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May 22 2014

What Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. got right and wrong. Season wrap-up by The Mary Sue.

hahahaha, i love how everybody on the internet's a damn expert now. wait, not love. what's the opposite of love?
I agree with most of the points in the article, except two:

1) That the characters were over-reliant on SHIELD resources. Except for the fancy plane, they didn't really have too much in terms of SHIELD resources.

2) That they should have held the show back until after Winter Soldier and started with Coulson trying to re-build SHIELD. You need to establish a status quo before you can smash it interestingly.
I agree with most of this as well. The Payoff thing just ties in to what I've said before about it's mysteries and the Misuse of the "Little Guy" trope did apply at the start, it might work a little better now with SHIELD basically consisting of six people, but they are still going to try and bring it back up to super-corp status so it might not be totally effective.

Skye as second-lead and Special Snowflake was executed wrongly at the start but she's gotten much better now, I liked her setting up Ward, and her Bratty Dawn-ness has been reduced a lot. I still wish her backstory was paced a lot better but that's the writers fault not really the character.
I agree with most of it, too.

I think Skye should have been introduced as an 0-8-4, and the first mission we see Coulson and his team on is trying to track her down while she is hacking into SHIELD and trying to evade them. That would have been better than seeing this random chick who lives in a van, which came off as really trope-ish.

One of the reasons I found the character irritating in the first half of the episodes is how she was spouting all this stuff about national security and hiding things from people, but she wasn't convincing at all.

And they dropped the Rising Tide thing so quickly that the Rising Tide could have been the "big bad" of the first half of the season. Then maybe after Winter Soldier, Coulson and his team could have realized they were on their own and maybe they forge an uneasy alliance with the Rising Tide, who now realizes something far worse just came out of the woodwork.
I never understood the completely-dropped Rising Tide thing. It felt like a main subplot of Season One was "Skye earns her stripes" but that was paid off early, randomly, in the Bus, because of larger plot demands.

I did like Ward's heel turn, though. And I liked how it wasn't "undone."

There are many things set up for Season Two that excite me. Quickly: Fitz, Peterson, Trip, May, ... oh, hell, basically every main character has had such epic change from the start of the show, I am looking forward to seeing how that plays out next year.

...Avengers 2 debuts Friday May 1st 2015. The run up to that movie could be amazing.
Andrew, I agree and disagree about point 2. I can see both sides of it.

That's got me thinking of what a compromise might have been like. Six episodes coming out before Winter Soldier instead of 16. Those six episodes would have focused heavily on the sinister Centipede organization, containing the pilot episode, "Girl in the Flower Dress", "Repairs" (the episode with the former agent with the cyber eye), "The Bridge", "End of the Beginning", and one more episode that covered the other important elements that were spread out over the season.

I think viewers would have loved that and more would have stuck around. They'd have gotten enough of a beginning to see what is normal for Shield, then spent the rest of the season seeing that cleaning up after new superheroes isn't really what SHIELD does, fighting groups like Hydra is.

Of course, I actually like the show we got. So maybe I shouldn't be guessing about a hypothetical world where the show was so different. It's easy enough to say that a tighter opening plot and a schedule that fit better with the movies would have helped, but we'll never really know.
I don't think there were even larger plot demands. I think the only MCU stipulation was that they couldn't talk about Hydra. So why couldn't the first half of the season be totally independent and be about the Rising Tide? The viral campaign before the show's premiere was about the Rising Tide. It just went nowhere after that.
I've no idea what happened to that subplot (or if its done), but there's an activist group called Rising Tide who publicly went after Disney when the show started airing, saying SHIELD labelled them a terrorist organisation. Maybe they've got lanyards now?!

[ edited by gossi on 2014-05-22 15:51 ]
No. Lanyards are issued on a case by case basis.
I agree that there were a few earlier episodes that could have been excised without much loss, and their occasional important plot points folded into other, stronger episodes. I definitely would keep a Sif episode in there. I might have chosen a different story to use her in, though. I love Sif.
By now its pretty much acknowledged that the front 9 were weaker than the back 13. Imo the reason for this is that they spent a lot of time plotting the arcs after 1.9 and developing a list of seeds to plant in the 1st 9. The upshot of this is that the shows that were procedural were harder to write because of all the limitations imposed by the finishing arc and the planting that needed to be done. Writers that could deliver in that circumstance would either need help, more time, or genius. You can't count on the third and it probably never crossed their mind to do either of the 1st 2.
Nothing is aknowledged.
Are you trolling or do you honestly think the writing did not greatly improve ?
Darkness isn't trolling, he just didn't get the memo that you, JDL are the one true expert.

