Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Has Become the Most Entertaining Hour on TV
In its first season, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seemed to be the show that everyone loved to hate. When it did something wrong, there were people lining up to slate it, but when it did something right, those same people were still there to draw attention to past grievances. But the show's debut season finished strongly, building up to a tense climax that continued the S.H.I.E.L.D. infiltration arc explored in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In truth, Season 1 was never as bad as many critics would have you believe, but Season 2 is now in full swing, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has transformed itself from the perennial butt of all jokes to arguably the most entertaining hour of genre TV this season. Last night, Marvel aired a new clip from Avengers: Age of Ultron, seemingly in an attempt to drum up ratings. But a show as entertaining, smart, and funny as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't need blockbuster movie snippets as a crutch anymore.
So what's the secret behind the show's success?
- The new cast members
Sometimes when a show adds a host of new cast members, it can take a while for them to gel with established characters, leading to a slightly disjointed first few episodes. That's not the case with the newbies on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., though. Lance Hunter (played by Nick Blood) and Alphonso Mackenzie (Henry Simmons) have both slotted seamlessly into the fold of the new S.H.I.E.L.D. Hunter especially has added a refreshing injection of wit and comic relief (supplied last season by Fitz and Simmons, whose relationship has now taken on a new gravitas), which helps the show feel more rounded than it ever did last season. Then there's the relatively new addition of Adrianne Palicki's Bobbi Morse aka Mockingbird. For most of the entire first season, Ming-Na Wen's Melinda May was practically the sole source of athleticism and action on the show, but from her very first moments, Bobbi Morse's physicality has been a revelation. Morse burst onto the scenes when she blew her cover at Hydra to help save Agent Simmons, but it's not just action that she brings to the party. Morse's interactions with Hunter, however fleeting they may be, are some of the best on the show, which just proves how well these new cast members have slotted in.
- The established cast members
It's not just the new cast members that have added to the show, though. The show's original team has also stepped it up in a big way. Brett Dalton has made Grant Ward more interesting than he ever was during Season 1, while Chloe Bennet has successfully transformed Skye from a naive S.H.I.E.L.D. recruit into a fully fledged agent who, despite the odd moment of weakness, is learning to deal with her responsibilities under Coulson's tutelage. Then, of course, there's Iain De Caestecker's brilliant performances as an emotionally broken Leo Fitz, but we'll get onto that in a moment.
- It has become more of a spy thriller than a superhero show
It's safe to say that throughout Season 2, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seems to be more comfortable in its own skin. Over the course of Season 1, the show relied too heavily on its role as an assistant to events unfolding in Marvel's cinematic exploits. Now, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is free from those shackles and is rapidly turning into an excellent spy thriller laced with comic book references. In shifting the focus onto the battle between S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra, the show has become vastly more entertaining without losing any of its relevance to comic book fans. Already in season 2, we've had undercover agents, mad scientist interrogations, an arms race between good and evil, and what was essentially an art heist. That's pretty impressive considering we are only 6 episodes in!
- It's got some serious feeling
Even the most staunch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fan would have to agree that Season 1 did not have much in the way of emotion. Sure, there were a few vaguely emotional moments between Skye and Ward, and there was fantastic chemistry between Fitz and Simmons, but these were merely sidebar moments. This season has taken the few seeds of emotion that were sown last season and turned them into well-developed storylines. After telling Simmons his true feelings, Fitz is a broken man. Struggling to cope without his old partner, Fitz felt alienated from his team and began listening to the voices in his head. Skye is still dealing with the emotional bombshell that her father may not be the man she hoped he would be. Coulson is coming to terms with everything that happened to him in 'Tahiti' and is desperately seeking May's help in coping with the potential darkness that lives within him. All of these storylines were present in some shape or form during Season 1, but the show has now given them more prominence.
Much of the criticism that fell upon Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. last season had to do with the characters seeming too polished. They didn't seem to have any flaws, which to even the most casual observer can seem a little...off. That's all changed now. These characters have been on some serious emotional journeys and as such, they're given the chance to show weakness. Similarly, this acceptance of weakness appears to have created a closer team and you really find yourself rooting for these guys as a unit. Just as Mac has taken Fitz under his wing, May is quietly managing Coulson's emotional state as he himself looks to provide some much needed tough love to Skye. Add in the comically strained relationship between Hunter and Morse, and the entire team seems more real, more likeable.
- It has some of the best action scenes on TV
If you haven't seen last night's episode, do it now because it features one of the most enjoyable action scenes the show has ever produced. When May, Mockingbird and Hunter confront the S.H.I.E.L.D. imitators, they embark upon a highly-charged hand to hand battle that had audiences on the edge of their seats. Ming-Na Wen's athletic ability is showcased to its fullest extent and Adrianne Palicki's raw physical presence is so refreshing to see. In fairness, such scenes were executed well throughout the first season, but this particular instance is a testament to how Season 2 has raised the bar.
- It's Marvel's most diverse offering
Comic book publishers have rightly been slated for a lack of diversity in their works. It's a sad state of affairs when we feel the need to celebrate when movies like Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel are announced, when in fact, they are actually long overdue. Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is undoubtedly the exception to the rule when it comes to diversity in comic book entertainment. With Ming-Na Wen and Adrianne Palicki leading just about every action scene, and an ethnically diverse core cast, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is starting to put a lot of other shows to shame.