Thoughts on “Agents of SHIELD”

So, I did it. I made it through all five seasons of “Agents of SHIELD”. I had originally made it part-way through Season 3 before dropping it, likely because of the hiatus. I’ve noticed in the past — most notably with a season of “Survivor” that took a break for March Madness — that if I am trying to watch something on a regular basis and it stops for a while I find other things to do and so am not likely to return. Aside from “Survivor”, I also did that for “Heroes” and probably a couple of other things.

The other thing is that I own the DVDs for Season 1 of “Agents of SHIELD”, and noted that it was much better to watch after having already watched it because I wasn’t speculating on the storylines and so could just watch and enjoy it for what it was. That seemed to hold for this one as well, although I do think that the later season did have more flaws or at least exaggerated the flaws that the series already had.

As I explained to a friend who was commenting on why he stopped watching the show and wasn’t going to buy the DVDs of the first season after borrowing them from someone and enjoying watching them to some degree, the reason I am interested in the show despite not really watching it anymore — which is what drove my choosing to watch it when I got Crave and the show was on there — was because of the characters. I like Coulson and May, I like FitzSimmons, and I can tolerate Skye/Daisy/Quake when the focus isn’t too much on her and her relationships, especially with Ward. Of the later characters, Hunter was generally annoying but got more tolerable later, Bobbi was interesting, and Mack is okay. I disliked Ward and Yo-Yo, however, and felt that both were too prominent for their somewhat annoying personalities, although when Yo-Yo faded a bit due to her uncertainties over the prophecies that she had given herself she was more tolerable. I mostly just found her too arrogant and aggressive for a character that was a latecomer to the team.

This leads me, though, to one of the areas where I think AoS stumbled: too much focus on Skye/Daisy and Ward and their relationship. I think of Ward in the same way as Corran Horn thought of Gara Petothel/Lara Notsil/Kirney Slane in Michael Stackpole’s Wraith Squadron books: a situational conformist with a few screws loose. This could, of course, have been used as an interesting idea, as I did believe that Ward, when he was with SHIELD was committed to them and was equally committed to Hydra when he was with them, and this could have been played up more. And it was handwaved at at times, but too often simply pushed aside so we could have the drama of his interest in Skye/Daisy and her having been interested in the past and now seemingly incredibly angry with him and seeking revenge.

The problem is that both my impression and my impression from reading some forum reactions on the show is that these plotlines were somewhat divisive, and the show didn’t properly handle those divisions. Don’t get me wrong; Skye and Ward were no Neelix, where the audience loathed them but the writers seemed, at least, to love them. There were certainly people who loved them and their relationship and wanted to see more of it. But there was also a significant portion of the audience that disliked them and liked other characters more, and so the show had to advance their plot while ensuring that they didn’t take too much time away from the characters that others liked more. For me, I always felt that Skye/Daisy worked a lot better when she was in the background, as she was the one character that everyone could relate to: the parental-type relationship with Coulson and May, the technical side with Fitz and Simmons and even the attraction with Ward. But the show kept putting the two of them into the limelight, and it got kinda annoying. Ward has to be Coulson’s biggest target, which makes sense but puts him front and centre again. He gets the entity inside him which makes him, again, the big villain in season 3, despite being a big villain in the other seasons (despite there being far more interesting antagonists out there most of the time). And he gets a “good death” at the end of season 3, at least as the mysterious entity, with him going out as someone potentially partially reformed and going out with a literal bang, when the best death for a character like Ward would be to show that while he desperately wanted to be important he really, really wasn’t, and so going out killed by a random mook, preferably completely by accident. In my opinion, Ward really needed to get the “Lindsey” treatment and go out like that character went out in “Angel”: not killed by Coulson out of revenge, nor by Daisy, but instead saying “You don’t get to kill me! Coulson, Daisy, May, they get to kill me! Or even Fitz and Simmons! Not a nobody like you!”

Bringing Ward back only half a season later as an actual hero in the Framework didn’t help either. They really could have let him be dead longer before making him front and centre again.

