Over the weekend, before heading out to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I watched the Marvel Cinematic Universe one-shots for the first time. The first several are Coulson / SHIELD related, and I half-joked that each one was the best Agents of SHIELD episode of the season. Generally, this is accomplished in under 3 minutes.
After last night’s episode, that is finally no longer the case. The direct tie-in to Captain America 2 was hands down the best episode of the season, and hints at a future ripe with possibility (and more importantly, comic book tie-in theories).
Note: Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Agents of SHIELD spoilers will follow. Come on back later if you don’t want anything spoiled!
The Agents of SHIELD Performance We’ve Been Waiting For
It isn’t just the fact that the action and drive of episode 17 were GREAT. Star Wars-esque airplane fights, impossible secret agent fights in one of SHIELD’s most prominent bases, and sweet EMP pulse technology all generate a cinematic directoral style that has frequently been missing.
It’s how suddenly interesting nearly every character on the Agents of SHIELD crew became in slightly less than one hour.
Of course, much of this is credited to the episode’s amazingly well choreographed connection with The Winter Soldier. No episode has had as essential a narrative arc, or felt more like a real extension of the marvel cinematic universe (more on this in a bit).
I have to admit, I was pretty cynical towards Marvel’s #itsallconnected cries throughout the past few weeks of SHIELD episodes. I sniffed out the rotten SHIELD from the Cap trailers (I’ve read my Secret Invasion), and it was clear that would have some impact on the AoS crew. We’re comic book fans, Marvel, come on! You don’t have to sell us on the realities of a shared universe.
But, wow, this was actually way more connected than I would have guessed. I thought there’d be references in passing to Cap 2, but this was a direct and essential follow up. You know that amazing feeling walking out of a movie theater and all you want to do is talk about the movie you just watched with your friends and family? You just wish the experience didn’t have to end. This is an hour of that feeling on tv. It’s the first time I’ve ever experienced anything like that on tv.
It is probably the first Agents of SHIELD episode where I wasn’t ready for it to end.
Then to top off the satisfaction of continuing the Captain America movie plot, you have the SHIELD crew getting all kinds of interesting. Watching the episode became a series of one-worded exclamations, usually in the form of a pronoun. Trip! Hand! Garrett!!! WARD?!>!>>!!>!!>#@#RQWRRQWQW@##>>!!!
Even more exciting than the actual episode, though, is what this means for the future of Agents of SHIELD.
Agents of SHIELD Takes Center Stage in the Marvel Cinematic Universe
Here’s where I get excited: we won’t have any more insights into the Marvel Cinematic Universe through the movies until Avengers 2: Age of Ultron in May of 2015. For whatever post-credits tease Guardians of the Galaxy may present, the film is ultimately going to kick off and focus on Marvel Cosmic. And while I’d expect that all those cosmic seeds begin to intersect around the time of Avengers 3 (can I get a Thanos!), I don’t expect much more than a few carefully laid breadcrumbs extending from Guardians of the Galaxy on through to the Earth-bound Marvel Universe.
So where does that leave us? Agents of SHIELD actually serves as our most consistent connecting force. We have everything that happened in Captain America 2, we have that fantastically titillating post-credits trailer setting up Baron von Strucker and “the twins,” and then we have a bunch of Agents of SHIELD episodes.
This gives Agents of SHIELD a purpose it has never had before. Prior to Captain America 2, AoS was just another facet of the Marvel Universe, and frankly it was pretty boring by comparison. Agents of SHIELD didn’t add anything to the story of Extremis, it just placed the technology in the hands of characters and plots less interesting than Robert Downey Stark and Guy Pearce’s A.I.M.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for stories of the Marvel Universe on a smaller scale. But it’s no secret that to date, Agents of SHIELD hasn’t been particularly skilled at telling those stories. The potential has always been hidden just beneath the surface of a milquetoast product. You walk away thinking things like “This show could utilize the sci-fi mystery of a Dr. Who. Maybe one day this show could feature the super spy drama of an Alias.”
I still don’t believe Agents of SHIELD needs to be entirely reliant on the Marvel Movies to be successful or interesting. There are so many brilliant, sleek, funny stories that could be told with no-name D-listers (D-Man that’s your cue!) from the Marvel Universe. An American Dr. Who with obscure Marvel characters is hardly a shallow goal.
You know who does think the Agents of SHIELD show needs to be reliant on the Marvel Movies, though? Everyone involved with making Agents of SHIELD!
