Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode 10 review: The Bridge

Review James Hunt 16 Dec 2013 - 07:11

There's good and bad in the last Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode of the year. Here's James' review...

This review contains spoilers.

1.10 The Bridge

This week's Agents of SHIELD was the last before the holiday break, and that meant a marked change in structure and style for The Little Show That Could (But Frequently Doesn't). This week's story tied in with several previous instalments, brought back fan-favourite J. August Richards from the pilot episode AND ended on a cliffhanger, all new tricks to some degree. So let's deal with them one at a time.

To begin with, the return of Centipede and their super-soldiers was hugely welcome, given the lack of story direction thus far. As essentially the anti-SHIELD, Centipede's plans are the closest thing the series has to an antagonistic arc and the mysteries raised about their organisation have been far more intriguing than those elsewhere in the show, which have revolved around fairly basic and uninteresting questions like "Who are Skye's real parents?" and "Is Skye a traitor?" and "Why is Skye even here anyway?"

That said, the idea of Centipede is definitely more interesting than the individuals behind it. Reina is still the most intriguing member of the team and her behaviour this week was, if anything, a little more ineffable than in her previous appearance - something which only deepens her appeal, given that she's surrounded by characters with absolutely no hidden depths. On the flip side, while the idea of "The Clairvoyant" was interesting the first time around, this time the SHIELD team throw themselves so heavily behind the idea that the person might be some kind of precognitive psychic that any viewer with critical faculties would be able to spot the attempt at misdirection. Not very satisfying.

As for the psychopathic marine, "Edison Poe", if there's ever been a more ridiculous bundle of clichés in a TV show, I want to know about it. Did we really need two scenes where he calmly eats dinner in a threatening way? Did they really need to copy that bit from Iron Man 2 where the villain sits at a restaurant table in a large hangar? If Edison is anyone's idea of compelling, we're simply not seeing the same TV show.

Speaking of clichés, this week didn't just take the cake, it took the whole dessert trolley. The team behind Agents of SHIELD – professionals, we might add - literally allowed a "He's behind me, isn't he?" joke to make it to TV screens. One played completely straight, with no subversion or twist to make it actually funny. Okay, so it's not like it's a crime, but does suggest a certain lack of effort, judgement and taste on behalf of the people involved. Who gets as far as broadcasting that without someone pointing out that it's maybe a little embarrassing? It's just indefensible to put that into a show aimed at grown adults.

Now, in terms of things that weren't horrible, J. August Richards returns as super-powered everyman Mike to remind us what it's like when someone with charisma and warmth is available to interact with the cast. His scenes with Coulson were some of the best this series has had, and the development of his character from the pilot episode felt layered and genuine, rather than forced. Given that he's one of the most sympathetic characters in the show, it's a shame he isn't in the cast full time (I don't believe for a second he actually died in that explosion.)

As cliffhangers go, Mike blowing up and Coulson being abducted wasn't exactly high-end stuff, especially by modern standard. Whatever you thought of Lost, it knew that the best cliffhangers were the ones that left you asking "What does this mean?!" rather than "What happens next?". The fact that they had to trail the next episode by promising to reveal the mystery of Coulson's return rather than letting the story do the work tells you all you need to know about how much confidence they have about getting people back for the next half of the series. And given that they hit a ratings low with this episode, that lack of confidence might be justified.

Still, shutting down production for a couple of months might give them time to re-evaluate the show's direction, respond to some common criticisms and generally give it the kick up the behind it badly needs. Contrary to popular belief, no-one would be happier than me to see Agents of SHIELD improve. But if it can't? Well, let's put it this way: I hear Tahiti's quite nice this time of year.

Read James' review of the previous episode, Repairs, here.

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I don't get the negativity. My wife and I watch it every week and think it's fine. Not brilliant but watchable even if it's a bit silly. I've never thought anything negative toward it. I think it's down to expectation. I was really expecting this to be awful and it isn't that bad yet some people who are disappointed are the same people that were really excited about it before the first ep.

It's safe. Far far too safe, and dull and predictable. Maybe the movie franchise is strangling it by not allowing it to try anything interesting?

The characters do not engage, there seems no real chemistry. The scripts are leaden and, considering this is SHIELD in the Marvel Universe, so pedestrian. I want this to work and it just doesn't.

I'll give it one more episode, but if it doesn't pick up then I'm out.

While I don't necessarily agree with the negativity either, you've answered your own question here... do you really think the people who were "really excited" about this show were excited because they hoped it would be "not that bad"? The movies have set a high standard this show just doesn't live up to, despite some good moments.

