Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Agents of SHIELD, Agents of Suck or Agents of Meh?

The TV season is almost back on, so I figured it was time to start my review of, well, last season.  And I decided to start with my usual punching bag, Marvel's TV show Agents of SHIELD

Until I went looking, I didn't know how much space Agents of SHIELD had sucked up on the blog.  I really didn't.  It pissed me off so badly, I've blown about eight blog posts, and God only knows how many words on this.

By mid-season, I was starting to wonder what the bloody blue Hell is going on on this frigging show! Sexual relationships with actors who are 22 years apart?  Ick. Just ... no.

Meanwhile, over at The American Journal, I had a conversation about the ten reasons why Arrow beat the ever-loving crap out of AoS. And I had to cheat to expand the reasons why AoS had anything at all to offer.

When Forbes chimed on on the situation, they dismissed "those nitpicking nerds crying over wanting a tie-in show." That's when I took Forbes out to the woodshed and I beat them over the head with their idiocy.

Then I discussed how the show got better after Winter Soldier came out. Because they were allowed to actually have a plot.

Then it ended with Samuel L. Jackson as the deus ex muthaf*&ka himself, Nick Fury.  In short, the last six episodes were kinda fun.

And I declared that Agents of SHIELD no longer sucked by season two.  Yay! We're doing spy crap on a spy show!. And having comic book characters on a comic book show!  Wow, who would have thought?

Later, I tried to tie Agents of SHIELD in with the rest of the MCU, or at least see where it was going.

In short, it's been a fairly long while since I mentioned Agents of SHIELD.  I had more to say about it when it was a just plain crappy show that I wanted to become interesting.

So, what happened in Season 2?  Spoilers, if you care.

Agent Coulson starts rebuilding SHIELD after the events of The Winter Soldier, using tech and facilities of the old SHIELD, but rebuilding the personnel.  How we can have anything left over from the old SHIELD if Winter Soldier spilled those secrets all over the internet?  No idea.  Presume that Nick Fury had secrets he never put in computer files, and that only he knew about -- secrets that include Coulson's continued, postmortem existence.

Granted, for this to work, it must include every old, Peggy Carter-era facility, as well as several helicarriers that Coulson has in store for Avengers: Age of Ultron. But that came later.

So, those are the plot holes for EPISODE 1.

Raina, as not-a-mutant
Now, from the first episode, Coulson's SHIELD is chasing a magical alien rock that creates X-Men style mutants.  Yup. Can't use the actual X-Men mutants because Fox has the license, so we're just going to relabel all of them as "Inhumans," even though they were a different branch of the comic book franchise.

The people looking for this rock include Hydra, Kyle MacLachlan (playing a heavily modified Hyde from the comic books), and "The Girl in the Flower Dress," Raina, from season two.  A character so annoying I CHEERED when they finally offed the pretentious, traitorous, obvious little freak (and this was my description of her BEFORE she grew spikes).

Now, let's see if you can follow this season's plot.

Hydra wants the magic rock, because we have a LITERAL 100 year old Nazi (a Dr. Whitehall, played by Reed Diamond) who gained longevity by taking the blood and organs and marrow of a woman who doesn't seem to age -- we learn that she lives that long by sucking the life out of others, but the Hydra agent doesn't do that himself, so how does that work?

The midseason finale is full Indiana Jones.  The 100 year old Nazi is trying to activate the magic rock at a special archaeological site that doesn't look anything like something out of Raiders, honest. We kill the 100 year old Nazi, but the magic rock is activated, mutating Raina and "changing" Skye (you know, the OTHER person we care nothing about). The next episode involves clearing out the rest of the Hydra hierarchy, Godfather style.

After several episodes meandering around with Skye's father, Mister Hyde, who had more mood swings than .... most of Joss Whedon's bad guys ... we get a full explanation of what the magic rock was.  It was a Kree invention to make weapons out of humans -- a project that worked so well, the Kree ran away screaming in terror.

If you're thinking this is a way to link Guardians of the Galaxy with the rest of the Marvel media universe, I suspect you're right.

Also, why was Mr. Twin Peaks himself the most interesting character this season? Seriously, why?

Then, we get Edward James Olmos leading another faction of SHIELD.  Yes, another faction. Because SHIELD just left all of its toys lying around all over the place, so far off the books that DUMPING ALL OF SHIELD'S DATA ONTO THE INTERNET means that half the tech and facilities are still in one piece. Yes. Really. After both parts of SHIELD do something really radical, and actually, you know, TALK TO EACH OTHER, they agree to rule by committee. Because that always works.

Skye shatters windows. That makes her "Quake,"
and thus... Interesting?
But wait, there's more!  Since Skye was changed by the magic rock, she can level a building by vibrating the molecules to death, So, after treating Skye like she's a mutant in the X-men universe, she falls in among other "Inhumans."  Now, after being a general prick, and acting like a politician out of X-Men, Edward James Olmos wants to meet with the Inhuman leader (Skye's mother).

So, of course, the Inhumans are more like Magento than Professor Xavier. Raina knows, and is murdered for it. There's a plot to take over a SHIELD vessel with a MacGuffin device that is never explained.

Skye's mother is killed, but a collection of magic rock falls into the ocean, and is going to create a legion of mutants, so Agents of SHIELD can build up a Secret Warriors franchise.

If you think "Wait, did they just have three plotlines this year?" The answer is yes.

And really, it was okay.  It was handled well enough that it wasn't a complete and utter freaking disaster. There was a decided effort this time out, unlike the first season that was nothing but filler until Winter Soldier came out.  It felt like someone said "We had no plot in season 1 until the end -- let's do ALL of the plot we should have had the first time out, and when we finish that, expand the Marvel universe some more."

