When you ask most people if they like Marvel’s Agents of Shield, they will say no. A lot of them were put off by the first half of the first season back in 2013. It was a shaky start to the series and when the mid-season break came along, most of the views had tuned out. While it was a reasonably interesting story that picked up after the Avengers, the style the show had decided to use was old fashioned. It was a CSI-esc style where each episode was its own individual story that got cleared up and resolved, with a few laying hints towards a larger picture. It was executed reasonably well, if not a little silly at times, but it was still not what the people wanted. Viewers of today want one long story spread across multiple episodes. They want between 10 and 16 episodes, with various action/pay-off set pieces at key points throughout the season, as well as a big conclusion at the end, followed by hints as to where it would go to in the next season. It is a tried and tested method.
When Agents of Shield came back on the air after the mid-season break, with fewer viewers than before, they had thankfully changed all that. Now they were doing the one long story method, even bringing in Bill Paxton (RIP) as a main antagonist. They brought back Samuel L Jackson’s; Nick Fury from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as well as linked the season into whatever Marvel film was coming out at the cinema at the time. The story picked up the pace and by the end of the season, I was rather impressed.
The second season focused on the fall of Shield and the reveal of Hydra, as per the Captain America: Winter Soldier film, then followed by the story-line revolving the Inhumans (and featured Twin Peak’s Kyle MacLachlan).
This was the formula that they then followed for each season. The first half would focus on one story-line, and then the second would semi-relate to the first half, but essentially be its own story, maybe bringing it all back together for the final few episodes. Both season three and four were done this way, and I actually feel that this is one of my most enjoyed TV shows that I watch.
While the level of writing, effects, or action might not be on-par with some high level television shows; such as Game of Thrones or West World, the story-lines are deeply immersive and leave you wondering where the show is going to go next.
Sometimes when I watch a show, like Gotham, I take comfort in the facts that I could easily decide not to watch it at the drop of a hat (Gotham is a great example as I am seriously considering throwing in the towel currently if it was not for only having two episodes left of its current season), but with Agents of Shield, I really do feel gripped to the story. As it is not one of the more bigger budgeted TV shows, I feel that I don’t necessarily need to watch it the moment it will come out due to people spoiling it on social media. Instead I am happy to leave it for a week and then watch a couple in a row. In fact I have found that it far better that way.
It is a shame that so many people have tuned out of this show as I do really feel that it deserves a second chance and for more people to push through into the second half of the first season. The twists and story-lines get better and better with each season, and now we find ourselves at the end of season four, curiously anticipating the next one.
It is by no means perfect. It sometimes trying too hard at being funny. The main character; Skye/Daisy, is a little cliché of what television producers think that teenagers want to see, and that is by no means enjoyable for a full grown man (who, let’s be honest, it’s Geeks like me who grew up with Marvel comic books and films that, are going to be mainly watching this).
Sometimes characters go through the motions of meandering around from one plot to the next with no real purpose. Although seven times out of ten, they manage to fit themselves perfectly into the current plot line and shine in their newly found roles.
They have a tendency to let some characters outstay their welcome, where as other characters, which you are eager to learn more about, are killed off quickly. The best example of this is Ward, who remains in the show forever, as oppose to Daniel Whitehall who is stupidly removed in the blink of an eye, giving us no understanding of the character as a whole. All of which is a clear sign of bad writing.
It does feel a little haphazard at times. The example above of bad writing is countered by the amazing writing in other seasons. One specific plot at the end of season four involved Mack (of the Shotgun-axe fame) and the story-line of his daughter inside a Matrix style virtual world, and the lengths he was going to just to stay with her. As a father myself, this story-line really did hit me close to home, and given the character’s past, I would have done the same as what happens. It was a perfect and fitting resolution to that character. The likes of which I would have labelled down to some of the best sub-plots in television history! However, they then ruin it by continuing it on and giving it an additional ending that kind of negates all the emotional scenes you have witnessed before. All of which is difficult to discuss without giving away any major spoilers.
Anyway, this season of Shield was once again split into two. In the first half we have Ghost Rider. I was confused as I always thought Ghost Rider rode a motorcycle, but then I discovered that this was a comic book character who had the spirit (or whatever the hell is going on in Ghost Rider) inside of him as well. So it stayed true to the source material, just not the Ghost Rider I was expecting.
The first half of the season focused on the mysterious vigilante and some strange ghost-like characters who were now up to no good. It all involved a book called the Dark Hold, which held valuable and demonic information in about creating life, and other confusing stuff that the show never really went into how exactly one is suppose to do this, although no human brain can read it, so characters have to be rather creative to abstract information, which was a nice touch.
