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Season 2 of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Deep Dive Distractions
I have just finished season 2 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as part of my “Deep Dive” into the Marvel Cinema Universe (‘MCU’). What is a Deep Dive you ask? I am watching every Marvel film, tv show or one-shot and all the behind the scenes and extras along with it. It’s a Herculean task, but something I masocistically enjoy doing. The perspective given by following every step of the world that Kevin Feige built is illuminating. My day job does not afford me the luxury of time or money for film school, but this is the closest thing I can think of as a substitute.
If at first you don't succeed...
The beginning of the end of season began with the comedy of errors that was Avengers 2: Age of Ultron. I watched the movie before the episode that leads into the movie! When Reina announces that Sokovia is the target city and the Avengers will be needed in the last breath of episode 19 I let out a Homer Simpson 'Doh' as I realised the error. I had been waiting for the big tie-in and here it was… right after I had just finished the movie it had referred to and for the first time messed up the timings of my viewings.
Was it the apocalypse for my Deep Dive? If anything I think it accentuated the issues I had with Age of Ultron. I could write (and maybe will write) a whole separete blog post on why Age of Ultron is my Rise of Skywalker. If you listen to our podcast, “What Are You Guys Talking About?” you’ll know that I thought Rise of Skywalker was a mess of a good film. Enjoyable, not to my taste, but clearly delivering to many the appropriate end to the Skywalker saga.
I loved Age of Ultron… and it was, in my humble opinion, also a mess of a good time. And this time I loved it! From an entertainment perspective I am deeply tied to the Avengers and their interconnected back stories. While the action went all over the place, in the second Avengers film, the vignettes on the lives of the characters, such as the love story between Black Widow and the Hulk or the home of Hawkeye and the bliss he finds in his family established such a bond with me as the viewer that I forgave a great deal of films flaws.
But back to S.H.I.E.L.D., having not understood that I needed to watch Episode 19 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. before the Avengers film, I felt that the sense of confusion was much the same in the movie. That being said, it was a cool tie-in and sounded awesome as the reborn Reina says it in warning as the episode closes.
So how did it progress to the end of the season from there? Much calmer than the previous episodes for a while and then the right amount of high drama moments thrown in the propel you to the end of the chapter.
The Long Winding Road
At beginning of this last stretch of season 2 we are walking farther and farther away from the core team we got to know in season 1. Change like that naturally goes with shows like this. Putting the same characters in completely new settings makes the story fresh and keeps the audience guessing.
Nowhere is this better observed that with Fitz and Simmons. Are they in love? Aren’t they? Does it really matter? They are the cutest couple (SPOILER!) until they agree to go on a date 30 seconds before Simmons is sucked into the black goo thingy encased in glass (which is either going to be a tragically awful end to this b-story or the start of a larger b-story arc in season 3).
Skye continues to dominate the story in a good way, taking the audience to new places that the rest of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would not be able to reach. Skye delivers a character that relies more on her belief in the goodness in everything than the politics of the MCU Earth that we find the story set. It allows her to make choices that the others cannot, and her discovery of her powers further pushes her to the fringes of S.H.I.E.L.D. and closer to the groups sitting on the fringes of society. This is also always done in contrast to theme of brainwashing that permeates the season.
Hydra brainwashes some of its victims to get them to do their dirty work. S.H.I.E.L.D. is fractured as there is a belief that some of Coulson’s team are brainwashed in following him all over the globe. The real S.H.I.E.L.D. agents seem brainwashed by their leader. Cal is brainwashed by his rage into believing the harm he does to everyone is not contrary to his aim of protecting his daughter, Daisy.
Skye however always remains in the middle of nearly all of the conflict which gives a unique ability to see the heart of each of the factions remaining after the fall of Hydra again at the beginning of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Skye bridges the gap between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Inhumans and is able to let the audience learn more about each at nearly the same time as Skye.
Where do we go now?
Looking at the end of season 2 critically though, what would be my key takeaways? Season 2 changes the scenery of the MCU at a faster rate than the films. The second wave of the MCU films did change things in films like The Winter Soldier, but otherwise played sequel to the success of their original films for each character. The second films (and third film for Iron Man) gave much more depth about the characters which allowed some the overall moodiness of Age of Ultron feel so grounded in the tragic flaws of Stark and Banner. The characters have not changed in significant ways though (and not as radically as the changes experienced by the individual characters in S.H.I.E.L.D. - think Buffy-style shifts with a superhero rather than spooky vibe).
Juxtapose character development in Avengers: Age of Ultron against the rapidly evolving changes experienced by Ward, Skye, Fitz & Simmons and Bobbi. These characters undergo significant changes in the series. Skye being the most obvious with her discovery about her powers and her family. Equally the villains gallery in S.H.I.E.L.D. is much more robust, albeit ultimately less powerful individually than their Avengers’ counterparts - Cal, (Spoilers!!!) Jeiyang, Hydra and at one time the other half of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The point of all of the above is that Season 2 in its totality gives a different experience from the movies that goes further than seeing a story in a different medium. S.H.I.E.LD. wants to bask in the sunlight of the golden era of television we are currently living. At times it even appears brashly unaware of its place in the larger MCU story ark. There is no mention of Thanos, and unlike Season 1, no real tie-ins until the end of the show. Even those were loose tie-ins.
Just a bit of gossip...
If you research Marvel TV online you see stories of discontent between Kevin Feige, the ultimate controller of the fate of the MCU, and Jeph Loeb, the producer tasked with the television division of the MCU. Jeph Loeb has now left the television division. There is a new set of shows due on Disney+ not connected with S.H.I.E.L.D. or any of its fellow Marvel TV shows which are now cancelled.
Clearly there is something behind this split, and I think the almost Buffy-like plot twists and soap opera-esque but poignant changes to every major character went against the more stoic but collectively epic tone of the MCU films.
Season 2 of S.H.I.E.L.D. was unafraid to be what it was, and with a much larger budget than it’s similar predecessors. But throwing off some of the caution encountered in the tightly-bound story arcs of the main Marvel films the television show allowed itself to drift from the MCU ever so slightly. I would hazard to guess though that this is the reason that the two ultimately drifted so far apart that the tie had to be severed and a reboot given to the concept.
Mouth's final thoughts... for now
So what are my final thoughts on Season 2 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It is a wonderful distraction in the MCU from the heavy tones of the films and the constant spectacle of CGI action sequences. Much like my love for Agent Carter in this Deep Dive. S.H.I.E.L.D. gave me time to focus on one set of characters for an extended period and get to know them. I feel connected to Skye’s struggles. I am as dying for a conclusion to Fitz and Simmons as I was for Rachel and Ross. I think Coulson is a uber powerful super agent even though he looks like somebody’s dad. That being said, Ant Man is next on the agenda before a return to part 1 of Season 3. Ant Man will now be the film distraction (and a return to the larger MCU) before an even deeper dive into the aftermath of season 2. Here’s to hoping the black goo hasn’t eaten Simmons forever!
Jason "Mouth" Cherot - 14 February 2020