Absorbing Man, in action
And overall ... it was okay?

Hydra had, in its arsenal, Crusher Creel, an Absorbing Man who has been lowered in power levels for this series, because you can't have him on Hulk-level strength, when all you have are SpecOps people at most.  And, some of the Hydra people include a "Marcus Scarlotti" -- a variation on one of the original Iron Man villains, Whiplash.

I'll at least give them some props for trying this season.  There is at least a modicum of effort this time out.  You can see that someone took notes from Arrow and The Flash -- if you can't use big-name villains like the Joker or Lex Luthor, you can use B-grade villains like the Pied Piper and make them threatening.

In the case of AoS, this include Bobbi Morse, or Mockingbird, from the comics, played by Adrianne Palicki.  If the actress name doesn't sound familiar, she was in a tv pilot for Wonder Woman, that failed terribly.

Apparently, people were so impressed with her at ABC, they're still going back and forth about giving her her own TV show. I don't see it, but then again, I think she might have been able to pull off Wonder Woman if her show hadn't been so terribly, terribly written. And painful.  And seriously what were they thinking and ....

Deep breath.  Okay, I'm better now.

This season, characters have back story. They don't have a lot of personality yet, but they have back story. After season 2, Fitz survived (damnit) and came back with brain damage, and I can't tell if it was a good attempt to give him character and make him interesting, or an act of sadism to make someone with BRAIN DAMAGE work on technology. His scientific cohort and poorly handled love interest, Gemma, develops a strange and sudden anti-Mutant (sorry, "Inhuman") bigotry that comes out virulently and jarringly.  Um, great, they're giving her a personality, but can they make one that matches with what we've seen of the character?

Then there was Coulson. Coulson went from being made slightly crazy by the alien chemicals that resurrected him, to being full-on psychotic, to being immediately cool and confident again the very next episode, through the rest of the season.  Seriously, what? Why? How? Oh screw it, Coulson is the most interesting character in the whole series, no matter how much they try to make it Agents of Skye.

And, seriously, Skye is still not interesting. They've decided to turn her into the comic book character Quake, who was, really, a bit of a badass, and one of the few SHIELD Agents who had clearance on the level of Fury, Black Widow, or Maria Hill.  She was a swaggering badass.

And they made her ... Skye?

No, seriously, what the hell?

Now, granted, they've done a LOT to help her character develop and change.  But look at this outfit for next season.

Hey! She looks like another fan favorite! Now, surely somebody will find her interesting! Right?

Hey, Skye, Black Widow wants her costume back.

And, seriously, aren't you a little short to be Scarlett Johansson?

Somebody is trying way too hard to make her look interesting without actually being interesting. And it's not just the costume.

Look at this scene a moment, will you?

Nice dancing, huh?  Very John Wick.  One continuous shot. Not a stunt woman, the actress. Congratulations, the gun fu is strong with this one...

So what?  Seriously, what writer or exec is so in love with this character that she is such a strong focus of this show? Just because she can kick ass and take names (now) is not a replacement for having a personality.

Gah. Rant over.

At the end of the day, you can see improvements.  It felt like somebody watched a DC CW show and said "Wait? You mean we can have nice things? We can use minor comic book characters as regulars? We can have stunt work? We can have superpowers?  Okay, let's not get too crazy, let's just dip our toe in and see what happens."

Even the plot is "better" in that they had a plot...to a degree.  But the only element of the SHIELD "civil war" (a term I'm sure is going to come up a few times in the next year on SHIELD) that actually had an impacted on the ultimate outcome of the season was the MacGuffin device. It made the Inhumans target something on a SHIELD boat. Which makes me wonder ... Coulson has got helicarriers, and facilities, and money, and quinjets and why couldn't this just be yet another left over toy by Nick Fury? We've already got so dang many already, surely, one more couldn't make a difference.

But then, they would have had to segue better from Hydra to the Inhumans, as opposed to meandering through what amounted to a subplot for a while.

Season 2 is better, but it's gone from "suck" to "mostly mediocre." It has established a pattern of how the series will flow.  The midseason break will always have a major shift in the season -- I say "shift," not "change," because that might get the impression we're going somewhere.  There will be a new element introduced for the second half of the season that will make the threat look like it's evolving. In the last six episodes, more or less, the real threat will show itself, at least to the audience, and we will, at long last, have a primary villain. Last season it was ward and his psycho mentor, this season it was the Inhumans. Next season (side bet) will probably involve the development of government imposition of bringing superpowered folks until the direct control of governments after spending an entire year with more Hydra hijinks and screwing around with world politics.

This all seems like a funny way to run a railroad. Especially when you realize that Buffy usually had the main bad guy thought out from nearly the first episode of each season, and they built up to that bad guy, with little reveals and hints along the way.  With AoS, it seems like things are thrown in at random, and instead of fitting together with that nice little Lego click, it's like one of those puzzle pieces that kinda fits, and may fit with the image on the surrounding pieces, and then held in place with Scotch tape.

But we now have a season of Agents of SHIELD with Joss Whedon no longer working with or for Marvel.  Joss has never had his name on a single script, and I suspect that Jeph Loeb had been the major effective force on the show -- Jeph Loeb of Heroes (and the man who wrote the Ultimate Marvel storyline in which Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver were involved in twincest, and only Captain America seemed to have a problem with it).  Hopefully, Loeb will be so involved with Heroes: Reborn that he'll forget about AoS, leaving the co-creators of Dr. Horrible (Joss' brother and his wife) to fix the show.

Will I give Agents of SHIELD another go? Sure, as long as it doesn't screw up my viewing other shows.

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