Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode 17 review: Turn,Turn, Turn
It all changes in the latest Agents Of SHIELD episode. Spoilers for Captain America: The Winter Soldier lie within...
This review contains spoilers.
1.17 Turn, Turn, Turn
If you've seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier then you may have come out wondering what the events of that show meant for Agents of SHIELD. In this week's episode, we get the answer. If you haven't seen Cap 2 yet, you may want to check out now. There are some unavoidable spoilers for it in this review. Don't worry, we'll wait for you to leave the room before continuing.
So, the big development: by the end of Cap 2, SHIELD is gone, collapsed from within by Hydra, which has been secretly existing within the organisation since it was first established in the wake of World War 2. Fury's gone, presumed dead (though we know differently) and by the end of this episode Agent Coulson is one of the highest-ranking loyal agents of SHIELD left alive. Oh, and having established that Ward and Skye are finally within kissing distance of becoming a couple, it turns out that Ward is, and always has been, a Hydra mole. That was… unexpected.
So, some thoughts. On the surface, there's a lot in here that makes the show considerably more interesting than it has been.
Primarily, this is the first thing threatening to make Ward interesting. He was always the dullest character in the show by some distance, but now that he's been revealed as a Hydra mole, he might actually have a new dimension to him. He's evil! Sure, in his own mind, he's protecting the world from itself. But ideologically speaking, he's evil!
It's a shame that the show didn't do a lot to explain what Hydra wants or why it's evil, besides randomly deciding to start killing SHIELD agents, but fair enough, this episode was pretty chaotic and we know they're the bad guys because we saw those two films where they were the bad guys. There's still time to unpack what Hydra wants and why we should be worried. I really hope they take the opportunity to explore that duality between SHIELD and Hydra's ideals, because they're essentially two sides of one coin.
Similarly, the fact that SHIELD has collapsed makes things a lot easier for Coulson's largely autonomous team, who spent too much of their time fighting with SHIELD's upper management as it was. It's no surprise Victoria Hand thought Coulson was Hydra, given his general attitude of rule-breaking insubordination. At least now the team can be the free agents they've always acted like. With the support network gone, their facilities largely inaccessible, the series' status quo has had a much-needed shake-up.
Of course, the problem with all this is that it's hard not to view Agents of SHIELD as a helium balloon caught in the wake of Cap 2's passing helicarrier. After a season spent building up supporting characters, new locations and a general lore, the show has had to upend all of that because of a narrative decision made by the creative team behind one of the films. It's abundantly clear that the showrunners haven't been heading towards this from the start, because no part of it has been seeded in advance.
As viewers we're in a more interesting place than we were, not least because the team can actually fight MCU villains Hydra instead of made-up non-organisations like "Centipede". Despite this, it's not really coming over as a reward for sticking with the show so much as an acknowledgement that things weren't working and that a soft reboot of the status quo was their best chance to end season one by going down fighting.
And even the generally positive reshuffle of the status quo can't disguise the deficiencies the show has wrestled with since day one. The characters are still wooden, the writing is still sub-par, and the budget is still visibly too low. This episode's plotting was particularly directionless. By the time we get straight answers about who's Hydra and who's loyal to SHIELD, it's hard to care, and if they'd come out and said that Skye was the Clairvoyant, it would've been just as plausible (and unsatisfying) as the answer we got.
At least the unfolding chaos as SHIELD splits in two is well-handled, and the "who do we trust?" tension is well-conveyed even though they attempt a little too much misdirection. Unfortunately, it's poorly placed in relation to the movie. Not only does it struggle to provide the viewers with a context for the emergence of Hydra (who simply appear in the show without explanation) it later jumps ahead in time to after the movie and says "Well, Captain America stopped the Helicarriers!"
Excuse me? Helicarriers? Who said anything about Helicarriers? They were literally never mentioned up until that point. Great chunks of this episode's story are missing unless you remember Cap 2 in detail. I fully acknowledge that there's only a tiny minority of people watching SHIELD who won't have gone to see Captain America 2, but is a little narrative unity too much to expect? How's this episode going to work on DVD?
Still, complaints aside, the start of a bold new era is upon us. It's a shame they killed off one of their best supporting characters (Victoria Hand) and I could not be less interested in a Romeo & Juliet-style pairing of Skye & Ward (oh good, angst.) but at least the Clairvoyant/Centipede plot is dead, replaced with some enemies who have a sense of validity behind them. Let's look at this way. Whatever happens next, there's a good chance it's going to be an improvement.
Read James' review of episode fifteen, Yes Men, here.
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