Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is almost at the halfway point of its first season, and it has no idea what kind of TV show it is trying to be. My gut instinct is to call it a children’s show, due to its simplistic storylines and generally light-hearted tone, but then there are moments like Grant and Melinda’s alcohol-fueled hookup that push the show into more adult territory. This week, the team faces off against the unrequited lover of a young woman that was working on a particle accelerator, a man who gained the ability to teleport to and from an alien dimension after getting caught in an explosion when he sabotaged the accelerator to get a girl’s attention. It’s an exceptionally juvenile plotline for a show that is allegedly about a group of people working for the world’s most powerful peacekeeping organization, and it indicates that the creative team has little interest in actually exploring the Marvel Cinematic Universe on this series.
I was going to grade “Repairs” in C territory until I remembered that showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen wrote this episode. With most shows, episodes scripted by the showrunners are a good indicator of the progress being made and the direction of the series moving forward. If this is what the next half of the season is going to be like, this is going to be one rough ride. I can’t speak for the larger S.H.I.E.L.D. fandom, but episodes like this are not what I’m looking for from this show. To start, the lack of an overarching storyline is absolutely killing this show; there’s not even a consistent villain yet. The procedural aspect is completely uninteresting, mostly because there’s very little actual procedure involved, just dumb luck and touch-screen gadgets. When Tobias the Dimension-Hopping Psychopath smashed his wrench into FitzSimmons’ blue console, I cheered because maybe the team would have to actually do some sort of actual investigating. High-tech gadgets are cool, but things become very uninteresting when they’re the primary problem solvers.
Right now, S.H.I.E.L.D. is a boring procedural stuck in a case-of-the-week rut, with no larger direction and a tangential connection to a superhero universe that is packed with more fruitful storytelling opportunities. There’s such a rich comic-book mythology for this show to pull from, but after nine episodes we’ve gotten Graviton, the Overkill Device, and Victoria Hand. Yippee. There are hundreds upon hundreds of characters that this show could take from the comics that would get Marvel fans more excited than random people like Hannah Hutchins and Tobias Ford, and they don’t even have to be major players. Using established characters makes the series feel like its actually part of a bigger Marvel Universe, rather than just any show about secret agents investigating strange occurrences. And no, Asgardian “berserker warriors” aren’t going to cut it.
One of the most frustrating things about this series is the incredulity of the characters when it comes to unnatural events. When the team learns about Hannah Hutchins’ current situation, which on the surface looks like the manifestation of telekinetic powers, their first reaction is that telekinesis just isn’t possible. These are people that live in a world where a man turns into a giant rampaging green monster when he gets angry. Just a week ago they were cleaning up the fallout of an attack on London by alien dark elves. I imagine the agents’ befuddlement is fairly confusing to Marvel fans who don’t know that Fox’s ownership of the X-Men means mutants are prohibited from appearing in the MCU, but worse than that, it’s just plain silly for these seemingly highly intelligent agents to find natural superhuman abilities implausible in an environment where the extraordinary happens all the time. Telekinesis is totally wacky, but a man that teleports through an alien dimension is conceivable? It’s a strange double standard that frankly doesn’t need to exist on this show.
These last two episodes have been graded much lower than the first seven despite not being much different in terms of tone and plot, and that’s because formulaic stories are a bit more excusable when a show is still getting its bearings. Those first episodes had their problems, but they also had an energy that suggested things would pick up as the series went along. Things have not picked up. The show is meandering more and more each week, offering the tiniest scraps of character development but shying away from meatier storytelling. This week, we learn more about Melinda’s backstory, which is haphazardly tied into the resolution of Tobias’ plot because it has to do with letting the girl go or something. Thankfully, it doesn’t involve her being trapped in a well by an evil older sibling.
Melinda got her nickname “The Cavalry” because she saved a group of hostages by killing 20 people single-handedly, an event that destroyed her former fun-loving, rule-bending personality. You know what would have made this episode a lot stronger? Actually showing that back-story instead of having a bunch of characters tell Skye about it. Frankly, the action on the plane isn’t captivating enough to sustain an entire episode, and flashbacks to Melinda’s life-changing mission would have filled out the story. We have yet to see much of an arc for any of these people, and witnessing May’s change from her previous personality to her more stoic characterization could have added the dramatic weight this story lacks.
Rather than giving the viewers Ming-Na Wen’s Die Hard, “Repairs” is a low budget close-quarters horror story where a teleporting man with a wrench threatens the entire team. A flashback structure would be greatly appreciated here and would also help liven up a show that has gotten very monotonous. It would be a challenge to stage the elaborate action sequence described by the agents, but at this point, the creative team needs a challenge to rise to because it is steadily falling. Without strong characters or a confident direction, this show is running out of reasons for people to check in each week. Last week’s episode saw a slight uptick in viewers thanks to the (mediocre) Thor: The Dark World tie-in, but it’s hard to imagine the audience sticking around after an episode like “Repairs.”
- Looks like J. August Richards will be returning to the show in two weeks as the Extremis-powered Mike Peterson, who joins the agents for a particularly dangerous mission. Who wants to place bets on him being the team’s first casualty?
- The peppy music while Fitz and Simmons talk about pranking Skye gave me flashbacks to Bulk and Skull in Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.
- Man, Skye is so useless in this episode that her plotline is actually finding something for her to do. Turns out her skills are that she’s able to figure out things by finding out the good in people and she also helps Hannah feel God’s love. Those are definitely two valuable talents for a spy to have.
- You know what’s fun in this week’s episode? Fitz’s scream when his mop-dummy pops out of the closet. It’s pretty cute.
- Also good: Ward’s abs.
- Skye: “Did she lose anyone in there?” Coulson: “Herself.” Groan.