An entire month of Winter Olympics separating us from the memory of the last episode—in which things briefly threatened to improve thanks to a possibly mortal wounding of Skye—was a welcome respite. My disappointment and annoyance with the show had been given enough time to dissipate. It was peaceful. I caught up on some shows that aren’t so terrible.
But Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has returned (with another acronym-based title! Good sign!), and so has my ire. More than ever, Agents insists on pile-driving flaccid drama into the show by clinging to the idea that wholly unearned friendship and loyalty between its characters will somehow give its story some stakes. Yes, many of these characters were introduced with histories between each other pre-installed, and that’s fine and dandy. None of these characters had any established relationship with Skye. Yet, in this episode, everybody is inexplicably beset with the terror of losing their BFF … who they’ve known for a few months, at most. You know, the one who only very recently gave any of them any reason to trust her. Hell, May has shown practically nothing but naked contempt for Skye, and here she isn’t even challenging Coulson on the wisdom of defying his superiors’ orders and endangering his fellow agents. Are the writers playing whack-a-mole with the characters’ personalities? Or, if not, have they even watched any of their own episodes, to see what’s actually happening to their scripts post-production?
To be fair, this episode had a couple positives going for it that others didn’t. First: It’s always nice to see Bill Paxton, even if he isn’t exactly looking svelte-ly Space Marine in his combat gear any more. Paxton brought a desperately needed injection of fun swagger to a show that’s otherwise on life support, personality-wise. And speaking of life support… yes, there was never any danger that the producers and/or network would let Skye shuffle off her profoundly annoying coil. The show is too unfailingly dull to commit to any real stakes. Besides, the Big Secret Agents was keeping about Coulson’s amazing recovery from fatal wounding amounted to his organization having a Cure for Death. Is it even possible for the show to instill real emotional stakes for its characters when death is only a mosquito bite? (I mean, even if you liked the characters?) There’s a reason you don’t see the blatant Cure for Death turn up much. Even the space Utopia of Star Trek, with its magical medical tech, has its limits. Those red shirts had a good reason to fear away missions. And Superman is still vulnerable to Kryptonite.
Just so it’s not too convenient, though, this Cure for Death is a closely guarded secret. In fact, it’s not even listed in the S.H.I.E.L.D. company directory! That’s gonna set FitzSimmons back a good twenty seconds figuring out where it is! Then they’d better have good security at this super-secret facility! Agent Garrett (Paxton) had better join you, as your team should expect to encounter heavy resis… Oh. Two guards. “These guys are good. They hacked the security,” remarks the moments-later-dead guard. (Super glad they didn’t waste the Cure on these S.H.I.E.L.D. agent schmucks who were just doing their job!)
So, of course, the team manages to extract the magical antideathtamine before the facility self-destructs. (It’s incredible how not even a explosion timer can goose any tension out of this show.) Skye will live. Coulson finds his oft-mentioned Magical Place. (Wow, T.A.H.I.T.I. must stand for something!) Paxton lands the smartass takedowns on Quinn in the interrogation room. Basically, everything ends up pretty much exactly as it was before Skye’s near-fatal encounter when last we met.
I feel like I’m forgetting something. Oh, yes: I had two positive takeaways this week. The second: If the show doesn’t have the guts to bump off its most annoying character, at least it had the decency for one episode to keep her in a coma.
Scott Wold is a Chicago-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter, if you must.