Showrunner(s): Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen
Air Date (US): 24th Sept, 2013 – 13th May, 2014
No. Of Episodes: 22
Main: Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Brett Dalton, Chloe Bennet, Ian De Caestecker, Elizabeth Henstridge
Guest: J. August Richards, David Conrad, Ruth Negga, Saffron Burrows, Bill Paxton, B. J. Britt, Patton Oswalt, Cobie Smulders, Samuel L. Jackson
Agents Of SHIELD was undoubtedly the most anticipated freshman series of the 2013/14 season. Aiming to build upon Marvel’s success with The Avengers, Iron Man and Captain America franchises, this companion show was designed to help expand the cinematic universe, and provide a bridge between the movies. Unfortunately, things never really went quite to plan, leading to a disappointing start to the MCU’s first TV show.
Despite displaying the occasional bright spark, the first 10 episodes were pretty dire – not up to Marvel’s high standard of late. In fairness, once the mid-season break came around, the writers appeared to sort things out, and the quality rose somewhat – helped, in part, by a juicy tie-in plot with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. While never quite reaching the heights of rival comic show, Arrow, the final few episodes did manage to redeem the shaky start, and set-up a far more promising future.
A large amount of early criticism was directed towards the show’s fairly inexperienced cast. Particularly maligned were Brett Dalton, whose bland, emotionless Grant Ward felt difficult to like, and Chloe Bennet, whose ‘Mary-Sue’, Skye, became a focal point for a lot of fanboy hate. Ultimately, the pair turned it around, with Dalton adding a whole new dynamic to his character when he is (*spoiler*) revealed to be a HYDRA double agent, while Bennet developed into more and more of a Whedon-esque heroine each episode.
Veterans Clark Gregg and Ming-Na Wen where always solid, but never truly spectacular. The latter in particular came across as far too stoic at times, and was again quite difficult to appreciate in the role. Though he still remains impossibly likeable, it was a shame not to see more of the cult-favourite ‘Phil Coulson’ from the MCU films – whose death in The Avengers still leaves me an emotional wreck. You could argue that his inclusion and resurrection in this show has perhaps detracted a little from that great moment.
“Nick Fury gave me this badge. When he did, I swore an oath… To serve when everything else fails. To be humanity’s last line of defence. To be the shield.” – Phil Coulson
Undoubtedly, the true stars of this show were Ian De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge as the loveable science-boff duo: FitzSimmons. While always entertaining as the comic relief characters, they also proved they could hold their own dramatically too – sharing more than a few key moments together, such as Simmons’ near-death experience in FZZT.
The guest stars throughout the year were far less impressive, with many phoning-in performances or completely hamming it up. Villains like Ian Quinn, Raina and Edison Po were impossible to get on board with, while J. August Richards’s ‘sympathetic villain’ Deathlok was let down by sloppy writing and an awful costume. Only Cobie Smulders and Patton Oswalt can walk away from their roles with any real plaudits, but Bill Paxton was at least inexplicably entertaining as season big-bad, John Garrett.
Plot & Characters
Here-in lay the real problem with Agents Of SHIELD. The staff writing team and showrunners Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon really let themselves down in its early episodes, with terrible filler material and dull, forgettable villains. Project: Centipede was a hodgepodge of different MCU macguffins, all rolled into one annoying organisation that only got more clichéd once ‘The Clairvoyant’ came into play. Ultimately, many of the show’s long-running plots initiated in the first half (Coulson’s death, The Clairvoyant, Mike Peterson) ended in overwhelming disappointment.
What was most frustrating, however, was the showrunner’s (ridiculous) decision not to use any C or D-List comic-book characters. Had they done this (like Arrow, or even Smallville did in its later seasons), the issues surrounding the villains and the dull sub-plots would be dramatically improved. While they did attempt to do this in the second half of the show, it was a case of “too little, too late”, and terrible VFX and costume design ended up making matters worse. It seems, however, that the writers have taken note of this, casting several notable ‘SHIELD’ comics alums in Season 2 (e.g. Mockingbird).
Where the show did impress was during its ‘Uprising’ saga, during which SHIELD was revealed to have been infiltrated by HYDRA – and a genuine uncertainty over the trustworthiness of every character was established. It’s a testament to both the writers and cast, then, that barely anyone saw Ward or Garrett’s betrayal coming. For the rest of the season, HYDRA, Ward and Garrett made for much improved big-bads, especially when you ignore The Clairvoyant nonsense that preceded them.
