[Review] - Agents of SHIELD, Season 2 Episode 20, "Scars"

Courtesy of Marvel Television Studios
Let us talk for a moment about the incongruity of the existence of Agents of SHIELD and the Marvel movies, because this episode starts with a big ol' smack upside the head of a reminder that as much as the show might want us to believe that is part of the bigger picture, it really isn't. This has been a point of contention since the series began, and it essentially boils down to "the tail won't wag the dog." The series, as all the Marvel television products are, are reactive to the films. I mentioned this in my review of Daredevil. The films are not reactive to the series. Logistically, they can't be. The movies are written years in advance of any of the TV episodes, and Marvel isn't so well planned that it could write a reactive movie to an episode that doesn't exist yet. However, they could structure a TV plot around an already filmed movie appearance. In both The Winter Solider and Age of Ultron, there were natural places for Phil Coulson to appear and contribute; so natural in fact that it felt disingenuous that he wasn't.

But more than that, the suspension of disbelief has been strained considerably this season. Age of Ultron makes repeated references to the collapse of SHIELD. A moment during the climax references Fury's involvement as "what SHIELD can be." As far as Tony and the Avengers are concerned, SHIELD is gone, it exists no more, it is a former organization, it spies on the choir invisible. And yet, on a weekly basis, this show insists that it isn't, and has been operating freely and openly since it's parent organization bit the dust. It undermines the effectiveness of the series when it is no longer credible to think that Stark, Rogers and Rominov wouldn't be very aware of Coulson's survival. When he was able to hide inside the mechanisms of an international agency, sure, but not when he's director, and working in conjunction with the US military. Which is a long way of walking towards the fact that Joss Whedon is essentially correct in his suggestion that the TV series don't count. The movies are for the majority of folks who watch the movies, and the TV shows are bonus points. If they are enjoyable, like Agent Carter and Daredevil, then power to them, and if they aren't, like Agents of SHIELD consistently isn't, then what is the point of them?

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers which have a cool underground base, and a boat.

This episode continued the two most prevalent trends this series refuses to let go of. First, things happened to characters we don't care about, but is meant to have an emotional reaction. And second, the goal posts were moved yet again. And it is the second of these tropes that is really starting to grind my gears. Driving instructors often tell students not to stare at the place you are going, but stare beyond it. If you stare at the location, or the object, you'll drive towards and into it. If you stare beyond it, you'll drive safety pass. These writers have taken this instruction to the nth level, staring so far down the road that plot point are flying by like mile markers, but never pulling over to enjoy the view. Not only does that make for patch-work storytelling, it it unpolished, unpracticed and feels cheap.

Let us recap the myriad of macguffins the team has had to contend with this season. First, it was Phil's head language. Then it was the diviner. Then it was the Kree ruins. Then it was Skye's powers, then it was the toolbox, then Project Theta, and now it's the squishy obelisk. Project theta turned out to be a fart in a wind storm, a half-assed back down into giving the show a tenuous connection to Age of Ultron, and attempting to mitigate the deus ex machina that was the Helicarrier's appearance during the climax of that film (which, if you don't watch the series, goes unexplained and just feels cheap). If any of these things had been truly focused on, developed and explained, and led to engaging storylines, then they might have been the foundation on which to build decent and enjoyable stories around. Instead, the writers treat them as passing fancies, and move on to the next one before we even realize we've already missed out on a pay-off.

Take for instance, the squishy obelisk, so called by me because yet again the writers are insisting on being purposefully vague as a way to manufacturer artificial drama. There have been veiled references to "something" in the the belly of Adama's ship for a few weeks now, I assume because the writers weren't exactly sure what they've stick down there until they had to pull the trigger on that plot device. It was Schrodinger's Plot Device, it could have been anything before it was revealed and will likely be disappointing. It could have been a mutant - oh, sorry, Enhanced - or an Asgard or even Graviton (remember him, because the writers don't). Now we're told it is a device the Inhumans fear, passed down in stories told for generations which we haven't heard despite living with the mutant hipsters for a handful of episodes now (seriously, how is Afterlife any different in functionality from Williamsburg?). So this thing is the Ark of the Convenient of the Inhumans, some Kree designed weapon meant to undue their genetic pokery. How convenient that it happens to be in the hold of the ship that just happened to show up and get Coulson all riled up at about the same time the Inhumans started playing a role on the show. Contrivance is a fine line between believable and lazy, and this smacks of lazy.

The other major events of this week's episode was the resignation of mac and the death of Adama. two characters that we are meant to feel a loss for, I guess. Except we don't. Or, I don't. Adama's characterization was all over the map. One minute, he'd be blowing holes in the wall and declaring war, the next he's all chummy trusty with Coulson. the only thing that saved him was Edward James Olmos' performance, and even he was having a hard time with some of the nonsense he was having to spout. And while Mac carved out a nice little niche in the first half of the season as Fitz' new sidekick, in the second half he was turned into an unlikable bigot (as have most of the cast). When Tripp died, it felt like an honest loss, because he'd had two halves of seasons to be established as an interesting and worth while character. Of course, the show wasn't interested in mourning Tripp in any substantial way, and all but forgotten that he was ever a character. If Mac had died during his possession, the same might have been true of him. Instead, what has be contributed in the second half of this season that couldn't have been done, done better and had more of an emotional impact, by Bobbi (who, after a season of being the shady double agent, is suddenly cheerleader for Team Coulson)?

The best scene of the episode was the opening one, and that isn't because of the show in any way. The opening scene was a brief look at the Patton Oswalt Show. He has Star Wars bed sheets, robot socks, and a propensity for all things nerdy. It was fun and light and enjoyable, and Couslon felt fun and light and enjoyable because of the atmosphere Oswalt created. But it wasn't the show, it was a Patton Oswalt vignette preceding business as usual, like a short that comes before a film. So of course, Patton completely disappears from the rest of the episode. He's a busy actor, and I understand that he can't be a recurring role. Except that the show set him up as one. They set him up as Couslon's Couslon. The fact that he hasn't been on the show in weeks is jarring.

One last comment, slightly connected to the notion of the squishy obelisk. Exact same problem, actually. In this episode the Inhuman as referred to as Inhumans, as a title and label. Except it felt forced. The reasoning is that, it is how they have been referred to for generations. Except, again, we've been in their midst for weeks now and this is the first we're hearing it used. We did hear the word once, used in a far better and appropriate context, by Fitz when he discovered Skye's condition. Because really, inhuman isn't a term of endearment. It's a racial epithet, and not likely something that an entire culture would embrace. In Fitz' use, it was referential to the source material, while also working in context, and not needing revisiting. The show has already introduced the term Enhanced as a synonym for mutant, that is really all they need. Having Skye declare the entire culture as Inhuman is pandering to the fans, and marking a check in a box of shit that is supposed to be impressive, but just comes off feeling needy. Which is this show in a nut shell.

Next week is the two hour finale, and I don't know if I have it in me to watch two consecutive hours of this show. I really don't...
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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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