It’s no secret that I have a love-hate relationship with Agents of SHIELD, a show I had high hopes for which turned into something I abandoned, continued with again because of a friend’s insistence, and then would have abandoned again if it weren’t for how it gives me stuff to blog about. (When I remember to update the blog, that is.)

I rarely try to suck up every single bit of information about shows that I can. Part of it is because I don’t have a regular TV-watching schedule, and so sometimes I wind up taking in several episodes at a time and would prefer to avoid spoilers. Sometimes I just don’t care. Sometimes it’s just that I’d rather take it in as the story itself, as it was meant to be viewed. It’s somewhat of a treat for me to do that, actually; well, if it’s a good story, that is. I honestly should write a blog post on an editor’s perspective of stories both published and in draft form, but suffice for now to say that it’s hard to not feel like I’m working.

With Agents of SHIELD, even when it stopped sucking, I was still working. Even when it was good enough that I could enjoy it, it was still short of something I could sit back and enjoy on its own, without being an editor the whole way through. That’s probably why I wrote so many articles about Agents, but not about Flash or Arrow.

Last night, the season premiere of Agents aired, and I enjoyed myself. I had to remember to pause to take notes every so often. Last season, I cautiously opined that this was starting to live up to the hype when the show was first announced; now, it is the show that they announced. And apparently all they had to do was say “Hey, X-Men is a cool story.”

Oops, I need one of those spoiler banners before I say stuff like that, right? It’s been all summer. I’m rusty.

Spoiler Warning

The first five minutes of the episode have been online for a few days, so most of you know how that goes. Someone has suddenly manifested powers, the government arrives to contain this dangerous being, the person in question has somehow never heard of mutants or the X-Men, and then Cyclops arrives and blasts a car down the street to show he means business and, by the way, there are more like you, so come with us if you want to live, and by the way we have an impossibly advanced jet to take you to safety where we give you the mutant version of The Talk (“Your body is changing . . .”) and then walk you through the freak-out while making some obvious mistakes.

Sorry. Slip of the keyboard. That shouldn’t say “mutants,” that’s “Inhumans.” Oh, and SHIELD, not X-Men; and it wasn’t Cyclops, it was Skye. I mean, Daisy. The car thing was still there, though. And the jet, but that’s expected with SHIELD.

(Though where they got the 616 Bus‘ big-sister-on-steroids, we don’t know yet. I doubt SHIELD has any shipyards, and they’re now privately-funded, so . . . why aren’t they broke? Okay, I guess I couldn’t turn the editor-mode all the way off. Give me time.)

So beyond that “Mutants? Never heard of them.” intro, where should I begin? Perhaps it’s best to go with the heart of all stories: characters.

Daisy is the main character for this episode, and while it feels like the show is finally admitting that she’s the focus we still get a strong ensemble cast — stronger than ever, actually. After we have a few repeats of her name to really make the point that she’s no longer called Skye, we see her still trying to settle in as a team leader, and doing a pretty good job of it despite her inexperience. It feels like a good mix, honestly; self-doubt without self-pity or panic, coupled with a lot of realistic expertise (after all, she’s the only Inhuman they have on the payroll). Half a step to either side and I’d have been rolling my eyes, but she — and Chloe Bennet — did an excellent job. I’m so very glad that Skye grew up to be a real girl.

Fitz was the surprise. He doesn’t seem to be dealing with the effects of brain damage anymore; just severe depression and desperation to get Simmons back. There were plenty of hints along the way that that much of his remaining trauma was psychosomatic, and this seems to bear that out. I like the new driven, edge-of-crazy Fitz, who takes impossible risks on the slimmest chance of getting Simmons back. He’s finally, truly interesting, and a far cry from the cardboard cutout from the Central Casting box marked “Geek, One, Scottish” we were first introduced to. The way he stands up to both his teammates and terrorists was great, and I was rooting for him every moment he was on screen. He blows his way out of the terrorist headquarters through trickery and tech, yet his cool is a facade — he’s still Fitz, but made desperate and focused only on saving Simmons. His final scene of the episode was heart-wrenching and perfect.

Mack remains my favorite character; the gentle giant who’s great in a pinch and has your back whether you need covering fire or a heart-to-heart. I tend to like gentle giant characters (maybe because I seem to always loom over my friends by about a foot), and I like the plucky fish-out-of-water-but-still-moving-forward characters who mutter comments about the situation while their friends and teammates don’t seem to realize how insane everything has gotten.

None of this makes sense

Coulson, Bobbi, and Hunter haven’t changed much. With Coulson, that’s fine; and I like how they’re working with the prosthetic arm angle. (Coulson’s mild sarcasm as he told Hunter he’d hate to put the latter in any situation where he’d be uncomfortable, right as he was taking off his prosthetic arm, was nicely done and deliciously subtle.) With Bobbi and Hunter, it might be that the writers are playing with expectations, since they seem to be back to the old status quo but really they’re just not dealing well with their feelings. Still more or less business as usual, but with the potential for more.

Though, honestly . . . Bobbi is now suddenly a scientist? Really? What, we need a quota of female geniuses and we have to recast the female muscle? Though she remains the same personality even with the change in duty, so that part’s consistent. (Mind you, I was still wincing as no matter how bad she is at her new job she should know better than to fire a gun in an enclosed space when no one else has ear protec– oh, right, Hollywood physics, people don’t risk ear damage in these shows. Carry on.)

Also . . . why is Coulson’s petrified arm on display in the lab like some sort of trophy? Creepy, guys.

