How did Agents of SHIELD get so good?

I’ve posted a couple of rants about Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD and how the show could get better.  Well wow, it did.  Clearly the problem was the scheduling of Captain America 2, because with its big revelation, this show kicked into overdrive and suddenly I can’t miss and episode.  I actually took to Facebook and bitched to the local ABC affiliate for interrupting the show (several times) with storm warning updates.  To be fair, it’s Ohio in springtime…if you think major thunderstorms are news, you clearly haven’t lived in Ohio that long.  And to my surprise, there were dozens of other people complaining as well (to the point the weatherman actually apologized on air!).

So lets review, and there will be spoilers, just why Agents of SHIELD is suddenly a much more watchable show.

Phil Coulson, professional bad ass
Phil Coulson, professional bad ass

First off, the big twist that SHIELD is actually Hydra was great, and yes it took a major motion picture to do it, but it was still what this show needed.  Having the entire structure supporting the agents suddenly crumble under them has led to some great pathos.  Clearly the show did need some opening episodes to build the agents up before knocking them down, but it still did suffer from very bad pacing – we needed maybe five or six episodes to really establish the characters and the structure of SHIELD, not seventeen.  Still, it’s nice that it’s finally paid off.

Along those lines, the reveal that Grant Ward is actually a Hydra agent and has known who the Clairvoyant was all along is huge.  It makes you want to go back and re-watch the earlier episodes to catch the hints.  And they do exist, in little bits here and there, but they are clear once you know the outcome.  Good writing there, but again still too drawn out.  Any time after the episode The Hub they could have done the “heel turn” with Ward and it would have worked. However, Evil Grant is a pure joy to watch.  Even better, he’s the kind of bad guy who doesn’t think he is a bad guy.  That’s…that’s awesome.  That’s Spike from Buffy territory there.  That’s good writing, but damn did it have to wait till there are only two more episodes in the season to get this good?

One of my big complaints (and a major complaint of others who have watched the show) is how disconnected it felt from the rest of the MCU.  Granted you weren’t going to get RDJ to do guest spots (though we did get a Sam Jackson cameo and are getting another for the finale), but the show didn’t seem to tap in to the potential for all the oddball and goofy corners of the MCU that are never going to end up on the big screen.  I understand that the show runners wanted to a) establish these characters separate from their movie counterparts and b) not try to make it seem like the world is overrun by super powered people when we only see a handful in the movies, but honestly there’s plenty of little references that could have been made over the season that would in no way have overshadowed the movies.  Name drop Foggy Nelson as a lawyer (or Matt Murdock himself), or have Coulson mention a lady who could bend light by the name of Monica Rambeau.  I get that they had Graviton and Blizzard show up, though Blizzard is a college kid and not much of a villain, but there were so many opportunities for the show to delve more into Marvel and less into “make new stuff up” land.

This guy got name dropped!
This guy got name dropped!

Fortunately, they apparently realized this, and the Marvel connections have been coming fast and furious.  We got Eric Koenig, Glenn Talbot, The Cube, Blackout, The Griffin, and even a Man-Thing name drop in the past three episodes!  Heck, I thought Lionsgate still owned the Man-Thing rights, but apparently not.  Then again, the plant monster’s psycho ex did show up in Iron Man 3 as the Extremis girl that comes after Tony in the little town, so I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise he’s back under Marvel.  Still…awesome!  This is the kind of stuff that should have always been going on.  Nick Fury said the world was filling up with strange people that could not be matched.  It’s time we saw this happen.

In the episode T.R.A.C.K.S., which was basically the beginning of the second half of season one, there was a cameo by Stan Lee where, thinking Coulson is a dead beat dad who cheated on his dead wife and treats his daughter (Simmons) poorly, he admonishes him that this is his chance to “do better.”  I don’t think I was alone is thinking that Stan meant that not just in character, but for the show as a whole (and he has been critical of the show, so it likely was).  Well, I think they took it to heart and they have now made a show that is really worth watching.

My only worry is that next year, assuming there is a season two (and considering Disney owns ABC, it’s very likely there will be), they will be competing with the four Netflix series, and some of the MCU might get essentially “walled off” as those shows establish themselves.  There’s plenty of Marvel to go around, but my hope is they keep it organic and don’t act like things aren’t connected when they clearly are.  Also, the Agents will have to maintain the momentum they are building this season and hit the ground running next year.  They can’t wait another seventeen episodes to get good.  Hopefully they will know this, and if they are really smart, the whole year will be a tie in to Avengers 2.  I’m not saying steal the movie’s thunder, but you could in essence make the plot of season two build up more and more until POW…Avengers…and in the season finale have the whole team show up so that it launches organically to the movie.  Then, sure, you’ll have people complaining they have to watch the show to get parts of the movie…but guys, wasn’t that the whole damned point of the Marvel movies?  Just how much do you get the original Avengers if you didn’t watch Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America?  (Ok, you can skip the Incredible Hulk…)  Each of those had parts that were vitally important to the Avengers.  Now you have a show that can act as a launch pad for Avengers 2…use it!

Can Coulson's bad assery compare to these guys?
Can Coulson’s bad assery compare to these guys?

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