14 October 2014

Agents of SHIELD S2E2 "Heavy Is the Head" proves a show can get better

I was worried that last weeks episode of Agents of SHIELD, "Shadows", was going to be a fluke. I sat through the first season patiently as it got better, but the show never got great - it always suffered from slightly dull characters and slow, plodding dialogue, even as the show got better after the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I was hoping - no, I was basically praying - that Agents of SHIELD could retain the new found quality of "Shadows" for as long as possible.

And it has!

"Heavy is the Head" opens with an exciting pursuit, set immediately after the events of "Shadows". It's a great way to start the episode, throwing the viewers straight into the action - something that season 1 of Agents of SHIELD would most likely have saved for an episode finale. The main plot continues from there, with Agent May in pursuit of Creel after the death of Agent Hartley and Idaho in the car crash at the end of last episode. Meanwhile, Hunter is captured by General Talbot, and coerced into betraying Coulson in exchange for $2 million and a proper burial for Hartley. 

There is a lot going on this episode, with a story line that keeps moving and turning from start to end, as well as a small, character focused side plot that really help the show feel more competently put together. It seems now that there will a much greater focus on the ensemble rather that just a few select characters each episode - and that can only work in the shows favour, judging from the episodes so far.

It's also worth noting that a lot of the new characters seem to be not only better written, but also played by much better actors than those that starred in the first season. Some of the cast last season where only ever serviceable at best, but the addition of Hunter, Mack and Triplett has added some much needed quality to the acting side of things. It might just be that they are just better written characters, but Hunter, Agent Triplett and Mack feel a lot more genuine on screen than Agent Director Coulson) or Skye ever did. And I don't think that the increase in quality happening at the same time as a reduced focus on Skye and Coulson is a coincidence, despite much better performances from both of them.

Fitz continues to break my heart in this episode, with a few scenes scattered throughout to remind us that everyone's favourite Scottish tech-wizard has been broken, but fortunately it's not all doom and gloom here. I'm liking the apparent team up of Mack and Fitz, at least until Simmons inevitably returns. Everyone else seems nervous, almost guilty about what happened to Fitz, but Mack isn't afraid to treat Fitz like a human - and that might be exactly what he needs.

If I had to complain about an aspect of this episode, it would be that we don't get to see Ward at any point during it, which was a real highlight for me in "Shadows". I love what the show has done with the character, really playing on the betrayal side of things in order to keep things interesting, with the added bonus of getting their own Hannibal Lecter in the basement, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what happens to Ward, while also hoping the show doesn't try for a cheesy redemption arc.

"Heavy is the Head" is a clear sign that "Shadows" wasn't just a fluke. Season 2 of Agents of SHIELD should hopefully improve on every aspect of the first - the overarching plot seems interesting, Coulson's story looks like it might actually matter, the writing and acting has vastly improved - but more importantly, I actually care about these characters now, and I want to see resolution to the issues they face. It's another major step in the right direction, and hopefully, people will realise that this is now a show worth watching.

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