I had a moment about midway through Agents of SHIELD episode 3 where I wondered if perhaps I’m too hard on Agents of SHIELD, if perhaps my expectations are too high. I also watched CW’s The Flash last night, and found that first episode exhilarating, enjoyable, and most importantly, FUN. I was completely able to take the cheesy lumps – the “subtle” references to speed every fourth sentence, the romantic entanglements of a CW show – and just enjoy them as part of a fun-filled whole. Mid-way through Agents of SHIELD I asked out loud if the show is really so much less fun, or if I’m just significantly less forgiving. Why doesn’t Agents of SHIELD feel so easy to love?
That isn’t to say season two hasn’t been of a higher quality because it has. My reviews of episode one and episode two are almost entirely positive, and I’m definitely supportive of what Agents of SHIELD has become in its second season. Just look at this third episode. You have an actual super-powered villain, Donnie Gill aka Blizzard (a scientist given his powers by a stray lightning bolt… where have I heard that one before?), being hunted by both SHIELD and HYDRA interested in using him to fight for their causes. Blizzard was a great addition to this episode, using his ice powers as a youthful Grey Gargoyle and freezing his hunters (and their accomplices) without remorse. In the comics, Blizzard is frequently a bit of a C-list joke, and turning him into a murderous threat is a strong, dare I say Nolan influenced move. It works, and it gives Agents of SHIELD season three the Marvel Universe flavor it so desperately needs.
But… look at what the Flash did in one single episode! Not only did we get the origin story of Barry Allen (which 14 years ago would have been a feature film by Warner Bros and now we get it for free on TV… pretty cool), but the show wasted no time in introducing The Weather Wizard as the first of Barry’s rogues to threaten Star City. On top of that, Barry’s origin flashbacks made it very clear that a certain time-traveling nemesis from the future is going to play a role in the life and death of Nora Allen, Barry’s mom.
This is awesome comic book driven story brought to life in a visually compelling style. It’s not just the references to comic book material that won me over, either. It only takes one look at Gotham’s pilot to realize that references that don’t drive story are more of an annoyance than anything. It’s the fact that The Flash feels like a show that understands the core of the comic book character and what makes his surrounding world compelling in the first place. And most importantly, it’s willing to have fun with those elements and even joke about it.
The Flash is the lightest, brightest comic book tv show by far. Arrow is fun and smart, but in many ways it’s most prominently highlighting all the details that make Oliver Queen similar to Batman. It makes for a great show, but it doesn’t really allow for an enormous goatee and Ollie laughing loudly while shooting a boxing glove arrow. Gotham is, unsurprisingly, mired in the muck and sludge of a corrupt city and developing psychopaths like Oswald Cobblepot. Although, given it’s the once and future city of the Bat, Gotham is surprisingly light-hearted and willing to revel in the camp of comic book television.
And then there’s Agents of SHIELD. You would think this would be the show most reflective of Marvel’s bright cinematic vision, where heroes are charismatic and brilliant, and save the day with plenty of jokes and style. Instead, the show has progressed from serious and boring, to simply serious. Episode three opens with Hydra’s Kraken brutally torturing / brain-washing some poor sap, as the former showrunners of Dollhouse move us closer and closer to the territory of that former conquest (if it means Eliza Dushku makes an appearance, I’ll have to approve). It’s some haunting imagery, and SHIELD doesn’t shy away from showing the evil of HYDRA. I like darker, more challenging themes, and season two is clearly going to carry that flag. Nonetheless, I can’t help but be surprised that The Flash appears to be the tv show most closely tied to the core appeal of Marvel’s films starting with Iron Man.
5 Things I Want to See Moving Forward
1) More Brainwashing
One of the best elements to come out of Agents of SHIELD season one was Ward’s turn as a double agent for HYDRA. Now that we’ve introduced brainwashing to the mix, conceivably any SHIELD character could be a double agent and not even know it! This adds a quality “who can you trust?” element, and it’s one I’d like to see used in more innovative ways (ala Dollhouse).
2) Director Coulson
I said it last week so I’ll say it again: Director Coulson, the head of Marvel’s SHIELD, needs to drive this show. I had a hard time pulling away from the “next time on Flash” preview and missed the opening few seconds of Agents of SHIELD this go around. I’m already that much more invested in Barry Allen than I am any single character on Agents of SHIELD. The Director needs to be more than a distant sometimes-chef and start driving spy stories. This is the Director of SHIELD in the Marvel Universe! He should be able to carry stories just like Nick Fury would.
There was at least a hint of Coulson’s directorial objectives in his speech to Fitz, so hopefully the show follows through on more and more things only Coulson knows. Sure he can’t take Fitz, but there’s no reason he can’t take the audience with him.
3) Hydra Villain Hunt
This is a legitimately cool element, with HYDRA tracking down and attempting to brainwash or team with Marvel’s baddies. The MCU has been remarkably slow in revealing powered individuals to date (Graviton, Blackout, Blizzard, Absorbing Man… and that’s it), but hopefully they can take a cue from the other comic book TV shows out there and add these recognizable villains more frequently.
4) What is SHIELD Doing?
An answer here would be nice. What is Coulson even trying to do? Rebuild SHIELD? Ok, but it mostly seems like a handful of individuals are scrambling around just responding to whatever task-oriented plot the writers give them. I don’t really have a clear sense of their purpose. They’re vigilantes now, but why? What’s the long-term plan? So far the vision seems really small.
No, no, I don’t expect to see actual Avengers in Agents of SHIELD any time soon (although a Hawkeye appearance alongside Mockingbird’s introduction would make a lot of sense). Nonetheless, where is this team? Weren’t they kind of a Nick Fury SHIELD sanctioned operation? It’s been two years. I’m all for Agents of SHIELD starting to address some of these larger Marvel Universe questions. The gap between Captain America 2 and Avengers 2 seems like an unnecessarily long wait when we have this show in the meantime.
CBH Score: 6.1 out of 10
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