Now, it may be that I’m just lazy, but I’m getting a little weary of episodes with imitation-acronym titles. Typing all the periods in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is fiddly enough without having to do the same multiple times over the course of an episode write up. However, I’m happy to say this is my only big complaint about an otherwise decent hour of TV. (With Bill Paxton as a new recurring character, for what it’s worth.)
When last we left S.H.I.E.L.D., Skye had been put in stasis after being shot in the belly by Ian Quinn, while pursuing a lead that brought her face to face with a mind-controlled, cybernetic, former-ally, Mike Peterson, a.k.a. Deathlok. Which is to say, a lot happened last episode, much of it moving the show’s overarching story forward in interesting ways. And then… Then, there were no new episodes for almost a month. I finally was at a place where I was excited to see what would happen next, only to wait for an inordinately long time, especially given that we were only three episodes into the second half of the season.
While I’m not a fan of Skye’s injury being used as a means of developing the rest of the cast (I wish fridging on no character, no matter how annoying), it did raise the show’s stakes. For too long S.H.I.E.L.D. seemed small-scale and lacking in credible threats. For all the world-shattering, ultimately toothless potential threats we’ve seen so far, ironically the most dangerous person on the show turned out to be a rich jerk with a handgun.
I suppose the showrunners felt the need to create expectations before they set about the task of subverting them. It took half a season to finally bring a comics character to the small screen through a long, painful and logical transformation. Over the course of the season, they’ve set Skye up as the invincible risk-taker, her recklessness never quite getting her into serious trouble until now. And while S.H.I.E.L.D. are ostensibly the good guys, there have been hints all season long that the organization isn’t as squeaky-clean as the films lead us to believe.
The newest episode “T.A.H.I.T.I.” builds on the revelations seen in “The Magical Place” by letting us glimpse just how far down the rabbit hole goes. In the wake of the shooting, the team head to what they believed to be the facility where Coulson was brought back from the dead, but there are two major complications. Quinn is revealed to have shot Skye on the Clairvoyant’s orders, as it would force the team to replicate the resurrection and reveal a closely-guarded secret to their adversary. It also turns out that a chunk of the information in Coulson’s medical files was fabricated, adding another level of mystery to the question of how he was brought back.
Through some decent detective work on the part of FitzSimmons, the team locates and infiltrates an off-the-books medical facility. With the clock ticking down on both Skye and the facility, Coulson is haunted by the ghosts of Tahiti and his revival, leading to a reveal that horrifies him and leaves me wondering what the heck the show is planning next.
S.H.I.E.L.D. has certainly had a number of problems in its first season, not the least of which was a build so slow that it made the story seem directionless rather than deliberate. The mysteries of Coulson’s resurrection, Skye’s parentage, CENTIPEDE’s plan, and how all of it fits together, were paid occasional lip service, but mostly fell by the wayside. Instead, what we got was the team travelling to various cartoonishly stereotypical settings, neutralizing threats that were generally caused by Scary Science Taken Too Far.
It’s not that S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t globe-trot anymore – last episode was set in Italy, or Santa Barbara, as it’s hard to tell sometimes. Fortunately, unlike the first half of the season, there haven’t been gratuitous shorthand interpretations of foreign countries. Now, the settings are in service of the plot, largely incidental, and predominantly US-based, which just makes it a lot easier to enjoy things. It seems to me that the show has improved is because the showrunners are no longer afraid of cancellation, having been extended for this season and renewed for the next. They’re also far less afraid of alienating general audiences and have been really going for it, story-wise. Deathlok, a now-effective and threatening Clairvoyant, and an ever-less-trustworthy S.H.I.E.L.D. have energized the show, although I’m not convinced that audiences wouldn’t have enjoyed this from the get-go.
The pieces that were casually – almost absently – strewn about during the first half of the season are beginning to come together. With the possible exception of “Seeds” (which featured a largely throwaway Problem of the Week plot), since S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s return the episodes have had a good mix of solid, if not spectacular, action and plot revelations that opened up more possibilities. That we’re finally getting some comic-book feeling on the show (including Enchantress vs. Sif next episode) is part of a series of steady, incremental improvements. They might not be firing on all cylinders (yet), but with “The Magical Place”, “T.R.A.C.K.S.”, and now “T.A.H.I.T.I”, it certainly seems like they’re getting there.