[Review] - Agents Of SHIELD, Season 2, Episodes 11 And 12, "Aftershocks" And "Who You Really Are"

Courtesy of Marvel Television Studios
Marvel and ABC really did themselves a disservice, airing Agent Carter sandwiched between two halves of Agents of SHIELD. Because Agent Carter was good. Sure, not Hannibal or Penny Dreadful or Better Call Saul levels of amazing and brilliant. But it was a really good, really fun, really enjoyable show. And with Agents of SHIELD's return a week later, now with something else to compare it to, it is all the more obvious that SHIELD just isn't very good. This second season has been considerably better than season one, but it still isn't good. It isn't consistently good, and even at it's best, it comes with a big ol' astrix and a legal-brief full of qualifiers. In 34 episodes, they fail to have eight that could match Carter's for quality. They may fail to have even one that matches Carter's quality.

Which is insane. I would put the main characters, Coulson and Carter, on equal footing, as I would their actors, Clark Gregg and Hayley Atwell. But SHIELD just is not a well produced show. I've run over this horse with a tractor trailer made of baseball bats many time, but the writing is sub-par, the plotting is a mess, and the production standards are considerably lower, despite being what I assume is a more expensive show to make. And we knew all that before, but held in the stark contrast of Carter's run, it is blindingly obvious now. I want SHIELD to be a good series, for it to be a worthy addition to the MCU. But it just, sadly, isn't. And these two episodes are either really emblematic of the underlying failures of the series, or it's just that the glare coming off Carter is still leaving an afterimage on our eyes.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers whose mind is that of a lost adolescent.

I'm glad that I didn't have a chance to review Aftershocks on it's own, because after seeing Who You Really Are, the take away is that Aftershocks is a completely irrelevant and pointless episode. Certainly, nothing concerning Skye held up for more than an episode. The Raina stuff will likely hold up, and was the best material from the bunch. But it was ultimately an episode of tire-spin, as Skye sat in a box and every character came in turn and talked around her mutation without knowing she was a mutant, revealing how they all felt about it without knowing how honest they were really being. And it was horrible stuff. And I honestly don't know what was worse: the sudden racism afflicting Mac and Simmons towards anything remotely alien, or the idea that Fitz and Skye were going to keep her earthquake powers a secret.

But, as I say, none of that matter now, because by the end of episode 12, everyone knows about Skye, and the power of love overcomes all. If I'm thankful for anything, it's that the writers didn't try to stretch out the "lets keep a secret" plot until the finale, which was exactly where I expected them to be taking it. This show is not above that. that sort of horseshit is exactly the level on which the show is operating. They are already there, with the Bobbi/Mac super secret pact. The unsubtle dragging out of something that, upon reveal, likely wasn't worth the wait. So, kudos to the writers for ding the unexpected and right thing, and getting Skye's Inhumanity out in the open. Now, lets see how fast Simmons does another about-face on the subject of racism.

The only scene worth a damn in Aftershocks was when Raina and Kyle MacLachlan confronted one another in the shipping yard. It isn't that the material being written for these two characters is better than that which is being written for everyone else. It isn't. But these two actors seem to be able, or willing, to do more with the sub-par material. Acting wise, this season has belonged to MacLachlan, and on the SHIELD team, to Iain De Caestecker. Gregg seems to be sleepwalking through his bigger scenes, only showing a flicker of enthusiasm when Coulson gets to be his old, sarcastic self. these two episode, which was had a greater focus on Skye that the first ten put together, have really showcased how little Chloe Bennet is actually capable of, with this material. Brett Dalton's name has disappeared, mercifully, from the credits, implying that Ward's future will exist only in guest appearances (or, better yet, not at all).

What I find most frustrating about this show is how quickly the writers seem intent on moving through the material. What are they rushing towards? In Aftershocks, SHIELD takes down, essentially simultaneously, the entire HYDRA leadership (except for the ones set to appear in Age of Ultron). A leadership we have previously not seen, or been aware of, save Whitehall. A result that, by HYDRA's very nature, is irrelevant, because "cut off one head, two more will rise." But considering that this season was probably meant to be SHIELD taking the fight to HYDRA, they have done a remarkable poor job of it. they focused on two guys in the first ten episodes, and then in the space of half an hour, caused the whole Jenga tower to collapse? What about properly establishing the enemy? How about executing a massive military operation is a way that doesn't feel like the cinematic equivalent of sweeping all the crap off the top of a desk? How about a little craftsmanship?

Something I was proud of the series for doing in the first half of the season came crashing to the ground in Who You Really Are. The seeding the Kree/Inhuman material was actually very well done in the first ten episodes (or the first 32, depending on how long this has actually been the plan). It was subtle, interesting, cumulative, and when it was all revealed, felt like an earned payoff. The little pieces that the series had been gathering together all came together in a meaningful way. Rather than continue that, the writers said screw it, literally dropped a Kree into their midst, and had him basically reader the entry on Inhumans from the Marvel Encyclopedia. It was clunky, insulting, and terse. Nothing about it felt earned. As a viewer, it was boring. As a writer, it was a betrayal of the "show, don't tell" rule that is literally the first thing a good writer learns. It was crap, and if the behind-the-scenes folks don't realize that (and how could it have made it to air if they had), then that right there is the first and biggest problem with the series. Who is running this thing, and why aren't they doing their job?

Sif showed up. That was nice. Asgardians are fun, and it seems that, no matter the writer working on them behind the scenes, everyone realizes that the closest thing the MCU has to Vulcans are an opportunity to play. Having Sif show up, memories missing, essentially the Asgardian equivalent to a teenager, could have been a fun romp. This show has resisted doing "funny episodes," I feel to it's detriment, as it would be a chance for the series to show a little personality (if SHIELD were at a party, it would be a sarcastic, self-important loner in the corner, who you'd get fed up talking to after a few minutes). Instead, they squandered that chance, and Jamie Alexander, in a CSI-esque episode where the team laughable gathered evidence which did little in helping them to further their investigation, because they kept getting handed the next piece of the puzzle. It was the worst detective story I've ever seen (and I watched a lot of CBS procedurals growing up). It was like the break down went "we know what parts A, C, F and H are going to be, so rather than fill in the gaps with logical progression, we'll throw in lines about Twitter and 'contacts' and not bother with the rest."

You know what this episode really made me want? Sif turning up on Agent Carter, undergoing a warrior training/proving exercise. Sif's a thousand years old, so that wouldn't be a problem, and I'd give a superfluous toe to see her banter with Peggy or fend off Howard's advances. Because this is what SHIELD has been reduced to now: a bleeding shadow of what it could have been, and what Agent Carter is. Part of me has wondered if ABC and Marvel have been keeping SHIELD on the air long enough for Joss Whedon to take over when he's done with the Avengers this spring. He as much said so before the first season premiere. Is it wrong that I'd be far more interested in seeing what he would do behind the director's chair of an episode of Carter than what he might bring to the third season of SHIELD? His recent comments have suggested he's far more likely to go off and do his own, unique thing. Which, at this point, distance from this perpetually sinking ship would be the wise choice.
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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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