3 Things Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Is Doing Right, and 3 Things It Needs to Work On

By Kaitlin Thomas

Feb 04, 2014

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns this week with its first new episode since it dropped the bombshell that Skye might not be from this world. It's true that I've spent my fair share of time harping on what S.H.I.E.L.D. has done wrong in the first half of its debut season, but to be fair, it's also done quite a bit right. And now that we're about halfway through, we thought now would be a good time to compile a mid-season report card of sorts. Here's what the show's doing right, and here's what it needs to work on going forward. 


3 THINGS S.H.I.E.L.D. IS DOING RIGHT


1. FitzSimmons


The Geek is one of the most common character archetypes in television and movies. Geeks are present in several genres, but they're probably most prevalent in procedurals that involve even the slightest bit of science-ing. Skye and Coulson might be the de facto leads of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s rag-tag group, but FitzSimmons are the glue that holds everyone together, and there's a very good reason for that. Geek characters are, by definition, eccentric and brilliant, and they're often used as comic relief. But they're also usually sequestered in a lab, tasked with solving various problems while tucked safely behind their tests and theories. They usually have no "field" training, so if and when they're removed from the lab environment, things generally go one of two ways: Either they become fish out of water, infusing some humor into just about any scene—like when Fitz accompanied Agent Ward on a mission in "The Hub," and his lack of field smarts brought a certain lightheartedness to what was supposed to be a dangerous situation—or they serve as the helpless victim who must be saved by the properly trained agents. But no matter what, geek characters typically play on viewers' emotions and serve as an audience gateway into a show's world. S.H.I.E.L.D. has used FitzSimmons quite successfully to add emotion and humor, and they're the show's most naturally developed characters by far. 


2. Humor


S.H.I.E.L.D. is a series based in the realm of comic books, and while it certainly doesn't have to be funny—some comics simply aren't built that way—it sure helps that it knows how to tell a joke. The only downfall to using humor in a series like this one is that humor is very subjective. There will always be viewers who don't find something funny, but if S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't want to go dark and dramatic (which is actually something I'd support), mixing in some funny moments is the next best thing. I find FitzSimmons to be the series' most amusing characters because of their natural tendency to bicker, but Skye is equally likely to be quick with a sarcastic quip. And the jokes really fly when two characters who aren't usually paired together share in a scene, like Skye and Simmons or Ward and Fitz. S.H.I.E.L.D.'s running joke about Simmons being a horrible liar when she's trying to go undercover is a simple one, but the contrast of Simmons' good girl nature and Skye's disregard for authority make them a great team.


3. Integrating known comic characters like Graviton, Blizzard, etc.


A TV show is only as strong as its characters, and while I get that S.H.I.E.L.D.'s entire premise is that it's a more accessible, "common man" comic series, it still needs recognizable heroes and villains to succeed. And even though the members of Coulson's special team have yet to fight any real, true villains (outside of the Centipede storyline; I'll get to that in a moment), S.H.I.E.L.D. has already told the origin stories of a few Marvel villains, and we're confident there are more to come. Sure, they have yet to amount to anything more than just a run-of-the-mill standalone threat, but they at least hint at possible future dangers, all while letting us see the role S.H.I.E.L.D. sometimes plays in the creation of the villains they might face in the future. And if nothing else, they help to expand the Marvel Universe so our S.H.I.E.L.D. team feels more grounded in the comic book world.


3 THINGS S.H.I.E.L.D. IS DOING WRONG


1. Danger? What danger?

Perhaps the series' biggest problem is its lack of any real stakes. During any given episode, we know that everything will be okay by the end of the hour, because that's just the type of series S.H.I.E.L.D. is, but how are we supposed to be invested in a storyline that doesn't make our hearts race? How are we supposed to care about a character's struggles if the answer always involves a last-minute save by the rest of the team? S.H.I.E.L.D.'s best episode to date is probably "F.Z.Z.T" because it put Simmons' life on the line as a result of the Chitauri virus, and despite the fact that we knew she probably wouldn't die, the episode manipulated our emotions by erasing all other options and making it seem like there really was no way out. That's the kind of story that makes viewers care about characters; that's the kind of story that makes us want to stick around to see the outcome of the third act each week. If S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't incorporate danger that feels believable, the series will be no different than a Saturday-morning kids' show. As viewers, we need to experience some anxiety so we don't feel like we're watching a show aimed exclusively at eight-year-olds.


