[Review] - Agents of SHIELD, Season 2 Episode 7, "Writing On The Wall"

Courtesy of Marvel Television Studios
SHIELD has been "balancing" four main storylines this season: Sky's dad, Ward, Hydra and Whitehall, and Coulson's alien scribbling. This episode finally took the last of those to task, and pretty much resolved the entire plot thread. It was rather sudden, and showed the sort concise storytelling that should be in play when a show is working off a constricted episode count. Which I feel is for the best, because this show has shown a lacking ability to seed  and weave arc information throughout multiple episodes. A serial killer etching the mystery symbols into his victims could have been a season long draw, and served as the major impetus for Coulson's desire to find out what is happening to him. Instead, they opted to introduce Brian van Holt in the last aired episode and then, in one episode, bring an end to the crux of the Guest House mystery.

The upside is that the episode was tight, mythic, well structured and above all, interesting. It was yet another example of what the show can do when it has the right motivation. and I've noticed a correlation between episodes that really work and episodes that feature Coulson going into the field. Too often I think the writers forget that Coulson is a highly trained agent, who took out two armed robbers with a bag of flour in one of the Marvel One Shot's. Episodes like this remind us of his capabilities beyond the snark.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers which were on page 117 outside, and are still on page 117.

The show has been slow to reveal details about the Guest House, and to be perfectly honest, it's one of the few things that is keeping me interested in this show. I'm a big fan of mythology building, and SHIELD adds so little to the larger MCU, any hint of a bigger picture is intriguing. Last season, they dangled a blue corpse in front of us, and hinted at a larger role that Coulson played pre-Avengers, but followed these up in no way. This episode filled in a few of the gaps. the blue boy, presumed to be a Kree, is "thousands of years old," and that the experiments Fury had Coulson run involved testing the GH juice to dying SHIELD agents, all of whom went nutty pretty quick. One of these, likely someone already on the wrong side of crazy, reacted more calmly to the crazy, carving the symbols on his person and decidedly ultimately that killing his fellow Guest Housers was the best way to achieve his means.

The uncontrollable scribbling, perhaps because Coulson was still in the escalation phase, never seemed to be that debilitating to him this season. It never inconvenienced him during a mission, it never threatened the security of the operation. Despite all their caterwauling about having to put him down or lock him up, Coulson by and large remained Coulson. the symbols were just a distressing thing that he did during down time. Here, he at least displayed some behaviour that could be described as distressing, locking Skye in the quiet room and running off to face his demons along (though, I think we all want to lock Skye in a room and forget about her). And along the way, we got to see Coulson kick some ass, which is always welcome.

The big reveal too was that the alien writing wasn't alien writing at all, but in fact a top-down diagram of a city, which now becomes their new ongoing mystery: where is the city? It being a city seems like one of those contrived arc extensions that is meant to keep something going past it's due date, but I'll give that a pass for now, in the hopes that it'll lead to more definite information about the origins of the Guest. Little things about the quick resolution seemed a bit odd: Coulson's compulsion to write the symbols disappeared entirely, though one would think that it would be replaced by an equally strong compulsion to find the city. It seems like an odd way of propagating the information, drive someone to discover what it means, but not drive them to follow trough. It's a good thing Couslon suspects that Hydra might be interested in finding the city too, otherwise his reaction may well have been "Oh, a city. Cool. Who wants burritos?"

Another thing that made the episode stronger was once again utilizing the fact that they have so many agents on the show, they don't all have to be lumped together. And in fact, it would seem odd to have every agent working a single case when there is literally an entire world out there needing SHIELDing. So, while the nerds run the Coulson side of the things, the hired guns go on the hunt for Ward, who escaped last week. Clearly, which ever of the show runners is directing the ward arc this year was way into Silence of the Lambs, because here isn't a trace of any other influence in this ongoing story. Ward escapes, and runs May, Bobbi and Lance through some minor plot loops, before delivering them a high-level Hydra operative and promising that he'll be checking in from time to time (oh, joy). Actually, sarcasm aside, Ward really worked here, much as he did last year when he was being Hydra-man. He's not an interesting SHIELD agent, and he's even less interesting as a love-sick puppy. But when he goes into bad mode, he's actually a pleasure to watch. His scene on the bus with Bobbi was appropriately tense.

The structure of this episode really should be the norm, which I've said before. Most other shows that rely on procedural aspects (and SHIELD is, for the most part, a procedural show) understand the importance of the A-B plot style. Since they've tried other formats and obviously can't get a handle on them, I say stick with what works. At the very least, it means that one plot line doesn't have to fill the whole 42 minutes, and that no agents are wasted. The show, as contained in this episode, felt normalized. This is the sort of show I'd get excited about watching every week. As it stood, I was pleasantly surprised by this episode, and you should never be surprised when a show is accidentally good. Cause that means the rest of the time, you're just being depressed that the show is bad.
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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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