Quote of the week: Hydra Officer: Cut off one head, two more shall grow in its place.
Peggy Carter: Then I guess we’ll keep cutting them off.
Our heroes have finally returned for another series, coming back to the small screen just as Marvel has eased the reins on its blockbuster takeover of the summer – Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy both being massively successful. In a week where Marvel released a brand new Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer and announced their Phase Three line up, it seems fitting that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is airing on UK television once again.
The beginning of last season gave us some strong characters but sometimes awkward scripting, weak, episodic plots and the worst C.G.I. since Teen Wolf’s pilot episode. Fortunately, the series strengthened, particularly after it more closely aligned with Marvel’s cinematic universe through its Hydra reveal. Seeing characters you’d grown to love – FitzSimmons were, at times, the only reason I was still watching – being pushed into the sea in a giant box was a genuinely difficult moment to watch. Ward’s betrayal felt personal. By the end of the series, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had managed to pick up on various threads that are being interwoven in the Marvel cinematic universe; ideas of betrayal, morality, and our beloved heroes beginning to turn against each other. The charm of the show is that it makes those concepts more personal, more intimate, by applying them to people a little more like you and me than the heroes on the big screen. Unfortunately, the new series starts poorly again, with the character development the show has previously created seeming a little lost.
In ‘Shadows’, we see Coulson, his team and a gang of mercenaries on the search for the Obelisk, the first ever 0-8-4 (for those of you who can’t remember all the way back to series one, that’s an object of unknown origins). We’re introduced to a villain from the comics – Creel, or ‘The Absorbing Man’ – and his mysterious bosses, Bashki and Reinhardt, who will no doubt feature heavily throughout the rest of the series. Coulson also sends some of his team to steal a quinjet, apparently needing its cloaking – unsurprisingly leading to disaster for the team. Haley Atwell – who first appeared as Peggy Carter, a breath of fresh air in the otherwise staid Captain America: The First Avenger – features in the first scene, no doubt appearing as a precedent-come-advertisement for her own television show, Agent Carter, which will be airing in January 2015.
This series, we see a darker team; Ward’s locked up, Coulson’s mind is deteriorating, Fitz’s mind is all but gone, Simmons has left and Skye… got a fringe. She’s also lost much of her usual playfulness and innocence that gave her such a key perspective for the audience. Fortunately, Melinda May and Tripp thankfully remain grounding forces for the somewhat more ridiculous aspects of the show, along with a few new faces that, whilst fun, are a little flat. The show juggles an even larger cast this season, and lacking a strong lead to bring them all together means some of the chemistry that was created over time last season is lost. Clark Gregg’s strength lies in a sardonic, dry delivery of his lines, but any more emotional depth comes off as incredibly awkward – and this becomes even more evident in season two’s opening. He lacks any of Samuel L. Jackson’s on-screen charm or charisma, and as ‘Shadows’ sets up Coulson’s odd new illness, we can see the start of a plot thread that the actor might not be able to carry.
The series opening introduces some new character arcs and developments – including the dominance of Hydra and a new take on old relationships – Ward and Skye, Fitz and Simmons and May and Coulson all face new struggles that test their usual dynamics – that will no doubt grow and develop throughout the series. However, it also falls back into relying on lazy, awkward script writing and flashy scenes over substance common to early episodes of the first series. In a show like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., our investment in the team is what makes the action exciting – and by introducing a slew of new characters and hugely changing the dynamic between the existing ones, the writers are clearly taking a gamble that they might not be able to pull off.