We’re just one week away from the season 2 premiere of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and I can’t wait to see what this season has in store. SHIELD quickly became my favorite show on TV last year, and despite some early struggles the final stretch of episodes were fantastic. I had fully intended to write an in-depth recap of the first season, going through the major plot points and character progressions, looking at where the show succeeded and where it could use some work, but some unexpected illnesses and a fair amount of travel kept me from doing that. (I also wanted to rewatch the first season before this one started, but the DVDs were released too late for me to fit it into my schedule.) But I still wanted to post something before the next season starts, so here’s what you’ll find below: links to all of my recaps of season one, my top moments from the first season, some general thoughts on what I liked about season one and what I’d like to see from season two, and, most importantly, a request for feedback on what you’d like to see from my weekly episode recaps this season.
- “Pilot” (plus a “Recap Follow-up”)
- “The Asset”
- “Eye Spy”
- “Girl in the Flower Dress” (plus “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t need fixing, just patience”)
- “The Hub”
- “The Well”
- “The Bridge”
- “The Magical Place”
- “Yes Men” (plus “Agents of SHIELD: Lorelei, Ward, and the issue of sexual consent”)
- “End of the Beginning” (plus “Is Agents of SHIELD about to become The A-Team?”)
- “Turn, Turn, Turn”
- “The Only Light in the Darkness”
- “Nothing Personal”
- “Beginning of the End”
Top 5 Moments of Season 1 (in show order):
- Mike Peterson’s speech in “Pilot” – This was the moment that really sealed the deal for me in the first episode. Mike Peterson, a seemingly ordinary guy devoted to his son, has been experimented on as a part of Project Centipede, and the Extremis in his blood has given him superpowers at a cost. He’s slowly overheating, about to explode both literally and figuratively, when Coulson and company corner him at the train station. Coulson lays down his weapon and the two talk. Mike talks about how he’s a good person, and that matters. He vents his frustration at the system that beats average people like him down until there’s nothing left. He claims that everything we’ve been told is a lie, how “if we worked hard, if we did it right, we’d have a place,” but the reality is that you can do your best and still end up with nothing. It’s a heartwrenching speech that speaks both to the common feelings in the US delivered on a personal level (a recurring theme in the early episodes), but also has a lot to say about the show. It’s a commentary on not only the necessity of the common man in a world filled with powerful entities (corporations, governments, billionaires, but also superheroes and supervillains), but also on the importance of the common man. When many viewers might be asking why we should care about Coulson and the rest of the crew, this speech was part of the answer. There’s good to be done and battles to be fought on every level, and a group of seemingly insignificant people can have a real and lasting impact even if the rest of the world never sits up and takes notice. Of course, the scene was helped by some spectacular writing by Joss Whedon and company and first-rate performances from Clark Gregg and J. August Richards. It was our first glimpse at the essence of Agents of SHIELD, and of all the great moments in “Pilot” (including flying Lola) it was the one that made me most eager to come back for more.
- Ward jumps out of a plane after Simmons in “FZZT” – After a string of mostly standalone episodes that failed to live up to the excitement and drama of the pilot, “FZZT” was the first sign to the doubters that SHIELD could turn things around. In the episode, the team comes across a group of firefighters who each have died by emitting an enormous electrical discharge. They discover that the men were infected with an alien virus they picked up from a Chitauri helmet left behind after the events of The Avengers. Simmons becomes infected after receiving a static shock from a victim, and is quarantined on the Bus, trying to find a cure for the virus but knowing if she fails she’ll be sacrificed in order to save the rest of the team. After a sweetly painful scene where Fitz and Simmons sit back to back, separated by glass with Fitz unable to help, Fitz risks his own life to join her in quarantine. They think they’ve found a cure just as Simmons time is running out, but when they test it it fails to work. Simmons knocks Fitz unconscious and jumps out of the plane just as he realizes that the cure will work after all. Before he can do anything, Ward comes to the rescue, grabbing the cure and a parachute and jumping out of the plane after her. He catches her in midair, injects the cure, and saves her. It was a thrilling ending to a tense episode, and it showed how much the characters had come to care for each other (and by extension, helped the audience to care about the characters as well). It was an exciting way to showcase the sacrifices the team is willing to make for each other, from Fitz risking exposure to help Simmons, to Simmons throwing herself out of an airplane to save the rest of the team, to Ward jumping after her (only because he moved faster than Fitz). It helped seal the bond between the characters, which would prove a key aspect of the drama that was to play out later in the season.
