Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has had a very interesting life. The ambitious series was announced to thunderous enthusiasm, leaving many eager to see how a TV show closely tied to The Avengers would work. Once the pilot episode hit it left many feeling disappointed. Ratings plummeted as time went on, causing an ongoing exodus of fans. But towards the end of the series reports seemed to pop up everywhere of people urging lapsed viewers to return as the show had undergone a huge shift. It was, allegedly, finally the show everyone had wanted it to be.
So, all in all how was season 1? It’s difficult to give a short definitive answer, so instead let’s start at the beginning.
The premise of the show was simple: we follow a specific S.H.I.E.L.D. team lead by Agent Coulson, last seen dead in The Avengers, as they solve strange super power related mysteries. Kind of like Scooby-Doo, except the Mystery Machine is a plane and there’s less unmasking and more actual super powers. Sounds fun in theory but in actuality the early episodes were admittedly rough.
Characters began a little too cookie cutter and even Coulson, incredibly likable in the past, came across as oddly bland. Skye was our fresh eyes into the inner workings of S.H.I.E.L.D. a young woman hacking her way through computers to discover her mysterious past, Ward is the confident Action Man stereotype, May is quiet but deadly efficient and the amusing duo Fitz and Simmons provided the science technobabble. There was nothing explicitly wrong with the cast to begin with beyond the fact they all just seemed very plain.
Many also criticised the lack of a Marvel influence early on, with the bombastic super powers of the movies missing, but I’d argue that the super powered episodes were actually the weakest. The show worked best when it was dealing with just a dash of the extraordinary and a hefty dose of character driven drama.
The sixth episode, F.Z.Z.T. was one of the best of the first half and the best episode so far at the time. Abandoning the predictable formula of earlier episodes, it was paced very differently and was actually quite emotional. It looked like the show could actually make us care about its characters after all.
From then on things were noticeably improved. The blend of humorous scenes and serious moments was better balanced and it felt like it was starting to find its voice. The Magical Place was another standout moment for the series as we started to learn more about lingering questions, proving that they didn’t intend to drag out the mysteries forever. At this point the characters felt more defined, they had flaws and everyone’s backstory began to have something that propped them up as more than a stereotype.
Episode thirteen, T.R.A.C.K.S., was another highpoint with a nonlinear narrative which shifted perspectives of the same event. From that point on the series only got better and by the time End of the Beginning aired, the first episode with strong ties to Captain America The Winter Soldier, the series really soured. All of a sudden the format of the show completely changed. No longer were we greeted with a new villain every week, each episode was its own continuation of the overall storyline. Throw in some big twists and very bold decisions and it was clear Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had finally not only hit its expectations, it’d exceeded them.
Ending strong the series was almost unrecognisable in tone and format from where it started. The humour was actually funny, it wasn’t overly cheesy and forced anymore, while the main storyline was incredibly engaging, taking earlier plot points and spinning them into deeper and darker directions.
So how was season 1? In the end it was fantastic, but it’s impossible to ignore the problematic start and so-so episodes that popped up. The last third of the story is so incredibly enjoyable that it makes the whole thing well worth watching though. I have to applaud them for taking cues from the movies and using Winter Soldier in such a way to strengthen and weave into their own plot, it really reenergised the whole series.
The bottom line is that the early issues that it does have are spectacularly outshined by the impressively superior second-half. If you’re a fan of the Marvel movies, especially The Avengers, then go watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. If you’re one of the many who dropped out early on, go see what you missed on because it’s well worth seeing.