ETA: I'm not trolling either, I'm sick of reading the experts posting in comments on Whedonesque telling what I should and shouldn't like. Frankly, for a fan site there is an awful lot of hate here. When I read about Jed and Maurissa's reaction to "internet comments" I can imagine a lot of that was what they read on Whedonesque. I enjoyed and was entertained by Agents of Sgield from episode one on. Now I just need to find a new place to share my views.

[ edited by andOtherDreams on 2014-05-23 03:32 ]

[ edited by andOtherDreams on 2014-05-23 03:33 ]
Frankly, for a fan site there is an awful lot of hate here.

A.) 'hate' is - imo - a woefully over-used word these days.

B.) Welcome to Fandom - sit back and enjoy the ride!
This was a nice conversation and I'm quite done with watching people take petty little pot shots at one another and disrupting these threads. Some of you will find your posting privileges temporarily disabled.
Thank you, Sunfire.

I don't quite agree with the last third of the article. While it was a hindrance for the writers to have to wait for CATWS to premiere did result in some weak earlier episodes, the payoff was great. I don't think relying on the payoffs was a problem. How many other Mutant Enemy shows did the same thing, often because FOX nitwits wanted more monster-of-the-week, one-off episodes, forcing Joss to have to tie together stories at the end of a season? Having to wait for the payoff, for me as a viewer, is half the fun. The other half was the payoff. (Think Season 5 of "Angel.")
I'm not so sure that was Fox. When Dollhouse started it's second season, it didn't dive straight into heavy continuity. People started saying, "Nooo! Didn't they learn from the first season! It got so much better after 'Man on the Street', and now FOX is forcing him to dumb the show back down!" I remember Joss writing something saying that people should relax, he's always taken a few episodes at the beginning of every season to set the pace, that's what he did on Buffy.

I've been predicting for awhile that the second season of SHIELD is going to start with stand alone episodes, to which fans will cry, "Nooo! Last season got so good at the end! Why are you reverting to stand alones!"
@Nebula1400 I did not want to imply that waiting for the payoff was an issue. It's not.

Neb I do think having to wait on CA:TWS was much more of a hindrance to early eps than I believe you think. In my limited experience good writers hate formulaic writing like heck and all the limitations of Cap pushed the show in that direction to a degree. If I read things right many good ideas would have to be thrown out since writers other than Jed, Mo, & Jeff were not in the know. I would think that would mean more rewrites to get the same quality as w/o the limitations. In the limited time frame of the show I don't think that happened but I could be wrong. After all I was wrong once before.

@Jason_M_Bryant I agree about the standalones.
Honestly, I think heavy continuity is highly overrated.

Take Lost, for example. After Lost, we got a ton of shows that had super heavy continuity and were billed as the new Lost. Day Break, Flash Forward, The Event, and more. Some of them were good, but they still bombed.

Now take another look at the first episodes of Lost. First off, every episode had a flashback that told a concise one-off story. So there was continuity in what was happening on the Island, but one episode would give a story about Sawyer as a kid and another would give a story about Locke's trip to Australia before coming to the Island. They continued for the next couple of seasons, but the first ones were different. It wasn't until the 18th episode, where Hurley found out about the numbers, that the flashback story told us anything significant about what was happening on the Island. Up until then, they just satisfied the need for a complete story every episode. Only after that did the "previously on" become required viewing even if you'd watched all the episodes.

Even the Island stuff wasn't super heavy continuity. They had cliffhangers, but they were resolved in the next episode. Pretty much everything could be summed up as, "They're trapped on a strange Island and nobody is coming to rescue them." They had an episode where they tried to clear out a cave. They had an episode where Hurley tried to lift everyone's spirits by getting them to play golf. It was actually a pretty new-viewer friendly show. Until Claire was kidnapped at the end of the tenth episode, they had a pretty straightforward setting that they didn't deviate from.

So when a new show comes out and everyone demands that it be one big plot from the very first episode, I think they're forgetting that they don't actually like that. 24 is an exception, but I think most shows that do well actually follow the pattern that SHIELD had. You start off with single episodes that plant seeds, then you bring those seeds together and get more and more into the seasonal plot.
"You start off with single episodes that plant seeds, then you bring those seeds together and get more and more into the seasonal plot."

I agree with this entirely and would throw in character development with the plot seeds as well. But those things should be secondary to coming up with a good weekly story. I'm not sure that was always the case this season.
Well, your mileage may vary. I thought the second episode with the laser gun was a little week. Other than that, I was pretty happy with the first half of the season.

