Tuesday, May 5, 2015

REVIEW: 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' - Gonzalez Sits Down with Jiaying as the War Between SHIELD & the Inhumans Intensifies in 'Scars'

ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Episode 2.20 "Scars"

Skye is torn between her loyalty to S.H.I.E.L.D. and her connection to the Inhumans as tensions rise between the groups - and Coulson reveals a secret he's been hiding from even those closest to him.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. needs to have its own identity. It is more intrinsically connected to various tent-pole Marvel movies because of the S.H.I.E.L.D. connection than other Marvel TV series. And yet, if the stories on the show only exist to service the movies without getting anything in return from that arrangement, then it's a massive failure. A year ago the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier helped give the ABC show a direction and purpose. And yet, this year a new movie has just debuted at the box office, The Avengers: Age of Ultron and the opposite has occurred. Last week's clunky episode solely served as a prologue to that feature film. And now, the events of the movie and the secrets that Coulson has been keeping are known to all and are no longer as big a deal as they were previously. But this episode still has to work even for the people in the audience who didn't have time to go see that big movie during its opening weekend.

Understandably, it is a very tricky struggle that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has to deal with. ABC's Agent Carter and Netflix's Daredevil were allowed to be their own things because they didn't have to serve those built in connections with the movies. As the creative team of the show and Marvel executives love to pronounce, "It's all connected!" And yet, those connections only take away from the emotional honesty of the show. So lately, Coulson has put so much time and effort into making Theta protocol a success for a crucial moment in the movie. And yet, that hardly makes it justifiable for making such a big fuss about it in the structure of the show. Robert Gonzalez and the Real SHIELD story has been based entirely around Coulson's need to keep secrets from his team. At times, those concerns have been trivial while at others they have been crucial to the narrative. It has been weird plotting for the totality of the 2015 episodes so far. That continues to be the case even after the movie provides some enlightenment to the characters and the audience.

The stuff that has been truly unique to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been the introduction of the Inhumans story. And yet, that too serves a purpose of introducing the concept to the audience in time for another feature film in the future. It's unlikely that Skye, Lincoln, Raina, Gordon or Jiaying will serve as important characters in the film. But the show is still spending the requisite amount of time introducing the concept. In fact, the war between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Inhumans is the direction that the show has decided to take in the aftermath of the second Avengers movie. And yet, too much of it feels like too much happening too late in the season to have a meaningful impact.

There has been so much clutter in the most recent episodes. Most of it occurred simply to explain what would happen in the movies. That ultimately hurt the show because it took away from the necessary story beats required to make the grand confrontation of the final few episodes worth it. It is important for Coulson to see that he needs a board overlooking his decisions in order to effectively serve as the spy organization's director. They are the ones able to call him out when he can't be objective in the field. However, that too is just another contrivance and misdirection. Gonzalez takes Coulson's place in the meeting with Jiaying that ultimately results in Gonzalez's death. That's the true first strike in the war between the two organizations. It's a war largely introduced in this episode that will build to its climatic resolution across next week's 2-hour season finale. That hardly feels like enough time to justify all the important story beats in a way that they all deserve.

All of that isn't to say that "Scars" wasn't fun. While not being close to Skye's big one-shot action sequence last week, the fight between Bobbi and Kara is another well choreographed hand combat sequence. Skye and May's back-and-forth about Skye knowing what happened in Bahrain and May hoping Skye found everything she wanted with her mother was also great. And yet, too much of the storytelling decisions felt too formulaic and based solely on plot and not by the characters themselves. That makes it hard to invest in their decisions because it feels like the plot will overwhelm them and eventually just take over completely. The reveal of Ward and Kara working together to get revenge on Bobbi didn't work because it was designed as yet another shocking reveal. Jiaying asserting her control over Raina was earned because Raina had cried wolf one too many times in her life. And yet, Jiaying choosing to start this war with S.H.I.E.L.D. is bound to have interesting complications for her and her family. But it's hard to understand exactly why she goes through with it in the first place. She wants to protect her family but only creates even more chaos in Skye's ongoing internal struggle over whether her alliance is with S.H.I.E.L.D. or the Inhumans. That's not a character struggle that feels completely earned. She mastered her powers quickly but it still felt like the show dragged that story out. She doesn't have a real bond with the Inhumans. And yet, the show is constantly telling the audience that she does. That ultimately makes her character struggle seem less effective because the audience always knows that she is going to be loyal to S.H.I.E.L.D. - even though the Inhumans represent her actual biological connection.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Scars" was written by Rafe Judkins & Lauren LeFranc and directed by Bobby Roth.
  • It's interesting how Tony Stark gets called out on his ego and ability to go unchecked by the world around him that created an intelligence that could destroy the world much more on the TV show than it did in the movie.
  • Simmons is more upset that she let Ward get away than the fact that she actually killed Bakshi. That goes against the point that Fitz is trying to make and actually does say that Simmons is no better than Ward is.
  • Mack resigns because he can't trust Coulson since he understands how alien technology can severely mess with a person's brain. And yet, that twist likely won't stick because his close friend Bobbi has been taken and he'll need to safe her.
  • So, Cal's super-strength comes from injections he has to take on a regular basis. How long before someone else takes those in order to turn a fight in their favor?
  • Also, apparently S.H.I.E.L.D. has a piece of Kree technology that the Inhumans fear. That's why Gordon and Raina teleport into the facility and initiate this grand conflict in the first place!