Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2 Premiere Review
Well, that was certainly a hectic adrenaline filled start. It would appear that after a somewhat shaky first season Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. wants to prove that it will hit the ground running with season 2. In some ways, this is an admirable sentiment. One of the biggest problems that I had with the early episodes of the first season was that they failed to properly explore the universe that they were set in and instead restricted themselves to very insular case-of-the-week plots. During those episodes, I often referred to the show as NCIS: Marvel Universe, due to the case-of-the-week style and quirky banter between the characters (To be fair, NCIS had better character chemistry during it’s first season than Agents did). As a result, even when the show was doing a competent job, it ended up feeling underwhelming. It was sort of like having a small town medical drama that is set in Middle Earth. It may be somewhat competently done, but even if you have Nick Fury show up to complain about damages, or Gandalf pop in to have that ingrown toenail dealt with, it’s still going to leave the viewer wanting more. And, as the first half of that season proved, it makes it all the more infuriating when it isn’t done particularly competently.
It feels like this premiere might be intended as a direct counter to the somewhat lackluster premiere from last season. Whereas that season started off with a really bare-bones pilot where we met each member of our regular cast as they dealt with a rather uninteresting case-of-the-week villain, this one throws numerous new cast members at us, several hints at upcoming plot points, callbacks (or callforwards maybe?) to the upcoming Agent Carter TV series, and a named supervillain that fans of Marvel comics will actually recognize. While I certainly appreciate the energy and prefer this execution over that of the pilot, I feel that the show would have benefited from occasionally taking its foot of the accelerator. I came out of the episode feeling like I had experienced whiplash… No, Whiplash is not the villain that appears in this.
I’d love to go through the new cast members but they’re largely thrown at the viewer in a rapid fire manner, and it looks like the show is largely going to wait till next week to familiarize us with its newest additions. Still, it is nice to see Adrian Pasdar returning as the newly promoted Brigadier General Glenn Talbot. It would appear that, for the time being, Talbot will be continuing his mission from the first season to track down and eliminate the remnants of both S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra, which of course puts him at odds with now-Director Coulson. Somewhat ironically, this would make him the Thunderbolt Ross to Coulson’s Bruce Banner.
As for the returning characters, most are given small moments to shine, but the hectic pacing rarely gives them a moment to breathe. Strangely enough, the one scene that took the time to slow down and relax was the scene that featured Ward and Skye. I found this somewhat surprising given the fact that Ward was never exactly what I would call laid back, but here he is being kept under lock and key in the basement of the S.H.I.E.L.D. facility as an easily accessible Hydra informant. The scene between the two plays out well enough but, aside from a few brief insights into Ward’s current mindset, it’s largely just used to move the plot of the episode forward. That and drop a cryptic hint regarding Skye’s father, but what can I say? Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. loves its cryptic hints.
Fitz and Simmons also get a little bit of focus throughout the episode. It would appear that they are going through a rough patch as Fitz tries to work through aphasia and confusion caused by his injuries from the season 1 finale. This ends up culminating in a reveal that, while effective, feels like it could have had a bit more time devoted to it. Still, it’s nice to see that they probably won’t simply be relegated to the roles “Resident Quirky Brits” this season.
The actual plot of the episode largely focuses around a race to find an as of yet unexplained McGuffin that Agent Carter recovered from a Hydra base back in the 40s. Judging from a number of minor hints the item, referred to as “The Obelisk,” is probably Kree in origin and seemingly deteriorates any organic tissue that comes in contact with it. The Obelisk is being sought by Carl “Crusher” Creel, better known to comic fans as the Absorbing Man. While Creel doesn’t say much, the effects used for his abilities are fantastic, and as a result he is visually far more impressive than last season’s Deathlok. The show didn’t skimp on showing him transforming his body into various substances, and the scenes in which he does so are some of my favorites in this episode.
Before I wrap this up, a few Notes and Nitpicks:
- This actually isn’t the first time both The Absorbing Man and Talbot appeared together in live action. In Ang Lee’s Hulk, the Absorbing Man was given a heavily altered backstory in which he was the father of Bruce Banner and was played by Nick Nolte. And do you remember the dumbass who tried to shoot the Hulk with an exploding round only to have it ricochet back in his face? That was Josh Lucas as Major Glenn Talbot.
- I liked the nod to the Absorbing Man’s ball and chain from the comics. It was a nice little reference to the comics, that didn’t distract from the episode itself.
- I kinda want Kyle MacLachlan to have pyrokinetic powers. Get it? Because then fire could literally walk with him.
- For all the Twin Peaks jokes I’ve seen regarding MacLachlan’s casting, I don’t know that I’ve seen any references to Believe, despite it having been about superpowered individuals. I think that might say more about the quality of Believe, than I possibly can.
- Am I the only one who finds this resigned and cooperative Ward far more appealing than he ever was in the first season? I was prepared to roll my eyes all through that scene between him and Skye, but I actually walked away from it glad to see the character.
Overall, I found it surprisingly difficult to gather my thoughts on this episode. It throws numerous characters and backstories at us this week at a rate that is almost reminiscent of Heroes. Now, given the events of the episode, it would appear that some of those characters will not be returning, but it doesn’t change the fact that their presence served to complicate the already hectic proceedings. Hopefully next week’s episode will be able to slow the plot down a bit, and devote some time to character building. Plus, you know, we’ll supposedly get to meet Kyle MacLachlan’s character. I actually found this episode to be quite enjoyable, but, for the most part, it failed to leave a lasting impact beyond it’s fun action and effects. This is not a bad start to the second season. In fact, it’s a pretty good start. It’s certainly better than the pilot, but I feel that a few basic changes could have served to improve it significantly.
All in all, the show is off to a promising start. I can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to review every episode as it comes out, but I will try to get them out as quickly as possible. It has some strong elements including a great new villain, and, despite an array of nitpicks, I’m glad to see that season 2 of Agents of SHIELD chose to come out of the gate swinging.