Sunday, May 26, 2024

Agents of SHIELD Doubles Down on the Meta, Loses Some Fire

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Last week, I made the observation that Agents of Shield’s season premier was designed to be a two-parter. The episode just sort of ended, and for a variety of reasons it really felt like the script had another forty-four minutes of material to go through before wrapping itself up. Now I’m almost sure of it, since the pacing and structure of the second episode “Meet the New Bosscomes off as kinda stilted and off-balance. That’s not to say the content isn’t good—it still is!—but the execution didn’t quite land as well as it could have. A problem which would have been remedied if they’d aired them both back to back.

There’s just less going on here, as far as I can see.

The most evident example of this is waiting until the second episode to meet the aforementioned New Boss, played by Jason O’Mara—aka Not-As-Perfect-As-Kevin-Conroy Batman—with his best Bruce Wayne impression, when it doesn’t actually serve a purpose. There’s no point in shrouding the Director of SHIELD in mystery if he’s going to be all about Public Relations and how his organization, once it is revealed to the world once more, is 100% HYDRA free. Even the big “twist” about him getting the position over Coulson is only as interesting as the context as it is revealed. Which it was, but we’ll get to that.

Point is, something got lost in translation here, and it’s a damn shame, since I’d bet if you cut these two episodes together, you’d get something fantastic.

Anyway, the opening scene is a bit of a slow-starter. Yes, there is a ghost in this family home. Kid wakes up, sees ghost, calls dad, dad sees ghost, dad goes insane, ghost reunites with occult scientist buddies and tries to blow up Pasadena. C’mon, we’ve all heard that story before, right? It’s underwhelming, even if it does rather cleverly subvert the whole “haunting my old home” thing that ghosts typically do.

We find out later that Lucy, the lady ghost, was only there because she had no idea how much time had passed since she was…captured? Turned into a ghost? Died? Got Dr. Manhattan’d? It’s not clear, but Hugo, the first one she releases from that Abandoned Science Factory, thinks it’s only been hours. Which is kind of spookier since they’re all so lucid, except for the one ghost who can’t even speak and starts throwing stuff around like a lunatic. I’ll admit, that had me laughing.


I kept hearing the “womp womp womp womp” track  from Charlie Brown that plays whenever the adults talk. And how one of them just sort of understands what he’s raging about, plus that little hand gesture as if to say “GOD. FINALLY! IT’S LIKE NONE OF YOU ARE EVEN LISTENING!” Awesome.

Fitz and Simmons have only a brief moment this week, but it’s a genuinely fun one. Inspecting the Mystery Box, and not explaining the paradox of Schrodinger’s Cat because this show assumes we’re smart enough to know what that is now I guess—started this episode’s trend of being rather self-aware and meta about everything. Fitz thinks it’s an empty box. Jemma thinks it’s an empty box made out of fancy material. Turns out, they’re both right!

Mack’s frank declaration of hey, maybe it’s just a ghost made me snicker, even though I knew it was coming, but it’s still welcome. Rumor has it that this season of Agents of SHIELD is supposed to help bring the concept of actual real magic into the MCU so Doctor Strange doesn’t seem like utter nonsense. As compared to all of that Asgardian and Cosmic stuff that only appears to be magic, of course. Because those were important world building moments in most of the movies so far.

Suspect Meta, Report Meta

When I was watching that scene of May and Coulson waiting for the Director in the fancy new break room, I couldn’t help but notice just how Cold War-y it looked. You’ve got the hyper-jingoistic posters of Mount Rushmore and an American Eagle in front of an American Flag with a “Loose Lips Sink Ships” style framed propaganda poster between them. Almost like it was something out of the Churchill Bunkers exhibit beneath London.


The “secret base, now open to the public!” part, not the American part. And, lo and behold, May and Coulson actually recognize and reference it as something manufactured and just plain silly. Made me chuckle, because HYDRA and this is totally justified even if it’s some pretty black humor, but I didn’t expect this trend to follow. Or, keep going, as it were.

We get a moment with Fitz and Mack walking through the Abandoned Science Factory, complete with spooky red mood lighting, and Mack makes that all-too-true observation about how they never go anywhere nice.


Then later, Daisy calls out Reyes not ten seconds after he does the whole “We’re not So Different” thing, and explicitly points out that he just said that. Not ten seconds earlier. I understand that the self-awareness here is probably meant to ease us into mystical things of the MCU, instead of rampant cynicism, but here it feels just short of being overplayed. But not quite. To me, it comes off as just enough to justify the Ghost Scientist Collective and how all of their shenanigans aren’t out of place.

Robbie Reyes and Quake Get Skeevy

I really just have to call attention to the initial scene of Daisy stalking Robbie in his garage, and sneaking in there while he goes to smash up her face with a tire iron. She puts her super-spy and intel-gathering skills to great use but it’s incredibly unsettling. Not to say that it’s a bad tactic, or a “mistake”, as we’re shown later pretty explicitly that Daisy’s got a death wish and can’t understand why the Ghost Rider didn’t kill her. But the way in which it was blocked, scripted and performed…look, I’ll just come out and say it: it got kinda rapey.


It did. I rewatched that scene to make sure, and Daisy just dumping all of his personal secrets to blackmail him into getting what she wants, and then Robbie basically telling her that he can’t be held accountable for what happens when he gets angry, and how he likes it when he doesn’t remember what he does to people…you see what I’m getting at, right? I doubt that was the intention for that scene, but that’s how I read it.

