Marvel's Agents of SHIELD wrapped up its first season on Tuesday, and I wish I could say it did it in spectacular fashion, but after a somewhat lackluster season overall, the best I can dish out is that it was "markedly improved." The show essentially functioned as a procedural for the first half, following the activities of what seemed to be some very low level agents within the SHIELD agency, but most of the episodic plotlines weren't all that exciting, minus the occasional "event" episodes that brought in some crossover mythology from the latest Marvel movie, like Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It was also a better show when they introduced characters known in the Marvel comics, which tended to have the effect of making the series come to life a little more.
The biggest problem with the show however, which for most of its run this year, could be described as "fine," or "decent" (it was never a BAD show, and always exhibited potential, which is what kept me watching until the end), was probably its inability to develop compelling characters within the main cast. And that's a real issue, because this particular cast was not large, consisting of just six core characters. Agent Coulson of course, played by Clark Gregg of The Avengers movies, brought his wry charm to the lead role, but he was only so interesting overall, and the mystery over his back story and how he was revived after dying in The Avengers played out for far too long in the first half of the season and seemed to lead to a supremely anticlimactic answer. Everyone was assuming he was going to be revealed to be a robot, but it turns out he was brought back through "experimental surgery." Really? That's it? There was a little more to it than that in the end, involving the mysterious "Cree" alien blood that was used again to bring back Skye, but it didn't really justify spending all that time on it for at least 13 episodes.
As for Coulson's recruits, Ming-Na Wen as Melinda May proved to be the best of the cast, a veteran TV and movie actress who brought some fiery intensity and kickass older woman experience to the group, and the idea that she and Coulson have a long history in the agency together provided for a much more interesting dynamic than the new, younger SHIELD agents did. They were played by Chloe Bennet as hacker Skye, clearly the favored actress among the producers, as the other long-ranging arc of the show revolved around her quest to find her parents (another story that was left unanswered after spending so much time on it), and Brett Dalton as Grant Ward, the guy on the team who can fight and serve as the resident Ken doll heartthrob- an essential function on any teen-oriented series, it seems. And then there were Fitz and Simmons, the two joined at the hip British/Scottish scientists who were there to provide comic relief for the most part, but did actually become more and more entertaining as the season progressed.
The truth is all of the actors were fine (there's that dreaded adjective again) in their roles, but not especially scene-stealing. The good news however, is that when the latest Captain America movie came out in the spring, necessitating what appeared to be a total revamp in the entire premise of the show (if you've seen the film you'll know what I'm talking about), almost everything instantly became more interesting. The stakes were raised, Bill Paxton came in as a scenery-chewing Hydra agent, many people were killed, and Ward, who'd been probably the least interesting of the young agents, suddenly became something to be reckoned with, having been revealed to be a double agent for Paxton's character the entire season. From that point on, various twists were introduced, more Marvel mythology was taken into consideration, and even Fitz-Simmons became a pair to have a rooting interest in for their final scene of the finale. So, SHIELD upped the ante heavily for the last third of the season with a string of consistently good episodes, but if you ask me there's still room for improvement, which I will now offer as advice for next season in a series of bullet points:
- More Marvel characters, please. Deathlok was a good start, but he's not quite where he should be and the Marvel-verse provides an endless supply of C and D-list villains that could be used for guest appearances and cameos.
- Don't make Ward good again. He's much better as a bad guy and introduces a sense of real conflict into the team structure, which was a little too staid and settled for much of the season.
- Anything that ties into the movies always made for better episodes, so maybe they can have a storyline that leads into the second Avengers film next season and makes the show feel more urgent.
- There's a hint that Skye may be superpowered now after being injected with the Cree blood, so I demand for that to actually be the case. I grew to like Chloe Bennet by the end of the season, but she's another one who could use a little something extra added to her character and some superpowers might just be the perfect thing.
So there you have it. Agents of SHIELD eventually grew into a good show, if not a great one, enough so that I'm interested in sticking with it to see if they can maintain some momentum heading into next year. What did you think of the first season of Marvel's tie-in series?