Having a week off between the last, surprisingly decent episode to extol the merits of the MCU’s long-term big and small-screen world building didn’t do Agents any favors. And then last week came a rerun of what’s probably the worst episode of the show so far, further stalling any momentum building. If ever there were a time to press down on the accelerator, it would have been the week following a sudden and unexpected mild boon in audience goodwill. Oh, well. Seeing some concept art for Ant-Man and The Avengers: Age of Ultron was interesting, and the footage of the new Captain America movie was pretty sweet. But I digress; the swelling had just started to abate before last week’s reminder of the series’ many self-inflicted injuries.
Moving along to tonight’s too-long-awaited episode: Like “Yes Men,” why the hell didn’t the show begin with episodes like this? You want to launch your fictional world in a particular medium? Great! You do that through establishing legitimate obstacles that conceivably exist in your universe while slotting character-building moments into a bigger Tetris board over time. Think of what Agents could have been from the beginning by unabashedly inserting a Deathlok or Lorelei. You know, honoring 50-plus years of popular fantasy, with exactly as much story and character potential?
Having already aired this grievance many times now, I’ll get straight to the point: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t there yet. Even without the long, frustrating gap between its only two competent entries (apart from the pilot), the show still pulls its punches, despite spending as many rounds as Muhammad Ali building its strength and studying its competition. Maybe this is too dramatic an analogy? … I kid! Why are you watching a comic book-based TV series if you aren’t interested in drama? The good news is that there is a quantifiable amount of intrigue and threat in this week’s entry. The bad news is that there’s a depressing amount of backpedaling, too.
Why, why, WHY are Sky’s fellow colleagues still so impressed with her? They’re all practically in awe of her work, stupidly in awe of her ability to take bullets to the gut and ask moronic questions later. This episode would have been the perfect opportunity for one of the core crew to suggest that, hey, maybe she’s not ready for her S.H.I.E.L.D. badge? On account of having done nothing to earn it outside of taking a couple bullets, giving Couson a weird Oedipal slant, and Ward a … erm, why the f**k does he care again? How many times did Garret (Thanks again to Bill Paxton for injecting some fun into the proceedings!) mention that Ward is a Lone Wolf agent?
So much still revolves around the characters risking everything for Skye, and it still makes no sense that anyone would wish to do so. Nobody has made a truly compelling excuse as to why she should still be anywhere near the orbit of the Bus. Even her modus operandi of “hacking” was pretty easily circumvented by FitzSimmons while in her coma. This show really, really wants the audience to love her, so we’d best get used to figuring out how to either get used to her (or ignore her), or acknowledging the fact that Chloe Bennet is locked into a contract for the foreseeable future. (No disrespect for the actress herself. No Earthling could possibly work with the pages she’s been handed.)
Anyway. Deathlok comes back. May and Blake (come on, people, Blake’s so up to something) encounter and barely escape him. Ward makes the best logical choice out of anyone on the team by plugging who appears to be the Clairvoiyant (Brad Dourif). Yes, Fitz discovers someone’s been poking around in communications. Again, they ping-pong around accusations until they land upon any conclusion that isn’t the MOST OBVIOUS PERSON IN THEIR MIDST WHOM THEY’VE JUST PROMOTED TO FULL SPY.
The fact that this episode had such far-reaching implications saved it. The allusions that May was protecting something far larger than Coulson’s resurrection, and that she had been reporting directly to Hand is tantalizing. (Based on the post-credits teaser, maybe even Fury himself.) Either way, let’s hope the opening weekend of Winter Soldier provides the story impetus this show desperately needs to shed its amateurish TV naivety to pull up its Big Boy Pants and tie in some of those huge stakes we’ve been awaiting for what seems like decades now.
Scott Wold is a Chicago-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter, if you must.