Spoilers lie ahead. Also, a lot of ranting. This is Series Issues.
It’s Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD 1×16: End of the Beginning. I already have problems with just the title. The series has had a rocky start to say the least. It’s had its moments, few and far between. It has not been consistent. As a matter of fact, it has been consistently inconsistent. The series has taken weeks off to regroup several times, specially when the creators claimed to start ramping things up.
The showrunners Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon recently talked to The Hollywood Reporter about the series of which ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee acknowledged has been trying to find its legs. The comment that just pisses me off is their statement on how “people were expecting to see a Marvel movie every week.” You can read the full story at The Hollywood Reporter. I don’t think anybody was expecting a movie, just a well done TV series. There has been a few solid episodes, but for the most part each week the storyline is just spotty. The series seems to be obsessed with setting up cool moments but often sacrificing logic or forcing erratic reactions out of their characters.
Which brings me to this week. End of the Beginning is the first part of a two episode finale. It goes like this. Deathlok is running amok and tries to kill agents Garrett and Triplett. They bring out big guns that don’t do any lasting damage to him. He runs away because – actually, no real reason. You can imagine a master plan behind it, but all I see a big plot hole.
So, Coulson calls in the big guns and assembles all the big names in SHIELD. Well, actually all the SHIELD people we’ve been introduced to in the show. Garrett, Triplett, Victoria Hand, Sitwell and Blake. He thinks that Deathlok attacked because they’re getting close to find the Clairvoyant.
The solution is to divide themselves in pairs and go after all the top suspects that- wait, how long have had a list of suspects? Why are we not sending full swat teams instead of two people paired randomly? Oh, and Skye becomes an agent of shield and she comes up with the list? As Victoria Hand points out, she’s a level ONE. None of the agent pairs know both the location and the identity. Yeah, well Skye knows and it’s on her computer. This is a completely flawed idea. Agent Hand will point that out later.
Each pair of agents go to a particular location with the identity of each suspect revealed on their phones (phones, not hackable at all!) only when they are close to their location. They make it sound kind of cool but I think the safest thing would have been to write it in a piece of paper. Anyhow, off they go. Don’t worry, this doesn’t take long. Deathlok attacks the hospital where May and Agent Blake are looking for a comatose patient named Thomas Nash. Deathlok kills Blake and fires a missile that barely misses May. He’s been upgraded with more weaponry and it’s obvious that each upgrade makes him less human.
But Blake has managed to shoot a tracer into Deathlok so now they can track him. They find him in a racetrack and this time they go in with all guns blazing. There’s a lot of shooting and Deathlok escapes. I could have reused that last phrase to describe more than half of this episode. Not all is lost, they do find Thomas Nash (Brad Dourif) hooked up to a machine in front of several screens, who talks through a computer screen. This appears to be the Clairvoyant. Then he says – actually, he writes – something threatening about Coulson and Skye.
And then Ward shoots him.
If this was supposed to elicit a response, it doesn’t. We’ve just met this guy. We haven’t had his face or his voice to hate. Also the explanation that Ward snapped is completely ludicrous. You have a guy cornered, almost a vegetable, and he’s supposed to be making you mad. Here’s how that falls flat: he’s not talking. The threat is on a screen that a whole lot of other people are also reading. This guy is not going to make a run for it. There is no reason for Ward to shoot him at all.
Don’t expect me to believe that Ward is going to abandon all his training and go with a completely passional response (we get it, he’s supposed to be secretly in love with Skye) because of a TEXT. Not even a soap opera takes this much dramatic license. I get it that we wanted a WTF moment but we got more of a HUH?
Coulson and Skye figure out that the Clairvoyant is a SHIELD agent. We get the suspense music like nobody has imagined that one before.
Ward ends up inside the hexagon room. Meanwhile, earlier on we dropped Simmons and Triplett at the Hub and Fitz told her he will try to get an encrypted line going. We now come back to Fitz fiddling with wires during which he discovers May’s private encrypted line. He tells Skye who urges him to cut the line. As he does, May notices and comes after him with an ICER. She gets cornered by both Coulson and Skye. Coulson demands to know who she has been talking to, but May refuses to tell him stating he doesn’t know what this is really about. She says she can explain what she has been up to but not there. Nobody seems to want to listen her.
The Bus lurches and changes course, knocking everyone to the ground. At the Hub, Victoria Hand tells whoever is listening that she wants everyone inside that plane taken out except for Coulson. She’ll handle that one personally.
The title to this episode and first chapter of the finale could have been Everyone Misunderstands Everything. It’s been a staple in Marvel Comics that when they want two superheroes to fight, they just create a misunderstanding. Then one of them overreacts and decides not to listen to the perfectly good explanation of why did the other hero seemed to be doing something villain-esque.
I really believe you have to build up the villain. Not just a name or some vague treat. Put a logo or a calling card in each scheme. At some point in the series, give your villain a face. If not, at least a voice. Character development is needed as much for your heroes as for your villains. Unfortunately, for this series that record is spotty for the main characters and non-existant for the phantom menace, the Clairvoyant.
Highs: Not much. Victoria Hand stating what everyone else seems to miss (Skye’s a level one and she’s directing the moves of the highest level agents, Skye’s plan is flawed, there was no backup for anybody, someone needs to stay at the hub… she nails every single flaw). She’s the only one that seems to have a brain in this episode. Fitz and Simmons barely have some moments in this show, not enough to make it shine.
Lows: Everyone else is flat. Coulson overreacts and then doesn’t listen to reason. I don’t believe May is a traitor – I believe she’s been reporting back to Fury and that’s as far as that will go. Ward’s character is completely off the mark. Deathlok is not scary. Why would his armor have lights in it? Why is he just running around? Also, you get Brad Dourif to be on your show and he doesn’t even get to move or say a word. Skye isolates the information from level 7 and above, but she’s a level one. The plan is flawed. The list of suspects that comes out of nowhere unless you’re going to tell me they’ve had this list for a while but never did anything about it.
I’m not expecting a strong finale next week. I will close the season of this series, and chances are there is enough interest for me to at least peek into the second season but I don’t think I’ll be doing recaps/reviews of the next season.
My predictions? May is innocent and she’s just been reporting back to Fury. Agent Hand is not the Clairvoyant. Actually, my number one suspect to be the Clairvoyant is Garrett. Oh, and there’s a lot of shooting and Deathlok escapes.
That will do for now.