But surely this was never going to be as higher standard as the movies..

As a comic fan, I'd like to see it delve into the Marvelverse a bit more. Perhaps the showrunners could be allowed to include some lesser heroes or villains from the comics that are unlikely to ever get their own films. I'm sure us geeks could come up with a list as long as Doc Ock's arm, but I'm some examples could be... Moon Knight, Doc Samson, Stick, Black Panther, Namor...? I'd also like the series to be given a bit of responsibility for a section of Marvel real estate, perhaps the Agents could be the first team to make contact with Namor's Atlantis, MI13 or T'Challa's Wakanda? At the moment it feels like a 'Marvel' series in name only.

Perhaps the Centipede storyline is building to a big reveal that the organisation behind it is actually AIM or Hydra. That'd be good, but it's only raises the series to Man From UNCLE status - still not superhero level!

Indeed, what the heck is Skye even there for? The powered guy from the pilot that returns in this episode has had far more reason to join the team them than some girl with some IT specialities. You'd imagine that SHIELD has complete trainloads of fully trained girls like that. I get that she is the 'viewer' who has to be introduces to everything, but still...

I also want this to be one awesome series. However I would have liked more Torchwood or UNIT like SHIELD activities. I want to see more of The Hub or Triskelion. Also, why doesn't the series use sets from the movies? And than really the helicarrier set of The Avengers for instance. And bring in the evil organisations in the Marvelverse like HAYDRA, AIM, Hammer Industries (by the way there was an HAMMER division in The Hub on one of the signs) or something.

Thats because it should have been a superhero show to begin with. Netflix will correct that... For those shows anyway. Agents just might not last that long.

The main issue I have with the show is that I find it boring. I think the show as a whole is really formulaic, which is ok if the characters are interesting. However, I just don't care about them in the slightest - I don't even remember half the characters names. They played it too safe I think, and the show suffers from that.

Skye has some ties to SHIELD since an agent dropped her off at the orphanage. But they seem to force this plot point to make it seem like she was supposed to be there all along. When they barely knew who she was in the first episode, they just knew they were being hacked.
Still, I enjoy the show and I thought this last episode had good action finally.

I'll continue to think of it as a side dish to the movie's main courses and stick with it.

- Whatever you thought of Lost, it knew that the best cliffhangers were the ones that left you asking "What does this mean?!" rather than "What happens next?". -

No. No, no, no. Sorry, it's a decent review otherwise, but this is not right at all. Breaking Bad knew that you precisely did not want to leave your audience in the dark if you wanted them in any way satisfied at the outcome. Did the BB team ever deceive the audience? Or leave the audience confused at the end of an episode? No, even in the cliffhangers, you knew exactly what had happened up to that point; the only thing you cared about was what happened next. Even the flashforwards in seasons 2 and 5 were put right at the start of the episodes, so that they were never the final beat of the episode; they were a spice, not the main ingredient. Lost and a good many other shows have delayed action and intensity by making questions which are more important than the answers, and that only leads to disappointment down the line (See the Lost finale, and people who spent too long asking what the angels were in BSG). Even in Doctor Who, the best cliffhangers (Genesis of the Daleks parts 1 and 5, Caves of Androzani part 3, etc) have been the ones which rely on the audience knowing the stakes, knowing pretty much everything about the characters involved.

Now, I'm not saying the SHIELD cliffhanger was a good one. In fact, I'd say that it partly fails because the stakes aren't clear, and because there are so many questions about the characters and their motives. But after a critical and commercial success like Breaking Bad which never relied on vaguery or deceit to maintain viewers (and therefore never suffered any of the negative consequences of those attitudes), 'questions' should be recognised as infinitely inferior to characters and their actions.

I totally agree. To give 'Lost' as an example of the good writing of cliffhangers makes me wonder for the reviewer's taste/sanity. Lost was the very worst example, where questions were answered by further questions & turned a promising premise into the worlds longest running shaggy dog story.
While I do think Shield does play it too safe & could do with a bit more overt influence from the Marvel Universe (how about Doc Samson, Luke Cage, Ms Marvel or Black Cat popping up to give them a hand) I still find it enjoyable & I would rather watch Shield than Lost any day of the week.

wow, what a rant. But I agree with the reviewer. He never said Lost's story/answers were good, he said that they knew how to keep their audiences hooked and wanting to know more. It was one of Lost's key tricks and the reason it managed to keep an audience for so long, inspite of having very little story. What Lost failed to do was deliver a follow up to it's very good cliff hangers. So I think you've misunderstood what the reviewer was implying, simply because he used an example you didn't like.

