Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is awesome. There, I said it.
Looking back over the uneven ride of the past two seasons, those are words I never thought I would write.
I’ve watched Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. since the series’ dynamite debut and stuck around as the ratings fell by half and the the show floundered through sluggish storylines and needless wheel-spinning. That’s not to say it hasn’t had some good arcs (such as the Winter Soldier tie-in or the culmination of the Inhumans/Daisy story in Season 2), but S.H.I.E.L.D. never felt like it was telling a story worthy of fitting into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Factor in the awesomeness of Netflix’s Daredevil, and it only served as a reminder of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s faults.
But not anymore.
With the launch of Season 3, the series has finally reached a point where the cast, characters, plot and connective tissue are all hitting at the same time. That’s never really happened until now, and I’m happy to say it is a glorious thing. The characters have been developed enough that they’re actually interesting, and they have enough (compelling!) plot threads in the air to let the story breathe. If you gave up on S.H.I.E.L.D. during the dark days, it’s time to come home. This is finally the flagship Marvel series we deserve.
Do you remember when Skye was an annoying, whiny hacktivist? Or what about when Fitz and Simmons were the one-note science nerds relegated to the lab? Or, you know, when Coulson actually had two hands? Yeah, things have changed. Simmons is kicking off a solo story on an alien planet, and Fitz is going on secret solo missions and facing off with thieves and killers. The best part: It totally works, because it actually feels earned. Looking back, it’s easy to see the narrative arcs of Seasons 1-2 and how they were all leading to this point. That doesn’t excuse the creative team from not making those early stories a bit more engaging and consistent, but still — it makes sense. It was worth it.
Skye, who was arguably a weak link during Season 1, has finally developed into one of the most compelling characters on the roster. Yes, they needed a character to serve as an intro point for viewers, but they didn’t have to make her so bland in the beginning. The transformation into comic character Daisy Johnson was a bit awkward but has paid off with a ton of creative dividends. She’s now a team leader, with some killer earthquake powers and some hard-earned confidence. If you’d told me after the pilot that Skye would grow to be my favorite character, I’d have laughed in your face. Now? It’s impossible to imagine the show without her.
Finding its place in the MCU
The Inhumans arc has also grown up in a big way, and though it took some time to develop in year two, we’ve finally seen the first S.H.I.E.L.D. plot leave a lasting impact on the MCU. That’s a big deal. Up to this point, S.H.I.E.L.D. has been telling reactionary stories, or stories of little consequence (in regard to the universe as a whole). Now? This little ABC series is building the foundation for Marvel’s eventual Inhumans film slotted for 2019, and shaking up the world in ways that mirror the scope of The Winter Soldier. That’s not to say the smaller, more personal stories can’t be compelling (see: Daredevil), but S.H.I.E.L.D. is meant to mirror the larger aspects MCU by design.
Previously, all we really saw were shorter arcs that connected to the films, but the rest of the show just felt like it was spinning its wheels while it waited for those larger chances. Now it’s creating those opportunities. S.H.I.E.L.D. is finally driving its own narratives, and it’s glorious. There are superpowered people popping up everywhere, and we’re on the frontline for the action. The Inhumans have finally given the show a real story to tell, and the connective tissue is shining through perfectly. Bringing Iron Man 3’s President Ellis (William Sadler) back for a brief TV cameo? Perfect, and a subtle reminder that we’re all living in the same world.
Along with the Inhumans, they've also introduced the shady new government Advanced Threat Containment Unit to cause some additional trouble — along with the sure-to-resurface remnants of Hydra. That gives the writers flexibility with the types of stories they can tell, and keeps things fresh.
The team finally works
Coulson's team has its back up against the wall, even more so than before, and that makes for better stories. Sure, they still have cool spy gadgets and butt-kicking agents to carry the action scenes — but S.H.I.E.L.D. is finally embracing its role as being outmanned and outgunned (while still being competent!).
They’ve also finally nailed down the cast chemistry, which held the show back in the early days. Watching the team struggle to grow up was entertaining for a while, but now it’s time for Coulson’s ragtag gang to take care of business. In Season 3, they’ve done just that. New additions Bobbi Morse (Adrianne Palicki), Lance Hunter (Nick Blood) and Mack (Henry Simmons) have provided a much-needed jolt, while the decision to spin off former team member Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) as the (apparent) leader of a resurgent Hydra provided a nice payoff to his traitorous arc — and also keeps him around to continue being deliciously creepy and evil. There’s not a weak link in the bunch, and there's not an arc that feels flat this year.
It’s obvious Marvel has an ambitious plan for television, and now the studio finally has a series worthy of carrying the prime-time flag. Let’s just hope it isn’t too late.