[Review] - Agents Of SHIELD, Season 2 Episode 19, "The Dirty Half Dozen"

Courtesy of Marvel Television Studios
Perhaps a bit of clarity in the ongoing question of why Agents of SHIELD isn't a better show bubbled to the surface this week, and provided a bit of retroactive clarification as to how this show got going in the first place. It would seem that either we've been wrong about our assumptions, or that Joss Whedon's opinion on the series has cooled as much as the audience's has over the last two years. Over the past few weeks, Whedon has been in heavy press mode, hocking Age of Ultron, and has been very candid about his relationship with Marvel. Perhaps a bit too candid for Marvel's liking. He's made it very clear that Ultron is his last project for them, and as such has been not burning his bridges, but certainly whittling the supports.

The assumption has long been that Whedon took the idea of doing the Agents of SHIELD TV series to Marvel. This now appears to be false, and that it was the newly created and untested television division that took the idea to Joss, pre-Avengers. And that Joss agreed to back the series with an eye on career security. There was an interview (and I've looked and can't find it and I apologize for the hearsay reporting at this point) back around the time of The Dark World's release, and Joss gave an interview on the progress of then Avengers 2. He was asked what he planned to do next, and his answer was something to the effect of "we've got this SHIELD series; if it's still around I'll probably go work on that." His more recent comments have been dramatically different. Now, he's taking a rest, and doing something original. But it does suggest that the original plan, and the whole reason that his brother and sister-in-law were installed as showrunners, was that they were place holders, waiting for Joss to get done with his movie and come take the reins.

Then there is the way he's discussing the relationship between the series and the movies. Back when the show started he said, referring to Avenger cameos and references to the movies, "There will be as much as we can allow...We're still working that out... This show has to work for people who haven't seen the movies." Now, he's lifted the veil slightly, saying "I think actually the movie people were a little bit cross about the TV show. [Marvel] were sort of like 'Well you can have this but not this. And this but not that.' It's complicated enough as it is without me adding another layer of complication. We also created a TV show called SHIELD right before they made a movie where they destroyed SHIELD. So everybody’s having a great time!"

While the basic idea of a show centered around SHIELD agents might have been born out of Joss, the involvement of Coulson certainly seems to have been forced upon him by Marvel. And that he begrudgingly went along with it, because he was a company man. Here are some comments he has made over several interviews in recent weeks:
"In terms of the narrative of [The Avengers] his loss was very important. When I created the television show, it was sort of on the understanding that this can work and we can do it with integrity, but these Avengers movies are for people to see the Avengers movies and nothing else. And it would neither make sense nor be useful to say ‘Oh and by the way remember me? I died!'
"The Coulson thing was, I think, a little anomalous just because that really came from the television division, which is sort of considered to be its own subsection of the Marvel universe. As far as the fiction of the movies, Coulson is dead.
"But I have to say, watching the first one with my kids—I had not watched the first one since it came out—and then watching it with my kids and watching Coulson die but [thinking], 'Yeah, but I know that he kind of isn't,' it did take some of the punch out of it for me. Of course, I spent a lot of time making sure he didn't. And at the time it seemed inoffensive, as long as it wasn't referenced in the second movie, which it isn't.
"There's a thing where you can do that so many times and there's nothing at stake. But it's difficult because you're living in franchise world—not just Marvel, but in most big films—where you can't kill anyone, or anybody significant. And now I find myself with a huge crew of people and, although I’m not as bloodthirsty as some people like to pretend, I think it’s disingenuous to say we’re going to fight this great battle, but there's not going to be any loss. So my feeling in these situations with Marvel is that if somebody has to be placed on the altar and sacrificed, I'll let you guys decide if they stay there."
Add that all up, and this is what we get: a somewhat unwanted series with placeholder showrunners who have no long term vision for the show, because the man expected to eventually run things ran himself into the ground trying to match or exceed expectations of his little movie that made a billion dollars. In light of all that, it's no wonder this show is a mess. It comes as close to a valid excuse as anything I've heard to this point.