Oh, it worked in the short term alright. But in the long term it was horrible, and poor resolutions ruin any desire to revisit stories that rely on cliffhangers, questions or mysteries. The reviewer was positing 'question' cliffhangers as positive things, which is a view I'm strongly opposed to.

(I'm also directly disagreeing with the statement that "What does this mean?!" is better than "What happens next?", using Breaking Bad as my evidence.)

Not enough FitzSimmons in this episode. That's my only criticism! Well, actually, the only character I really don't like now is Skye, she really gets on my nerves and especially in this episode, everytime she walked into a scene, she completely changed the whole subject of what's going on, and just kills the mood for me. I've really warmed to Ward and May though, they're becoming better character now I think. This reviewer needs to lighten up a bit, and not take the jokes too seriously, the "He's right behind me" joke was funny! Lighten up!

Guys, I think we've been sold a dummy. We were promised/hoping for a Whedon show, and the pilot episode definitely had that feel about it (it was after all co-written and directed by the man himself). But of course, Joss is a very busy man, and even though he's credited as an executive producer I doubt he has the time to take care of this series like he might like to.

I also feel like there is an aversion to risk here, and some people higher up (I suspect on the network side) want to play is safe. There is great potential here for a lot of crossover with the MCU and fresh experimentation. They had a go at the end of the second episode with Nick Fury, and it was great! More please! I don't know if it's a lack of resources or what, but it's just not happening. Marvel are the ones who should be pushing this show to experiment more and be less formulaic. That said, I am willing to give it the first season at least before I say I'm out.

And on a plus side, the next episode (according to Wikipedia) is written by the guys who wrote episodes 5 and 6, which I personally think were pretty good. So, here's hoping for a good step up when the show returns.

The problem is, they have SO much to work with and they're squandering it on goofy mission of the week stuff and prattling on about Skye's lineage. They have pretty much the entire Marvel Universe to mine for gold and they're picking moss off damp stones. They haven't made me like let alone care about any of the main cast. Fitz and Simmons are fun, but they're monodimensional too. They've even managed to make Coulson uninteresting. Jeez, how did they manage that? We get it: he died and now lives. Tahiti isn't really an island in the South Pacific, but "something more". Let's get ON with it people!

Yup. Instead of a Cop show, we're getting a show about the clerk who data-enters the arrest reports. BORING!

Ditto.

It sure didn't deserve a whole paragraph of negativity devoted to it, right?

WRONG.

I'm just kiddin, I thought it was lame but I didn't start a riot over it.

I'll let you know how it all ends, lol!

Thanks!

Why not? Better writing is all it would take. You don't have to have a $200m budget to know it's a good idea to scribble out the "he's right behind me" joke and try again.

I really like this show. It's not perfect, but what is? Everything has flaws. But I find it watchable, and that's the important thing to me! :D

I think that some of the issues that people are bringing up tie in to the fact that no matter what they do, they have to try and shoe horn themselves in such a way that they don't interfere or contradict anything that is planned for the movies. The series is a side bar, an off shoot of the movie verse and therefore they cant do anything too big that would need to be referenced or countered in any of the movies while at the same time things that are planned for the movies right now can't be mentioned in the show in case there are last minute changes that devalue what they are trying to build. So they are stuck in the position of trying to come up with storylines and ideas that are fit within the Universe they created with the movies but that won't affect the overall arch their universe is building
This has lead to them doing what has been done on other shows by focusing on characters backgrounds and personal motives instead of just doing a straight up 45 minute action sequence the way the movies can and this is where people are struggling. And the long term thread of intrigue they are planting with the mystery of Skye's parentage, what really happened to Coulson, and why did May quit field work only to be willing to come back for this team has a lot of potential, they just need to tighten some of the writting a bit and get their characters to emote. People are finding these boring because they don't feel the emotional ties to the characters because the actors themselves don't seem to be trying to work the emotions involved in their story lines instead of just reciting their lines, and the fault of that often lies with the directors who seem to be struggling to get the actors to portray the characters emotions realistically and intuitively.
I find that for that alone, Fitz and Simmons are the more interesting characters so far, especially the most tangible jealousy Fitz harbors whenever Simmons is talking to the more physically impressive field agents. I get that May and Ward are black ops and special forces types who are trained to control and suppress their emotions but the times when there was call for them to open up and show those suppressed emotions there was no passion or emotion coming through the screen.
Some of this is because there has been no 1 directive force. Every episode so far has been directed by a different person who inevitably tries to get their own interpretations of the characters onto the screen, even with the overall direction being paced by the show runners. It happens on any show that has multiple directors for every episodes. The consistency of the shows falter because of the issues and differences working with so many different creative people force on the crew. What should have happened was that they hired someone to be the main director for the majority of the production and brought in the occasional guest director for certain special episodes that that person might have a better understanding towards. Either that are try and get all the directors together, or at least those that followed each other to see if they could merge their styles and have a greater degree of consistency across the board from all the actors and crew.