- Coulson’s resurrection revealed in “The Magical Place” and “T.A.H.I.T.I.” – From the moment Agents of SHIELD was announced with Coulson as the lead, the biggest question on everyone’s mind was how he was brought back to life after his death in The Avengers. There were many theories, from his death being faked to being a Life Model Decoy, and his early explanation that he’d simply spent time recovering in Tahiti (“It’s a magical place!”) wasn’t fooling anyone. The truth was different than what anyone had expected, and it came out gradually over the course of several episodes, with two separate major reveals. The first came when Coulson had been captured by Raina who attempted to probe his mind to learn for the Clairvoyant the secrets of his miraculous recovery. This first revelation was simply that his memories of Tahiti were fake, implanted at Nick Fury’s instruction to cover the horrors inflicted on Coulson, but the manner of its reveal was startling. Coulson was seen lying on an operating table pleading with them to let him die, and as the camera panned out we saw that the top of his head had been removed, exposing his brain to a machine that was rewriting his memories. It was a shocking moment, particularly as it was made clear that Coulson was kept alive against his will, in direct violation of his wishes. The second revelation came after Skye had been shot by Quinn and the team (along with Garrett) looked for a cure. They eventually track down a serum that was used to cure Coulson of his wounds, GH-325, at a secret, hidden base. As the team rushes the serum back to Skye, Coulson discovers something that makes him run to try to stop them, only to find he’s too late and Skye has been injected. The serum works, curing Skye, but we learn in flashback what Coulson saw that scared him. The GH-325 serum was extracted from the corpse of a blue alien kept deep in the bunker. It was another shocking image, and the two revelations combined to paint a murky picture of the ethics Nick Fury may have crossed in order to save his most faithful soldier.
- Skye plays Ward in “Nothing Personal” – Most people would probably put the reveal that Ward was a member of HYDRA (which itself was revealed to have infiltrated SHIELD in Captain America: The Winter Soldier), but for me the biggest moment in Ward’s story actually concerns Skye. The Skye/Ward relationship was a recurring subplot on the series, as they went from an antagonistic stance (Ward didn’t trust Skye and her hacker past, Skye couldn’t relate to Ward’s company attitude) to Ward being Skye’s supervising officer to even hints of a romantic relationship. As we the audience learned that Ward was a traitor, his relationship with Skye seemed to come to the foreground, as that betrayal would be the most painful to bear. The pair of them are left behind at the secret base, where Skye finally learns that Ward is HYDRA after finding Eric Koenig’s body, killed by Ward. He takes her on the Bus, saying that Coulson needs their hard drive decrypted (when really it’s Garrett who needs it), and she goes along for lack of an alternative. She says the drive can only be decrypted at a particular spot, clearly improvising quickly, and leads him to the diner in which she first met Mike Peterson. The tension slowly mounts, as we know it’s only a matter of time before Ward realizes that she knows the truth, but Skye isn’t going to simply play the victim. As they sit in the diner, she makes chit chat that becomes increasingly more hostile. She asks him what it’s like to work undercover, how he can stand to live that kind of double life. She asks about Garrett’s betrayal and what Ward would say to him if he were still there. “If you had one more moment, before you shot him in the back of the head so heroically, if he was sitting right here and you could say anything you want, what would you say? Would you say he’s disgusting? Would you tell him he’s a disgusting, backstabbing traitor? Or to rot in hell?” Ward’s confused by her attitude, and alarmed when cops start quietly clearing out the diner. He tries to get her to leave, but she’d rather stay, and she turns her laptop around to show him that she sent an emergency dispatch warning the police about him. “I tipped them off,” she says, before adding a bitter, “Hail HYDRA.” Skye had spent much of the series up to this point as a Mary Sue kind of character (which was even called out as the name she was given at the orphanage), so it was immensely fulfilling to see her stand her ground and be a bit of a badass. It was a huge turning point for the character, where she overcame her fear and took a stand, even if she was sure things would end badly. Her growth continued for the rest of the season, particularly as May took her under her wing a bit, but this was a huge moment for SHIELD’s most divisive character.
