[Review] - Agents Of SHIELD, Season 1 Episode 11, "A Magical Place"

Courtesy of Marvel Television Studios
So now we know. And I suspect that many people - including most of the internet - were probably underwhelmed by the revelation. And probably a little confused by it. I was not one of those people, at least concerning the former condition. From day one, I have advocated a smaller, less complex explanation, and they gave us that in a confusing, complex way. What underwhelmed me was the rest of the episode, which delivered on none of the promise of the first part, and seemed to disregard all the good will the series had built up over the first ten. It was very much a lackluster episode, and perhaps a sign that the show is not as certain of it's footing as it had led us to believe.

Or, it was a road bump. Those happen. It's just a crappy place to hit one.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that keep saying that.

So, Coulson. Not a life model decoy, not a clone, not a Skrull, or the Vision, or any of the other things the internet (including myself) predicted. But what did they really tell us? Well, straight away, not much, and part of me (as a first) would have been happier if they had left the explanation with the ambiguous visual of the Matrix robot knitting in Coulson's exposed head. Let that new memory simmer inside Coulson for a few episodes more, maybe breed a new kind of decent in him that might have made him question his loyalties once The Winter Soldier brings the pain this spring. Instead, they tacked on his exposition moment with Ron Glass, meant to clarify things, but instead made things murkier.

Coulson was dead for days after New York (though the revelation of days seemed to undercut the dramatic revelation of the moment), until Fury decided he didn't want him to be dead anymore. This level of arrogance is in keeping with the Ultimate Fury that Jackson's character is based on, a character who boasted in the books that if he strolled into heaven, he'd be interested to see if God put up a fight, or just moved over and let him sit down. The how exactly they made him not dead was left without explanation, though the machine appeared to be some kind of bio-weave. The larger point was that, Coulson came back wrong. Glass' demeanour suggested he was monstrous, and I'll admit that, in that moment, I was expecting a revelation about use of the the super soldier, or Hulk serum. From the flashback, all he seemed was extra whiny. And apparently SHIELD sees it as a character flaw that someone brought back from the dead wants to stay dead.

I've pushed the simple explanation from day one. I'd have been happy with "they performed CPR, got him breathing again, performed a multi-hour surgery, and his insurance covered the recovery process." Though, I also would have been fine with a completely over the top and MCU changing explanation that would introduce any one of a dozen new elements from the comics into the film universe. What we got instead was something that tried to be both. It's a simple enough explanation - they brought him back - that dresses itself up in the hopes of meetings at least some of the wild expectations that the fans had placed on the reveal. It felt like they were trying to aim for two targets at the same time: the high mark of fan expectations, and the lower mark of sensibility. And all they hit was the garden shed in between. The most important thing though isn't the revelation, but the effect it has on Coulson. What does the character do with this information, how does it change him. In the coming episodes, the true effectiveness of this decision by the writers will be how they use it moving forward. Because it can't just be about solving a mystery, it has to be about why the mystery needed to be solved. And that will also be a test for the writer's room in proving their worth.

The rest of the episode was a mess. Characters that were promised to be recurring finally did so, including Ron Glass whom we haven't seen since the pilot, and Saffron Burrows as Victoria Hand lending as much to aid the search for Couslon. J. August Richards proved not to be dead, which was about the best thing this episode did, though he is considerably worse for wear, and now under the direct control of Centipede, whose despite Hand's claim that multiple world wide operations were terminated, is clearly still up and running at the behest of the mysterious Clairvoyant. It was frustrating to no end when Edison Poe was killed, because what was the point of him? Establishing him as a threat in the previous episode, only to dispatch him? For what? To establish an even bigger threat in the Clairvoyant? That might seem like a good idea, but it's a sure sign of shortsightedness. The writers aren't making use of their elements, and are clearly willing to push one idea to the side when another strikes them. It makes for hollow storytelling, because now it calls into question my ability to become absorbed in the narrative, when I know it's just as likely that what I'm concerned about this week will be chicken feed the next. They brought back Richards' Peterson, and good on them for that, but an endless cycle of introductions and departures will get old fast, and serve the larger narrative in only negative ways.

The acting was also lacking in this episode. Even Clark Gregg, who is the most reliable performer of the bunch, didn't seem to bring even his B-game in his interrogation scenes. Ron Glass appeared to have Googled "emotion" in his trailer before filming his stuff. Burrows was particularly stoic in her return. The rest of the team was in ill form, and Rob Huebel was frankly terrible as the corrupt lawyer that Skye manipulates to (ridiculously easily) track Centipede's financials. Seriously, they are an international terrorist organisation run by an apparent psychic, and they can be traced with a single debit transaction? Which SHIELD is apparently incapable of discovering, but a security guard on a laptop can? That is lazy storytelling dressed up to look like it was complicated, in order to give the useless Skye character a chance to redeem herself by finding her fath... I mean, Coulson.

After a steady rise in the quality of episodes in 2013, this was a massive stumble in the wrong direction, and I hope that it was just a stumble. It's a shame that the big reveal for Coulson occurred here, otherwise I was recommend forgetting the episode ever happened, another of those that can be skipped on the season DVD in future revisitations. Except, it was anchored by so much narrative progression, we have to live with it as is, and as it is, it isn't much. SHIELD needs to step things up and prove it's worth continued investment, an investment that many have already taken as a loss. I'm sticking with it until season's end, because I still hold out a hope. But it is an ever shrinking hope.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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