Agents of SHIELDMarvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 Recap - Episodes 16-22Agents of SHIELD - RSS 2.0
And so, we come to the end of our glance back into the recent past of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D....
The series (which is now sitting comfortably on top of a second season order and a general agreement that it ended strong) was plagued by a rocky debut stretch and some seriously underwhelming payoff at the midpoint. But then something funny happened: To hear some tell it, the series was rescued by Captain America - and he didn't even have to show up in person to do it...
Episode 16: End of the Beginning
One imagines that if Agents had been less of a "sleeper" and more of a runaway hit, this episode would've been teased as THE lead-in to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, since it (partially) involves the early rumblings of the full-scale HYDRA blowout (from within S.H.I.E.L.D. itself) that went down in that film.
The setup? S.H.I.E.L.D. is running down Deathlok, but relations are strained among our little gang of heroes over Coulson's refusal to let anyone outside the circle of trust look at Skye's post-healing test results. Oh, and apparently May has been spying on everyone for an unknown party. Uh oh. The Clairvoyant finally gets revealed (and shot by Agent Ward)... except he doesn't, because they realized the CENTIPEDE mastermind's "clairvoyance" was really just access to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s database. Solid hour of spy stuff, ending on a clever "Mexican-standoff" scenario.
Episode 17: Turn, Turn, Turn
I'm not ashamed to admit it: I was one of the (apparently numerous) fans who was absolutely certain that, with immortal Nazi computer-brain Arnim Zola revealed to be behind HYDRA's long-term infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D. in Winter Soldier, he would also turn out to be Agent's so-called "Clairvoyant." Was I disappointed when that wasn't the case? A little bit, but having it actually be Bill Paxton's Agent Garrett paid off in the end - he gave a great bad guy performance to close out the season.
The lead-up stuff is all good, too - the fake-out of Agent Hand looking like she might be the bad guy, the multiple teams of agents with criss-crossing missions, all work. On second glance, though, adding "May actually put the team together based on who could help Coulson, that's why we're so mismatched and quirky" onto "May was keeping tabs for Fury" feels like way too much of a handwave and unnecessary to boot.
But yeah, this one is worth it for the "Evil Ward" reveal. It's well executed, it makes sense, it casts the preceding episodes in a new light and it does what even the show's most devout apologists had considered impossible: It makes Brett Dalton almost interesting.
Episode 18: Providence
A good back half of a season can only do so much, and if there's one way the shaky start of Agents hurts the solid effort of its lengthy wind-down it's that the emotional investment the agents are supposed to have in the official trappings of S.H.I.E.L.D. just aren't felt as much by the audience as we watch them watch it crumble. Coulson's almost religious need to believe that Fury is alive and wants them to keep fighting lands the best, mainly because Clark Gregg has really mastered selling the "adult child" part of the character's personality.
But while that's all well and good and it's fun to see Patton Oswalt's debut as Koenig... this one is mostly about taking a breather and setting up the final episodes. Actually, I wonder how this whole stretch is actually going to "work" in episodic syndication, since three-act structure has largely given itself over to "chopped-up mini-movie" format.