My biggest problem with the earlier episodes was my expectations. I know we're all sick to death of hearing how everyone expected superheroes to show up in every other episode, but I kind of did expect that. It's not just because of the movies. The first comic I ever read with Nick Fury was a Captain America comic. Then I saw some SHIELD stuff in an Avengers comic. I've never actually read a SHIELD comic. So I've spent my entire life seeing them make cameos in other comics. With no idea of who SHIELD fights or what kind of work they do, yeah, I expected to see Moon Knight and Cloak and Dagger.

I still think a Moon Knight episode could be awesome.

Anyway, now I know who they're fighting. Now I feel like we need to see AIM, then more Hydra, and maybe even a new sinister organization or two. Heck, bust Justin Hammer out of jail and give him his comic book status of being the billionaire who funds super-villains. Sam Rockwell said he's up for it. The first season did its job of showing me what a SHIELD show is supposed to look like. I'm looking forward to seeing them build on that.
Also, more Ron Glass. More Ron Glass and Patton Oswalt. They should be in the show so much, their names get put in the title sequence.

Also, I'd like a title sequence.

More Ron Glass and Patton Oswalt... and Tom Lenk as an intern temporarily replacing Fitz, please.

Also, can we have Enver Gjokaj playing a shapeshifter that doesn't actually change shape but that doesn't matter because he's Enver?

[ edited by Ragondux on 2014-05-23 13:19 ]
@Jason_M_Bryant I agree with you about 1.2. It was watchable but very forgettable. The others (excluding one peculiar hangup of mine) were better and I enjoyed them all. But comparatively speaking the writing for 1.13-1.14 and 1.16-1.22 was still better imo.
I'm not convinced the writing was better. I think at that point we had a better notion of the story they were trying to tell. A lot of the things I though were bad writing, back then, now make sense.

I have to rewatch them all, but I think the only one I really don't like is 1.2. Much like I will always hate Stage Fright in Dollhouse.
There is nothing truly good or bad, but thinking makes it so - I believe the Immortal Bard coined the phrase. And there's a lot of thinking going on about this show.
All I'm going to say it's my favorite Whedonesque show after Buffy and Angel.
Although the one thing missing for me is I never saw the chemistry or budding romance thing between Skye and Ward. It still doesn't make sense to me that Ward has feelings for Skye because I'm just not feeling it.
And I didn't care for the episode set in Latin America.
I liked Skye from the beginning. Good actress.
For overall execution, I give the first half (before The Winter Soldier) a 3 and the second half a 5 1/2. I don't think it's really a bad show, just not a good one. It's firmly in the "average" territory for me. Hopefully, next season it will embrace the ambition I think it's capable of and improve to a 7, which is to say an above average to very good show.

After The Winter Soldier, it started to move faster and I think the plotting improved. What hampered the first season the most, in my mind, is the poor execution of plots that were pretty good on paper. The Clairvoyant, Rising Tide, Deathlok, etc. weren't necessarily bad ideas but the execution of them separate and together and what I eventually saw on screen was extremely disappointing.
In the beginning I watched because I felt I had to give it a chance and not because I 'needed to'. By the end of the season I was hooked and couldn't wait to watch the next episode. I even got my wife (who is notably non-geek like myself) exited about the show and the characters which I consider a small victory.

In the last few episodes I came to the realization that Fitz was my favorite character and then...
In terms of standalone vs long arcs, some standalones can be beloved if they give us a great insight into a character of characters like The Zeppo or The Beach on Last Airbender (our teenage villains go on vacation and crash a house party, get thrown out, talk about their feelings and then trash the house to make themselves feel better).

SHIELD did not have the ability to do episodes like this because it was S1 and we are still getting to know the characters and the episodes had no real stakes because those were unfolding in Cap 2. So them going around collecting random artifacts was not exciting. The movies have a benefit in that they all tell one big story but you can see each individually and not be lost. Several people only saw Avengers 1 and they thoroughly enjoyed it without knowing the full story of Tony, Steve and Thor.

The back half of S1 was basically one big story about taking down Garret, Ward and part of Hydra. This helped the plotting a lot IMO. What S2 should do early is introduce our main villain (probably Skye's bloody-hand parent) early and then have them reoccur throughout the season somehow tied to the standalone plots. Angel S1 did this many times for W & H/Lindsey/Lilah.