While I didn’t mind this half of the season, it was nowhere near as good as the previous one. Hive, Powers Boothe (RIP), alien worlds and the final strike against Hydra were some of great things that happened in the third season that this one had to compete against. It had ended on such a monumental scale that it was going to be near impossible to top in season four. Season two had ended brilliantly and the third one managed to pick up the pace and overtake it, where as I felt four maybe took a little while to get going.
As I watched the first half of this season, I did find myself realising that Agents of Shield is not well suited for the supernatural side. While Marvel comics covers everything across the board, I did not fully enjoy the route that they had taken.
Thankfully during this half, the writers were cleverly laying the groundwork for what was to come. Slight hints that, now looking back, were brilliantly placed throughout and when the story-line suddenly did kick into gear, the foundations that they had laid was now ready for them to unleash upon.
I watched this season when it aired in the US, so we had to endure a mid-season break after Christmas, but then there was a two or so month break after only a couple of episodes. These particular episodes bridged the gap between the two halves of the season nicely. They built up the story of the main villain (who at this point had not revealed themselves) as well as brought the series back to its action/science fiction routes, rather than the spiritual Ghost Rider path they had taken earlier. In fact the Ghost Rider himself is swept away at this point and placed in storage (not literally) at this point, further disassociating the first half of the season with the second. If it had not been the small hints and breadcrumb trails that the writers had rationed to us early on, then this season could have easily been separated into two completely different seasons of the show.
After the peculiar additional break that they had, Agents of Shield came back in full force. It was a unique Matrix style story-line about a virtual world (called the Framework) that was perceived as being real. It brought back characters long dead (some from the likes of the second season) and showed us new faces of the current cast members.
Because of the nature of the story-line, the writers were able to play off of the “What If…” comic book series and completely changed the shows formula. It was a risky move, which did occasionally drag a little in the middle, but I really feel, now that I am on the other end of it, that it was all truly worth it. It paid off brilliantly.
While a few characters were put onto the back burner, such as Coulson, we got to see some of the other characters take on completely different roles. Iain De Caestecker’s performance was probably the best out of everyone’s. His character has the most drastic change, the likes of which I hope will echo into the next season.
Another well executed character was Mallory Jansen’s; AIDA. Her character went through so many different states, as well as playing a few additional characters herself, we got to see a wide spectrum of her acting abilities.
Another favourite of mine was Henry Simmons’; Mack, as I have mentioned earlier in the review. His story-line was beautifully carried out, if not being a little spoiled towards the very end.
While the Framework story-line might have outstayed its welcome a little too long, I think that bringing it all back for just two episodes was maybe not the best thing for it. A couple more might have been needed to really see the main villain as a whole would have been better. Another villain who was also knocking about was a little underused at first and the became a little silly towards the end. We never felt as if there was a real threat from this particular character, and so once they were dealt with properly, the main antagonist of the season had a chance to stretch their wings, however, at that point it was too late and the season was over.
The penultimate episode of the season was truly one of the best in the entire series, let alone the season. I think it had help from the episodes before it as the great build up. I think part of this was down to the fact that I was under the impression Mack’s story-line for the season was done. It was only at the very very end of this episode (in the stupid “We’ll return in a moment” segment) we learn that it was not. Up until then I was very satisfied (in a very dark way) with how that particular story had ended. But we soon discover in the final episode that it was not over, and this really ruined what was the best moment in the series for me.
A character is brought back for the final episode and it feels a little forced. It ties up with the first half of the season, but appearing in the final episode to effectively ‘save the day’ felt as if they did not really know how to truly end this marvellous plot that they had created. Which is a real shame, as without this character and their abilities, they had really written themselves into a corner by having an enemy that really couldn’t be defeated. This is why the season would have benefited with having a couple more episodes, after the Framework story had concluded, to help reintroduce that character and to build the season up to the final showdown.
The little moment after the credits built up what is going to occur in season five (which is rumoured to air in January 2018 to tie into the Infinity War film), and it felt a little rushed to be honest with you. It appears that as soon as they have finished with the current story-line of season four, it is quickly swept under the carpet and a new threat is already in place. I would personally like to see more of the fallout of season four’s ending play a factor in the beginning of the next one, especially with the likes of a few key characters.
All in all it was a great season of Marvel’s Agents of Shield. What was a bit of a mishap at first laid the groundwork for all the brilliant occurrences in the second half of the season. So the pay-off was good. The ending felt a little naff when compared to last couple of seasons’ finales, and as with Game of Thrones, the penultimate episode was the best episode of the season, maybe even the series as a whole!
With a lot of twists and turns all throughout the season, Agents of Shield might have just proven that they are able to stand shoulder with some of the bigger names in television.