Another flaw in the show related to this is that while Ward overstayed his welcome, other interesting antagonists were treated as disposable. Victoria Hand was a potentially interesting character and could have easily worked as a “good-aligned” antagonist due to the clashes between her philosophy and Coulson’s, and she’s killed off simply to further the less interesting character Ward’s storyline. Gonzalez also worked as that, and he’s killed just to make Daisy’s mother evil and so increase the drama in her storyline. Whitehall had some interesting premises, and he’s disposed of rather quickly with Ward, again, a key part of that. Rosalind Price worked well either as an antagonist or as a relationship interest for Coulson, and she’s killed off by Ward to drive the revenge plot. Too many good antagonists are lost because the main antagonist seemed to be Ward, and they didn’t seem able to recover from Disposable Antagonist Syndrome even after Ward was killed, losing Aida and even General Talbot as Graviton — even down to having the same beard as the comics version — far too quickly and before all their potential was explored.

Which gets into another flaw: AoS continually fails to realize its potential. Very often, more interesting plots are sacrificed for less interesting but more “dramatic” or convoluted ones, to the show’s detriment. Which is one reason why the show is better the second time around, as you don’t have to speculate about where the plots are going and so be disappointed when their answer is worse than yours. In the first season, given their ages and Chloe Bennett being half-Chinese I posited that her mother might well have been May, which would explain a lot and drive home the maternal instinct that May seemed to have for her. This was less dramatic but potentially more interesting than her mother being a genocidal Inhuman. When Ward killed Hand, the potential was laid for that to be him playing Garrett, which would have preserved an interesting character and led to an interesting payoff, but instead he really was just a traitor. Aida was a particular disappointment, as they teased the more interesting idea that she had been given sentience by the Darkhold, but, no, she was just following her creator’s orders. An AI being given sentience by an evil book is more interesting than her just being a technological innovation, and it would have worked so much better to explain her more aggressive and evil actions later instead of falling back on the “overinterpreting her creator’s commands” trope, and would have filled in some plot holes. If she was just following her creator’s orders to make a world where the people inside it are cured of their traumas, why didn’t she realize that it wasn’t working when for most of them their trauma increased? This wasn’t even handwaved with the idea that she’d been trying to do so over and over again and this world, the one where Hydra ran everything, was the best one she’d built so far (which would have had a callback to constantly resetting May to make her try to escape over and over again). But as a Darkhold entity, she might have an underlying corruption that makes her partial to more evil worlds. Also, it would have help explain her going insane later, rather than having to rely on Fitz’s rejection — and a rather pathetic ploy where she seems to accept it and then it is revealed that she thought he was choosing her and not Simmons — and the standard broken heart trope to pull that off. Over and over and over again, AoS misses new and more interesting takes to fall back on more standard and less interesting ones, and this got worse in the later seasons.

Another way in which the later seasons were worse was that the show became very, very dark. The early seasons had a lot of light humour, particularly on Coulson’s part, but this seemed to fall by the wayside as things got more and more serious and more and more dramatic. The light banter disappeared, for the most part. They tried to bring it back at the end of season 5, but since that was dealing with the end of the world, potentially at Daisy’s hands, it came across far more as “Dude, not funny” than the light banter of the previous seasons.

And I didn’t like pairing Coulson and May romantically. They worked far better as platonic life partner’s and it forces a reexamination of a lot of things, like her relationship with Andrew.

So, after all of that, what’s my overall impression of Agents of SHIELD. First, I think that the end of season 5 was a perfect way to end the series, and that it will carry on may hurt it. Yes, there’s lots more stories that you can tell, but the actual end sequence with the goodbye and with Coulson’s potential death struck the perfect tone for ending a series. Second, there were too many times where I was crying that the show and plots were stupid. However, I still like Coulson and May, and FitzSimmons, and can tolerate Daisy and Mack. So I’m pretty likely to watch it again at some point. The characters are just interesting enough to carry things through the lackluster at best plots, and even the plots are interesting at times to help with that.

Right now I’m watching Agent Carter, and then it’s on to Voyager.

2 Responses to “Thoughts on “Agents of SHIELD””

  1. Thoughts on “Agent Carter” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] “Agents of SHIELD” was certainly something that I wanted to do, but it wasn’t something that I was really […]

  2. Thoughts on Star Trek: Voyager (End Season 3) | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] Carter”, and it’s about as bad if perhaps slightly worse than what there was in “Agents of SHIELD”. For the most part, what I’ve found is that it often has some good ideas but has absolutely no […]

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