Continuity-heavy stories still have a place in TV, just no so much on network anymore where momentum is constantly cut off by breaks and things have to be stretched to 22 episodes. Game of Thrones, Orphan Black etc. have very passionate fanbases and get a lot of acclaim after all. SHIELD is using Agent Carter to try and get around the Long Break problem. Even some networks are doing shorter seasons or separate season arcs to get around the 22 episodes.
I agree with Dusk's analysis, especially about the back half of S1 essentially being one big story.
Thanks, JDL
While the show was slow to react to criticisms of its predominantly white main cast of characters, and hasn’t reached its full potential to represent diversity to a mainstream audience that could really stand to see it (for example, I’d love to see the show establish canonically that orphan-of-supernatural-origin Skye identifies as as mixed-race Caucasian/Asian or as a person of color), it has showed late season improvement (the establishment of Antoine “Trip” Triplett as a main character) on that aspect of diversity.

This kind of lobbying is really starting to grate on me. To be perfectly clear, I have no issues with Trip/B.J. Britt or any other minority character/actor being added to the show and possibly becoming a part of the regular cast (though I do think we need a Trip centric episode to flesh out the character early in S2). What I really object to though is the narrative that's being created by comments like these for why he's on the show - and the underlying motivation behind these cries for so-called "diversity".

What does "diversity" actually mean here? What's the "full potential" that the mainstream audience "could really stand to see"? It's clearly not to be representative of the actual population demographics - which are, in fact, also predominantly white in the English speaking countries that make up both the show's main audience and casting resource. How is adding another black character (on top of recurring Mike Peterson, Raina, etc.) "improvement" in "diversity" in light of the near total absence of ethnic Latinos (who are more numerous in the United States than non-Hispanic blacks) or a multitude of other races/ethnicities that haven't been addressed? "Diversity" in this case seems to be satisfied by characters who are simply "not-white". The argument seems to be that there's a moral imperative to hire fewer white actors. And if Brett Dalton ultimately loses his job because he's white and the show caved to pressure to have a more not-white cast, that's patently racist.

Again, I have no issue with whatever the show chooses to do from a creative standpoint. They can cast who they will on the merits of the actors and roles involved, but I find this faux politically correct narrative that's been attached to it (with at least the intent to influence the process) offensive.
What does "diversity" actually mean here? What's the "full potential" that the mainstream audience "could really stand to see"? It's clearly not to be representative of the actual population demographics - which are, in fact, also predominantly white in the English speaking countries that make up both the show's main audience and casting resource.

"They're not like us" treads awfully close to "separate but equal." I'm not saying you think this way, but institutional racism has been used throughout history to justify limiting hiring pools, mortgage opportunities, and educational opportunities to only Caucasian people. So when you say that predominantly white people make up the shows main audience, I take offense because minorities have been ignored and worse, abused, for centuries and I don't think it's acceptable to keep ignoring their existence as a consumers. And as a casting resource, it didn't just happen this way by accident. White males are by and large going to get more consideration than others for a wider range of parts. Ever notice a lot of black actors play gang members on TV?

How is adding another black character (on top of recurring Mike Peterson, Raina, etc.) "improvement" in "diversity" in light of the near total absence of ethnic Latinos (who are more numerous in the United States than non-Hispanic blacks) or a multitude of other races/ethnicities that haven't been addressed? "Diversity" in this case seems to be satisfied by characters who are simply "not-white".

It's a start. If you don't understand how it feels to be the only minority in your neighborhood or town or to be stared at as you walk through the mall or followed because people associate your skin color with violence or theft or preconceived notions, I'm glad you haven't had to experience it. But people do encounter this and children especially benefit from seeing characters they can relate to on a visual level.

I've read numerous stories of adults who rediscovered comics when they saw a black and Hispanic spider man or a black Green Lantern or a middle eastern Ms. Marvel. This is important.

The argument seems to be that there's a moral imperative to hire fewer white actors. And if Brett Dalton ultimately loses his job because he's white and the show caved to pressure to have a more not-white cast, that's patently racist.

I don't want him to lose his job. But the fact is, the show could benefit from diversity, not for the sake of saying you have to, but because the population is at least 25% non-white and there is a record number of mixed race children. Those children should be able to turn on the TV and see characters who saving lives and are superheroes and who look like them.
I'm of two minds of this. On the one hand trying to overcrowd the show to represent "everyone" would not work from a narrative standpoint and should not be done unless they have a good story in mind. On the other hand Marvel has thousands of characters, several of whom are different races, or may represent LGBT and with Marvel currently crushing the competition in general public awareness of superheros they have an opportunity to bring in more characters and represent more groups if the story is a good one.

I am a hetro white guy, but am part of a minority because I have a visible physical disability from birth. To this day I get stares that erode my confidence and remind me of how when I was a kid I never thought I'd be "normal". Representation for us in media needs improvement. LGBT has made significant progress in media since the WB didn't want to air Willow and Tara's first kiss and Joss almost pulled The Body. Tillow was well received as a role model for some girls from what I have read. Ideally I'd like to see (somewhere) a disabled character have their own stable, loving relationship that is not portrayed as Soapbox Special because an able-bodied person is a saint for choosing the person with the disability, or that it is somehow perverted. Representation in media can have a powerful effect on those who feel invisible.