The show has displayed a painful over-reliance on fans’ love of the Marvel movies. Was Coulson interacting with Directory Fury and Maria Hill in the opening episode a wonderful post-Avengers tie-in? Absolutely. Was the 394th reference to the events of New York and Coulson’s mysterious resurrection even kind of interesting? Nope. Not at all.
Watching those Marvel movie one-shots was eye-opening in the sense that I suddenly remembered something: I like Agent Coulson! His character is funny, charming, and tough as nails. I hadn’t felt that way through 16 episodes of Agents of SHIELD, but suddenly watching him interact with Agent Jasper Sitwell (poor, poor Sitwell!) for 2 minutes, I was back on board. Agent Coulson is cool, man! I like this guy!
And what Agents of SHIELD is finally starting to realize is that people didn’t appreciate the Coulson character because he died in the Avengers movie. It was every other moment the character brought something to the table on screen. It was Coulson asking Captain America to sign his Cap cards. It was Tony Stark snarkily telling Pepper the man’s first name is Agent.
His death was just the most convenient narrative device to bring the team of Avengers together. It’s actually one of the elements of the Avengers that resonates the least. There’s a sense that the Avengers start fighting together because a SHIELD agent most of them barely know died, but if you think about it’s mostly because New York is on fire. Not really a lot of options there.
Agents of SHIELD reducing Coulson’s character to “the Bob Newhart impersonator who died in Avengers” has been incredibly counter-productive and everything about the show has suffered for it. For whatever issues there may be with any of the supporting characters (and the rapid decrease of Skye-centered episodes has been a huge improvement), Coulson is the top dog. He’s the Agent of SHIELD that has to drive this show.
And Coulson can’t do that if he just “used to be stabbed”.
It’s no surprise the show has picked up in earnest ever since the T.A.H.I.T.I. reveal and the mysterious Blue-blooded cure solved some of the Coulson mystery. Finally, we can stop worrying that Coulson is an LMD or Android. He’s a real dude (sorry Vision) we can care about again.
The developments of a full scale HYDRA infiltration into SHIELD from Cap 2, finally give Coulson and his whiz-kid crew a purpose beyond “fly around aimlessly until we learn the secrets of the mystery we’ve been milking for half a year.” Now the secrets of Coulson and Skye’s regeneration are just an undercurrent to a more pressing issue: SHIELD is no more!
I love this development, and especially love the potential it gives Agents of SHIELD. As any Marvel fan would know, all the “does this mean the end of Agents of SHIELD?!!!” articles are poorly versed in their Marvel lore. Everything goes “no more” at some point. From Spidey to Cap every hero gives up for at least a minute due to some great trauma or turning point. This all serves to make the return to heroism all the more challenging and meaningful.
With an organization like SHIELD the storyline is a bit different, but the idea remains the same. A crew of do-gooders, of would-be-world-protectors, isn’t just going to stop preventing disasters because an acronym died. It’s just going to make the job a whole lot harder.
This brings me back to the fact that it is only on Agents of SHIELD where we’ll have the opportunity to see what a Marvel universe without SHIELD actually looks like. Without these episodes providing insight into the state of the MCU, all we’d have is a somber Avengers 2 vocal overdub: “Hey, remember that Captain America from a year ago? The one with the robot arm dude? Yeah, it left the world without a peace-keeping force. Enter Ultron.”
Does This Mean Agents of SHIELD is Actually Even MORE Reliant on Marvel Movies Now?
It’s definitely a concern that the surge of crossover goodwill from Cap might fade, but there are two points that play in the favor of this particular movie tie-in.
1) The developments of Captain America 2 simply intertwine with AoS way more naturally.
It’s an obvious point, but the destruction and ruin of SHIELD as an entire organization dramatically affects our Agents of SHIELD crew’s world and mission. Whereas the Avengers connection was more tangential, one thread of a mystery being used to drive the entire show, and Extremis was simply of the same world (yes, Extremis exists in this world too, just like Iron Man 3!), the impact on SHIELD in Cap 2 demands entirely new stories.
What’s the fallout of this event mean for active Agents of SHIELD? What do they become? Do they have a purpose and how will they deal with HYDRA?
The other component: the Black Widow released all of SHIELD’s information to the world. Didn’t SHIELD probably have sleeper agents and spies across the globe? Aren’t they now suddenly compromised? Who is going to help them?
Even cooler, wasn’t SHIELD probably collecting information on any and every superpowered individual in the world? Isn’t that information now available to the public? Where are these people and who is going to protect them?
