Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode 13 review: T.R.A.C.K.S.

Review James Hunt 10 Feb 2014 - 07:02

2014 is looking like a good year for SHIELD, which has just delivered one of its best episodes yet...

This review contains spoilers.

1.13 T.R.A.C.K.S.

This week: SHIELD, on a train. Like Under Siege 2, only with fewer chefs. But wait! Far from being another catalogue of missed opportunities, simplistic plots and embarrassing dialogue, it was actually… quite good. For the second episode in a row. Has the show turned the corner? Please, for the sake of my sanity, let it have turned the corner.

So it is that after twelve episodes of mind-thumpingly pedestrian output, someone finally seems to have let the writers on Agents of SHIELD loose, allowing them to try out something we haven't seen on every weak genre series out there. Specifically: an episode which tells the same events from multiple viewpoints. Okay, it's not exactly Primer in structural terms, but for a series that hasn't displayed a lot of subtlety thus far, it's nice to see them write a story that assumes the audience is actually paying attention for more than fifteen seconds at a time.

The non-linear action led to some interesting moments, especially during the initial moments of re-orientation. The decision to show the train "disappearing" from Coulson and Ward's perspective was smart, and a bloodied Agent May turning up at just the right moment was a shocking enough moment to be worth the poor fake-out that preceded it. I wouldn't call it gripping, but it was better than most.

Even the character moments were good. May and Ward still have no physical chemistry, but at least their personalities are starting to spark off one another. Simmons' rehearsed accusations to Coulson were genuinely hilarious, born as much out of character as execution. Ward and Coulson's failed attempt to use the holo-interface was the first time this show even felt like something with Joss Whedon's name attached, and there was even a hint of flirtation between Skye & Fitz, which is impressive work for a series so short on charisma that its entire cast only gets one person's to share.

Meanwhile, the ending of the episode was surprising in ways this series could have only dreamed of during its opening run. For the first time since the show started, it looked like one of the characters might be in actual jeopardy. The fact that she pulled through probably isn't supposed to be as disappointing as it was, but that they managed to create uncertainty at all deserves applause.

Finally, the episode's stringer actually gave us the thing we've been crying out for: a recognisable name! It turns out that Mike Peterson is going to become (a) Deathlok, and though he might not be a first-tier character (or second-tier, or third-tier…), he IS a character we recognise. Even if they've not bothered to use most of his comics background, it's hard to get a cybernetic man too wrong. Finally, a character I want to see more of.

So all things considered, it's been a pretty good week for Agents of SHIELD. It seems to have helped that some plot threads didn't really get a look in, such as Coulson's depression and Skye's parentage. If we're lucky they'll be resolved as quickly as possible and then dropped, because if this episode teaches us anything, it's that we don't need certain subplots slowing down the rest of the show.

With two good episodes in a row, that actually means we've seen more good episodes in 2014 than bad ones. I don't know about you, but I like the sound of those odds.

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

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