This Agents of SHIELD review contains spoilers.
Last season, fans got a mixed bag from Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. Early on, Marvel delivered a freak-of-the-week formulaic actioner with some fun characters but not much meat on the bone. It was generic and many said that if the name Marvel wasn’t attached, the show would have died a quiet death. Then, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was released, and the whole tone and purpose of SHIELD changed. Before Winter Soldier fans wanted a show set firmly in the Marvel Universe, after Winter Soldier, they had it.
With the first season awkwardness behind them, Joss and Jed Whedon along with Maurissa Tancharoen got their sea legs and, if the season two premieres is any indication, delivered the series that Marvel fans were promised. Where the early episodes of last season seemed redundant and inconsequential, the opening of season two scratched every itch a Marvel fan could want scratched.
“Shadows” kicked off with a flashback to 1945 and a peek into the world of Peggy Carter. Agent Carter premieres mid-season and this episode of Agents of SHIELD gave fans an idea of what the series will look and feel like. It was thrilling to see Hayley Atwell as Carter again, especially with the Howling Commandoes in tow, as well as mentions of Howard Stark and a look into SHIELD’s early purpose of rounding up dangerous HYDRA artifacts in the post War days right after Captain America was lost. This prologue perfectly set up the episode as well as setting the table for Carter’s own series, a series that is going to rock all our worlds if this little taste is any indication.
The show even looked better. The isolated setting of the Bus was put to rest for a more traditional headquarters. SHIELD seemed like SHIELD, as agents acted not to prove themselves as individual agents but to comple the mission at hand. This wasn’t a Skye coming-of-age story. This opening salvo was a riveting action piece that laid out Coulson and company’s new purpose.
All the agents were back but with much more focused character arcs. Coulson was not the confused and broken agent wrapped in the enigma of his own resurrection, and is instead the steadfast Director of SHIELD, a man worthy of Nick Fury’s chair. Skye was not that quippy, oh-so-hip young agent out to prove herself to her team, she was now a fully capable agent. The mystery of her birth still prevailed, but now the woman behind the mystery was no longer a one note Mary Sue. Agent May was still the soldier she was last season, Coulson’s strong right hand, but this season she seems more human and vulnerable. Don’t get me wrong, she still kicks twenty kinds of ass, but she seems less a caricature.
And Fitz? A lot needs to be said about Fitz. Last season, Fitz suffered a traumatic head injury and fans were left wondering if SHIELD’s brains had any brains left. The premiere deftly played with fan expectations by showing Fitz with a thousand yard stare. Soon it became clear that Fitz is hurt but capable. Still an inventor with Simmons always by his side. As the episode progresses, viewers learn that Fitz lost some language capabilities but was still working on important projects for Coulson, like a new stealth Quinjet.
Tragically, the extent of the damage to Fitz’s mind was profound and the Simmons he was chatting always with was a delusion brought about by his trauma, a mind phantom that only Fitz can see. This lair of tragedy greatly deepens Fitz’s character and gives the comic relief of last season a heartbreaking edge. Many fans are guessing Fitz could go down the Mentallo road this season, and it sure looks like that is a possibility.
Fitz did not take part in the main action of the episode which centered on SHIELD trying to save Major Glenn Talbot from Crusher Creel, the Absorbing Man. Talbot was used in a very classic way as an altruistic foil to our heroes. For years in the comics, Talbot misguidedly hunted the Hulk in the name of duty. He did much the same here as a foil to Coulson and the agents. Along with May, Skye, and the returning Agent Triplett we are introduced to three new agents, Agent Hunter played by Nick Blood, Agent Idaho played by Wilmer Calderon, and Isabelle “Izzy” Hartly played by genre goddess Lucy Lawless.
Izzy in particular made an impact on the proceedings as she came into contact with the artifact found by Peggy Carter in the episode’s opening. The artifact did something terrible to Izzy who had to have her arm amputated by Hunter. But we get ahead of ourselves. First we must discuss the Absorbing Man.
Last season, fans complained because there were really no A-list Marvel villains, nor proper versions of B or C list bad guys. Yeah, Graviton, Blackout, and Blizzard sort of appeared, but did they really? No over-the-top weapons, no costumes, it just didn’t feel like Marvel.
Not so for Crusher Creel. This was the Absorbing Man, the real deal that fans have loved to hate in the comics for decades. Creel looked right, he felt right, his powers were visually impressive and he felt like the first real super powered threat SHIELD had truly faced. He even had his signature ball and chain, and he wasn’t a one-off villain either. Creel got away and remains a threat.
The episode also introduced some HYDRA agents that date back to World War II and the Peggy Carter prologue. The main HYDRA agent still looks the same age he did when Carter slapped the cuffs on him in 1945 and I look forward to learning about this latest threat.
The traitorous Agent Ward was not forgotten. He was still imprisoned by Coulson and SHIELD. Ward was willing to give SHIELD intel but he will only give it to Skye, the woman he threatened and betrayed last season. Ward’s true motivations and purpose remain shrouded in mystery and the once generic Ward is now one of the most intriguing shades of grey character not only on SHIELD, but possibly, in the whole Cinematic Marvel Universe.
Patton Oswalt’s Agent Koenig also reappeared and was clearly an LMD although the series is still holding that little fact close to the vest.
Not much of this season’s direction was revealed this week, but it didn’t matter. The show looks better; the more abrasive characters were fine tuned, there was a real villain, Fitz has been made into a tragic figure, the teases into Skye’s inhuman(see what I did there) origins were tantalizing, and the show has somehow completed its transformation into the series that Marvel fans were promised.
As we head towards the Age of Ultron, it will be a pleasure to check in on the Marvel Universe with Coulson and company, and with all the mysteries yet to be solved, a promise of new villains, the coming of Mockingbird, and the arrival of Peggy Carter’s own series, this is a damn exciting time to be a Marvel fan.
Bravo Marvel. Potential reached.