Behind The Scenes
As noted earlier, the staff writing team never really covered themselves in glory this season, and a lot of criticism in particular has gone towards the two showrunners. Ultimately though, it was they who also helped turned things around, saving the show from what at one time looked like inevitable cancellation, and deserve at least some praise for this. Where the show desperately needs to improve now is its usage of VFX budget, which was wasted on the team’s plane and a flying car, when they could have been used to help make super-powered characters like Deathlok and Blackout look more authentic.
Phil Coulson, revealed to be alive, puts together a team of agents (May, Ward, Fitz & Simmons) to investigate superhuman Mike Peterson. Forced to work alongside hacker Skye, they link Peterson’s condition to the sinister Project: Centipede – 7/10
The team track an object of unknown origin (‘0-8-4’) – revealed to be a HYDRA weapon. They are betrayed by Camilla Reyes, who claims the weapon for the Peruvian military. Skye is brought on as a consultant, but is secretly a mole for the Rising Tide – 6/10
Tahiti – Coulson continues to robotically respond to ‘Tahiti’ – “It’s a magical place”
The Asset, 08/10/13
Ian Quinn kidnaps SHIELD asset Dr Franklin Hall, seeking to use him to build a dangerous gravitonium generator. Skye goes undercover to rescue him, but Hall later reveals his own plan to destroy the gravitonium, killing millions in the process – 7/10
Eye Spy, 15/10/13
The team investigate Coulson’s former protégé Akela Amador, but learn she is being blackmailed through a explosive cybernetic eye. FitzSimmons attempt to hijack the device, and use Ward in her place, while Coulson locates her handler – 7/10
Tahiti – Akela remarks to May that something seems different about Coulson
The Girl In The Flower Dress, 22/10/13
Pyrokinetic Chan Ho Yin is kidnapped by a woman named Raina for Project: Centipede. Skye uses a former ally to track down Chan’s captors, but reveals herself as a Rising Tide mole, losing Coulson’s trust. Raina is revealed to be working for ‘The Clairvoyant’ – 8/10
Skye – Skye reveals that the reason she joined the Rising Tide and SHIELD was to find her biological parents, whom Coulson agrees to help her find.
While investigating a Chitauri virus, Simmons is infected. Fitz and Simmons desperately attempt to synthesise a cure, while Agent Blake orders Coulson to sacrifice her to save the team. Simmons leaps from the plane, but Ward is able to save her in time – 8/10
Tahiti – May reassures Coulson while he struggles to understand why he feels different
The Hub, 12/11/13
Victoria Hand assigns Fitz and Ward to the field to disable a dangerous weapon, but when Skye and Simmons infiltrate Level 8 they learn there is no extraction plan. Taking matters into their own hands, Coulson and the team use The Bus to rescue them – 8/10
Tahiti – Coulson denied access when he investigates his ‘recuperation in Tahiti’.
Skye – A SHIELD agent is revealed to have brought Skye to the orphanage, but Coulson keeps it quiet, and asks May to investigate.
The Well, 19/11/13
The team hunt down an Asgardian Beserker staff, also sought after by a pagan hate group. Ward is corrupted by the staff, revealing his traumatic childhood, but chooses not to talk it out with Skye, and instead starts casually sleeping with May – 6/10
Tahiti – Coulson has a nightmare about his recuperation in Tahiti.
Coulson’s team attempts to help a safety inspector tormented by a former colleague trapped between two dimensions, Earth and ‘Hel’. May manages to defeat him and convince him to let go, revealing her own difficult past as ‘The Cavalry’ – 6/10
The Bridge, 10/12/13
Coulson recruits Mike Peterson to help recapture an escaped Edison Po and several Project: Centipede super soldiers. Po and Raina, also behind the eye devices, kidnapping both men for The Clairvoyant, leaving SHIELD and the team in disarray – 6/10
Skye – Skye learns that May and Coulson are hiding details about her parents from her.
The Magical Place, 07/01/14
Raina interrogates Coulson about his death. Victoria Hand leads the search for Coulson, but has Skye removed – who then starts her own investigation and finds him. Mike Peterson is alive, but without a leg and with an eye device from The Clairvoyant – 8/10
Tahiti – After his rescue, Coulson hunts down Dr Streiten, who brought him back to life at the request of Nick Fury himself. He reveals Coulson lost the will to live in his operation, and was implanted with false memories about a recovery in Tahiti.
The team return to the SHIELD academy after a series of ‘ice machine’ attacks, and Fitz befriends one of the victims, Donnie Gill. He soon learns the attacks were just tests, and that Donnie intends to sell it to Ian Quinn, who is working for The Clairvoyant – 8/10
Skye – Coulson and May meet fellow agent Richard Lumley, who tells them of a mission 24 years ago involving an 0-8-4: Skye.