- “I know what it does…” from “Beginning of the End” – The season finale was almost a perfect episode, and full of so many outstanding moments that it’s hard to pick just one. There was May’s takedown of Ward (“You were never on top!”), pretty much anything involving FitzSimmons, and Fury’s reappearance, just to name a few. But for me, the best moment in the episode and the entire season occurred as Fury joined Coulson for the final battle against Garrett. And with him he brought a very familiar weapon. He handed it to Coulson who recognized it as the one he’d been holding when Loki stabbed him during the events of The Avengers, which he didn’t even know what it did at the time. After being stabbed he shot Loki in a final act of defiance, saying “So that’s what it does.” Now, he looks at the weapon in his hand and says, “I know what it does…” before taking out Garrett’s soldiers. In some ways it’s a silly, funny moment, but in others it holds great significance for Coulson. Throughout the season he’d been defined by his death at Loki’s hands, constantly bringing up the fact that he was stabbed through the heart and brought back. As he learned the truth about his resurrection, it caused him not only to question the people he trusted but to question his very identity. If his mind had been rewritten and he’d been brought back by an untested alien serum, was he even still the Coulson he remembered from before? In that moment, remembering the final moments before his death, Coulson remembered who he is, the unshakable core of his identity that no one can take from him. It was a powerful moment brought about by an extremely clever bit of writing all played off as a bit of a joke. It’s not as satisfying as May’s defeat of Ward or as dramatic and heartbreaking as what FitzSimmons went through, but to me it’s the moment that sticks out to me the most from last season, and the one I find myself replaying again and again in my mind as season two approaches.
Looking Forward to Season 2
Needless to say, I’m very excited about season 2. I’ve generally tried to avoid spoilers, as I’ve never really enjoyed that aspect of fandom, even though I love speculation. I’m also going to hesitate to offer up any expectations or demands for season 2, as I think that’s a bit of a dangerous path to travel down. Agents of SHIELD suffered through its first handful of episodes in battling the public’s expectations, and I think that having a consensus of expectations hampers the writers’ abilities to tell the stories they want to tell, as they become too concerned with telling the stories that the audience wants them to tell. (Some would argue that it’s their job to tell the stories we want to see, but I’ve never felt that way. As a writer I want to tell my stories, not someone else’s, and I feel like those in charge of a TV show should be allowed the opportunity to tell their own stories.) All I expect from the show is for it to be exciting, funny, emotional, and entertaining, the same as I expect from every show that I watch.
However, having said that, there are some things I think we’re likely to see, and some things I’m excited to learn more about. The show will have some new faces for its second season, including one new member of the main cast, Nick Blood as Lance Hunter, a mercenary/sharpshooter recruited by Coulson who has a background in the comics. There are also some new recurring roles, with Lucy Lawless as a SHIELD veteran, Reed Diamond (a member of the Joss Whedon troupe) as Daniel Whitehall, a member of HYDRA, and Kyle MacLachlan as “The Doctor” (who may or may not be Skye’s father), among others. We’ll obviously be seeing the most of Nick Blood, and it’ll be interesting to see how he manages to fit in with the chemistry of the group, particularly in the face of Ward’s betrayal.
The driving force of the show will obviously be Director Coulson attempting to rebuild SHIELD based on its founding principle of “protection” all while trying to stay out of sight from a world that views them as outlaws. He’ll have limited resources and will have to rely on his team. However, there are some mysteries that were left dangling at the end of season one. Firstly, the side effect of the GH-325 drug and its effects on Coulson, particularly the alien writing we saw him creating at the end of the season finale. Is there a connection between the two (which seems likely given that we saw Garrett with the same writing), and how will it affect Skye? What does the writing mean, and is Coulson still in control of himself?
Then there’s the question of Skye and her origins. We learned last season that she is an 0-8-4, an object of unknown origin, and near the end of the season we discovered that she was found by a SHIELD team as a baby in China, in a village which had been massacred leaving her as the only survivor. SHIELD placed her in an orphanage, while Raina told Skye a story of her parents being “monsters.” We later got a glimpse of Skye’s father, being told by Raina of his daughter’s existence, who looked like he was covered in some sort of goo, ooze, or blood. What is Skye? Where did she come from? What is her father, and what does he want with her? What’s Raina’s connection to all of this, and what is she after? This situation has left us with the most questions going forward, and I’m excited to hopefully get some answers.
