With the home video release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier coming next week, I finally got around to crash-watching the final 13 episodes of Agents of SHIELD, one of those shows which I originally stayed with week in, week out, but which didn’t exert enough of a pull in its opening 10 episodes to get me back after the hiatus – and I realised that even episode 10’s review wasn’t posted.
A lot of people commented how the show seemed to find its feet in the second half of the season, and they’re right. Once the TAHITI project starts to come under the spotlight properly, things start to improve, and with episodes 16 and 17 coinciding with the events of The Winter Soldier, it becomes a very different programme altogether.
The Rosencrantz and Guildernstern Are Dead element to the series continues – we’re seeing what goes on away from the superheroes, particularly in those two stories, and you can almost feel the palpable relief from the producers when they can stop pussyfooting around with talk of the Clairvoyant, and reveal HYDRA’s role in affairs. But it’s not just an Rosencrantz… show: the last few episodes pick up the story from the end of Winter Soldier, with explanations for Maria Hill’s actions at the conclusion of that film, and a great appearance by Samuel L. Jackson in the finale which moves the SHIELD story on into the next phase.
It might have helped the series had Winter Soldier been the late 2013 release rather than the spring 2014 – Agents of SHIELD had to set up various elements prior to HYDRA coming out of the shadows, but it did sometimes feel as if it was taking too long. However, it gave us a chance to get to know the characters, so the betrayals – and there are multiple ones on different levels – hit home. I’m not totally convinced that everything tracks with regard to John Garrett’s actions (there felt like some retconning going on later in the season), but you can track Ward across the season, and likewise Sky, Fitz and Simmons.
The series has been a showcase for Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson, with some lovely laconic moments (his reaction to the discovery of the identity of the Project TAHITI boss is a classic), as well as action sequences which have shown that not all adventure series leads need to be in their 20s. Ming-Na Wen has made a strong number two for him as Agent Melinda May, with both Brett Dalton and Chloe Bennet making Ward and Skye far more than the cyphers they occasionally appeared to be early on. As for Iain de Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge, the double act of Fitz and Simmons stopped being half as annoying once the writers started to concentrate on their separate personalities, and keeping them apart from time to time.
As far as the Marvel Cinematic Universe is concerned, there have been some nice touches – mentions of superheroes we’ve not yet even had suggested as the subject of films or series (Man-Thing, for example, gets a name check towards the end of the season), although great care has been taken to ensure that those who don’t follow the series won’t be put off in the next big screen adventure (only Lady Sif, Nick Fury and Maria Hill of the extant big-screen cast know Phil is still alive).
Avengers: Age of Ultron is due for release on 1 May next year; that gives Agents of SHIELD’s sophomore year free rein in the Marvel Universe till then. Based on the second half of the season, I’m now excited to see what comes next…
Verdict: A much improved show justifies its place in the MCU. 8/10