Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Season 3 Review
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s third season is an odd and notably flawed entry in the series. Strictly speaking, it is still better than Agent’s first season which was outright bad for much of its first half, but, whereas the first season began to improve around its midpoint and maintained that upward shift in quality through to its finale, season 3 was never able to cultivate a proper sense of direction and this resulted in the quality being inconsistent throughout. Perhaps the oddest thing about this season is the fact that it didn’t really have any episodes that I would call bad, but the end result ended up feeling like less than the sum of its parts. Despite having a number of decent and even a couple great episodes this season, Agents was never able to get those disparate parts to come together into more concrete underlying narrative. There are plenty of elements to like. We get to see more Inhumans, Brett Dalton makes for a good villain, and the show was able to get Powers Boothe to show up for a while. However, for every entry in the plus column, there were more than a few in the minus column that prevented the narrative from coalescing into something that was actually good as a whole.
The first half of the season mainly suffered from a shaky pace. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s interactions with the ATCU were okay in theory, but the reveal that Hydra was the force behind the ATCU proved to be the most boring answer possible for what was an otherwise interesting question. Likewise, the more direct encounters with Hydra were almost laughably inconsistent as the show couldn’t decide how capable it wanted Brett Dalton’s Ward to be. One moment he’s killing his way through a half dozen bodyguards, then the next he’s getting his entire operation torn apart by only two people, then he takes on a room full of armed soldiers… only to then be killed by Coulson. This all culminates in him being turned into the big bad of the season, Hive, which, at the time, felt like the least interesting thing they could have done with Ward, and, sadly, now that it is all said and done, I can safely say that Hive rarely exceeded those expectations. He had some good moments such as his interactions with Powers Boothe’s Gideon Malick, but, by and large, he still felt like a missed opportunity. His plan to turn the Earth’s population into primitive Inhumans is just… rather bland. It is a very basic and by the numbers world domination plot, and, while that could have worked, Hive would have needed to be far more interesting in order to keep viewers invested.
And wasn’t Marvel building this season around the idea of introducing the Secret Warriors? What happened to that idea? So much time gets spent building up the idea of this team, and the most we ever get are a small handful of Inhumans working together for a very brief period. And why is it only Inhumans? What happened to using other types of enhanced individuals like Deathlok? I was very excited to see what they could do with a team built around premise of using powered individuals for covert operations, but I was left wondering if the show even understood the potential that was inherent in that premise. There were moments where the show capitalized on the idea enough to at least get some decent episodes out of it, but, looking back at the season as a whole, I can’t really say that the team they formed came close to living up to the premise. Furthermore, I would even go so far as to say that the group itself wasn’t really that relevant to the season’s narrative. Seriously, what did they actually do? They broke into a Hydra base in order to free the S.H.I.E.L.D. bus at the start of the episode The Team, and that is an episode name that is particularly hilarious due to the fact that the team gets broken up in that same episode.
So many elements of this season could have worked, but most of them fell flat despite their potential. That being said there were a number of good episodes. The self-contained story of 4,722 Hours felt like a breath of fresh air, even if the dark blue landscape of the alien setting became a bit tedious. Spacetime shook things up with its inclusion of a premonition granting Inhuman, and Paradise Lost granted viewers an intriguing glimpse at the events that helped shape Gideon Malick into the man he became. However, it is telling that the weakest elements of each of these episodes tended to be those bits that attempted to tie them to the rest of the season. In other words, they were strong episodes that were actually devalued by Agents’ attempts to connect them to the overall narrative. The season actually stumbles to a bizarre halt at the very end when it tries to tease at flurry of different story elements for season four. Unfortunately, none of these attempts to bait the audience actually work, and they ultimately feel like shallow attempts to replicate the excitement that was evoked by Simmons’ last minute abduction at the end of season two.
Before I wrap up, a few Notes and Nitpicks:
- So what did they throw at us in the last few minutes? Let’s see. Coulson isn’t the director anymore. Daisy is now a vigilante named Quake who is being hunted by S.H.I.E.L.D. Oh, and Radcliffe has apparently implemented Life Model Decoy technology. It’s possible that some of these elements may successfully shake up the formula for season 4, but, like I stated before, none of them hit me with any sense of impact of excitement.
- So, not only were Bobby and Hunter extraneous to much of this season, but ABC passed on their spin-off. I’m curious as to whether or not Agents will try to bring the characters back, though it might be better to keep them retired from the show. I suppose we shall see.
- I’m guessing Talbot is now director. I could be wrong, but I don’t care enough to try and think of other possibilities.
- The idea of an individual inside of S.H.I.E.L.D. turning into an insane Inhuman was an interesting idea, but Lash ended up just being a rather mediocre plot device to be used against Hive near the end.
- Fitz and Simmons are now a couple… which would be more interesting if it wasn’t pretty much the same place they left off at the end of last season.
- Best Episodes: 4,722 Hours (s03e05) for being a strong Simmons’ episode and offering some good drama and Spacetime (s03e15) for its Twelve Monkeys-ish twist on the formula.
- Worst Episodes: The episodes leading into the midseason break, Closure (s03e09) and Maveth (s03e10), remain the biggest messes of character choices and plot progression that the show offered all season. The finale was pretty messy but it at least had enough good elements to help balance it out, so I’m giving the “honor” to those two tedious balls of “What the hell am I watching?”
While certainly not a bad season or even a mediocre one, Agents' third season is a clear example of the show not living up to its potential. Due to the individual quality of a lot of the episodes, I feel like I can't give it a lower score than this, but, at the same time, I also feel like I probably should anyway. This was a mess of a season, and, even if it wasn't a total failure, the show might be in need of an overhaul. All in all, if I were to try and sum up this season in one word it would be "disappointing."