Lastly there’s the question of what happens to Ward. I’ve seen a lot of predictions for his character arc over season two, and already a lot of anger over the show’s anticipated story. Many have assumed that Ward will get some sort of redemption story, following his betrayal last season, which does seem like a logical and somewhat standard story for a main character in this situation. Some people hope that Ward will become a full-on villain, taking a leadership role in HYDRA and fighting against our heroes. Others simply do not want a redemption story. (There are seemingly a lot of reasons for this, and a lot of anger, which I only partly understand. It’s interesting to me how redemption stories for characters like Loki or Angel/Spike are supported but redemption for Ward is not. Perhaps it’s because Ward’s betrayal was such a surprise to the audience, but a lot of it seems to revolve around his relationship with Skye. I certainly understand the desire to avoid having Skye simply serving as a tool for Ward’s redemption, but that doesn’t seem likely to happen. At the same time, the redemptive power of love is recurring theme in all of fiction and Joss Whedon shows in particular, so I think she’ll have a key role to play in any redemption story. Then again, the anger may be coming from the veiled rape threat he made against Skye to “take what (he) want(s),” which was supremely evil. All-in-all, there are a lot of strong feelings about Ward’s assumed storyline which I fear will color people’s experience of the actual story we’re presented with. There are good ways and bad ways to tell any story, and there’s no such thing as a story that isn’t worth telling.) Ward will obviously be an important resource for the team, with his knowledge of HYDRA, but how far will he be willing to cooperate and where do his true loyalties lie? How can the team ever work with him after what he did to Fitz (and what exactly is Fitz’s status?)?
If I had to guess, I would say the main storylines for season 2, at least at the start, will focus on these main issues: Coulson and the alien writing/GH-325, Skye and her parents, the dynamic between Ward and the rest of the team, and the rebuilding of SHIELD. I think there is solid potential in all of these storylines, giving plenty of opportunity for both “story of the week” episodes as well as season-long arcs. My only remaining question is how the change in time to an hour later will affect the show’s tone? Will it be darker or more graphic, or will it remain largely the same. I don’t want the show to lose its humor, or to go too dark, as there needs to be an upwards trajectory to any Marvel story, setting it apart from the DC universe. If I had a demand or an expectation of the show, it’s simply that it not lose its identity as things progress, which is something I’m not worried about at all.
What do you want from me?
Lastly, I’m looking for some feedback from you, dear reader. Last season I recapped all 22 episodes, my first time ever regularly recapping a show, and I loved every minute of it. However, I can’t deny that I had some late nights trying to get those recaps done, which made from some fairly exhausted work days. I’m definitely going to recap this season, as well as Agent Carter, but with the show moving an hour later it’s going to be pretty much impossible for me to do things exactly the same as last season. So I want to know from you what you’d like to read from me in terms of recaps. (If your answer is “nothing… stop doing them” then keep your opinion to yourself because I’m very sensitive and I might cry.) I’m planning on keeping the “S.H.I.E.L.D. Thoughts” section (though if you have a better name that uses the SHIELD initials, let me know), but I’m considering a couple of different options. I can write recaps exactly as I did last season, but not post them as quickly (perhaps the following evening or sometime later in the week). I can write a shorter/less detailed “recap” section, focusing on the main plot points without the minutiae. I can completely reformat, adding things like a “favorite quotes” or “favorite moments” section in addition to a short recap, or I can do something totally different. For those who regularly read my recaps, this is your chance to critique me before I spend another season making the same mistakes as last year. If there’s something new you want to see, let me know! If there’s something you’d like me to cut out, tell me! So often I feel like I’m writing into the void, so tell me what you think! (That goes for everything I write, not just this, but this is a chance for me to formally ask.) If you’ve never read any of my recaps before, now’s your chance to try to craft one to your liking! Talk to me!
What do you think? Any feedback for me? Are you excited for season 2 of Agents of SHIELD? What are you most looking forward to? What new cast member catches your eye? What is your most burning question left over from last season? What do you think will happen with Coulson and the alien? What do you think is Skye’s story? What do you think will happen with Ward? What do you want to happen to Ward? Am I safe in saying that we all want more Melinda May all the time? Do you think Fitz will survive? How do you think they’ll tie in Agent Carter? What about next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron? Let me know in the comments!