If two highly-educated men are able to spend the time from midnight to 2am on a chat program dissecting a TV show, you know one of three things.

  1. It’s one of the best shows ever.
  2. It’s one of the worst shows ever.
  3. It’s a show with so much misused potential that those currently in charge should shut up and let someone else fix it.

Considering the show we were talking about is Agents of SHIELD, it should be obvious we’re talking about Option Three.

WARNING. Spoilers for Captain America: The Winter Soldier and “Turn, Turn, Turn” from here on out.

As a superhero show, Agents of SHIELD has been disappointing. In fact, as a show, period, it’s been disappointing; the only reason its ratings have been so high is because of the huge Marvel fanbase. This makes it really strange that they haven’t been using minor Marvel characters to help flesh out the TV version. The claim is that they want it accessible to the general audience; but when your core audience is already clued-in and just about everyone knows how to use Google, the excuse wears thin.

This is particularly obvious when compared to Arrow, the competing comic book show. We get references galore in that show, and even when you don’t get them they still give the impression of a larger world.

Comparing it to the other comic-book TV show on right now, Arrow, is a lesson in futility. The shows are so different that it’s hard to do it without just bashing Agents all the time. Agents is supposed to be a show about the Marvel Cinematic Universe outside the grand, epic movies, handling lesser problems but at the same time fleshing things out in a way movies just can’t handle. That would be great, if we had more of the MCU in the show. Instead, every single main character is an original character (yes, Coulson’s been around for years, but he’s an MCU original), and almost every guest character is a show original as well.

The vague answer we’ve had is “We don’t want to do a movie tie-in show.” Face it, Marvel Studios, you can’t get away from that. Your whole show is based around the MCU, which makes it one big tie-in. Your audience is drawn from people who watch the movies — you just proved that with the Captain America 2 tie-in, in fact, because congratulations, you just spoiled said movie’s twist and its ending for anyone who didn’t see it on opening weekend. You assumed every single Agents of SHIELD fan either saw the movie already or has recorded “Turn, Turn, Turn” for watching later.

Still, I suppose they could have been forced into that because they didn’t know about Cap2 soon enough oh wait no they knew about it from the start. That means the season full of filler episodes has been planned.

Wait, filler? But we had all that stuff with Coulson! Honestly, big whoop. We had Generic Bad Guys wind up being Hydra, but without any setup of any kind (even just having villains with snake lapel pins or something). That was the extent of the MCU exploration we got, and Coulson’s personal quest just didn’t raise the worldbuilding one bit.

So we’ve had this “slow buildup” (which assumes there’s been a buildup at all); the first two episodes were good, as I’ve said before, and gave me hope for the series; everything after that was me watching out of being a Marvel fan, until that wasn’t enough anymore. Then Elizabeth told me to watch more, and I did, and I still wasn’t impressed but decided to keep going. If it weren’t for the fact of the huge Marvel fanbase, this show would have been canceled after four episodes.

Oh, but we couldn’t go making tons of references, because we wanted this to be accessible to new viewers. Aside from what I said before about who the core Agents audience is, the fact remains that we can still bring out the Arrow comparison. Arrow has been dropping more references than a wheeling-and-dealing politician in a close election, and has been doing it since day one. No one’s been confused. In fact, even for fans who don’t get the references and were too lazy to use Google, they still serve to give a sense of a larger universe.

That is precisely what Agents of SHIELD has been missing. There is a wealth of minor characters that Agents could have mined for use in the show. Instead, they went the Smallville route and just used the box marked Faceless Bit Character of the Week — In Emergency, Break Glass.

Remember that guy I mentioned, chatting late at night with me? He’s had several posts on the subject so far, but here is the most relevant one. Running a close second is Declan’s own response to last night’s chat discussion. (I make a cameo.)

As I keep repeating to my students, character is king. Different characters mean different plotlines, and the only way an audience is going to care is through connecting with a character.

So who are our characters?

  • Agent Ward, who has the personality of a brick.
  • Fitz is straight out of the Disney Channel made-for-TV movie cardboard-cutout locker (from the box marked “Generic Geek, Scottish”).
  • Simmons is a Muggle version of Hermione, but without the charm and people skills.
  • Skye is a fake tan with an actor attached.
"I must look horrible! I haven't been to the beauty salon in hours! And I need to touch up my store-bought tan!"

“I must look horrible! I haven’t been to the beauty salon in hours! And I need to touch up my store-bought tan!”

As I keep saying, the only characters halfway interesting are Coulson and May, and both have been criminally under-utilized. Seriously, they tried to humanize May by giving her a boinking-buddies relationship with Ward? There was only one good thing about that, and it was that Ward wasn’t boinking Skye instead. (Teachers abusing their relationship with students is one of my rant-triggers. Fortunately for you, dear reader, I’ve been ranting enough about it lately that I don’t feel the need to do so here.)

So now we’ve gotten through “Turn, Turn, Turn” (and who comes up with these episode titles, anyway?), and found out who the traitors are. As I predicted, Agent Sitwell was the traitor . . . except he was a traitor, and in reality there are many more.

Including Agent Ward.


Agent Garrett I managed to predict at the moment he flubbed the Hydra motto, saying he thought it was “limb” and not “head.” Sure, it could be a natural mistake, but in Storyland that sort of thing (messing up something the audience knows well)  usually means the character knows more than he’s letting on.

Ward I didn’t predict, for two reasons. The first is, of course, that he’s a main character. We automatically trust the main characters. The second, though, is because of poor writing. I just didn’t think Ward had enough personality to be a traitor in the first place. After all, if you have someone turning out to be a traitor, don’t you want the most emotional impact possible?

Still, however bad it was to have nearly a full season of basically nothingness, it looks like Agents of SHIELD has finally woken up. The stakes seem real, the characters face emotional challenges and show growth, the suspense was gripping. Will it sustain itself? Maybe. I don’t know. The show got renewed, so it’s here for at least a little while longer, and maybe they’ll have figured out their mistakes by next season. Maybe. I’m not holding my breath.

But I am tuning in, so I’ll probably have more to say on this in the future.