[Review] - Agents Of SHIELD, Season 2 Episode 17, "Melinda"

Courtesy of Marvel Television Studios
While I watched this episode, I was also scrapping caked-on BBQ sauce off a cookie sheet. And I was surprised at how engaging the evening ultimately turned out. The episode wasn't half bad either.

Seriously, in the wake of recent episodes, this episode was practically Masterpiece Theatre. It wasn't, let's be clear on that, but the balance of "good" to "suck" tipped more steadily in the favour of "good." It felt like an important episode creatively, because it was a clear-cut example of what the show is doing wrong with itself. In an episode divided between three plot lines, across two times, the flashbacks shouldn't be more engaging and interesting than the on-going storyline. Yet, that is what happened.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that want your pain.

Every once and a while on this show, the writers really hook into something with the characters that makes them feel alive and energized in a way that they usually aren't. For Fitz, with was suffering brain damage (though that seems to be wearing off, something I wasn't aware brain damage did). For the bulk of the characters, this occurs whenever there is an opportunity for them to play the characters as they were before the events of the series. Let that sink in. The characters are more interesting when they are the versions of themselves from before this show sucked any personality from them. The show has had it's succubus claws into Coulson from the beginning, and we have the films to constantly remind us how cool he was "before." But the rest of the characters are original to the series. They should be just as dull and lifeless, no matter their temporal location. And yet, as was the case with the flashbacks in this episode. Everyone is better before the lesser Whedons got their hands on them, even within the fiction.

The episode's first and foremost point was the reveal the events that turned May from a happy, well balanced field agent in a happy marriage, to the quiet, divorced, emotionally unavailable and ruthless killing machine we've come to know. I was concerned. Going back and filling in the gaps, after shrouding something like this in so much ambiguity, can backfire on a series. If the event doesn't live up to the effect that it's had, it can seem disingenuous. And frankly, I didn't feel that this show was up to the task. Turns out, they were. It's pretty much been the only task they've been up to on this show, but they manged to make May's backstory emotionally damaging and informative. And, really undercuts the whole "acceptable racism" thread they've been knitting this year, as May now seems to have a greater reason to hate "powers" than anyone, and she was the first to accept Skye as is. That casual racism thing is really starting to get on my nerves though, because it didn't exist before Trip died, and now its everywhere. And since Marvel doesn't have the decades of mutant hate to work off of, this all just makes it seem like everyone in the MCU is just a massive bigot.

The show continues to not understand how to make the modern day proceedings in any way good. Skye's subplot was a lot of decompression around what is essentially a soap opera version of the "Luke, I am your father" scene, then setting all manner of roadblocks around that reveal so that some manufactured drama can disrupt things down the line. Forced Chemistry guy is another example of someone the show is intent on "using," though we'll see if they manage to pull it off, because this show has a critical "failure to execute" problem. Maybe it's performance anxiety, in which case, get off my TV and don't come back until you can get on with it.

Over on the SHIELD side of things, with Bobbi and Mac's unnecessarily mysterious subplot taken care of, they've now moved on and introduced Coulson's unnecessarily mysterious subplot, Project Theta, which is shaping up to be the idea that Coulson was putting together his own Avengers. With the rumor that ABC is looking to spin-off Agents of SHIELD, suddenly I'm seeing forced spin-off bait around every corner. Would a new series follow Admiral Adama and his battle-carrier of bigots? Would it follow the world's least interesting Inhumans? Or would it centre on Deathlok leading an actual superhero team, which I thought was kind of supposed to be what this show was?

This is another example of the show being good when it's interested in being good. I give the writers no end of grief for not living up to their end of the deal (writing good material), and to be fair, the viewers by and large have reacted by not watching the show (which makes spin-off talk all the more baffling). Episodes like this remind us that the show is very good when being reactive, whether that be to an external force (Winter Soldier) or their own internal structure (May's past informs her actions), but super crap at forging their own path. When left to their own devices, they meander, and trip and tend to get distracted and move on before bringing anything to a close. It's the TV equivalent of a cat chasing a laser pointer. As proof of that, the whole point of the flash back  - that Coulson, as good a guy as he is, is secretive and dangerous because of it - is made moot by the ultimate reveal that Melinda's Calvary situation was in no way Coulson's fault. In fact, he did everything he could to help and support her, during and after. So, the show shoots straight, but still manages to miss the target.

Meanwhile, apparently Agent Carter is on the bubble for renewal, and its clear that ABC doesn't know what the fuck they doing with this franchise.
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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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