AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. upped its game considerably this season as the newly-appointed Director Coulson (Clark Gregg) found himself coordinating a fledging team of operatives against the remnants of HYDRA, the terrorist organization that brought the once-mighty global police force to its knees last year in Season One and in THE WINTER SOLDIER. But if you thought that espionage and spy games were going to be all that S.H.I.E.L.D. had to deal with, think again! Supervillains, the Kree, Inhumans and a growing power within their own ranks that could prove to be either beneficial or deadly gave our crew of agents a run for their money this season. But regardless of the obligatory “Marvel dump” the show had to contend with (due to AGE OF ULTRON and several Phase Three building blocks needing to be put into place), AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. fared far better this year with maintaining its own compelling story arcs while still being able to play its role in the continuing grand experiment that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Throughout the season run, AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. handled its necessary tie-ins and character/universe integration well. The events in S.H.I.E.L.D. provide a strong-enough build-up into AGE OF ULTRON without feeling the need to pay any more fan service than is needed since the show is on its own unique path. WINTER SOLDIER may have been as much a S.H.I.E.L.D. tale as it was a Captain America adventure, but ULTRON is full-on Avengers territory with S.H.I.E.L.D. offering their little contribution and moving on. The show also continues to expand its roster of original and lesser-known Marvel characters with guest appearances from Hulk villain Carl Creel/Absorbing Man (Brian Patrick Wade), Alphonso “Mack” Mckenzie (Henry Simmons) and the other S.H.I.E.L.D. director Robert Gonzales (Edward James Olmos)…so say we all. Add to that returning characters in the mythos such as Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), Deathlok (J. August Richards), Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), Glenn Talbot (Adrian Pasdar) and the kick-ass Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) in flashback sequences and AGENTS continues to fill in the gaps of the MCU without gratuitous winks and nods.
Along with a more complex and self-contained story came character development galore for several team members. Phil Coulson may have laid some ghosts to rest regarding his resurrection and his continued alien scribblings may have bore fruit, but paranoia and mistrust quickly took hold, forcing him to once again “go rogue” and take charge in his own unique style. We got very meaningful and emotional insight into Melinda May (Ming Na-Wen) and what gave rise to her frosty demeanor and rejection of field work in the first place. Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) went from being “that goofy team member” to being a truly damaged and sympathetic soul following his trauma from last season. And the addition of two main characters in Lance Hunter (Nick Blood) and Bobbi Morse/Mockingbird (Adrianne Palicki) provided fresh eyes to the S.H.I.E.L.D. party bus while delivering their own secrets and engaging story arcs. Really the only two main characters that I felt were not able to take advantage of the season’s honed direction were Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) and the traitorous Grant Ward (Brett Dalton). I don’t know…something about Simmons and her sudden superhuman bigotry just never felt right or natural to me. It all just seemed a little too convenient for the sake of tension. And whatever promise Ward held in the last half of Season One for being an intriguing wild card quickly went by the wayside halfway through this season as he reset to just being villainous for villainy’s sake.
Daisy “Skye” Johnson (Chloe Bennett) had a total turnaround in my eyes this season. She went from being the character that I felt the show had no idea what to do with (yet couldn’t help stressing her importance) to becoming one of the more interesting aspects. Under the tutelage of May, Skye became an effective and level-headed field operative. She even got her own version of DAREDEVIL‘s hallway fight scene to chew on and demonstrated major badassery with it. And with the arrival of her Inhuman ability to produce dangerous seismic activity and vibrations, came a clearer picture of her past as well as what lies ahead for her and the rest of the MCU.
Much of Skye’s growth can also be attributed to a character she spent a majority of screen time with: her father Calvin Zabo (known better as Marvel supervillain Mister Hyde) played by Kyle MacLachlan (TWIN PEAKS) who, frankly, was the best character this season. As a massive PEAKS fan, it was so much fun to watch MacLachlan cut loose with such an over-the-top and psychotic performance. It was like we were following the exploits of Agent Cooper/Killer BOB several years after PEAKS had ended as Calvin demonstrated his bloodthirsty nature and full mad-on for S.H.I.E.L.D. for apparently taking his daughter away from him and killing his wife many years ago (in actuality, it was an undercover HYDRA unit that was responsible). But from such enjoyable villainy, I could not anticipate what would endear the character to me even more would be his moments of genuine humanity. The scenes with him and Skye just talking, be it reflecting on the past or mourning the family that could have been, are some of the best performances on the show yet. Bennett more than holds her own with MacLachlan as Skye keeps her guard up with such as dangerous individual, but can’t help but share in his remorse as she learns more about herself and her abilities. Calvin even turns out to be the more stable parent as it is later revealed that Skye’s mom is actually a life-sucking Inhuman supremacist (a woman after Magneto’s own heart…were Magneto allowed to exist in this universe). But truly, the last scene with Skye and her father is one of the more heartbreaking moments on the show given everything both of them had been through. It utilizes S.H.I.E.L.D.’s established lore well and does offer the slimmest promise of Zabo’s return down the line. I can only hope.
AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. Season Two was a vast improvement over last year by leaps and bounds. The balance for referencing the MCU seems to have been struck and the story and characters have proven to be fully self-sufficient, greatly adding to the characterization and growth of the team and its larger mythos. Next season may prove to be even more ambitious than this one as Coulson and Skye start developing their own team of gifted individuals (Secret Warriors, anyone?), Ward rebuilds HYDRA (I guess because he can), the Inhuman baby boom lurks on the horizon (everyone remember to take your fish oil supplements) and even more connections are made to the Marvel’s cosmic realm (or possibly the Microverse?) with Simmons and her sudden disappearance/abduction at the end of the finale. Regardless, I’ll be there for the ride. Make mine Marvel, but definitely make mine S.H.I.E.L.D., true believers…
…and please get Jeremy Renner to guest star! Hawkeye can’t be bored outta his skull forever on that farm!
Final Score: 9 out of 10