The second season kicks off with a bang, a lot of danger and a renewed sense of purpose.
What They Say:
Shadows – Even as wanted fugitives with limited resources, Coulson and his team continue to keep the world safe.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With the level of anticipation the first season of this series had, it’s no surprise that it flamed out for a lot of them. I didn’t write about that season as I wanted to just be able to enjoy it without having to overthink it. That season was a slow starter – a shocker for some who had no experience with a Whedon designed series apparently – but I enjoyed the light and fun tone of it, something that a lot of shows are lacking these days as all the fun is sucked out of hour-long serials. While I kept up with it and enjoyed it, it didn’t hit that critical mass until the expected stage towards the middle of the second half of the season as it got closer to the theatrical release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. With that change and what it represented, you could re-examine the earlier episodes in a new light, see what was really seeded there and really like what it presented in this new light. The constraints of working in an interconnected universe was certainly present, though I don’t think the creative side really took advantage of what they could do early enough. But in the end, for me, I think fan expectations were just too wildly out of control for it to succeed.
With the second season debut, it has a different set of pressures on it that will challenge it. Having SHIELD fall and putting the team on the run without the array of support that they had offers up a whole host of possibilities, both with the kind of allies they’ll find, the enemies they’ll deal with and the lingering threat and knowledge that there are likely still traitors in the midst. We got a little bit of an idea of what’s going on at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier as well as we saw another sect of Hydra talking about how they’ll keep SHIELD busy with a lot of little diversions from the leftovers of the main group of Hydra agents that Pierce was essentially in charge of. That gives the series pretty much the whole run of the season without having to deal directly with any potential fallout from another film that could spin them in another direction. Allowing the show to chart its own course now for awhile is a big boon that I don’t think a lot of fans really thought about at the beginning of the first season since things seemed a bit static.
What helps with this season is that with the Agent Carter series coming and the origins of SHIELD now all part of Hydra, going back to talk about the past is easier to do. Starting off with a bit of time here in 1945 with Hydra agents dealing with securing artifacts as the war drags on towards its conclusion is intriguing, since we get the blatant Hydra costumes and the fun of that. But we also get the arrival of Carter and a few of the Howling Commandos as claiming everything there for the SSR. The potential for any number of artifacts from this period coming into the present is obviously an easy angle to work with, and we’ve seen it on other series before, but this goes in a really fun direction as we get a glimpse of the mysterious blue humanoid that we saw in the TAHITI episode in the first season. All of this is about the formation of SHIELD though, as Carter talks about the need to make sure all of these artifacts are secure as the last Hydra facility falls. It’s a good prologue piece that ties past and present together well.
One of those items, SSR 084, is the focus in the present as we see how those with access to a number of SHIELD facilities over the years are now selling info and materials in order to make ends meet. This introduces us to the Lucy Lawless character of Hartley that’s operating undercover here, but it introduces us to another element as a third party intercedes to steal the intel, which is, amusingly enough, the Absorbing Man. With Hartley running her own team, we get a good mix of the two as they all work out of the facility that Coulson has put together to get things done. There’s an ease about the teams that work here under Coulson as they move through their facility and that’s rather nice to see as it shows that they’ve managed to spend the time well by doing the hard work and just getting to it.
The time since events unfolded hasn’t been easy though. We see how May is keeping tabs on Coulson, but he’s not making it easy as he’s flitting about trying to reestablish contact with all sorts of elements that SHIELD used over the years and get a read on them. Loyalty wasn’t quite what many of them thought over the years, which makes sense since Hydra had infested so much of it. With the focus on trying to figure out and find this new 084 item, which Coulson gets panicked over since it’s the first one of them from the end of the war, it lights a fire under everyone. Skye’s taken to working this angle well enough, but we also see that Fitz is still struggling from all that happened to him as his head isn’t quite on track and Simmons is obviously really worried about him as she tries to help him.
With the 084 issue and the discovery that the third party Absorbing Man is actually Carl Creel, that has Coulson using Skye for something she really doesn’t want to do. Since Creel was a terminated target from some time ago because of his gift and personality, they’re surprised he’s alive until they realize that Garrett was the one that was in charge of the operation. So to get some needed intel to figure it out, they have her going down to Vault D, which is where they have Ward in a containment vault. He’s got a whole lot of intel in his head to mine but he’ll only talk to Skye so it complicates matters. It has a whole Silence of the Lambs thing going here, but it works well as we see he provides Creel’s origin story and how his abilities work, which plays out alongside seeing Creel using his powers. There’s some neat tidbits here, but also some really creepy stuff in what Ward is up to as it’s impossible to really get a read on him at this point.
With the knowledge now that Hydra is very much out there, the team learns what Creel’s up to, which is to take down Talbot since he’s out there causing a lot of trouble for everyone as he’s hunting down both Hydra and SHIELD agents. The Hydra menace is all over the place, but the personal side is what plays out well here as Creel goes to take him out and goes full Absorbing Man. While he doesn’t have his wrecking ball proper, he gets damn close to it and it’s a great sight to see as he tries to kill Talbot, who has now ended up in Coulson’s hands. Talbot’s got a hardon for taking down SHIELD as he really hates the organization and what it represents and how it was diseased for so long. The dialogue between Talbot and Coulson are fun to watch as they get down to the details and Coulson reveals what’s going on with Hydra and how Creel was using Talbot to get to what he needed in the military facility where everything is being stored that they’ve recovered from SHIELD’s fallout.
The real fun of the show ends up where after a bit of trickery with Talbot, Coulson sends his team and Hartley’s mercenary team to make their way into the military facility in order to get Creel out of there and properly secure him, among other things they need. There’s a bit of humor with how they do some of this, but the idea of going into the heart of the facility and side of the military that’s hunting them down is its own special fun. While I’m liking what we get from Hartley and her group, I really like the dynamic that comes from May, Skye and Triplett as they work together. But I also like that the show has upped its game in general here, especially with Creel as he’s hunting them down in the facility as well while waiting for his chance to get the 084 that they’re after. Though it’s not full on transforming for the most part, he’s got the tone of it right and makes for a good menace, one that puts everything into a mess when Hartley grabs the 084 from the prologue and it puts her in a real bind.
The show also ramps things up nicely with the bigger goal Coulson has in being able to do what’s necessary to fight against Hydra and the other threats. The action is a little weak, but we get a solid idea overall in their attempt to gain a Qunijet in order to do what’s necessary. Coulson makes it clear that the team, as minimal as it is, have to take risks in order to achieve the larger goals, to sacrifice along the way. That’s covered well here and we get some neat little twists to it with what we learn about Fitz and Simmons and we see what Hartley is willing to sacrifice in order to complete the mission. But that turns into a bad situation in its own way, and based on her personality so far, will certainly set her to being even more intent on righting what went wrong.
Agents of SHIELD starts off its season by feeling completely embedded in the larger Marvel Universe, something that it only scratched at in the first season until it got towards the end. There’s a whole lot going on in this episode, and plenty of catch-up moments in trying to see what the fallout for the team has been like in the months since everything went down, as you can see how the season is being seeded with several different things to work with. There’s some nice twists to be had and I do like the underground nature of the organization since they didn’t seem to know how to work the glossy high tech world in the first season. It’s also impossible not to love the opening here as we get Peggy Carter strolling through and dealing with some Hydra remnants, which will have a long term impact all of its own. I quite enjoyed the first season and this season is shaping up strong right from the get go.