I just got done watching the latest episode of Agents of SHIELD and all I can say is “YES! YES! YES! YES!”. Why couldn’t the show have been like for the whole of season 1? Oh yes, that’s right, because Marvel execs wanted to do the big reveal in Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier and they handicapped the show. Which doesn’t really make sense at all. All the fun weirdness of the Marvel comics-verse was put aside to give viewers a tedious procedural that was rarely fun and exciting. But thankfully the recent episodes since the Captain America movie have turned things around and have focused more on the universe itself.
This week’s episode, “Nothing Personal“, is hands-down the best episode of the entire season. Why? Because for starters it has Maria Hill in it. And it has Deathlok. And May is back to being her usual badass self. And Skye finally becomes 100% not irritating. And Ward is a convincing villain. And we find out who was behind the entire TAHITI project that brought Coulson back to life. So there’s a whole lot of awesome going on in this episode and pretty much no downside at all. Which is a huge, huge thing for this show as far as I’m concerned.
Now that we are beyond the whole concept that SHIELD was infiltrated by HYDRA at its highest levels and that some of the spy agency’s top agents were HYDRA, the show really kicks into overdrive. The string of betrayals continued on in the show with Agent Garrett being exposed as The Clairvoyant and that Agent Ward was his right-hand man all along. That’s some pretty damn big twists to throw on a viewer so late in a season, but then, they are what have kept the show interesting in the last month or so, seeing how the webs of loyalties have been broken.
And as far as I’m concerned, this week’s episode has put all my concerns about the show to rest. This is the kind of episode that the show was built for. In Yes Men, we got to see just how great and awesome the show could really be but that depended a lot on outside characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In this episode, while we do have Maria Hill and of course Phil Coulson as the tie-ins, the episode is still intensely driven by the home-grown characters like Agent Ward and Sky, Agents Fitz and Simmons, Agent May and Deathlok. They are who make this episode the peak of the entire season.
Following the events of the last episode, this week we get down into the nitty-gritty as Coulson gets over his fugue about not trusting people. He gets a big jolt early on when General Talbot of the US Army Special Forces walks into Providence Base with the keys and Maria Hill in tow, but things head south from there for the characters once Hill learns that Garrett is alive and Ward is HYDRA as well. I’ve been wanting to see more Maria Hill on the show right from the pilot episode, but that didn’t really happen. Now it did, and Cobie Smulders delivers a fantastic performance. In the comics, Hill is one hardcase, and she makes the tough decisions no one else can, not even Fury. Smulders’ Hill reflects that in every way possible, whether we talk attitude, dialogue delivery or just her presence. The fact that the writers give her so much to work with is a huge bonus in itself.
But the real stars of this episode are Deathlok, Ward, Skye and FitzSimmons. I’ve seen Ward as a bit of a problematic villain in the last couple of episodes, largely because I wasn’t ready to deal with him being HYDRA. But it is not as if I had much choice and since Ward murdered Koenig in the last episode, one of the best characters on the show to date, that was it. He crossed the line and if he is so happy being HYDRA, then I’m happy hating him. And all of this ties in with Skye since she is crucial to Garrett and HYDRA progressing to the next step of their plan to take over the world. For the first time in this season, there was never a moment when I thought she was irritating. On the contrary, Chloe Bennett’s performance rocked the stage and Skye was someone that really fascinated me. Given how well Ward played the whole team, Skye is in a position to get back at him for the same, and she does it with aplomb. There was a bit in the final third where I thought things were getting a bit cliched, but that moment never came thankfully and things moved on to be awesome pretty quick.
With Deathlok though, we begin to see that while he doesn’t like what he has become, he is also constrained by his weaknesses, especially his son. And since his son is not safe with SHIELD, and HYDRA can reach out at any time to snuff his light out, he has no choice. He does what he does out of necessity, not because he likes it. He is, quite possibly, the most tragic character in the show.
And then we have FitzSimmons. The two of them don’t do much, unfortunately, but they get some really good emotional scenes that really build up their relationships and themselves as characters. The scene where Fitz totally freaks out once it is confirmed that Ward is HYDRA has to be one of the best scenes of this episode. I mean, he bonded with Ward and really came to call him a friend, and he valued that relationship a hell of a lot. There are so many betrayals in recent weeks that everyone is affected. But for that moment, it was all about Fitz and his pain, and it was great as a viewer, though a bit uncomfortable as well. And with Simmons, her best scene was when she gave her prognosis on Koenig’s death. A bit of a morbid scene, but her controlled freakout was no less awesome than Fitz’s more obvious one.
This episode had a lot of things. It had some kick-ass action. It had some great acting. It had lots of character-building, and most of all, it had some really fantastical stuff, straight out of a science fiction novel. Or, in this case, straight out a science fiction comic. Moments like this are why I’ve continued to watch the show. These small moments that really come together to show how great the show could really be. More of this earlier on would have been doubly welcome. I won’t lament the fact any more, but that criticism certainly stands. The showrunners could have and should have done better on that account and not let themselves be handicapped.
The low-down is that Marvel should damn well have had a better plan for this show from the get go. Agents of SHIELD is just hitting its stride though, and the next two episodes are hopefully going to be as perfect as this one.
More Agents of SHIELD reviews can be found here. I’ve reviewed every episode so far.