Grant, May, and Simmons get the least development of the returning characters. Grant and May because neither of them are there at all, and Simmons because . . . um . . . well, monolith.

We also see the return of Lincoln, aka Sparkplug, the electricity-tossing Inhuman from last season. He’s done a 180 from his previous attitude toward his “people,” and I’m on the fence about it feeling real. I’m not usually thrilled by sudden optimist-to-cynic changes, no matter how big the trigger, because while it happens in real life it’s very hard to show in a TV show format even without the need to bounce from character to character.

The only other recurring character, technically, is President Ellis (mentioned three times in the first season and in Captain America: Winter Soldier, but only ever seen before in Iron Man 3). No real development there, but it was an interesting choice to have a tie-in to the movies without a big-name character or an oblique reference to the aftermath of Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man (both of which came up in this episode), and rekindles a tiny spark of hope that Marvel actually cares about its TV shows. A tiny, tiny hope. A part of me still thinks that the Inhumans movie will have nothing to do with the show; we’ve had them drop promises for cross-overs before, after all.

On to the new characters.

The first guy we see is our newest mutant Inhuman, Joey, who has some sort of heat-generating powers. (Apparently limited to metal, but we’ll see.) They extract him from the clutches of the Mutant Response Div — I mean, the Advanced Threat Containment Unit using a repulsor-lift escape pod slash isolation room, which is apparently constructed out of “poly-tectic adaptive materials,” which are magic and immune to Inhuman powers. (I’m guessing this is the MCU’s reincarnation of “unstable molecules” from the Fantastic Four comics, which was the handwavium used to explain why certain people didn’t destroy their superhero jammies by using their powers.) Joey gets the aforementioned Talk, the aforementioned freak-out, and then shares a beer with Daisy as they watch President Ellis’ announcement that the government will handle everything with a new agency. Obviously, Joey is intended for greater development down the road.

I like Joey. His freak-out is believable, and once he calms down it’s clear his personality will fill a niche in the cast that no one else occupies (though Mack is a neighbor, and I think Coulson’s right upstairs . . . and I know I’m mixing metaphors here). I find it a little annoying that everyone is just focusing on the fact that he’s a gay character. You know what I like about it? That he’s a gay character who’s a normal guy. I get so very tired of the Hollywood Gay who needs to either be a crossdresser or otherwise effeminate. And I’m not the only one — Chloe Bennet, who plays Daisy, is happy about this tooFlash did one of their own from the very first episode, though they didn’t make any indication of it until quite a ways in; and when they did, it was practically blink-and-miss-it and no one had to make a big deal about it, just like here. I like subtle in stories, and I also like people acting naturally. So, end result, I enjoy it when we get gay characters who aren’t acting like they’re another species. Which is, I suppose, ironic in this case, since he’s an Inhuman.

While we’re told that Hydra is still out there — and being vewy, vewy qwiet, too — we have a new antagonist for SHIELD: the Advanced Threat Containment Unit, or ACTU. That stands out just on the name, considering that normally Marvel (and it’s not alone among comic publishers) goes for acronyms that spell out actual words, or at least pronounceable sounds that seem like words.


There’s one other Marvel-universe agency that doesn’t follow that pattern: the Mutant Response Division, which I already referenced. It was originally created for the Wolverine and the X-Men cartoon, and the MRD later showed up in the main comics continuity. This really and truly feels like yet another well-we-sold-the-rights-to-Fox-and-they-won’t-let-us-play-with-it workaround. They already had to kill off Quicksilver right after introducing him (you really can’t have Scarlet Witch without Quicksilver, and you can’t have Quicksilver without Fox’s permission, so . . . compromise with character death!), and nothing mutant-related is allowed.

And don’t get me wrong. As much as I’m poking fun at it, I’m really okay with it. We can move things in a different direction now, and that’s a very interesting amount of creative elbow-room. We vaguely know how things are supposed to end up, thanks to the storylines the MCU is drawing from, but even if Marvel continues to ignore its own TV shows this promises to be an interesting story just on its own.

Either way, the agency makes perfect sense, and I was assuming it was an MRD clone from the start. They referenced Sokovia a couple of times as making people jumpy (and apparently the Battle of New York didn’t?), which also came up in Ant-Man and really helps sell the change in attitude going into Captain America: Civil War. I just wish they’d picked a better name. Even the MRD was able get the slang/slur “Mardie” out of those initials. “Act-yoo” just doesn’t have the right feel to it.

In charge of the ACTU is one Rosalind Price, who makes me think of Amanda Waller (not the one on Arrow, who looks too much like a supermodel to fit the role), just with more icewater in her veins. I like her; she looks like she’ll be a great foil for Coulson, better than Grant was (or frankly, as I see it, can ever be going forward). She’s not invincible, but she’s also not to be trifled with, and this episode showed that very well. She also has that Waller-ish “looks can be deceiving” attitude that Cynthia Addai-Robinson just can’t seem to manage on Arrow, as well as the feel of simultaneously being out to defend the United States and have her own agenda. In short, she’s an antagonist but not a villain (yet), and I like it. She’s effectively a replacement for General Talbot, but without any hint of comedy in the mix. I could never take Talbot seriously. Price? I wouldn’t want to meet her in a bright alley.

One final point, more of a personal level: they actually used footage of the right subway line — the Metro, as we locals call it. Wrong train interior, but I appreciate the establishment shot being accurate. I’ve been in that exact Metro station many times over the years. I wish more shows would do that.