Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode 19 review: The Only Light In The Darkness
Lots of death and drama in this week's episode. If only it was this much fun every week...
This review contains spoilers.
1.19 The Only Light in the Darkness
Casting Whedon alumni is a good way for any genre show to curry favour, and while it's enjoyable to see those faces back on screen there's always a risk that the show using them will suffer by comparison. Case in point: When Amy Acker was on Angel, she proved herself versatile and charming, playing a character who spent years being built up and taken into viewers affections. But that affection only stretches so far. On Agents of SHIELD, she's a one-note damsel-in-distress who isn't trusted with her own agency and is only saved from death by the quick actions of a man who knows better than she does. The Buffyverse, this ain't.
Still, at least she wasn't fridged (small f) so there's a chance she'll be back. Coulson's backstory remains intriguing, and it'd be interesting to see that character built upon. If nothing else, there's a confrontation with Coulson that needs to happen, and that part of me wants to see sooner rather than later.
But Acker's role in the episode is in the B-plot at best. Coulson, Fitz, Simmons and Triplett are dispatched to take care of a Fridge (capital F) escapee whose powers involve energy manipulation. If you're keeping track of Marvel Universe appearances, he's Marcus Daniels, the original Blackout. The whole subplot is about as by-the-numbers as SHIELD gets. The threat is little more than a sketch, the solution is technobabble with zero thematic relevance, and the whole story only exists to introduce a potential recurring character and provide the impetus for Coulson to forgive May.
Almost paradoxically, the more interesting part of the episode is focussed on Ward and Skye, which is a sentence I can't say I honestly expected to ever type. Fears that their Romeo Vs. Juliet Hydra/SHIELD romance would dominate the season's remainder seemed all but confirmed during an excruciating scene where the pair sat down to discuss their feelings with the kind of raw candour usually reserved for daytime soaps and Internet comments sections.
Luckily, that was just the shortest route to establishing them as a couple so that the show could immediately upend their relationship. Ward's deception got out much more quickly than I'd have expected, and the show's more enjoyable for it. There's tension to his presence, and it seems increasingly likely that there's no way back for Ward now that he's started murdering good guys to protect his own cover, which gives his arc some stakes. He'll probably want to come back, but the deeper they head into his betrayal, the less chance there is of that happening, and the more fun it becomes. The last thing we want to see is Ward back with the team like nothing happened.
One thing that is a shame is that Agent Koenig had to die so soon – his role in last week's episode was a high point, and the same can be said of his interrogation scene here, which might be the show's high point thus far. He doesn't just do humour – when it seemed as though he might have uncovered Ward's agenda, he was genuinely threatening too. With any luck he'll turn out to be an LMD so we can have him back again and again, dying in increasingly contrived circumstances.
Although the ongoing story is now far more engaging than it has been (the issue of Skye's parentage hasn't come up in weeks!) it's still hard not to cringe at some of the poor writing. Doctor Who is written so that children can understand it, and even that show wouldn't have resorted to a scene as clunky as Skye basically narrating her conclusions to herself. "He's Hydra!" she says, for the benefit of anyone who can't understand things like acting or narrative. Elsewhere, we're shown flashbacks that remind us Ward isn't telling the whole truth about what happened at the Fridge. I'm all for keeping a story clear in the audience's mind, but can we at least pretend that adults are watching? At this point, why not just put up subtitles explaining the plot?
Technical nitpicking aside (and you know I could go on...) the show does actually feel enjoyable now that the premise has been straightened out and episodes don't feel tediously predictable all the way through. May leaving the team was strangely unexpected, but it made a sort of sense – and doubly so when we found out where she was going. Did any of us her ride to be the person it was, though? If we could get a moment that enjoyable and intriguing in every episode, Agents of SHIELD might finally be punching its weight.
Read James' review of the previous episode, Providence, here.
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