Hit the jump for the review of this year's movie tie-in episode, which contains spoilers that really wish they hadn't eaten that Hot Pocket earlier.

So... Simmons is a monster. That isn't a question, that is an observation. And under normal circumstances, I'd applaud such a dark piece of character development. Problem is, the writers have a hard time doing this organically on this show, so character changes tend to happen in fits and starts, suddenly transforming characters into new people between episodes. This was on display with Simmons earlier in the season, when she became an unrepentant racist over night (though less noticeably because every character save Coulson apparently shared her views, especially those coming from Adama's ship (yeah, I know his name isn't Adama, but the show yet again isn't endearing the character to me enough for me to care about his real name).

Now, here, Simmons straight up plots to murder Ward. Enacts her plan, actually, and succeeds in murdering Bocce-ball. I'll repeat that for folk in the cheap seats: Simmons Murdered Bocce-ball. Had this been the natural evolution of her character arc, the result of a slow spiral into madness driven by Ward's betrayal and grief over Fitz' condition, it might have held some emotional sway. Except it isn't It is just another in a long line of "now this is happening" events that define this series. They took the sweetest, most gentle character and had her murder someone with little hesitation. Normally, that would be worthy of applause and accolades. Here, it feels glib and manipulative.

 Also feeling glib and manipulative was the tacked on ending, which tied the episode's events to this weekend's Age of Ultron. Last year, the show went all out, taking six episodes to delve into the fall out of Winter Solider. This was considerably more low key, and again, it feels like it was the right idea with terrible execution. Had Coulson's motives these last few episodes, or months even, suggested that he was operating at the behest of Hill, looking for the thing that killed him, that would have felt natural, reasonable and respectable. A systematic cataloging of everything that Hydra took from SHIELD, and in natural course, eliminating Hydra as they went, would have kept Hydra in the forefront as the clear and present danger, and a continuous reveal of all the evil things Hydra was up to would have built up the tension leading to the discovery of Loki's spear being in their possession.

It could have even been used as a far more natural way to introduce the Inhumans, as Hydra is clearly interested in powered individuals. Instead, the series has taken us on a meandering path through various go no where storylines, and culminated in a tacked on three minute sequence that felt utterly divorced from the rest of the episode. Of course, the feeling of being divorced is the regular sensation one gets from watching this show. If you eliminate the last three or four episodes, everything from before Coulson went on the run, and just jump from there to here, what is actually lost? Skye's Yoda-training? Some exposition about who the other SHIELD is, and who the gap ad models living in Nepal are? In terms of characterization, in terms of plot, in terms of anything of substance, those episodes are rendered pointless by the fact that they have no lasting consequences as of this episode. Everyone is back on the same team, everyone trusts one another again, and everyhting else has been filler.

This was actually a pretty strong episode, as episodes of this show go. but I can't help but see all the missteps the series has taken along the way, overriding the events of each episode. Like Dr. List, who is for all intents and purposes Dr. Whitehall, except less interesting than Dr. Whitehall. He has the same ambition as Whitehall, the same predilections, and works for the same organization. But he's less dynamic, and there is less of an emotional connection between List and the SHIELD team and Cal. So, why then kill Whitehall? What did that accomplish that keeping him alive, and having him be a proper villain that actually poses a danger over the course of an entire season would have? Was it just actor availability? Or was it the shortsightedness of the production? I'm guessing the latter. Because as the series continues, it becomes more and more obvious in retrospect that the production team is very near sighted. They cannot operate fourth dimensionally. They cannot think ahead of themselves, and position characters and plots to function as natural or achieved payoffs. Hydra should have been a pressing and immediate threat this entire season. But their leadership gets wiped out, and they disappear for great swatches of episodes, only to reappear when convenient for a cross-over. the show gets so distracted with rabbit holes, it never tends the garden. And that makes for really distracting viewing.
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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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