28 September 2014

Agents of SHIELD S2E1 "Shadows" is the start of a much better show

Despite excellent fan buzz from the Marvel Studios brand and the Comic Con preview, Agents of SHIELD got off to a bad start, with the first half of the first season putting many people off the show entirely thanks to the mediocre writing and "monster of the week" style episodes. Agents of SHIELD was a procedural crime drama set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and not a very good one at that. People switched off and never came back,. despite the second half of the first season being a significant improvement. The disbandment of SHIELD, the discovery of the TAHITI project and the Agent Ward reveal really helped the show find its feet and deliver a series that was worth watching, with the quality of the writing and the show itself improving as it progressed. Agents of SHIELD was given the green light for a second season, with show runners promising that this new found quality would continue. 

"Shadows" delivers on that promise. A common complaint that followed the first season of Agents of SHIELD was that it didn't feel like a Marvel film, a complaint that appears to have been both heard and dealt with. The villain of the week premise that haunted the previous season seems to have been scrapped, with "Shadows" seemingly setting up a long form plot for this season to follow, involving the ever present Hydra and a new villain, The Absorbing Man, who can take on the molecular properties of any material he touches. And our time isn't wasted with a 15 minute introduction to how he got his powers - he walks into the show fully formed, an entirely acceptable concept being as this is set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

It's amazing what actual stakes can do to a show like this. The episode is fast paced, with an interesting story that leads on and develops the events of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date, the exact thing that the first season needed more of. The show seems to have taken a slightly darker turn in tone as well - we are still a long way away from the terminally grey Man of Steel, but Fitz's condition after the events of last seasons finale is heart breaking, and imprisonment seems to have taken it's toll on Ward's mental health. But it does this without losing the sense of fun that is at the heart of the Marvel Studios films - it's a fine balancing act, and one that this episode pulls off.

The cast has expanded and grown more diverse since last season too. New agents have sprung up since Agent Director Coulson began recruitment, some loyal to the cause and others in it for the money, which has provided a greater such of both friction and companionship within the much smaller SHIELD - in short, SHIELD feels like a more more realistic organisation, filled with actual characters with actual personalities, a far stretch from last seasons mostly faceless bureaucracy.

We also get a really good opening sequence set near the end of World War 2, following Agent Peggy Carter and the Howling Commandos as they take out the last known Hydra base, and confiscate some interesting materials in the process. And this isn't just set up for the upcoming Agent Carter TV show - this sequence seems to have far reaching consequences, for Agents of SHIELD and the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. 

Overall, "Shadows" is a nearly complete turn around for a show that was never better than average in it's first season. It's a well written introduction to a new season of a TV show that is leagues better than even the post Captain America: The Winter Soldier episodes, and it really gives me hope for both the Agent Carter TV show and the Netflix mini-series that Marvel aren't afraid to change and try again when something isn't working. And with luck, this season of Agents of SHIELD will continue this new found quality, finally delivering the TV show that we all wanted in the first place.

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