Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Shadows

Being director won't stop Phil from recording his podcast. 
"Go dark."

The big question going into season two is whether or not Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can maintain the same standard of quality it displayed in the final stretch of season one?

It is a universally recognised fact that season one was a mixed bag. For too long it was an unremarkable procedural series with characters that worked too hard to be likeable. Then The Winter Soldier happened. HYDRA came crawling out of the woodwork, S.H.I.E.L.D. fell, and suddenly Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was good. Like, really, really good. Can it continue to be just as really, really good? If 'Shadow' is an indication, the answer is a confident "You betcha".

Everything kicks off with a welcome tease of Agent Carter as we flashback to Austria, 1945, where Peggy and some Howling Commandos ambush the remnants of the original HYDRA, including Reed Diamond's Reinhardt (also known as Kraken), and pick up the original 0-8-4, also known as the Obelisk, in the process. Plot-wise, there wasn't much to this episode - HYDRA, now lead by an ageless Reinhardt (does he just have a really good  moisturiser or has he been kept on ice all this time? If so, did someone make a really lame, but irresistible, "Release the Kraken" joke when they woke him up?), wanted a McGuffin, and Coulson and co tried to stop them. It was mainly all about the characters and how much they have all changed since we first met them a year ago. The events of last season has left the entire team (except for Tripp) damaged, some more than others.

Poor Fitz is completely broken. He may be awake, but his near death experience has left him with serious neurological damage, which has only gotten worse since Simmons left. Yes, Simmons has mysteriously vanished, appearing only as a figment of Fitz's damaged psyche. It was obvious early on that Fitz was speaking to an hallucination. No one else spoke to her throughout the episode and she was wearing the same clothes she wore in a previous episode and we all know that TV characters, no matter how poor, never wear the same clothes twice. Unless you're a Time Lord. Or Captain Hook. Or Ichabod Crane.

Coulson has become as elusive as the last director of S.H.I.E.L.D. was. His agents, even those he is closest to, rarely see him any more. He spends most of his days now travelling the globe recruiting new agents. At least, that's what he says he's doing. Personally, I think it's a cover, a way to explain away all those times he goes off and starts scribbling alien code on walls, a code that Skye has yet to crack. It is the only possible explanation, because no one can travel economy as much as he is claiming to have done without starting to look like this.

It's only the first episode, but already we're getting a sense of just how different Director Coulson will be from Agent Coulson. Like Fury, he's started compartmentalizing so that there are missions within missions within mission (something that Sarcastic British Ward is not happy about, especially since it got Xena and the Red Shirt killed). He's also started to embrace his pragmatic side by placing mission objectives above the safety of his operatives. Agent Coulson would've told everyone to abort and get out of the warehouse before any of them were captured or killed. Director Coulson, knowing that they are essentially useless without the ability to travel internationally without detection, ordered them to complete the mission, no matter the cost.

In a delightfully ironic twist, Skye, the most rebellious, frivolous, anti-S.H.I.E.L.D. member of Coulson's original team, has now become one of his most dedicated agents (she's calling him "Sir" now). She has completely shed her cute geek girl persona and fully embraced being a future Melinda May in training. She's even started getting her clothes from the same store as May. It is a welcome transformation and one that the writers wisely don't overdo by suddenly making her Little Miss Super Agent.

As for everyone's least favourite traitor, he's currently being kept in the basement, behind one of those silly forcefield cage things that is bound to lose power and enable him to escape (what is wrong with good old fashioned iron bars?). It looks like he and Skye are going to be re-enacting their own private version of Silence of the Lambs this season (with fewer cannibal references, hopefully). Did Ward really try to kill himself? I don't think so. He's a trained killer, if he genuinely wanted to die I think he would be dead. I'm also not convinced by his "I just want to help" act.

Kneel before your queen. 

Intel and Assets

--So where in the world is Jemma Simmons? I find it difficult to believe she would leave without a very good reason. I want to say she's been sent undercover, possibly to infiltrate HYDRA, but she's a terrible liar.

--In the comics, Lance Hunter was the director of S.T.R.I.K.E (Special Tactical Reserve for International Key Emergencies), a British version of S.H.I.E.L.D. In The Winter Soldier, S.T.R.I.K.E. was S.H.I.E.L.D.'s counter-terrorism team, who all turned out to be HYDRA agents.

