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Agents of SHIELD Recap: “Shadows”

More like Agents of We're Finally Getting Somewhere, am I right?

LUCY LAWLESS, NICK BLOOD, WILMER CALDERON

Agents of SHIELD returned to our screens last night, and I’m going to be your new recapper for this season. Nice to meet you, True Believers! Let’s get this started on a positive note: I already liked the premiere far better than I liked the majority of season one. Phew.

Warning: there be spoilers ahead.

For SHIELD‘s first season, Susana was our TMS recapper; if you read her reviews, you may have noticed that she wasn’t too keen on the season as a whole. I want to tell you that I’m going to be coming in with a fresh perspective, as someone who really super loved the first season, but I’ve got to be honest with you guys: we all know the first season of S.H.I.E.L.D. was underwhelming.

For me, last season of SHIELD suffered from a serious case of spinning-its-wheels-itis; with over half of the first season embroiled in nothingness, it was just biding its time before The Winter Soldier premiered to give us some real plotlines. While I understand the writers were creating false flags and intentionally vague mysteries in order to keep from spoiling the Hydra reveal in Cap, this still doesn’t excuse the other major blunders from which the first three-quarters of the series suffered (boring or unlikeable characters, meaningless episodes, you know what I’m talking about).

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Of course, the show improved drastically after Winter Solider‘s big Hydra takeover, but the rest of the season spent its time setting up what Agents of SHIELD was meant to be all along: a show about underdogs, fighting the biggest of all bads. Given that we’ve now made our way through what I’m thinking of as the SHIELD prelude, I came into the first episode of season two with high expectations; it’s time for the show to actually come into its own.

And honestly? I wasn’t disappointed.

Season two opens strong by making me believe I’m actually watching Agent Carter. Everyone’s fave red-lipsticked heroine brings the hammer down on some Hydra evildoers, and it’s flawless. Of course, Agent Carter will be taking over SHIELD‘s timeslot during the mid-season hiatus, and this is a great little glimpse of what’s to come: Hayley Atwell being a straight boss and taking nobody’s crap. Here’s hoping that Agent Carter starts off as a fully-realized show with actual characters and arcs, instead of making us wait for a full twenty-two episodes before we get to the good stuff (ahem).

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“Shadows” also introduces us to some new characters—most of whom, tragically, don’t stick around that long. While Coulson is out recruiting for the cause, the SHIELD gang has been forced to take up with some mercs to fill their ranks. Lucy Lawless’s Isabelle Hartley was exactly as kick-ass and likeable as you’d want her to be; and Mac, played by Henry Simmons, is a great addition as the team mechanic. For a second, Mac and Trip have a whole conversation and it’s like, whoa, two dudes of color are talking together on SHIELD, awesome.

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Which is why it’s an admitted bummer that at the end of the episode, the only merc member left standing—well, awkwardly bleeding upside down in a damaged vehicle—is stubbly white British dude Lance Hunter (what a name!). Obviously I would have liked to have seen Lawless stick around for a few more episodes at least, but she got some great lines and solid characterization in this episode, and for that I’m grateful.

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When it comes to our regular SHIELD team, I’m happy to say I think we’re finally getting somewhere in terms of actual characterization and interesting storylines. As Susana mentioned frequently in her reviews, Agents of SHIELD was always meant to be a show about the underdog, the powerless little guys of the big Avengers world. By giving Coulson and his crew SHIELD’s practically limitless resources, money, technology, bad-asses, and geniuses, their relatibility and “scrappiness” were basically non-existent. The show’s actual underdogs, like Mike Peterson or Chan Ho Yin, were almost always pitted against our protagonists, making the SHIELD agents a lot more like the superpowered heroes of the Marvel film universe than the “down-to-earth everydudes fightin’ the good fight” they were supposed to be.

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With the destruction of SHIELD as an organization, we can finally see Coulson and co. struggling to carry out their directives without real direction; fighting to do what’s right without the added ease of a giant invisible jet; figuring out how to complete missions with only three field agents and some mercs of questionable loyalty. I mean, ultimately, they’re not struggling as much as they could be (they do have a whole shiny new base from which to work, and even a minion in the form of Patton Oswalt), but it’s a step in the right direction. Additionally (or perhaps because of this), each character is also getting some development that doesn’t rely on tired tropes or ooh such mystery who am I.

  • Since his installation as Director, Coulson has become less accessible to his team—and is obviously taking far too much responsibility onto his shoulders, hopefully leading to some sort of breakdown soon. Not because I want to see him suffer, but because I’d like that sort of character movement and development from someone who was fairly one-note for most of the previous season.
  • Ward has taken a turn for the disturbing, first letting us know he’d been suicidal, and now transforming into some freakishly zen possibly-not-evil but definitely-still-evil basement dweller. I, like Susana, desperately do not want them to turn Ward back into a good guy.
  • Skye is a little less manic pixie wide-eyed hacker and a little more overly-devoted to the cause, which could actually lead to some interesting moments wherein she tries to reconcile who she is without something like Rising Tide or SHIELD to give her life constant outside meaning.
  • May looks like she might actually get to do something besides stoically kick a lot of butt, which would be great for an actress as talented as Ming-Na Wen.
  • And, of course, Fitz. The Big Reveal about Fitz’s psyche at the end of the episode actually had me gasp aloud on my couch. I know some people are saying it’s a little much, but it was that moment that drew me into the episode and made me say “This is going to be a different season. These are going to be different, layered characters.” And I hope I’m right.

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“Shadows” also sets up some new Big Bads for the season; first, we’ve got Whedon regular Reed Diamond as Daniel Whitehall, a Hydra founder. In the comics Whitehall is also known as the Kraken, a man who founds an orphanage that trains young girls to become weapons of Hydra; I would love to see some connection like this between Raina and Whitehall. We also meet Crusher (or “The Absorbing Man” if you want to get literal with it), who has the ability to turn himself into whatever he touches, and by association, become a series of other Marvel characters.

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This episode picks up where season one left off in terms of both theme and feel, and I’m really hopeful that, without the specter of The Winter Soldier hanging over the writer’s heads, the show continues to delve deeper into its own characters and mythology. I’m also hoping for the quick return of Raina, easily my favorite character from the show’s first season. Last we saw of Raina, she was having a heart-to-heart with Skye’s father, so we can only imagine we’re going to get some payoff there (especially since Ward seems to want to tell Skye about him, too). It’s too bad that this is the one part of the storyline that I’m honestly the least interested in; Skye can be a Skrull and I still don’t think I would find her particularly interesting. And, of course, we still need to find out what’s wrong with Coulson’s brain. And potentially Skye’s as well.

What did you think of the Agents of SHIELD premiere? Let us know in the comments and we can hash it out!

Previously in Agents of SHIELD

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