2. Flat characters 


In S.H.I.E.L.D.'s defense, it has attempted to flesh out its core group of characters. But that's where the defending ends, because most of those attempts have been pretty halfhearted, and some of them have seemingly disappeared immediately, like Ward's jerky brothers in "The Well." Doling out tiny snippets of information regarding his life hasn't made his past any more compelling, especially because his past appears to be cliched and boring. Elsewhere in the group, the traumatic mission that left Agent May stunted and eternally pissed off is still too vague and mysterious to qualify as interesting. And all we know about what really happened to Coulson is that he had his brain rewired. S.H.I.E.L.D.'s more recent attempts to add some shading to Skye and to break her "outsider" mold are a good start, but she still needs work as a character. Of course, Skye may be on the up and up with the big reveal that she was an 0-8-4, but based on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s past transgressions, I'm worried Skye's past won't even come up again for weeks. So far, the only progress that feels real has come from the show's subtle hints toward FitzSimmons' history, but even then, we still don't know all that much about them. 


3. Overarching story and pacing

Probably my biggest complaint about S.H.I.E.L.D. has to do with its treatment of its serialized storylines. I'll gladly acknowledge the fact that the series is in its first season, and that it needed time to establish itself before diving into heavy mythology—especially for the non-comics people in the audience. But the time has come for S.H.I.E.L.D. to improve the connections between its standalone installments and those that tackle ongoing plot threads. The reason why the episodes featuring Centipede and other overarching plots tend to be better than the one-offs is that they feel more important, like a piece of a puzzle that actually matters—basically, they're the edge pieces, the ones that frame everything that takes place in middle. Having one Centipede episode for every four or five filler episodes stunts the story progression kills the show's forward momentum. Now that we're entering the second half of the season, S.H.I.E.L.D. needs to make a real effort to weave ongoing plot threads into each episode, regardless of whether or not the A-story focuses on Centipede and the use of Extremis. It'll help the storylines mesh, and keep things moving forward. 


WHAT S.H.I.E.L.D. CAN DO TO IMPROVE GOING FORWARD

For starters, the show needs to right its three biggest wrongs by raising the stakes, letting the characters grow, and striking a better balance between the standalone and overarching plots. Now's the time to ramp up the action and embrace the darker, more dangerous storylines that keep viewers engaged.

I'd also ask that the series follow up on Skye's personal story arc in a real way, because the reveal that she was an 0-8-4 definitely has potential to lead to something big. It was an interesting play for the series to call, and the true test of its success rests on where the writers choose to go next. If it's dropped just as quickly as some of the "mysterious" character developments that litter Ward and May's backgrounds, then it'll have been a perfectly good waste of time. But if the series runs with it, it has the possibility to make Skye much, much more interesting. 

And finally, I want to see S.H.I.E.L.D. just embrace its comic book nature. I know the series is supposed to focus on a team tackling non-super-powered threats, but the fact of the matter is this: If you want to be a comic book series, you need to embrace some comic book elements. It doesn't matter what the writers want at this point, they need to pay attention to the reaction from the fans and adapt in a way that will keep people tuning in. Thankfully, with the impending introduction of Deathlok and appearance of Sif, who's crossing over to hunt down Lorelei, I believe S.H.I.E.L.D.'s writers and producers are at least making an attempt to rectify its problems, and that leaves me feeling pretty positive about the second half of the season.


What do you think S.H.I.E.L.D. has done well so far? What do you think the show needs to fix going forward? 


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  • WildPict Feb 14, 2014

    I like the show for the most part, but it needs to ramp up the action a few more notches (like the last episode did). Add more compelling and complex villains like Mike and the Clairvoyant, and more ass kicking scenes and the show will definitely take off.

  • DanielRichards0 Feb 07, 2014

    Honestly, totally disagree with your last part about going more "comic booky", I think it's to far that way, it needs to take a page from the "Nolan Batman" and be a bit more grounded in the realm of reality, it's just to "fake" because of it's overuse of physics defying tech that it isn't far from being compared to "Batman and Robin" (the one with George Clooney and Chris O'Donnell) and I think we will all agree that was just way to "comic booky".

  • houbou Feb 07, 2014

    I like the show, I try not to over analyze it and just go with the flow. I'm invested in the show. It keeps me entertained. It is story telling. And it has interesting characters. For me, it's that simple.

  • JT_Kirk Feb 06, 2014

    I actually find FitzSimmons to be annoying as hell about 80% of the time, they stink of a generic techy character that's totally helpless and always out of their element despite being in the field the whole time. Also, they're like the NCIS:LA techy duo only more annoying and foreign and pretty.

    The humor is hit-or-miss, I could use more of it really, gives characters more personality. Honestly, I blame the writers, every actor on the show seems to have carried their jokey moments fine (although FitzSimmons gets so many of these that they are played out, IMO).

    Really disagreeing with you on the comic characters, they draw these 5th-stringers and then make them feel all the same origin and feel - Centipede + weird tech (likely alien) = guy mad at SHIELD who gets defeated pretty easily when all is said and done.

