It’s easy now to take the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) thing for granted. Back when the movies starting picking up steam the fact they all referred to and impacted one another was novel enough to be a talking point each time. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D launched as a TV show that would explore the unsung peacekeeping and spymaster heroes on the ground whilst also sticking to the ever changing circumstances of the primary movies.
Truth be told, beyond the evil Hydra infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division) that occurred simultaneously in the show and with Captain America: Winter Soldier, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has done a superb job of carving out its own niche over its 7 season run (with seasons 1 – 6 available on Disney Plus).
As with all long-running series, the main draw that will keep you coming back is the central characters. The midas touch of Joss and Jed Whedon is evident as there is a smack of things like Buffy The Vampire Slayer with the ensemble cast. Clark Gregg stars as Agent Phil Coulson whom Marvel fans may recall was killed during Avengers Assemble. His ‘not dead’ presence in the show is a major plot point for season 1 as is his nurturing of Skye (Chloe Bennet), a hacktivist with a mysterious past. Also in Coulson’s team is Melinda ‘The Cavalry’ May (Ming-Na Wen), no-nonsense trainer Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), and super brain duo Leo Fitz (Ian De Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), both of whom work together so well that they are referred to collectively as ‘FitzSimmons’.
For the first two seasons Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D struggles a little with the mythos it is exploring. The season arcs and characters drafted in feel very much like a stretched out Marvel movie with an emphasis on standalone episodes. This wasn’t helped by the need to incorporate the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D as depicted in main movie Winter Soldier. However, as the show finds its feet and pulls out a few jaw dropping surprises on you (not everyone is playing by the same rule book) things start to get interesting.
A plot line involving the flame skulled Ghost Rider is more touching than you’d think, and fan favourite character Mack (Henry Simmons) is a huge presence both physically and emotionally. Introduced in season 2 Mack is a mechanic who finds himself in ever more violent situations, usually unwillingly. His earnest concern for human life and put upon everyman nature means he gets a good chunk of the emotional core. Seasons 3 and 4 expand on the ground work laid down so that a global super power problem is dealt with on both an individual and political basis. When droves of people get superpowers hoisted on them unwittingly, what does that mean for governmental control? If you plan to binge through all the series then these middle seasons are where the show really hits its stride.
As Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D progresses you can tell it begins to suffer from ‘please don’t cancel us’ syndrome, where each season has to come up with a new twist on the angle to keep it fresh. We are talking protracted alternative realities, we are talking conscious androids (or ‘Life Model Decoy’), and you better believe we are talking outer space and time travel. Every new season of the show had me craving a ‘previously on summary’ as it is impossible to keep all the contrivances in your head.
And yet even when the show strands its cast in space and wallops around with alien race politics the chemistry between its characters always sees you through. FitzSimmons have a wonderful ‘will they / won’t they, star-crossed souls kept apart by circumstance’ energy throughout. The tone manages to mix in action, comedy, melodrama, and chin-stroking intrigue so that even when the plot is at it’s most outlandish there are still little moments to ground things. Be it Coulson’s deadpan wit, May’s bullish attitude or Mack’s moral dilemmas, most episodes will find something to make you smile/cry/study.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D blends a huge melting pot of influences but despite throwing several slabs of ‘wha??’ into the mix with mind bruising frequency the resulting broth still goes down with a smacking of the lips. If you want any part of superpowers, genetic manipulation, government conspiracy, team romance, moral quandaries, and plenty of ass-kicking, then this secret department of super spies has you covered. The final season has yet to be added to Disney Plus but if the preceding six are anything to go by, there is an overflow of heart binding together those who shield us.
Word by Mike Record