These are all potential episodes and questions that flow organically ouf of Captain America 2. Nobody walked out of Iron Man 3 asking “I wonder how Extremis would impact model-ready hygenic SHIELD agents.” You do walk out of Cap 2 asking TONS of questions related to SHIELD.
2) The show’s coming to an end
Nothing helps drive urgency like a limited timeframe and lack of a certain second season (which would be ridiculous. I won’t write about this until it happens, but how insane would Marvel/Disney/ABC have to be to cancel this show before Avengers 2??!!).
With only 5 episodes left, Agents of SHIELD suddenly has to reflect the urgency of their universe. This means we can expect big revelations and genuinely important storylines the rest of the way, like what we just saw with Agent Garrett and Ward in the Cap 2 tie-in.
I expect next week’s episode 18 to spend some time restoring the crew’s footing and establishing what the world looks like now that SHIELD is no more. But after that? It has to be pedal to the medal to close out the season and build anticipation for a season 2.
So What Will Agents of SHIELD Do in a World Without SHIELD
I have three theories from the comics:
This seems like the most realistic direction for Agents of SHIELD following the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
You have no more SHIELD, you have Nick Fury erasing his old life (even his eye patch!) and going underground, and you have Baron Von Strucker’s sacrificial Hydra bases across the globe.
Somebody has to take out the remaining elements of the horrific hordes of HYDRA, and hey, looks like our Agents of SHIELD crew suddenly lacks a mission.
There’s already word that Director Nick Fury will cameo in the season finale. To my mind this solidifies the hope that he’ll be giving the SHIELD crew underground orders as they work to clean up the mess left in HYDRA’s wake.
If you read the excellent Secret Warriors comic run (one of the first Marvel works from the always excellent Jonathan Hickman), I guarantee you’ll be surprised how cleanly this lends itself to the current state of SHIELD. And hey, if this means Agents of SHIELD wants to start adding some powered underground agents like Quake and Slingshot, I’m all kinds of on board.
2) H.A.M.M.E.R. & Thunderbolts
The absolute coolest thing Agents of SHIELD could do would be to create a rival organization to take its place. SHIELD failed, HYDRA destroyed it from the inside out, and the world is left without a peace-keeping security force (you know, uh, sort of like the one we live in; the horror!).
Enter H.A.M.M.E.R. & the Thunderbolts. In an effort to restore order and security, the powers that be (I guess this can’t be the World Security Council after Robert Redford stole their hearts, but some similarly vague and powerful leaders) create a new organization, titled H.A.M.M.E.R.
Now this would of course have to take a different form than the H.A.M.M.E.R. of Norman Osborne’s Dark Reign in the comics. Namely because Agents of SHIELD can’t even use Stormin’ Norman (Fox & Spidey have his crazy self all locked up). But hey, there are plenty of industrial, influential and mildly villainous individuals in Marvel storage.
Don’t believe me? Well, Wilson Fisk, Justin Hammer, Silvermane, Count Nefaria, Alexsander Lukin, Imus Champion, and Mordecai Midas. Varying degrees of realistic, sure, but that’s off the top of my admittedly nerdy head.
And then to really compound the awesome, you introduce a H.A.M.M.E.R. affiliated group of super-powered heroes called the Thunderbolts. Think of these as anti-hero Avengers, reformed criminals now looking to serve their country in the public eye.
I’ll admit, this would be a big move from Marvel as they’ve exhibited intense restraint thus far. Nonetheless, if you can read the above and tell me you’re not that interested in alternating storylines between our Agents of SHIELD crew on the lamb, and the Thunderbolts delivering justice like lightning, I just don’t know what to do with you.
3) Heroic Age
This one would be potentially the most difficult, but Steve Rogers becoming the acting leader of a new SHIELD makes a lot of sense in the wake of Cap. He’s the one that stood up to the HYDRA threat and stopped it in its tracks, and there’s the scene where he gets on the mic and speaks to the SHIELD agents as their leader. He’s clearly the all-time commanding presence. You just don’t get any more respectable than Captain America.
The biggest challenge to delivering this within Agents of SHIELD is the issue that it probably requires at least a minute or two of a Chris Evans cameo. That said, it would be cool to see him indoctrinated as the world’s Top Cop after several episodes of our SHIELD crew cleaning out HYDRA forces, finally having some semblance of order and peace to look forward to. You know, before Age of Ultron throws everyone into a state of “submit or perish.”
What do you think? Is Agents of SHIELD in a good place? What kinds of episodes do you expect to see in the world without SHIELD?