Marvel’s first attempt at network TV had a goal: to extend the reach of its cinematic universe to the small screen. Not every show starts off on the right foot and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had its trouble finding its voice in the beginning, it had some obstacles to overcome: having no A-list characters to lean on (there are a few which I will explain later), creating its own characters to invest in, working on a TV budget, etc.
Granted, most people would’ve hopped off the bandwagon and never looked back. I, however, did not.
Allow me to dissect what made this show so good in the last several years:
Dating back to Iron Man. There’s been one man that’s been a constant throughout the first Phase of Marvel films and his name is Phil Coulson. However, during the Avengers…this happened.
I thought that would be it, Coulson had been laid to rest…except he didn’t. Deaths in comics don’t always last and he was no exception. Which led to him headlining Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The diversity of the cast is what makes it stand out than any other.
Take a look above. The spectrum of ethnicities is varied and diverse and it has something for everyone. It’s definitely refreshing to see representation as the backbone of its cast.
“Diversity’s very important to us.” says co-creator Maurissa Tancharoen “We [and Jed] are both born and raised here in Los Angeles. We grew up with diversity surrounding us. It’s everything that we know. We like the show to represent the world we live in. Thankfully, we work alongside people who are advocates for diversity, as well. It’s not just us. It’s everyone we work with.”
There are countless easter eggs and guest appearances scattered throughout the show and it’s unafraid of bringing on deep cut characters from different corners of the Marvel universe. A few of which crossed over from the films, such as Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Even second-stringers like the Absorbing Man, Mockingbird and Glenn Talbot even appear on AOS and it even gets noticed on the Netflix series. One connection that I found awesome was during Daredevil season 1 where there was a poster promoting a fight between Battlin’ Jack Murdock (Matt Murdock’s dad) and Carl Creel aka the Absorbing Man in Fogwell’s Gym.
Recently, Ghost Rider got a second chance and it was a smart move to have the Robbie Reyes version of the character in the first arc of season 4. It drives home the show’s core tenets of diversity. It would’ve been easy to have Johnny Blaze in his place (he still shows up!) I’m glad it went that route and it redeemed the character in this medium.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. thrives on reinventing itself. It avoids being stagnant by constantly changing the playing field from season to season. It went from a case-of-the-week format to having a more overarching story and it flourished as a result. Every season adds something to the greater mythos. The characters have also grown into more three-dimensional, layered characters. Even Skye/Daisy went from resident hacker to bonafide superhero.
Without further ado, here’s some of the episodes (in my opinion) that elevated AOS from decent to brilliant, must-see programming.
Full spoilers will follow…
Turn, Turn, Turn
Anyone who’s seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier will know by now. Hydra, an evil organization, has infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. to destroy it from within and no one is safe. A well known trope in espionage is “who can you trust?” and that gets pushed to it’s limit as suspicion starts to rise within the gang in this game-changing episode as Ward is revealed to be the worm in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s midst. It took a lot of work to get that point, but it was so worth the wait. This was the turning point of the series. Sometimes, it takes one episode (and a little help from an Avenger) to change everything.
Beginning of the End
S.H.I.E.L.D. was in a bad way in the tail end of season 1. It culminated with Nick Fury, resurfacing after faking his death in Winter Soldier, to help Coulson and the gang take the fight to Ward, Garrett and the rest of Hydra in the season finale and it changes the game for Fitz and Simmons as this episode leaves them in a bad place. The show ended it’s first year in a far better place than when it began & it can stand on it’s two feet while being tied to the greater mythos. The growing pains was worth it, after all.
What they Become
Season 2 was settling into a post-Hydra world and S.H.I.E.L.D. has gone off the grid taking on operations below the radar. However, this episode changes everything for Skye, the gang’s tech expert as she discovers the secrets of the family that abandoned her. She finds her father, Calvin Johnson who reveals that Skye is Daisy Johnson. It was a revelation, for sure. But nothing prepared me for Terrigenesis!
Skye had been reborn as AOS opened the floodgates to the Inhumans. A moment that it became more than just a spy-fi show. It’s now unafraid to get some good, old-fashioned superpowers into the mix.
I can’t scratch the surface of how good this episode was. This Season 3 gem explains Jemma’s absence since Season 2 after she was absorbed by the monolith and ended up off world for six months. Elizabeth Henstridge carried this bottle episode on her back and delivered a standout performance where she ran the gamut from confident to terrified and everything in between. I drew a lot of parallels to The Martian in terms of the story’s format, the lighting and the single-set location. It went against the grain in a lot of ways and it’s a great reason why it became an instant classic.
This episode left me speechless. The closing episode of the LMD (Life Model Decoy) arc kicked the story into another gear. Aida, who was introduced in the beginning of Season 4 as Radcliffe’s LMD assistant (pictured above), slowly starts to reveal her master plan to eradicate all Inhumans. Starting with May, Coulson and the gang has been replaced by LMDs right under Fitz & Simmons’ noses. What followed was an intricately plotted, emotionally resonant and utterly thrilling hour of programming. Jed Whedon (Joss’ younger brother and the co-showrunner) wrote and directed this episode. He, as well as the talented cast and crew, hit a grand slam.
and the cliffhanger…oh my god…that amazing, mind-melting cliffhanger…
Agents of Hydra
The “What If?” scenario is a trope in TV and comics that always works and we get to see how things would’ve been different. It’s a bit of a cheat to lump in the entire third arc of Season 4. I do feel that it’s warranted. There was a lot of magic at work in this alternate-reality story as a de-powered Daisy and Simmons enters the Framework, a Matrix-like dystopia where Coulson becomes an anti-Inhuman school teacher, Fitz becomes an evil tycoon with Aida by his side, Mack finally gets to be a father, Agent May is now the head of Hydra and Ward is alive…again! (sidebar: there are three guarantees in life: Death, taxes and Ward coming back to life)
The way this story tackles discrimination (the framework presenting a world that fears and hates Inhumans) gives this batch of episodes a political edge without being on-the-nose and it glosses over what’s going on today subtly and it felt like a greatest hits of how far it has come in the last four years with past characters coming back and tying all three stories together in what is quite possibly, the best story that AOS has ever done.
As the gang were celebrating their victory at a diner that paid homage to The Avengers in it’s own way. They were kidnapped by a shadowy group…
That’s right. This show has gone full-on space opera. Proving once again, that a permanent status quo isn’t in its DNA.
Which brings me to Season 5. The gang is now in another galaxy…one that’s not so far, far away. So many questions about what lies ahead will be revealed when it comes back on December 1st for the two-hour season premiere. It’s been a joy to watch how it quietly and drastically improved from the beginning. It’s something to admire and I can’t wait to dive back into this world as it heads towards the 100th episode.
Thank you to the whole cast, crew and writing staff for all the hard work and unforgettable moments and for many more to come.
And a special thanks goes to Brian Michael Bendis. it’s very cool to see his two of his “daughters” Quake and Yo-Yo in the mainstream.
See you in December!