Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t the best network drama on TV. The series isn’t the best superhero show on TV. The CW’s Arrow is currently producing terrific episodes weekly. Arrow’s a product of DC Comics whereas Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is saturated in the Marvel brand. Marvel’s basically untouchable as a brand, especially after its deal with Netflix to produce four more series about superheroes. Thor: The Dark World earned $86.1 million over the weekend. Arrow feels like an extension of the tone Chris Nolan created and set in his Batman trilogy. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is an extension of the movies. The budget of the movies is impossible to match on TV, of course, but the tone and stories are action-packed and fun. Deeper meanings don’t really exist, except for the small bits of Caulson’s story about how and why he came back, and why he feels different. This series also serves as another reminder of the fact that sustaining a story about superheroes is difficult.
Last night's episode didn’t focus on someone with superpowers or a superhero. “The Hub” looked inward at shadowy S.H.I.E.L.D. There were a few interesting ideas in the episode that the writing didn’t commit to, such as the questions about secrecy, hierarchy, and following orders. Fitz’s partnership with Ward helped each character’s continuing definition. Brett Dalton’s performance has been heavily criticized since the premiere of the show. Dalton’s been a solid part of the show, though. The last few episodes have brought out other sides of him besides the military-type. Fitz’s role in last week’s “Fzzt” did wonders for the character and for his relationship with Simmonds. Fitz and Simmons have been sort of panned as typical Whedon quirky characters, the Xander or Topher or Fred type. Simmons’ character seems like a possible version of Fred had Fred not spent five years in a hell dimension before hooking up with a crew that fights demons and law firms.
I wonder what the critical opinion of the show would be without Joss Whedon’s involvement. I’m watching the series weekly because of Whedon’s involvement. Without Whedon, Jeff Bell, Maurissa Tanchereon and Jed Whedon, along with Brent Fletcher, as well as some familiar directors, I wouldn’t watch weekly. I’d watch anything with Joss Whedon’s name on it. I can’t write two paragraphs without drawing comparisons between a character on this show and a character on ANGEL. Buffy and ANGEL produced very ordinary episodes in its first seasons. Dollhouse struggled because FOX wanted a different show from the one Joss wanted to make, and because Whedon shows start slowly. Firefly’s the exception.
The first seven episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. don’t differ much from the early episodes of Buffy, ANGEL, and Dollhouse. The first seven episodes have been self-contained. Little pieces of the characters have been revealed. Buffy and ANGEL received a boost from its strong main characters. Phil Caulson’s a great character, but weaving him into the narrative hasn’t established him as The Main. This show lacks a Buffy, an ANGEL, a Captain. The best part of Caulson that emerged during the early episodes was his increasing desire to ask questions. His scenes with May in last week’s episodes were really effective and moving; that scene with the dying fireman was the best scene in the series yet. I like Caulson more as the guy who’s asking questions no other agent would and who is doing what other agents won’t.
The first seven episodes also gave an overview of the kind of cases the team will take. One episode tied in something from Iron Man 3. Last week’s episode used an alien helmet from The Avengers. Two episodes dealt with two different types of men who lose their mind with power. The “Pilot” depicted a man who tried to be a good man and failed. Episode five introduced a man who lost himself to the temptation of power before combusting. This week’s episode dealt with the secrecy of the S.H.I.E.L.D and why an extraction plan wasn’t put in for Fitz and Ward. Ward and Fitz bonded more, Fitz felt more valuable after last week’s failure to save a free-falling Simmons, and Ward got to be the hero.
Skye, who is the least popular character in the series by far, uncovered the ‘no extraction’ part of the plan and continued to earn the trust of the team. Skye’s unpopular for various reasons, depending on the fan. Her inclusion in the team doesn’t work for some because she’s a liability; or folk don’t like Chloe Bennet’s portrayal of the character. Bennet’s gotten more attention for that one episode she wore the revealing dress than for her acting. Chloe Bennet’s not terrible. She’s talented and a solid part of the show. The potential pairing between her and Ward seems a little forced by the writers. Skye’s relationship with Caulson isn’t quite Buffy-Giles. Perhaps Clark Gregg and Chloe Bennet don’t work as well on screen together as Sarah and Tony. Their scenes suggest the intent’s similar to the Buffy/Giles dynamic.
I like the show. Some parts of it work very well. I think the character dynamics have improved. The spotlight on FitzSimmons the last two weeks was wonderful. The cases of the week are the weakest aspect of the show. Procedural storytelling’s difficult to make interesting weekly. So far, this show’s basically nothing more than a superhero procedural, more like No Ordinary Family than HEROES or Alphas.