And now, finally, we come to the mid-season finale for Marvel and ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., wherein it seems as though the creative team suddenly remembered that they needed to write a mid-season finale, because serialized TV dramas generally have an overarching story these days. Which is nice, given that Mutant Enemy practically invented that particular convention. Episode 10 is titled “The Bridge”, which baffled me for a bit until I realized that they simply forgot to give it a title. It really is just a bridge at the mid-point of the season, forcing together loose ends into a rough shape of a plot (with a cliffhanger), in order to give viewers a reason to come back in a few months.
Those of you who have been following our Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. recaps may have noticed that we did not post anything for Episode 9, “Repairs”. This was due in part to the holiday, but also because the episode was infuriating in a number of ways, to the point where I had some difficulty deciding what, if anything, to say about it.
But, in the midst of the episode’s “She’s a witch, burn her”/guy-terrorizes-woman-because-he-loves-her shtick, we did get some focus on Ming Na’s Agent Melinda May. I assume showing some of her backstory was intended to help viewers understand why she was so reluctant to get back in the field, and why she’s so generally quiet and spiky. Agent May has had to do such horrible things for the greater good that she’s essentially turned off most human emotion, and what little feeling and humanity shows through is quickly covered up. Unfortunately, it seems that with each episode, the writers seem to take her further and further into emotionless killbot territory. May’s badassery was one of the bright spots in the early episodes, but of late she’s become extremely tiresome. Her role has become The Scowl That Punches. Not even her ongoing tryst with Ward has engendered any emotion, besides possible disapproval. I get the sense that they want to portray her as a wounded soul who both desperately craves and instinctively rejects connections, but I want to be shown, not told.
As for this week’s episode, “The Bridge”, after four episodes of pure Problem of The Week ‘A’ Plots, we finally get some follow up on a few of the series’ loose ends. And by a few, I mean all of them. “The Bridge” brings back Mike Peterson (J. August Richards) and the Centipede organization from the pilot, Raina (Ruth Negga) from “Girl in the Flower Dress” and, for good measure, throws in the ocular remote control/killswitch tech from “Eye-Spy”. It also very obviously telegraphs that the mystery of Coulson’s revival will likely become the major focus when the show returns.
The episode involves Coulson’s team reacting to a break-in at a Federal prison. A trio of ex-soldiers with superpowers bust through the cafeteria ceiling to extract the man we saw Raina talking to at the end of “Girl in the Flower Dress”. The team gets a glimpse of one of the Centipede implants on the security footage and Coulson decides to bring in some additional firepower in the form of Peterson, who has been training with S.H.I.E.L.D. since the events of the pilot. While Peterson and FitzSimmons wave off questions about why he’s not exploding and running rampant, Skye uses S.H.I.E.L.D. lip-reading software (and not some hidden talent of hers) to uncover references to someone called The Clairvoyant.
At this point, I really have to wonder whether the creative team is purposely picking the most boring possible names for everything. They’re basing this show on a universe that includes things called Mjolnir, Ronan the Accuser, Extremis and Advanced Idea Mechanics. The world of comic-book naming conventions has no room for anything as pedestrian as Centipede and The Clairvoyant. That’s striking fear into the hearts of exactly nobody.
The episode gives us a big fight involving the team and Peterson versus the Centipede Squad (see, now there’s a fun name) that has some decent action and effects, after which May rips into Grant for caring about her and we lead into the second half of the episode’s utterly predictable double-cross.
As a rule, I try not to spoil the ends of things, and give only as many plot details as absolutely necessary, but this time around I can tell you that if you caught all the references to Peterson’s kid, then you will know exactly how the final act goes down.
The fact of the matter is, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. bores me at this point. There wasn’t even anything sexually, racially or culturally objectionable to latch onto with this episode. Yes, this is a good thing – but the stakes of this show feel so low, and the plot of this particular episode was so kitchen sink, that it would have been nice to have at least something to hold my interest. I started writing these reviews because I saw that the show had some issues, but as a faithful Marvel zombie and Whedonite, I had hoped that it would follow the pattern of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dollhouse, forging something brilliant from an inauspicious start. But Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has neither Buffy‘s apocalyptic scale and charisma nor Dollhouse‘s clever plot structure and overarching mystery. The characters are still dull and often annoying (though it’s become clear that it’s mostly the fault of the writing, not the cast). The story still feels sinfully small – the threats have generally been individuals without much of an agenda and/or ability to cause much damage. And to top it all off, they have completely squandered the promise of exploring and expanding the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
While we’re not quite at the mid-way point, I’m not finding a lot to be hopeful about. On the one hand, it seems that they’ve tapered off on the use of far-flung locales, which is nice given how wrong Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. gets its international plots. On the other hand, heck, episode 9 was virtually constructed from problematic gender and cultural elements. Regardless of where the show’s politics are, it just doesn’t interest or excite me the way that it should. The plots are by-the-numbers and lack size and spark. The showrunners can’t seem to strike a balance between episodic and season arc stories. I desperately want to like this show, but I’m not having much fun. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch Sleepy Hollow and daydream about Marvel’s Netflix deal.