I doubt either of these. AIM was behind Extremis in IM3, and Hydra is likely going to be behind Winter Soldier in CAP2, but there are other forces in Marvel to be behind the scenes. Of the two though, it would more likely be AIM, as it looks like a version of Extremis in the Centipede implants.

Yeah my wife and I watch it. It may not be mind blowing, but it still makes Marvel feel like a bigger world, and that's pretty cool.

I think that it is worth talking about that joke, because it functions as an example of what's wrong with the show's writing. It's safe, pedestrian, by-the-numbers. Never trying to subvert expectations. And it doesn't suggest any awareness of the genre in which its working, its tropes, its place in popular culture - to me, someone willing to trot out that beyond-hackneyed joke in 2013 without even attempting to send it up is not the right person to be writing this kind of show.

Now, where's my flaming pitchfork...

Agreed that Ward and May are really starting to find themselves as characters - I'll happily watch them and enjoy their interactions, ditto FitzSimmons (and considering that I couldn't stand Simmons for the first few episodes, I count that as a pretty major achievement on the show's part).

But oh God, Skye. Just... shut up. Shut up and go away. Because literally no-one cares.

I getcha but I don't. I getcha because to you, that joke really just sums it all up. Rather than say "he's standing right behind me, isn't he?", he could have just shrugged his shoulders, sighed, and said "aw, cinnamon", and we'd talk about that and ask why someone of his background would say such a thing.

But I don't getcha because you said flaming pitchfork. Are you the devil?

Oops. Riot imagery fail. Although actually now I think about it, flaming pitchforks are more of a lynch-y thing aren't they? Basically it was supposed to be a joke about starting a riot over a thing that doesn't ultimately matter, based on you saying it wasn't worth starting a riot over...

I MEAN YES I AM THE DEVIL AND I WOULD NEVER MAKE A MISTAKE WITH MY JOKING RIOT IMAGERY

She offers nothing now in my opinion, just some complaining to Coulson and some tears to the person S.H.I.E.L.D are trying to help. She's just in the way and serves no purpose anymore, she just looks people up on a computer, surely Fitz or Simmons could do that and it would take up about an extra 5-10 minutes of their time!

The only thing I can remember about this episode now is that Simmons was doing a voice again. She threatened to actually act a couple of episodes ago when the Hermione accent went a little bit Sheffield and she nearly died, but she's back to concentrating too hard on the voice to be interesting.

Hehehe, we don't need no water let the so on and so forth burn!

The reviewer has gone a bit OTT on the "He's behind you" joke. Using it (and then once it was established, playing around with it) has been a staple of NCIS for years, which is both an incredibly popular show with it's fans and an extremely successful example of the "Crime Procedural" genre which S.H.I.E.L.D. flirts with. It's not the most original bit of writing, but firstly, you have to set up the joke if you want to subvert it later on and secondly, it's so prevalent because it just works well.

To dedicate an 8th of the review to moaning about this one joke seems very strange to me. For me, this was a decent episode which carried me along and tied together or used lots of things that had been set up in previous episodes. Not to mention that it being part 1 of 2 will always damage the appearance of structure when the episode is viewed alone. It didn't stand out as brilliant, but it worked well and left me still interested in the series.

I really didn't mind the 'right behind me' joke. I knew it was coming way before he said it but I was slightly amused at the predictability of it. I certainly didn't want to start a hate campaign about the show over it. (not that you are - just saying that some folks are treating this like it's the worse thing ever to grace TV)

When I first started watching "geek TV" - Knight Rider, Streethawk, The A-Team, etc there were no story arcs, it wasn't particularly necessary for every character to have a background story and there were certainly no convoluted "wtf" cliffhanger endings. Boy do I have great memories of those shows!

Not sure when "arcs" became all importaint? Babylon 5 was the first I remember.

Anyway, I'm really enjoying S.H.I.E.L.D, I find it a great family show (even the lame jokes) and certainly don't feel the need to over analyse it.

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