Cop Show vs Spy Show (Agents of SHIELD)


No, I’m not going to put the periods into SHIELD, because that’s too annoying. Does the FBI put periods in? They do not.

So, AoS seems to be two different shows: one covering the first two-thirds of the season and another for the rest. The early one was kind of a chore… a friendly chore and one I didn’t resent too much, a lot of shows need time to find their feet.

The second show, the one they’re wrapping up the season with, is actually good. File that under “unexpected.”

Here’s the thing: with these shows you can lay the emphasis on the characters, or on the shit the characters deal with. Obviously, in a perfect world both would be extraordinary, but this isn’t a perfect world (because we had that show, it was called LIFE and it was cancelled). So you either focus on the relationships and have pretty interesting plots or the outside threat with a mostly-interesting cast. Everyone in the whole world loved HOMICIDE: LIFE IN THE STREETS except me, because I was so very uninterested in the drama between the cops. I didn’t care if those guys bought a bar together. I didn’t care about that one guy’s marriage or the other one’s health. All that stuff made me bored and irritable.

On the other side is THE X-FILES, in which the two leads were boring cyphers (luckily played by actors with extra helpings of charisma) but the weirdness they investigated was usually pretty fresh.

Anyway, AGENTS OF SHIELD started off as the latter: They tried to give us characters that delighted us instead of ones we could really invest in. Fitz/Simmons were excitable science-loving nerds, May and Ward were badasses with mysterious pasts, Coulson was still trading on the appeal he’d earned in the movies, and Skye was the pretty, idealistic audience stand-in with a lot to learn.

Which was fine, but the show set itself up as though they were a team of cops in a world with superheroes, then didn’t deliver. The pilot was fine, if a little rough, but they lost track: They were seeking a piece of alien tech with alien germs on it. They were hunting a rogue agent with a cyborg eye. They were trying to understand why people kept dying near an outcast safety inspector.

It’s not that they were bad ideas: there was a pyrokinetic in there, a wacky gravity machine, a wacky freezing machine, an Asgardian weapon, a couple of renegade Asgardians, and most interesting of all: an enemy mastermind who called themselves The Clairvoyant. It’s a cool idea; how would you defeat an enemy that could see the future?

But none of it had any zip. There were set-pieces they’d obviously spent money to pull off, like the revolving room in the gravity episode, but I wanted Coulson to be the mild-mannered badass of his Marvel One-Shot short film.

I wanted to be surprised by the characters’ solutions to the problems they faced. I wanted to see Coulson analyze the situation so well that he was ahead of everyone, including me. What I didn’t want was to be just as knowledgeable about the next step the team needed to take as the team was. I didn’t want to feel dragged along.

If they’re chasing a villain who can make men do whatever she wants, the team should not be surprised that the cops setting up a perimeter around the villain’s location have already been turned. I wasn’t. Why am I more suspicious than the trained government agents? There’s no excuse for it except not putting the effort in.

Instead, they should have played out the big reveal that the cops had already been turned, then show Coulson defeating them or defusing them immediately, because [CLUE] made him realize they were not on his side. Unfortunately, that never happened. Coulson was never ahead of me, and that’s a problem.

Then there was The Big Twist, the tie-in with The Winter Soldier, which revealed that one of team had been a double-agent after all. Suddenly, the show stopped focusing outward and began to focus on the team. Ward’s betrayal is still playing out, and last week’s episode showed that the whole team has realized that he’s Hydra. It’s playing hell on the camaraderie that has been kind of dull all season, and it’s making for complicated relationships.

It’s funny; they could have done something like this with Skye straight from the start. Her goal in the pilot is to uncover secrets, and there she is in the heard of a secret government agency. What Skye wanted to do what exactly what Captain America did to defeat Hydra and SHIELD both; she’s a good guy.

And she could/should have been a much larger source of conflict, not because she’s a villain but because she is most definitely not. Instead, her desire for openness is played as naivete and she sheds it quickly, buying into the group culture. It’s a lost opportunity.

Still, the best moment in the whole season so far was when Skye calls Ward a Nazi because a) it was absolutely the right thing for her to say and b) it surprised me. Ward’s response–and his conflict between his loyalty to Garrett and his love for Skye–has brought his character to life.

Shit’s become fun.

Alongside that, SHIELD as an organization is 100% gone. The team has lost its plane, its funding, its backup, its computer/intelligence resources, and its official sanction. In fact, they’re wanted fugitives. Whatever they do next, it had better be clever. If Nick Fury or whoever swoops in and fixes things for them, I’m going to be seriously disappointed.

Story beats they should hit before the end of the season:

1) In the pilot, Skye wanted radical openness. Now she has it. How does she feel about that? How do any of them feel? Not just the loss of their organization and their identity as SHIELD agents, but the loss of power that comes from keeping information secret.

2) CA2:TWS made it a point that SHIELD and Hydra were more alike than the good guys would care to admit. Coulson and his team keep discovering that their organization was involved in shady things–the most recent was that they intensified Mr. Darkforce’s powers instead of weakening them. But at no point does he take responsibility for this, nor does he seem capable of concluding that maybe SHIELD had lost sight of its mission and is better off gutted.