Agents of SHIELD is falling back into old, bad habits.
The climactic events of the recent Marvel film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier have been a godsend for this show. Up until the movie, Agents of SHIELD suffered with two major issues: flat characters and a lack of dramatic stakes. By dissolving SHIELD, due to its infiltration of the evil organization HYDRA, Coulson and his team were instantly catapulted from trudging around cleaning up super messes to becoming fugitives rooting out the traitors in their midst. The recent revelation of one of their own, muscle bound boy scout Agent Ward, as a HYDRA agent just added to the interest level the show was finally generating.
Last night’s episode, “Ragtag,” finds this sudden influx of actual stakes catching up to the flat characterizations, and in response, we see Agents revert back to its old way of doing business. As an audience, we are supposed to care about these people, but it’s difficult when the good guys all come across like the same basic personality with a different set of skills. The internal conflicts and flaws that make characters interesting get ignored. Coulson’s pissed about being revived, but it doesn’t really affect him too much. Skye is some kind of weird alien spawn that has authority issues, sure but she’s really nice too. Melinda hits things good and follows orders. Fitz and Simmons make with the science, and he likes her, but shhh! Nothing much externalizes or affects the story. Instead, the show uses the characters chiefly to advance plot, calling on their specific skill sets when the time is right.
Yikes, rant over.
So, “Ragtag” gets things up and running with Coulson assembling his team of do-gooders to plan their next move where he uses an ACTUAL FLOWCHART DIAGRAM COMPLETE WITH ARROWS TO EXPLAIN JUST WHAY THEY ARE DOING. Now, if you need a flowchart and the main character to essentially walk the audience through the plot so far, you may not have been doing your job. Worse still, nearly every action and movement afterward is just as complicated as Coulson’s explanation. But here’s what I could glean from “Ragtag’s” events that happen in the present time. Turns out the Garrett, still clad in his evil turtlenecks and afflicted by Bill Paxton’s overacting is dying and needs Couslon’s “cure” not just for his own army of Centipede supersoldiers, but to live and become stronger.
There’s a few bright moments here, specifically Couslon letting his Captian America fanboy/geek flag fly over a case of vintage Howlin’ Commando covert gear. It’s a reminder of his humanity and something that Agents could use more of across the board.
The other half of “Ragtag” focuses on a look at Ward’s past with Garrett, and his sdubsequent indoctrination into HYDRA. So there’s lots of flashbacks to tough love Garrett style, which involves abandoning the adolescent Ward in the wilderness and forcing him to shoot his dog. No attachments means nothing that can keep you from completing your mission. It’s a lesson at Garrett’s core, one he impaarts into his protegee over and over. Of course, there must be some good in Ward, right? A part that rejects Garrett’s ruthless perspective? Fitz sure believes so, as he begs for his and Simmons life, and Ward spares (?) them. Fitz has been haunted by Ward’s allegiance to HYDRA from the word “go,” and it looks like he just might be right.
I’d argue that Agents of SHIELD could’ve had a better starting point after Winter Soldier hit theaters, rather than premiering nearly a year before. As it is, Agents isn’t reaching its full potential. Up until now the show has relied on introducing numerous ancillary Marvel characters and reacting to events of the films as a way to drum up an audience. I’d love to see the show have the same kind of impact on the film universe that the films trickle down to the small screen. In addition, it’s good to remember that underneath all the huge, sweeping plots of the Marvel world, at its heart are the characters. Without them and their histories and flaws, they would not carry the same weight. It’s time for Agents to embrace this more.I feel like the cast of the show, who still turn out great performances, are up to the challenge.
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