Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode 21 review: Ragtag

Review James Hunt 8 May 2014 - 12:58

After last week's corker of an episode, Marvel's Agents Of SHIELD keeps the standard high. Here's James' review...

This review contains spoilers.

1.21 Ragtag

After last week's episode, guest-starring Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill (which, though I was unable to review it, I absolutely loved), this week's episode of Agents of SHIELD had a high standard to live up to. It's quite surprising that even after what was probably the series' best instalment, it managed to keep the standard high.

In the past I've criticised SHIELD for acting less like a spy organisation and more like a bunch of government auditors. Well, this episode did something about that. With a collection of Bond-esque gadgets and agents assuming cover identities, things finally have some of the glamour of post-war espionage that has always accompanied SHIELD in the comics. Why it couldn't have been like this from the start, I'll never know, but I'm glad they're getting to it now.

The comedy is landing more reliably as well. In addition to Coulson and May mimicking Fitz and Simmons (get one actor to impersonate another - guaranteed comedy gold) we had a great scene of Triplett and Coulson nerding out over the original-issue SHIELD gadgets, and Fitz misusing his laser. Indeed, Triplett has made a great addition to the team overall, shaking up the dynamic and finally giving the team a member who doesn't deliver every line like they're fully clenched.

Plot-wise, they're keeping things at full throttle. I'm not sure I like Garrett's reveal that he was the prototype Deathlok, but it's as good a motivation as any, and it managed to expand Reina's growing disillusionment with "the Clairvoyant" in ways that revealed more about her. Interestingly, it seems that she knows something about Skye, and while it hasn't been officially revealed, it's at least looking more and more likely that Skye has some kind of extra-terrestrial heritage. There is a Guardians Of The Galaxy movie they need to tie into somehow, after all…

Speculation aside, do we think Fitz and Simmons are dead? Not for a second. But at the very least, Fitz should be convinced that Ward's too far gone for them to reach him. Personally I hope they're correct. Evil Ward is far more entertaining than non-evil Ward ever was. Don't get me wrong, he still doesn't have a personality, but at least his actions aren't predictable. There was a near-zero chance of him plugging Fitz & Simmons in the forehead as requested, but I didn't entirely expect him to dump them in the sea either. This was really his episode, and for once he didn't disappoint.

Even so, while I liked that they tried to explain how Ward ended up in Hydra, I don't really think that aspect of the story worked. Hydra is supposed to be a group of radicals. And you don't radicalise people by dumping them in a forest for 6 months and then making them shoot their dog. There was the opportunity for a much more poignant, complex and socially relevant story here, about young men with no prospects and no escape being seduced by powerful ideologies. And yet Agents of SHIELD glossed over potentially interesting themes in favour of a tediously over-used device: he shot his dog, therefore he's evil. You know, like Hitler.

Fair enough. I suppose I have to accept that SHIELD isn't going to be the kind of Joss Whedon show that metabolises complex ideas into pop culture. Of course, that's easier to do now that the rest of the show is starting to resemble a well-oiled machine, instead of the heap of twisted metal it started off as. I almost find myself regretting that next week is the finale. After months of mediocrity, Agents of SHIELD has finally found its feet. And now it's almost over.

I won't speculate on what's going to happen, but I will say that at this point there seems like far too much story to wrap up in one episode. With no official renewal announced, it'd be a risky strategy to leave it open-ended, so let's hope for a satisfying chapter break at least. The series opened with Mike Peterson, so I'd expect a big moment for him in the finale. And, of course, there's an Nick Fury appearance coming. After the end of Captain America 2, I'd come back for that alone. One more time next week, then.

Read James' review of episode nineteen, The Only Light In The Darkness, here.

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