[Review] - Agents of SHIELD, Season 1 Episode 19, "The Only Light in the Darkness"

Courtesy of Marvel Television Studios
And we're back to square one. What is it about this show that they can't seem to maintain any sort of positive inertia past two episode? This week, they took all the tension and momentum they had build up since the Winter Soldier fallout, and completely flushed it, in favour of a weak monster-of-the-week style episode that, ironically, we probably would have been very happy to have had in the early days of the series, when we wanted SHIELD to be chasing superpowered baddies. And, it committed the unforgivable sin of wasting the talents of Amy Acker. Warehouse 13 did that once and now it's effectively dead to me.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that make it a point never to work with anything called 'Dark Force.'

 Being a SHIELD agent sucks. Seriously, even without the fact that they been manipulated for 60 years by one of the least subtle super-Nazi organizations going, the life expectancy of a SHIELD operative of any clearance level is on par with a bot fly. So warning to any actors who might be excited about getting cast, don't expect any career longevity. Despite Patton Oswalt bringing charm and chemistry to a mostly dreary and humourless cast, after barely half an hour of guest starring air time, he got his-self garrotted off screen, much like Hand (and presumably Blake). Because who needs to establish a depth of universe? Who needs allies and minor characters whose popularity can grow in the fandom? It's not like any of that sort of stuff has ever paid off for Marvel in the past. You've got to feel a little bad for Oswalt too, who has now been removed from any possible future involvement in the MCU, even in a minor capacity on-screen.

This episode goes a long way to illustrating the most serious flaws of the series: everything feels manufactured.The job of a good writer is to make their presence invisible. You should never feel the guiding hand of the creator in the narrative, yet this series leaves cheese-caked fingerprints all over the furniture. Nothing happens organically, it all happens because of some short-cut construction. Like the lie-detector chair. Want a quick and easy way to reveal some minor character details (May was married, Simmons is a Whovian), and also start to unravel Ward's web of lies? How about a chair that forces characters to tell the truth? Or that damned hardrive, which is apparently going to drive the final few episodes. Skye needs to decrypt it, so find Skye. Now Skye says it can only be decrypted at a specific location (which: what?), so now we're on a field trip. But Skye knows what Ward is, so she'll be leading him to the wrong location. This transparent moving of goal posts is lazy, bad writing, and completely obvious. It's an artificial extension to plot lines that the writers can't think of other ways to fill out, or make interesting. It's the worst kind of soap opera drivel, and does not make for engaging television, it makes for frustrating television.

The same is true of Coulson's storyline this week, which saw him rush off to Portland to save his cellist friend from a villain with electricity sucking abilities. But he can't let her know that he's still alive, because that might mean they'd have to have an emotional confrontation, which would be interesting and allow the characters to grow. Instead, Coulson has to play Cyrano in the shadows, and giving poor Clark Gregg nothing to do but stare water-eyed out of a series of windows while she waxes poetic about how cute he was. Because somewhere along the lines, this also became a CW teen drama. The budget usually hamstrings episodes, but it was really showing itself here, and for once not due to bad CGI. The honeypot sequence, of Acker practicing alone on stage of what appeared to be a high school auditorium, alone was just sad. She is presumably part of a philharmonic, and doesn't just perform the cello along (though, maybe she's Portland's answer to Yo Yo Ma, we don't find out because we don't find out anything about her). Yet the bare and empty stage, and an action sequence consisting of everyone standing still with their arms slightly elevated is the opposite of exciting.

And no offense to the actor who played Dark Force, or whatever his name was meant to be, but it was not a performance to add to the demo reel. Of course, you weren't given much (read: anything) to do, other than be generally creepy. But that is par for the course on this show, where the actors are given material well below their skill level, and expected to just "make it work." At least Oswalt was able to add some punch  to his lines, but I'd say that was more the result of him being generally affable. Ward was not engaging as he struggled to reconcile his mission from Garrett with his feelings for Skye, and Skye was her usual self. Yet again, I found myself in a situation where we were meant to fear for her life, but all I wanted was for the show to do away with her. Unless the character is Joffrey Baratheon, you should never want a character to die. Especially one you are meant to be sympathizing with. That is a colossal failure on the production team's part.

By episode's end, I once again returned to a place of not really caring about these people or their lives. I am uninterested in May's redemption arc, I hate that character development has to come from leaps and bounds, and that significant emotionally issues need to be resolved inside three episodes. The plotting is juvenile, the story mediocre at best, and the experience of watching the show returned to passive mode. Even the promise of the return of Maria Hill isn't enough to make me get excited about the show. Part of it is "too little too late," and part of it is that I have no faith that they'll be able to make it interesting.
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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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