[Review] - Agents of SHIELD, Season 1 Episode 20, "Nothing Personal"

Courtesy of Marvel Television Studios

On a weekly basis, this show rarely does itself any favours. This week is no different, but for a more unusual reason: having Cobie Smulders put in an extended appearance only serves as reminder of how much better this show would be if Maria Hill were part of the main cast. In fact, this episode's defining trait is showing us how much better Agents of SHIELD would have been if it had been Hill and Coulson running a shadow team. In fact, considering that this show will be in need of a sizable overhaul if it gets a second season, I'd put in my vote right now for that being the setup. And add Deathlok to the team, because as much as this show would like to be hero-less, it really does need someone with J. August Richards' charm and talent (that slap he gave Ward in this episode was just about perfect).

Oh, and thank gods somebody finally pointed out that Hydra are Nazis! Big, crazy, super-Nazis! Man, that was bothering me (and perhaps a sign of the state of the public education system`s failures in the MCU).

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that, where they're going, don't need roads.

I've been meaning to make mention of the under-use of Lola for a while. It has been, in my mind, another example of the mismanagement of resources by the writers. Introduce this element, and despite the fact that it could have been used half a dozen times in the series thus far, just have it sitting there. That's not Chekov's Gun, that's being limited by your own intended cleverness. It kind of obvious now that they were waiting for this moment to spring a major Lola action sequence one us, and were possibly aware of how terrible it would end up looking. ABC must be funding this series in acorns, because even by this show's standards the sequence was rough looking (still looked ten times better than the CG they use over on Once Upon A Time though). I get that Marvel, and ABC, and Disney are all disappointed in how SHIELD has performed this year, and that a second season is going to come with a lot of caveats and changes, I suspect both on screen and behind the scenes. But even if you've lost faith, if they want to pull off a sequence like this, give them the resources to do so. Because that sequence could have been something, and as it stands, it was just something else.

This episode followed two threads, and one was enjoyable, fun, well paced and engaging. The other involved Skye and Ward. These two continue to be the rusty nail in the foot of the series. Ward being Hydra injected the character with some temporary intrigue, but most of that has been leached out in the last two episodes by making him a love sick teenager. And it looks like next week, we're going to get a massive dump of back story that threatens to also play into a redemption story. Understand, show: Ward needs to die. He is a bad man. He has no redemption. Even with explanation, to water down his crimes, he is a bad guy. Yet again, the series did a fake out death scene, with Ward gasping for air (because the writers don't understand how a heart attack works). I'm sick of these. Once can be effective, twice feels cheap, but this is the fifth or sixth time at least that a character has been within the clutches of death, and been pulled back. Death has no meaning if characters can return from it, but it is equally meaningless if no one ever dies. Putting a veil of protection over the main cast undercuts the potential effectiveness of the narrative.

If Ward has been killed, that would have removed Garrett's loyal number two, leaving only Deathlok to fill the position. Deathlok is being forced to act under duress, and would pose a threat to Garrett for the final episodes, a threat that Ward simply can't function as for either Garrett or Coulson anymore. He's been exposed to one team, and he's proven his ineffectiveness to another. Garrett's best course of action would to be kill Ward, to solidify his ruthlessness, and remove a cancerous element within his own ranks. It would have also stunted the emotional journey of Coulson's team. Right now, they are all coming to grips with Ward's betrayal. If past episodes are any indication, they'll get over this within an episode. They'll probably have the opportunity to confront him, everyone will talk about their feelings, and go home friends again (oh, welcome back to the team, May). If Ward had died, it robs all of them of closure. They would have had to stew, and fester, and hate someone who deserves their hate forever. It would have fostered mistrust, which would have lead to interesting character developments. These people would become a little less two dimensional.

What worked was Coulson, and FitzSimmons, and Trip, and Hill. They were motivated, emotional and made the show feel like something was actually happening (even though the pancakes bit was the most transparent and lazy way for them to discover all the things Skye left for them to find last episode). The episode also did another solid for the MCU, fulfilling it's mandate to be the ongoing presence in a complex and changing universe. Hill specifically mentions that Stark intends to "privatize world security," echoing his Iron Man 2 claim that he successfully privatized world peace, and setting up a non-SHIELD affiliated, Stark financed Avengers for Age of Ultron (she also name-checked Man-Thing, whose film rights appeared to have reverted back to Marvel from Lionsgate). The problem with Ward's betrayal is that it has limited effect on the team. Because the writers have done such a poor job establishing these characters as a cohesive team, half the team doesn't really have a reaction.

Seriously, this team is more like a series of Venn Diagrams. Fitz and Simmons have a relationship, Fitz and Ward have a relationship, Ward and Skye have a relationship, Skye and Coulson have a relationship, Coulson and May have a relationship. There has been very little cross over between character in terms of interaction outside of basic field duty. The only time I can recall Simmons and Ward having a scene together without everyone else present was when he plucked her out of the sky. Until the end of the episode (and not even really then), we never even saw the whole team sit down for a meal, which is "family building" 101. They've done more making Trip a part of the team then they have with all the other members of the team. He has a distinct and unique relationship with everyone on the bus, except May. His presence doesn't feel forced or awkward. He takes part in the narrative rather than just being a disused element in it. He hasn't necessarily contributed yet, but that's what you get for introducing a character at the eleventh hour.

Which is frustrating, because he's immediately more interesting than the rest of them, but will have the least opportunity to prove his worthy of that interest before season's end (Trip, by the way, had better not die. He's the most expendable because he's the newest and not in the opening credits, but his death would be trite and insulting to a viewership that is asking for a smarter show). As for the episode, it was one of the show's better episodes, which was nice after last week's dip back to normal operating procedure. The inconsistency in these final episodes has been as frustrating as the consistent lack of quality of the early ones. And unless something major changes between this season and next, I feel like the show's lasting legacy will be exactly that: frustration.  
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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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