Now that DC has finally unveiled its big new superhero spin-off show, Marvel Comics doesn’t want you to forget that it has a superhero spin-off show on TV too. You remember ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’, don’t you? Yeah, last year’s most disappointing and underwhelming series – that’s the one. Well, it’s back for a second season, whether you care or not. Has it gotten any better?
To be fair, ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ had a mild turnaround in the second half of its first season, with at least a handful of decently entertaining episodes centered around a tie-in with ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’. While I still wouldn’t ever classify the show as great, it seemed to be on an upswing as the season closed.
The Season 2 premiere, called ‘Shadows’, opens with a new tie-in, this time to the upcoming ‘Captain America’ spin-off series called ‘Agent Carter’ that will debut in January. In a flashback to 1945, Carter (Hayley Atwell) and the Howling Commandoes capture a HYDRA camp led by a seethingly evil Nazi scientist (Reed Diamond with a goofy German accent) and take into possession a mysterious metal doodad called “The Obelisk” (which doesn’t much look like an obelisk, but whatever). Carter has it boxed up and sealed, then shipped off to S.H.I.E.L.D. containment, never to be seen again.
Cut to the present day. The remnants of S.H.I.E.L.D. are still hunted as fugitives by the American government, represented all over the news media by preening blowhard Gen. Talbot (Adrian Pasdar). Still hiding out in their new secret base The Playground, the team members debate whether Agent Koenig 2.0 (Patton Oswalt) is a twin or a clone or a robot or something else. Has no one considered just asking the guy what’s up with his hordes of identical brothers? He’s so talkative and friendly he’d probably tell them without hesitation.
Now acting as Director of whatever’s left of the organization, Coulson is super busy all the time shuffling papers and looking serious and traveling all over the world trying to recruit new allies to their cause. He grumbles about having to fly coach because their jet doesn’t have stealth capabilities.
After suffering oxygen deprivation and brain damage, techie genius Fitz is up and active again, but his thinking is disjointed and he has problems vocalizing what he wants to say. He relies on Simmons to complete his sentences for him. Simmons speaks only to Fitz and no one else acknowledges her. Hmm, that’s not suspicious at all…
Fitz insists that he’s very close to making a stealth device for their plane. Coulson pats him on the head and says something to the effect of, “Of course you are. You keep at it, tiger.”
S.H.I.E.L.D. has some new team members! One of them is Lucy Lawless! I approve this addition. I have no idea what her character name is, so we’ll just call her Agent Xena. The other two new Redshirts she’s with are so bland and nondescript that I doubt they were ever even given names in the first place.
It’s time for a mission! A rogue former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent is selling old S.H.I.E.L.D. tech and supplies and possessions on the black market. Xena and the Redshirts go undercover to buy some of this merch when their party is interrupted by a bad guy impervious to bullets, who tries to grab a box marked “SSR 084.” When he hears about this, Coulson recognizes that as the box containing the Obelisk. Uh oh! I don’t think anyone knows what the Obelisk is, but we had a whole flashback about it so it must be important…
The thief is a former S.H.I.E.L.D. prisoner named Carl “The Crusher” Creel. Officially, he was declared dead, but Coulson notices that the person who filed that report was the evil Agent Garrett. Creel has the power to absorb the properties of whatever he touches. You might call him an Absorbing Man. Well, I wouldn’t call him an absorbing man, because that sounds stupid and it’s not really a thing anyway, but Marvel Comics readers might call him that. Creel touches rock, he turns to rock. He touches diamonds, he turns to diamond. Etc. The more exotic the material, the more he gets off on turning into it.
Thinking that he might have some useful information about this, Coulson sends Skye down to “Vault D” to visit… gasp!… the traitor Ward. Locked up in a high-tech cell that, judging by his beard, he’s apparently been in for a while, Ward refuses to speak with anyone but Skye. She is very pissy about this. Acting all Hannibal Lectery, Ward tries to be friendly and helpful in the creepiest way possible. He promises never to lie to Skye. She says, “Yeah, whatevs, I am so outta here” and leaves him to rot.
I’ll be honest that some of the plot mechanics of the rest of the episode were confusing to me. Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention. Somehow or other, the Obelisk winds up in the possession of the government. Creel attempts to kidnap Gen. Talbot but Agent May saves him (and kidnaps him herself). Creel is taken captive by the army, which brings him to a secure lockdown facility that is stupidly the same place where the Obelisk is being stored. Obviously, it was all a ploy to get to the Obelisk.
Creel breaks out and goes for the Obelisk. Agent Xena gets there first and picks it up, only for it to fuse with her arm. She screams a lot. Her Redshirts rescue her and ferry her off in an SUV and race toward a hospital. She begs one of them to cut her arm off. He does so with a pocket knife, which doesn’t seem like the most effective method, but you gotta make do with whatcha got. Before they can get to the hospital, Absorbing Man gets in the way and crashes their SUV. He touches the vehicle’s tire to protect himself in rubber (smart thinking!), then takes the Obelisk out of Xena’s dismembered arm. The Redshirt who was driving plays dead and watches the baddie get away. As the episode ends, it looks like Xena is dead, but I tend to doubt that.
In an epilogue, we discover that the evil Nazi from the beginning of the episode, now calling himself Dr. Whitehall and speaking in an American accent, is behind this whole nefarious scheme and somehow hasn’t aged a day. What is it with these Nazis and their never-aging? How do the rest of us get some of that power?
Oh, also, Agent May steals a stealth jet from the government. So now S.H.I.E.L.D. has one of those. Because, you see, there was really no chance of Fitz ever making a stealth device. He’s quite hopeless. Coulson sadly explains that Simmons left months ago. (What a bitch. Guy saves her life and she abandons him.) Fitz has been yammering to a hallucination, John Nash style, and the junk he’s tinkering with is just to keep him occupied while everyone looks on and pities him.
With all that said, how’s the episode? Meh, it’s all right. It’s nowhere near as stupid or cheesy as the worst parts of Season 1, but it’s also pretty dull and turgid. It brings in a really fun actress like Lucy Lawless and gives her nothing interesting to do. Attempts at humor are minimal and half-hearted. The show feels like it’s just going through the motions because Marvel demands another twenty some odd episodes of product tie-in opportunities to keep its Cinematic Universe in viewers’ minds between movies.
Maybe the season will ramp up and do something fun. I hope so, and sooner rather than later.