Saturday, 31 May 2014

Agents of SHIELD, series 1 review

Marvel's Supermodels of SHIELD came to the end of its first season yesterday, so now's the time for a quick look back at how things went.

Two disclaimers: below there will be spoilers about series 1. This is a bit obvious and I'll keep them as minor as possible, but as there are significant plot twists I would advise anyone wary of them to stop reading now and check this review when they're caught up. Secondly, my knowledge of the Marvel world from both the films and the comics is less than many people, so I should be able to provide a decent everyman “Will I like this series if I've not watched the films?” perspective, but less inside/detailed knowledge than a serious Marvel fan.

The utterly spoiler free and concise summary would be: bit of a slow start, but worth persevering with and the second half has some great twists.

Below there be spoilers.

The story follows Agent Coulson, a high ranking agent of SHIELD (think CIA against supervillains), and his team as they fly around the world on a plane fondly referred to as 'the bus', picking up alien artefacts and tracking down dangerous individuals with strange powers. As the series progresses (there are 22 episodes) it starts weaving together a tighter plot arc and shifts away from a monster of the week approach.

The main antagonist is referred to as the Clairvoyant, who always seems, fittingly, to be one step ahead of Coulson and able to accurately predict what SHIELD will do. His identity remains a mystery for about ¾ of the series, and I won't reveal it here.

As well as Coulson there's Agent May, an arse-kicker, Agent Ward, also an arse-kicker, FitzSimmons (technically two people, Fitz being an engineer and Simmons being a rather lovely scientist), and new girl Skye, a hacker who becomes poacher turned gamekeeper.

Grant Ward turns out to have several shades of grey, unlike most of the main cast who tend to be almost entirely good (as you might expect from the 'good guys'). Trip is an agent who joins Coulson later on, but is never really fleshed out. That's the only real weak spot that stands out from the second half.

The first half of the series (there was a mid-season interval) is clearly the weaker of the two. It took a little while to develop the characters and get the group dynamic going, and the mentions of Coulson's holiday in Tahiti (he was meant to be dead, but he got better) were too frequent and disinteresting. It was never bad, but it felt like a slow start.

From around the midpoint onwards the series improved dramatically. Not only were there several clever plot twists, the writers were willing to have significant characters knocked off or reveal themselves as evil. Mike Peterson's character arc was particularly interesting, going from confused but decent to good, then being dragged into unwilling evil, and it was credibly done. I'm sure we'll see more of him.

As the Clairvoyant's plan unfolds, and we learn what Coulson's holiday in Tahiti actually was, the pace of the main storyline improves and (to use a videogame analogy) the sidequests of the early episodes give way to the main quest of the latter half.

It's not perfect by any stretch, and the start was lacklustre, but I very much enjoyed the second half the season and I'm glad it got renewed.

The season ended with Coulson as Director of SHIELD, tasked with building it back up after the significant setbacks it suffered during the course of the season. Whether Fitz will return was not made clear (bit surprised by that).

Marvel's films have been going from strength to strength, and having a lengthy TV series act as a backdrop to that was always going to be tricky. It's off to a decent start.



  1. I *still* cannot remember which is Fitz, and which Simmons.

    Agents was an excellent series. I agree that some of the early episodes were weak, but when re-watching them, I find it hard to see any that could really be removed without spoiling plot or character development. Perhaps the grand design of the series (and it is grand, especially with the tie-ins to the films) required a slow start.

    My biggest criticism is that Garrett was too cartoonish towards the end (I kept on expecting him to sprout a moustache and go mwhuhaha), and Ward's transformation was too weak.

    Despite this, it was really good. And some of the episodes will become classics: the one with the disappearing train and the alien sword being two.

    We are really looking forward to the Agent Carter miniseries, and season 2 .

  2. Hmm. I have vague memories of reading something about Agent Carter. Female agent, set in the 60s?

    I'd agree with those criticisms. Simmons is the lady scientist.