It’s not like the Hulk, where the transformation is involuntary. Robbie can stay Robbie as long as there aren’t evil souls around (as far as we know), so he’d have to choose to kill Daisy. And it’s that level of choice here that makes this whole thing just all kinds of gross. It doesn’t, thankfully, lead anywhere, but this is just something I noticed and couldn’t really drop.

Are We Sure HYDRA Is Gone? 

Additionally, as the two of them interrogate one another, I couldn’t help but ask the question I’m sure everyone was wondering: Why does it matter if Robbie killed those skinheads? Why do Daisy and Mack both take issue with Ghost Rider doling out vigilante justice on freaking Nazis.  Okay, sure fair trial, not their place, blah, blah, blah, but c’mon. Nazis. Nazis. How long has this show been dealing with the remnants of the Third Reich trying to screw everyone over and take over the world? Most of the series.

So a conspiracy involving well-funded gun running Nazis, the Chinese mafia, and a magic weapon of sorts—that’s where they draw the line? I really just have a hard time buying that, but maybe that’s just my personal bias bleeding through. Well. I mean it obviously is, but how many people out there really disagree with me here? Good Nazis are Dead Nazis. Was under the impression that SHIELD knows that better than most.

Or maybe it’s because, on principle, murder is wrong. Like I said in my last review, yeah, I understand that, but…c’mon, guys…Nazis. This isn’t hard!

Phil and Jemma’s World Tour (with opening act by Bruce Wayne!)

The concept of Jemma and Coulson being sidelined for SSR Bunker Tour Duty is an entertaining one on its own, but it’s even better when you realize just how horrible an idea it was to do this. Not just today, when May and one of the Chinese dudes go full crazy pants, but in general. Sure, Not-Bruce-Wayne is a charming guy, and he appears to value Coulson and Jemma’s input on all significant matters (when they’re able to be objective), but c’mon, he should’ve known better.

Even if we did get to find out that Phil is just as big a Captain American fanboy as he is a Peggy Carter fanboy, who apparently has a legend told about her exploits, which is uncompromisingly cool. But Jemma’s little “There was an incident. Blood everywhere. Not a great time”, followed by Phil just grinning was too perfect.  And moments before that, she inches the monitor away from the visitors, and Coulson sees it with this perfect expression of “Yeah, that looks about right.”

They’ve been through the thick of it, together, from the very beginning.

Melinda May Kicks SHIELD Ass

First off, and I despise that I have to bring in Bury Your Gays, but somebody please put Piper, that woman that accidentally—and adorably—flirted with May this episode on the “Sapphic Character Watch List” or whatever it’s called because, hey, she’s probably going to die. Hell, I thought she was going to die the second May started decimating everyone when everything went full Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But, thankfully, she lives to not die another day.


Moving on from that, May’s storyline here was a rare moment of weakness for her, as her typical mental and psychological walls have been totally shattered by the presence of magic, something she has no training or defense against. Though it’s important to note that she’s the one who stay sane far longer than anyone else afflicted by Lucy’s ghost powers, so when she does finally snap and start breaking faces in the training area, it is brutal and awesome. 

And, of course, the reveal that Not-Bruce-Wayne actually isgasp, Not-As-Perfect-As-Kevin-Conroy Batman with Jeffrey being an invincible Inhuman was something I called the instant he started acting so chummy, charming and understanding. Though for a few seconds I thought he might’ve been an extension of AIDA for some ungodly reason, even if that made no sense, mostly because we hadn’t seen the Totally-Not-A-Sex-Robot or Radcliffe in the episode so far.


Wrap-Up Thoughts

  • The reveal that Not-As-Perfect-As-Kevin-Conroy Batman isn’t Phil’s ideal replacement was actually very interesting. We all know Captain America went AWOL after the events of Civil War, so Coulson’s original idea of having a “powered person they could trust” be the new face of SHIELD got downgraded to…some guy named Jeffrey.  Plus, he’s taking May away for “classified” treatment, which is almost certainly a red herring because for SHIELD to be infiltrated by Evil Organization #12 would be overkill.
  • Fitz describing Mack as “…an engineer. And a small tank.” had me cracking up. Just as Fitz calling out Daisy’s crap about turning her back on everyone when things got bad, since none of them did that in their darkest moments hit me pretty hard. Fitz was just all over the appropriate emotional whammy spectrum this week.
  • I’m disappointed that the “Spectrum of Security” was not referenced. I wanted the new DIRECTOR to pull something like “Sorry, Phil. This is red, and you’re just a little bit too orange.” when asked about May’s treatment.
  • The cyber-punky soundtrack vanished, I guess. Not sure why they’d drop that. Maybe because Radcliffe wasn’t in this episode?
  • What happened to the backgammon?! It was this huge thing last week and now it just…vanished? Was it just a framing device?
  • Guess we’ll find out what happens next—oh. Okay, two weeks from now! For some reason. Oh, and depsite my criticisms, I still very much enjoyed this episode. Just not as much as I’d hoped, and not as much, as I’ve said before, if they’d cut this together with the premiere. Would’ve been a great lead-in to the Ghost Rider/Quake team-up + power blackout episode that’s next. Here’s hoping things get back on a more stable track!

Images courtesy of ABC and Marvel

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