[Review] - Agents of SHIELD, Season 2 Episode 10, "What They Become"

Courtesy of Marvel Television Studios
When ABC gave SHIELD a second season, I was shocked. Frankly, I didn't think they deserved it based on the uneven and lackluster output of season one. When season two began, it seemed to be more of the same. But then, a few weeks ago, something started to shift. It was as if the show had become possessed with something magical: intent. Suddenly, rather than filler, procedural go-no-where episodes, or padded and painfully dragged out "mysteries," SHIELD started to move towards something. We weren't sure what they were moving towards, but it was clear that they were acting under a motivation.

I think perhaps that it was the realization that they had to prove their worth. If the show is to exist, both as a story telling avenue for the MCU, and as a show taking up an hour of prime-time real estate, they had to definitively demonstrate that they had a reason to exist. That they could add something that the films can't. That they are more than just a Coulson fan-fic. And I believe that they have done that. They managed in the last six episodes or so to prove that they can be engaging, and interesting, and that they aren't just a reactive echo of the stuff that "really matters." And in this final episode, they proved not that the tail can wag the dog, but that the dog and the tail can wag as one if they really want to.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers which aren't saying this is a good plan.

So, the rumblings of the show bringing the Inhumans into play turned out to be bang on the money, and SHIELD gets to lay claim that they introduced what will become a major part of the MCU when, four years from now, the Inhumans get their own film. And as I suspected last week, the use of the Terrigen crystals and mist also gives them a way to introduce mutant-esque abilities without having to use the M-word. Despite these developments, I cannot give this episode a solid pass. It was not, I felt, in the same league as last week or in recent weeks.

What worked well in this episode was the performances. Kyle MacLachlan, who has been nothing but terrific this season, really nailed it here. A lot of how successful this episode would ultimately be was riding on how well he delivered what was ultimately a lot of exposition. And he delivered it flawlessly. His constant edge-of-explosion attitude all season was broken slightly by a vein of sadness, and he really made the transition from horrible monster-villain to sympathetic anti-hero. His broken, nearly-rambling out-pouring of twenty plus years of hope and fear and now-realized glee was probably the best piece of acting the show has seen.

That it was followed by what is also the best fight sequence this show has crafted, in which Coulson and "Cal" fight it out for Skye's fatherly affections, was equal parts fantastic and hilarious. It has yet to be established in Cal has any powers; the implication has been thus far that his rage imbues him with some additional strength. This fight suggests that, no, he's just really motivated when angry. So too is Coulson, you between last week against Mack and this week against Cal, reminded us that he was an accomplished field agent, just as I said they needed to remind us of at the start of the season.

Where the episode fell short was ultimately where the season fell short, and where I see the entire MCU falling short in the long term: Hydra. The Hydra reveal was a great idea in principle, but I felt that it was horribly handled in the Winter Solider, and has been fumbled on SHIELD. And long term, I just don't see the films dedicating as much time to the Hydra threat as the Hydra threat is meant to be. So it falls to the show, and the show falls short, and that failure has been encapsulated in the persona of Whitehall. Reed Diamond deserved far more than he was given to do with the Red Skull devotee. He was underutilized, and here died without ever fulfilling any of the threats that were laid at his feet. He was meant to inspire fear as a figurehead of the enemy. Sadly, he was never given enough of a chance to demonstrate that reputation to the audience.

The "winter finale" leaves us with one team member dead, and another transformed. It leaves us in a place that is exciting, and that we actually want to pick up from. Unlike last year at this time, the show has developed a sense of how to tell a better story. And that's all I really wanted. We take an extended break, and will pick up in the spring to a world transformed. There will be repercussions to all that has happened, not the least of which is the reveal that the Diviner was not the only one of it's kind, and that there is more marvels in the world for the team to discover. Just in time for the Age of Ultron.
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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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