    Personally, I feel like this show has poorly-defined what it means to be an Agent of SHIELD, what SHIELD really is or at least what it is to our protagonists, to create a more heightened universe in which to exist, and to not chalk everything up to 2 alien races - Chitauri or Asgard. But really, what this show needs is better writers and showrunners, it feels like it does nothing but roll over and show its soft underbelly at every opportunity, it has no teeth still, at this point it's actually less compelling than Mutant X was at that same point, and Mutant X was really cheeseball syndicated stuff.

  • dimakosrou Feb 06, 2014

    The convenient writing is the common source of all its mentioned problems. If it fixes that, then it's going to be good. And I believe that FitzSimmons are not only the good part but also the best part of the show. ^_^

  • rmoxon Feb 05, 2014

    The "danger aspect is the most important aspect of a show like this in regards to keeping viewers. They should kill off a main character. It always helps...

    I remember the first season of NCIS LA. Its never been THAT good a show IMO, but it was pretty damn dreadful for its first half a season and then they killed off a main character and suddenly as a viewer I wanted to stand up and take notice of where things were going with the rest of the characters.

    That's what this show needs, it needs to kick the viewers in the teeth when they least expect it, they will appreciate it later.


  • BabeRuth Feb 05, 2014

    I try to like this show, I watched 15 minutes last night then found the remote.

    The cast seems so young and small and un-memorable. I find the girls annoying and the guys moody and detached. I can't relate to them. NCIS, Walking Dead, Justified, Mad Men I know their names at least...

    Good location shots, the train was fun, like the super jet, time bombs are cool.

  • tnetennba Feb 05, 2014

    Last night was a strange time to turn it off after 15 minutes. It was the best episode so far. It's the only one that hasn't disappointed me.

  • BabeRuth Feb 06, 2014

    The story seemed good, but I just can't relate to the cast.

  • zampognaro Feb 05, 2014

    Has this show improved? Havent watched since the 4th episode. Honest answers pls.

  • JT_Kirk Feb 06, 2014

    Vaguely: yes, significantly: no.

  • tnetennba Feb 05, 2014

    The interaction between the nerds in episode 6 was really good, and episode 13 (this week's episode) was a good episode. Other than that, it's been pretty dull, just like in those early episodes that you've seen.

  • mylok Feb 05, 2014

    I would say the Show is not Dark enough, there is just no real threat. It's a Show like Terra Nova, a Show for the whole Family.

  • DanielRichards0 Feb 07, 2014

    no, Terra Nova was WAY better then this show.

  • BabeRuth Feb 05, 2014

    So unless someone speaks up, broadcast TV will be totally taken over by reality shows like Jersey Shores. Alcatraz, Missing,Terra Nova died with bad acting, bad casting and bad script, this too will flop.


    This show could be a much better show except for the casting. Why the little 80 pound Pixie kids as action heroes? It hit me this year that there were very few shows for guys on broadcast TV and most were going toward woman stars on the new, gender bender shows.

    Alcatraz and,Terra Nova was canceled, this show is going that way.

  • DanielRichards0 Feb 07, 2014

    Terra Nova failed because in this world of cheap as hell to produce "reality TV" no regular network has the budget to support a show with that level of special effects and remote filming locations.

  • FilmFanatic Feb 05, 2014

    I really liked Shields and still like it but my main concern for the show is the fact that even if I like it, it's still sometimes boring. Boring in the sense that it focuses on the wrong characters, unnecessary plot twists and nothing big is happening in the horizon. Yes, they integrate their storyline with the Marvel films but still that's not very impressive. There's nothing that makes me want to watch the next episode other than the fact that is Marvel. What the show needs is an all mighty, evil son of a bitch villain that will really take the series to the next level. Bring on the big cliffhangers and the great plot twists and stop with the independent one-episode-storylines.

  • JT_Kirk Feb 06, 2014

    It needs to properly define its antagonists and their goals, as well as the protagonists' goals, more often and more clearly.

  • FilmFanatic Feb 07, 2014

    I am 3 episodes behind on SHIELD but does this show even have any antagonists? As far as I watched, everything's all over the place, but you are right, it needs to define the protagonists' goals more clearly!

  • JT_Kirk Feb 07, 2014

    It has a nameless villain that we know nothing about named "The Clairvoyant" who seems to be in charge of the eyeball message system and Centipede, but it's really vague, we know absolutely nothing, not gender, not even species really.

  • JT_Kirk Feb 07, 2014

    @FilmFanatic, honestly, the villain isn't even the problem if they revealed him/her/it (maybe it's a sentient computer, I dunno), but without revealing or even establishing the villain, the show is leaving that storytelling weight on the protagonists and that highlights the lack of establishing their goals as a hole in the show. It's one or the other, compelling villain or compelling heroes, and we have neither.

    If you were a network exec and not at all a fan, would you pick this show up for another season?

  • FilmFanatic Feb 07, 2014

    in that case, they need to reveal more... It would be pathetic if they wait till final episode of the season to reveal its face

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