(Disclaimer: First I must state that I am a Marvel Studios/MCU super-fan. So let the hate pour in, at least I admitted it upfront.)
Look, I get it. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was a monumental let down when it premiered in September 2013. I was excited for ‘The Avengers’ made-for-TV. I was hoping for constant references to Captain America, Iron Man and Thor. I was anticipating star-studded cameos from the movies. I was looking for a continuation of the “It’s All Connected” tag line. Like most of the over 12 million people who tuned in, I was very disappointed. It famously started off hot, but cooled quickly with the audience and the critics.
Sure, it was fun to see Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), alive and well (-ish), though I wondered how that could be. It was also nice to see Agent Maria Hill, to add another connection to the MCU. But beyond that, there wasn’t much there sadly. Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) was dull. Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) was the classic archetype of the grizzled, veteran agent with a lot of baggage. The duo known as Agents Fitz/Simmons (Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge, respectively) seemed like children being baby-sat by Coulson, or the perfect foil to the ultra stoic Agents Ward and May. Then there was Skye (now Daisy, played by Chloe Bennet). I don’t even know where to begin with her. Was she added because they wanted to put in an outsider? A fish out of water? Were they just playing on the anti-government, anti-surveillance culture that was increasing in popularity in response to real world events? I don’t know. Nor frankly does it matter. What I do know is that it wasn’t very good (and the special effects were terrible).
A prime example of Season 1’s terrible “special effects”.
Much has been written about the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., so I don’t need to belabor the point. It trudged along week in, week out. Going through the motions. But I followed the weekly grind. Through seemingly pointless stories, time filling episodes, and unsatisfying plotlines, almost obligatorily I watched as though I owed it to the MCU to stick with the show.
Then until the premiere of Captain America: The Winter Soldier happened, and everything changed. Arguably since then, the show has been on a tear, with the occasional filler episode that is all too common with a 20+ episode season series. Sure, there have been some down weeks, but in totality it has become an integral part of the MCU.
When it started Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. needed the MCU to prop it up, to make it important, and to draw in viewers. However, now, S.H.I.E.L.D. not only stands on its own, but is beginning to drive the events of the MCU. It gives us a weekly peak into that larger MCU, and keeps a finger on the pulse of the universe built by Marvel Studios in between the release of the films, and is fulfilling the original intent of the show. Much like the series Daredevil and the shows to follow on Netflix, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is supposed to give us the lower-level activities that don’t reach ‘Avengers’ level threats. But now it is giving us so much more.
The cast of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Season 2 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was strong. The stories stood on their own, independent of the MCU. It almost appeared as though the show relieved itself of the shackles of waiting on the MCU to tell their story, but decided to do their own thing while maintaining MCU continuity. In doing so, we watched Coulson pick up the shambles left of S.H.I.E.L.D. following the events of Winter Soldier. The show also introduced the TV audience to the Inhumans, a full five years before the planned release of the movie in 2019. We got their background, and watched as one of their own, Skye (Bennet), transformed through “Terrigenesis” into Daisy Johnson/Quake. It certainly didn’t hurt that the show also added strong cast members in Nick Blood (Lance Hunter), Adrianne Palicki (Bobbi “Mockingbird” Morse), Henry Simmons (Alphonso “Mack” MacKenzie), Blair Underwood (Dr. Andrew Garner), and Luke Mitchell (Lincoln “Sparkplug” Campbell).
We watched the show grow, as the story telling, writing, and acting improved immensely. The show even kicked off the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, instead of waiting for it to happen as in the case of Winter Soldier. Sadly, some viewers were already lost, but ratings suggest (when including Live+7), that many have returned as the show has improved.
That brings us to the tour-de-force that is Season 3. The cast has added Andrew Howard (Luther Banks), Constance Zimmer (Rosalind Price), and Powers Boothe (Gideon Malick) in recurring roles, and all have been strong to date, Boothe especially. This season started off fast, and has only gotten better. Critical acclaim for this season has been strong. It currently has a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and an 8.1/10 at TV.com. But the strong reception usually isn’t enough for the discerning viewer, or more specifically, you our readers. But I don’t want to give too much of this season away, because it is just that good. The actors and the writers are at the top of their game right now, and the stories are superb, and will have major, everlasting impacts in the MCU. It has become the true espionage-thriller that it was always meant to be.
Again, I refuse to spoil anything on this season, but if you didn’t watch last night’s episode, ‘Many Heads, One Tale’, stop what you are doing, and catch up! Last night’s jaw-dropping moments put it on par with the Hydra reveal from ‘Winter Soldier’, I promise you.