Tuesday, September 23, 2014

REVIEW: 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' - New Faces Join the Team as They Battle Against Hydra & the Absorbing Man in 'Shadows'

ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Episode 2.01 "Shadows"

Coulson and his team are now wanted fugitives with limited resources - but that's not stopping them from keeping the world safe from powerful and unseen threats everywhere. However, with new members they hardly know, will S.H.I.E.L.D. ever be trusted again?

I really didn't know what exactly to expect from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. when it returned tonight for its second season. Would it continue the strong momentum it got during the final few episodes in its first season? Or would it return to the small stakes mission-of-the-week storytelling because the creative team believed the slow build worked a year ago? Fortunately, it was the former. But more importantly, it finally seems like everyone on the show is a character and not just an archetype or a mystery that needs to be solved. Coulson is effective as the slightly exasperated, overwhelmed but firm dictator of an agency with low public support. Skye works a lot better as a guarded but well-experienced member of the team instead of the wide-eyed newbie. With the twist that Simmons is now solely appearing in just his head, Fitz is much more interesting as a broken member of the team. The show is committed to the continued existence of Ward. As a prisoner who they can sometimes go to for information, it works. I still have my doubts when it comes to any kind of redemption arc but I'm at least interesting in seeing what they have in store for him this year.

"Shadows" also has to introduce a handful of new characters to join the team. Agent Triplett and Agent Koenig return and they are delightful as always. New additions include Lucy Lawless as Isabelle Hartley, Nick Blood as Lance Hunter and Henry Simmons as Alphonso Mackenzie. It's unfortunate that not all of them make it out of this premiere alive. It's sad to see Lawless go after just one episode - where her character makes a big mistake by touching the deadly 0-8-4. But it also clearly establishes stakes and how the show isn't afraid to making moves like such. That's a great energy to have headed into a new season which fills me up with lots of hope.

The premiere also works immensely because it has such an entertaining new villain in the Absorbing Man. He is a character perfectly designed for this show. He's never going to show up in the film franchise but as a recurring character on the TV series it helps re-establish that this is a fantastical world they live in with major life and death stakes. It's all very effective.

Moreover, "Shadows" opens with a big tie-in to the world of the film franchise with Agent Peggy Carter, Dum Dum Dugan and Jim Morita stopping Hydra agents and boxing up the 0-8-4 at the center of the new plot. It works because it doesn't feel like the TV show just appeasing its corporate overlords. It's an important piece of the story - as well as a strong connection to the forthcoming Agent Carter series debuting in this time slot at midseason. Hayley Atwell is just a ton of fun in this role even though she's just a minor bit of the premiere. But it also establishes that something mysterious is happening with the season's new big bad - Hydra Agent Kraken played by Dollhouse vet Reed Diamond - as he appears the same in present-day as he did during those 1945 flashbacks. It's a mystery I'm actually looking forward to seeing play out.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Shadows" was written by Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharon and directed by Vincent Misiano.
  • I wonder if Elizabeth Henstridge will continue to just play her character as a figment of Fitz's imagination. Or if she will ever return to the team? That seems like it could potentially be some dynamic character work for her.
  • Adrian Pasdar's mustache only looked slightly less ridiculous than it did last season.
  • Koenig's reaction to Coulson impersonating General Talbot was priceless.
  • Good on Skye for cutting her questioning with Ward off the second she gets the information she needed. Unfortunately, it also set up that Ward knows something about her father - which I'm not that engaged with as a story.