first half of the season is not saying much, given how bland and boring they were for much of Season 1. "S.H.I.E.L.D." has raised the stakes surrounding the characters, yet they still remain more expendable and less compelling than they could be. What's happening, at this stage, is more interesting than the people those things are happening to. I'm not prone to giving the show a pass on this front because "S.H.I.E.L.D." can't reach its full potential until I care not only about the passengers on the bus but the relationships among them.
So that's my overarching thought as the show gears up for its second season, and in the spirit of paying attention to what has worked of late, I'll offer up what I'd like to see more when "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." returns.
Along those lines, I very much hope "S.H.I.E.L.D." lines up some meaty Season 2 guest arcs along the lines of Bill Paxton's role as Garrett. Paxton had a lot of fun with his juicy villain role, and I'd love to see some recurring roles for charismatic, experienced actors next year. Gina Torres has a gig on "Suits," but perhaps she might have some availability in her schedule. Outside the Whedon-verse, how about Michelle Forbes? Katee Sackhoff? Michael Ealy? Jeffrey Donovan? These are just a few names off the top of my head, but I'd love to see any of those folks on "S.H.I.E.L.D." when they're not working on other projects. (One more name: How about Peter Mullan from "Top of the Lake"?)
More adventures off the bus would be welcome. This is a show in which there's a lot of talking, speechifying and expositioning, and just a lot of time spent inside that plane. The show generally tends to work better when the team is out in the field and doing things and having adventures. (Side note: It always makes me nervous when the plane appears to be on auto-pilot. I don't care if the bus is using fancy auto-pilot technology: Someone should be looking out that cockpit window!)
More super stuff. This kind of TV show or movie is often only as good as its bad guys, and aside from Garrett and, to a degree, J. August Richard as Deathlok, "S.H.I.E.L.D." often lacks oomph on this front (Side note: Let's hope we never see Flowers/Raina again). The show could also do a better job of mining the Marvel comic books for allies and foes (again, "Arrow" is providing a textbook example of how to do this in ways that complicate life nicely for its well-developed array of characters). There are a lot of toys to play with in the Marvel universe, and even if "S.H.I.E.L.D." has to make sure everything meshes with the movies, let's hope in Season 2 there are ways to take more of those action figures out of the box.
A new team member or the installment of Triplett as a series regular. I still think the "S.H.I.E.L.D." cast could use some pruning (and Ward, who has been revealed as a sociopath and yet still remains as interesting as a block of wood, could easily go away for long stretches and I wouldn't miss him). Even if that does not happen, "S.H.I.E.L.D." could use a new team member in the mix. There have been a few conflicts here and there, but honestly, this team just gets along so well that what happens on the bus is often, well, kind of bleh. One way to increase the sparkage and the energy on Coulson's team would be to add a new face to it. B.J. Britt has done fine work as Triplett: Why not bring him on full time? If not, why not a new recruit (or a Hydra refugee) who gets in everyone's way?
Add Ser Pounce. Why ever not?