--Nick Blood, who plays Lance, has a more comic book name than the character he plays.

--As much as I loved the opening sequence, I wish that it had been kept a secret, so that it would've been a nice surprise for fans.

--The team are firmly established in their new digs. They even have faceless extras buzzing around in the background (they better all have lanyards or Koenig will be pissed).

--I figured Hartley would either be dead or HYDRA by the end of the episode. It's too bad, I was really looking forward to seeing Lucy Lawless with a Winter Soldier-style bionic arm.

--Reinhardt, a Nazi, is now calling himself Whitehall. You probably have to be British to find that funny.

--S.H.I.E.L.D. Quinjet have the same cloaking tech as the Helicarrier had in The Avengers. Once that is installed in the Bus will they abandon the Playground and go mobile again?

--Coulson impersonating Talbot and Koenig's reactions had me giggling like an idiot.

--Carl "Crusher" Creel, also known as the Absorbing Man, is a regular Hulk adversary.

Coulson: "There aren't enough pay phones left in this country."
--That instantly made me think of Person of Interest and its infinite number of New York payphones.

Ward: "I started running at the walls."
Skye: "You should have run faster."

Reinhardt: "Cut off one head, two more shall grow in its place."
Peggy Carter: "Then I guess we’ll keep cutting them off."
--HYDRA love their catchphrases. Do they say that when they get pulled over for speeding?

Koenig: "So that guy was bullet proof? Sweet."

Skye: "General."
Tripp: "Come on, girl, You know I look good."
--He does indeed look good in that uniform, but way too young to be a general.

Three out of four obelisks.
---
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.

10 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Agents is back!

Loved the Agent Carter sequence. Enjoying Skye as May's student. Bummed about losing Lucy L. so quickly, just as you are, Mark.

Ward in the prison basement made me think of Angel all Angelus in the prison basement. I think they're going full on redemption. That's certainly something a Whedon show tends to be good at.

Terrific review. :)

Jess Lynde said...

I'm holding out hope that Hartley isn't dead, dead. I know she looked pretty darn dead there at the end, but surely someone/thing can come along to reanimate her? Anyone got any of that GH-325 laying around still? Please? I want to have Lucy Lawless for more episodes, and will happily swallow whatever silly technobabble or "a wizard did it" hooey they want to throw at us to make that happen.

I thought this was a very solid start for S2. It did a good job getting us up to speed on the current status quo, and laying some tracks and breadcrumbs for moving forward. I'm very delighted to have Reed Diamond in the house as the Big Bad! And, like Mark, I am certainly curious as to whether the Kraken has been on ice all this time or is using a great moisturizer!

sunbunny said...

"That instantly made me think of Person of Interest and its infinite number of New York payphones."

Yes! Same!

I miss Agent Coulson. Director Coulson is so cold. Great review, Mark. Glad to have this show back!

Anonymous said...

With this and POI, Tuesday is now the best day of the week.

Personal rant : will they (ever) please release a soundtrack ? The music is excellent.

Morgan India said...

Great review, Mark!

I think I may be one of the few people who liked seeing Talbot return. But I also think that has more to do with my love for Adrian Pasdar than the character of Talbot. If someone else was playing him I doubt I'd like him as much.

Personally, I don't think we have seen the last of Hartley. You don't book an actress of her cult status for just one episode and be done with it. Although this is a Joss production so maybe we have seen the last of her.

sunbunny said...

Anon - I just saw Bear McCreary tweet that there are plans to release a soundtrack so you're in luck!

Morgan - Yeah I sort of think the same thing Hartley. Why go to the trouble of casting Xena just to red shirt her?

Mark Greig said...

Because Whedon and those who work for him like to mess with their audience, Bunny. Remember how they put Amber Benson in the credits for the first time in the episode where Tara...well, you know :(

drnanamom said...

Great review. So happy to have this show back! Poor Fitz. It wasn't obvious to me that Simmons was an hallucination so I found that fact quite heartbreaking. An interesting twist to break them up. I hope they are thinking about ideas for bringing them back together.

mazephoenix said...

It's back! And we lost Xena already..oh no. But I'll bet she comes back.
Where is Simmons? Hmm, undercover is a good bet.
Great review.

Juliette said...

It seemed weird to spend so much time and energy on cutting off her arm and then immediately kill her - weird storytelling there!