Representation for the disabled in comics in tricky because people can come back from the dead all the time, so the question is why isn't their a Plot Device to cure the Disability? This happened to Barbra Gordon/Oracle in the latest DC reboot to restore her to Batgirl. Should Fitz have some kind of disability due to his brain injury, I'll assume it's because they have a good story to tell by adding it to his character, not because they token-ly want to represent everyone.
Y'know - I started to reply about this very thing, but assumed it'd all degenerate into name calling quickly enough so I never hit the "preview" button. The article annoyed me primarily because of the (IMO) pretentious tone and that the writer's primary focus was on the racial makeup of the cast and the number of women who directed episodes ... as opposed to stuff like - writing, acting, plot etc.

I always find check box liberalism offensive - and I'm a freaking dyed in the wool liberal. We all take it as gospel that the show could "benefit from diversity" How about this - the show could benefit from better writing? Or better special effects? Or a plot that didn't take two months to kick in? The idea that casting an African American, or Woman, or Gay inherently make the show more interesting or "better" is insulting .... especially to the mentioned minorities. This "race counting" - the idea we should have some kind of committee that ensure ethnic percentages are indicative of .... what? Actual percentages? Should we overcompensate in a kind of affirmative action casting? Were the episodes directed by women better than the ones directed by men? Is that why there should be more women directors? How were their episodes different?

It seems to me the show has a fairly unremarkable mix of women to men in both regular and recurring characters. Racially diverse, with the notable exception of the Latino demo, it even features some internationals ... and not a blue eyed blond anywhere near a lead role.

You know how you marginalize people? Push them aside and infer that they don't count? You make them tokens.

I have some African American friends - and while they're offended at how often movies have the clichéd "black gang member", they are much MORE offended when the single black professional appears to hang with their white professional friends if for no other purpose than to serve as code that the white professionals are hip and sympathetic.

A similar topic popped about a month or two back - I think the conversation revolved around gay characters and my reaction was the same ... Story comes first. You owe the story the best actors/directors/musicians etc. When you start putting quotas, or political agendas above the needs of the story, you risk losing the story ... and you lose that and you risk losing the ability to tell stories at all.
I haven't been keeping up with this show as wasn't hugely interested by the little I saw. However, glancing through all this and seeing a few spoilers actually makes it sound more interesting. Perhaps there are 'good spoilers' for those considering trying this show again from the beginning, so that they know the much-vaunted payoff really will be worth it. I don't suppose anyone wants to lay down (with warning) a few judiciously-chosen good spoilers (only if you can be bothered, of course)...? Or, admittedly, this could be a great opportunity to throw some crazy foilers out there. Either way, it'd probably make a rewatch attempt more interesting!

[ edited by olaf on 2014-05-24 12:08 ]
Actually, there's been research showing that spoilers don't actually make people enjoy something less. They might even enjoy it more. I thought that sounded odd, but the spoiler I heard for Superman Returns actually made me accept the plot twist a lot better than some people. So maybe it's true.

In that spirit, here you go olaf, a few choice spoilers. To everyone else, remember, these are just for olaf.

Ward's a double agent. Don't trust anything you see him do or say. Not even about football.
Fitz is never getting laid, but by the end of the show you'll kind of wish he did.
Much of what happened in the first half of the season turns out to be manipulations by Hydra, a group SHIELD thought was dead.
The Ice Queen will give you your own snow cloud, keeping you from melting in summer.
What KissingToast said, word for word, except replace "wife" with "husband."
Lemme tell you. I was so behind, as in only saw the pilot by the time the Cap 2 ep came out behind, when I was spoiled for Ward the double agent and it really did make every thing more interesting.
Thanks, Jason_M_Bryant :) Can't wait to get that snow cloud.
Sadly for me, it just got one enormous thing wrong - I just didn't care about the characters - no, make that any character. I persisted and gave it the whole season and I still didn't care whether they lived, died, were betrayed or vindicated.

Sorry. Just didn't connect for me. I'm glad others enjoyed it though because the more SF programmes on TV, the better imho.
One thing different about this show is that there was relatively little personal life shown. Personal things might impinge but you didn't see as much of the team outside of missions as you did in previous Whedon shows. A lot of the character development in other shows took place outside of the office so to speak and that was missing here. Hopefully that will be addressed in S2.

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