[Review] - Agents of SHIELD, Season 2 Episode 18, "The Frenemy Of My Enemy"

Courtesy of Marvel Television Studios
That is a terrible title for an episode.

This week, the rumour mill chucked out a few more tidbits about the potential spinoff of Agents of SHIELD. The new show will have potential pilot written by co-showrunner Jeffrey Bell and co-executive producer Paul Zbyszewski, and starring Adrianne Palicki and Nick Blood as Bobbi Morris and Lance Hunter. This makes a certain amount of sense, as these two characters, both new to SHIELD this season, have been the most dynamic of the cast. Palicki is clearly having a blast in her role, and while Blood hasn't been given too much to actually do, he had been a welcome personality in the cast.

With that in mind, two questions come to mind. First, does ABC and Marvel really think that, considering how low SHIELD's ratings are, that a spin-off is a sustainable idea? Agent Carter, while not directly a spin-off, certainly under-performed to the extent that ABC is unlikely to renew it. Do they really think there is an extended audience for a show featuring even less well known characters, spun-off from a show with decrepit ratings and significantly worse critical reception then the period mini-series?

And two, while I understand the concept of a spin-off, one does question the point of introducing these characters into this environment, establishing relationships within this cast, and then removing them within a year. I assume that this was never intended, and that Palicki's performance impressed enough of the mucky-mucks that they first promoted her to main cast, then designed a series for her, which if true, is a resounding accomplishment on her part. But it undermines the core series, removing elements that work well, leaving once again only the dry and breaking bones of a concept these show runners have no idea how to properly execute.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that always choose Neapolitan.


And now, to switch tones unexpectedly, I actually enjoyed this episode. the last few weeks have been horrid, but this episode showed life. Don't get me wrong, there was still much wrong with it in terms of story structure and pacing, and ultimate point, but the characters felt true to themselves, they interacted like human beings, and for the first time since this time last year, Ward was a character I didn't hate. And Skye's storyline didn't make me want to face palm with the underside of a soccer cleat. The whole experience made me very uncomfortable.

Kyle MacLachlan really has been this show's savior this past season. I've said it many times before, mostly because it bares repeating, but also because without saying it, there wouldn't be much else positive to say. Any screen time he gets as Cal, especially when he's able to draw on genuine emotional content rather than blind fury, sparks in a way that this show doesn't deserve. Skye scenes are normally the most cringe inducing, and those where she was up against Franken-mom or Forced Chemistry were certianly true to that tune. But the scenes where she and Cal were wandering around Milwaukee or where-ever felt like better scenes from a better show. the first half of the season spent so much time building him up as a monster, and now we're getting the chance to see things from his perspective, and sympathize with him. I won't say he's akin to Daredevil's Fisk, but it's hard not to see Cal as a victim, and route for him.

And because we're routing for him, because we know what he's sacrificed both physically and emotionally to find Skye, scenes like at the end, when he takes on a Hydra troop himself feel all the more satisfying and earned. cal is unexpectedly becoming the hero the show has needed since day one. Coulson's obsession with finding and protecting Skye is an empty quest because we don't really know why he's doing it. She's part of his team, and he feels responsible for her yes, but beyond that, there isn't anything deeper. The show was so intent on establishing a father-daughter bond between Coulson and Skye that they never built it on anything stronger than the base concept.

So, as Coulson goes around, making deals with the devil and such, it feels only exactly the same as when he was brain-jacked by the Kree writing in his noodle. He's powerless against the Powers That Be, the producers who had decreed that events shall occur not because they should, but because they must. As Coulson surrendered himself at the episode's end, I came to something of an ultimate conclusion: Coulson isn't the star of this show anymore, if he ever was. The problem is, there is no star, and it isn't an ensemble cast either. There are a lot of characters, but none of them lead the plot, and that is why the show feels so directionless.

The episode really was illustrative of the problem these writers, under the direction of these show runners, have with making the serialized nature of the show work organically. Coulson escapes SHIELD custody, goes on the run, slowly assembles a team to make an offensive against... someone, but gets distracted in trying to find Skye, only to find her, lose her, and get taken back into SHIELD custody. Making the last handful of episodes little more than filler, in terms of plot development. This show is like a car circling a parking lot looking for the best possible parking spot. Pulling in and parking are the developments, but the going around and around is just wasting time until the opportunity presents itself. In the show's case, it is a matter of filling 22 episodes with 13 episodes of workable material. Agent Carter accomplished more in 8 episodes than SHIELD has in 18, and Daredevil managed in 13 episodes more SHIELD has in it's entire two year run.

This episode also remembered that Hydra is a thing, and there again is their inability to properly focus on matters at hand. Hydra's reappearance at this point is only to build up connections to Age of Ultron, complete with overt references to Strucker and such. Last year at this time, they were able to pull off a connection to the Winter Soldier by using the element of surprise. This year, with Ultron seen coming a mile off, the show can afford to exist in it's usual comfort zone, which is as subtle as the aforementioned soccer cleat. Here, they used Hydra as an excuse to pull off a fairly lazy way to bring all three plot lines together.

There is no achievement at play here. Coulson didn't investigate this with finesse, nor did May prove her caliber as a leader. Coulson stumble-bummed into finding Skye becuase Hydra just happened to pick up Gordon's quantum signature after Deathlok was on board their plane, and Simmons happened to hack into Deathlok's feed just as Hydra, SHIELD and the Inhumans all came to a head. It was lazy happenstance, yet another example of the show needing something to happen, and not putting enough effort into working out the details.
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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.

1 comments :

  1. Your research is a bit faulty. AoS actually topped their timeslot for the target demographic last week - when you factor in the intellect of those who watch it and account for the fact many (most?) of them DVR it to watch later or stream it off HuluPlus or some other streaming site. Agent Carter also fared much better when the Overnight +3 Ratings were analyzed.

    My guess is, you are getting word they're negotiating with Palicki and Blood to star in the new show because Gregg, Wen, Caestecker, Henstridge, Dalton and Bennett are already set to move to the new show as well? It's possible, if Marvel had intentions of re-engineering the show under Olmos, that they brought in Mockingbird, Hunter and Mack to stock Gonzales' crew and realize Blood and Palicki's chemistry with the original cast was so good, they've decided to move them as well. Mack would likely stay with S.H.I.E.L.D. as the original six plus Bobbi and Lance (and Kara and Deathlok?) spin-off into the new show (Secret Warriors?).

    Coulson's penchant for letting things scatter out from under him would be better suited to a show like Secret Warriors while holding an organization together seems, to me, to be an attribute Gonzales has in spades.

    And, I always thought it was "muckety-mucks" and not "mucky-mucks".

    I agree on MacLachlan's contribution to the show. He has been incredible and his interpretation of the character - the way he glides into and out of insanity - has been inspired.

    But, I don't think you're giving enough credit to the character Coulson who is supremely confident in his ability (and, that of his team) to be able to walk away from the entanglements in which they find themselves. He's analyzed his enemies and has concluded that Gonzales can provide him with the tools he needs to accomplish his goals.

    And, I don't think his goal, anymore, is re-establishing S.H.I.E.L.D. He probably trusts Gonzales to be able to do that. Coulson's goal, now, is to protect the "powered individuals" from people like Gonzales and Hydra. That's why I think he will be the one to head the spin-off and Olmos will settle into the Director's Chair at S.H.I.E.L.D.

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