The team go undercover on a train in Italy, tracking a Cybertek package belonging to Ian Quinn. Skye infiltrates Quinn’s mansion, learning Mike Peterson is alive, and the package is an upgrade for him to become Deathlok, but is shot twice by Quinn – 7/10
Skye’s life-threatening injury forces Coulson to search for the cure that saved him. Agents Garrett and Triplett arrive to bring Quinn in, but agree to give Coulson time. They find the drug in a facility called the ‘Guest House’, and Simmons saves Skye – 8/10
Tahiti – While at the Guest House, Coulson finds a room marked TAHITI, where he finds the source of the drug – a blue-skinned humanoid alien.
Yes Men, 11/03/14
Lady Sif arrives on Earth to capture the Asgardian criminal Lorelei, who is enslaving men to her will – including Grant Ward. The team help Sif capture Lorelei and get Ward back, but May breaks up with him, after Lorelei reveals his feelings for Skye – 8/10
Tahiti – Coulson tells Skye about the alien drug that saved them, and wants answers from Fury. May has been listening in, and makes a call to tell someone that “Coulson knows”.
End Of The Beginning, 01/04/14
SHIELD launches a widespread Clairvoyant hunt. Deathlok injures Blake, leading the team to Thomas Nash, but Ward shoots him after he threatens Skye. Coulson learns that The Clairvoyant is a SHIELD agent, while Fitz discovers May’s phone line – 8/10
Turn, Turn, Turn, 08/04/14
SHIELD is in disarray, the team are hunted, and Skye discovers HYDRA have taken over. Garrett and Trip return to help, but a slip-up reveals the former is The Clairvoyant. Later, Ward is also revealed to be a traitor, killing Hand and freeing Garrett – 9/10
With Col. Glenn Talbot on their trail, Coulson takes the team and Triplett to a hidden SHIELD base, run by Agent Eric Koenig, who reveals Fury is alive. Garrett frees Raina, raiding the Fridge, but needs Skye’s password for the research on GH325 – 8/10
Tahiti – May confesses to Coulson that it was not Fury who oversaw the TAHITI project
The Only Light In The Darkness, 22/04/14
Koenig subjects the team to a lie detector test, which a returned Ward narrowly beats. Coulson takes FitzSimmons and Trip to help save his old flame Audrey from an escaped Fridge inmate. Ward ends up killing Koenig, as Skye realises he is HYDRA – 7/10
Nothing Personal, 29/04/14
Maria Hill and Col. Talbot arrive at Providence to convince Coulson to turn himself in. Fitz finds Skye’s message, revealing Ward is HYDRA. Skye attempts to escape Ward, but is recaptured by Deathlok. Hill helps Coulson rescue Skye, but Ward escapes – 9/10
Tahiti – May returns with a flash-drive video, which reveals that Coulson himself was the head of Project TAHITI, before he recommended its shut-down due to its side effects.
A teenage Ward is seen in flashbacks, being taught to survive by Garrett. Coulson and May infiltrate Cybertek, who have been funding Garrett’s operation. Garrett is revealed to be dying, and needs the Centipede serum with GH325. Ward captures FitzSimmons – 8/10
Beginning Of The End, 13/05/14
Coulson and his team raid the Cybertek facility. Skye saves Mike’s son, May takes on Ward and Coulson confronts Garrett. Trapped at the bottom of the ocean, Fitz attempts to sacrifice himself to save Simmons, but the pair are ultimately rescued by Nick Fury.
Coulson and Fury attempt to defeat Garrett, aided by Deathlok when he learns his son is safe, and the madman is ultimately destroyed by Coulson. Ward is arrested, as a regretful Mike disappears. Fury then appoints Coulson as the new Director of SHIELD – 9/10
Skye – Raina delivers a photo to a blood-soaked man, telling him she found his daughter.
Tahiti – Coulson awakes in the middle of the night, exhibiting the same mental fixation that Garrett experienced after taking the Gh325.
Crushed by the weight of early expectations, Agents Of SHIELD took a long time to ever really get going. However, once it did, audiences were treated to a fairly entertaining show, with a truly likeable main cast. Consistency is key for the future, and fans should be hopeful of a much-improved sophomore season, with answers to ongoing plots (such as Skye’s parentage), and a far greater selection of Marvel heroes and villains involved.
MVP(s): Elizabeth Henstridge & Ian De Caestecker