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‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Season 2 Premiere Recap: “Shadows”

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR 2x01 FOLLOW

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Was there a more improved show over the course of a single season than Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. last year? Once Captain America: Winter Soldier came out, and AOS could reveal its secrets, the show became what we’d wanted all along. They finally earned that annoying Marvel prefix in the title, listless stock characters became dynamic and interesting, and most importantly: Bill Paxton.

There was some room for debate on what kind of show we were getting in season 2, but thankfully, most of my questions had to do with the plot and direction of the show, rather than the politics behind it. While I hoped that showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen had been given a longer leash and that Avengers: The Age of Ultron won’t constrain the show’s storytelling, I was just as concerned with what a post-S.H.I.E.L.D. world will look like, with Coulson running a new team and starting over.

With “Shadows,” we get a promising start, as AOS not only keeps its momentum, but revs up its engine. The season begins in Austria, 1945, following the death and defeat of the Red Skull. If anything, Hydra agent Daniel Whitehall (Whedonverse regular Reed Diamond) is a positively giddy German with power, and in the driver’s seat to use a mysterious silver obelisk, which could solve that nasty problem of death. Then Agent Carter (Hayley Atwell) and the Howling Commandoes bust in, make corny WWII-era jokes, and take down the Hydra base in moments, putting Whitehall and the ORIGINAL 0-8-4 (said obelisk) into custody. In five minutes, ABC has given us a lead-in to Agent Carter, AOS‘ ingenious midseason replacement, by showing the early moments of SSR, a pre-SHIELD organization tasked with keeping tabs on Hydra and their evil toys. Hey, I’d watch that show.

In the present day, Skye has bangs and flashes her field-ready skills, teaming up with Melinda May to back up Isabelle Hartley (Lucy Lawless) and her heavily accented mercenaries, one of which gets the cloying name Lance Hunter (Nick Blood). Hartley and company are making a deal for information regarding a Level 10 classified object, quite obviously the silver object of death we saw earlier. Before Hartley can pay the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who’s willing to sell intel for money, the traitor gets killed, and an absolutely ripped white dude (Brian Patrick Wade) runs away with the files, bullets bouncing off him like his body’s a tennis court. Are his abs that ridonkulous? Or is this Carl “Crusher” Creel AKA the Absorbing Man? The answer is both. The Absorbing Man can absorb the material of anything he touches, altering his body’s molecular structure (as when he pulls an Emma Frost and gets his hand on a diamond). He’s easily the biggest gun that we’ve seen on the show, an exciting coup for a show that is expanding its mythology.

Hartley, May, Skye and company return to base, where there’s several unfamiliar faces working with Coulson’s new splinter team. Coulson is taking his post as Director very seriously, and is hardly ever there, and hardly ever talks to anyone. He’s taken on an aura of mystery, and while Hartley’s mercenaries question his tact, Hartley herself trusts him, almost blindly. Coulson has  been spending all his time on recruitment, spanning the globe looking for the few people left loyal to S.H.I.E.L.D., and he has to do it flying in coach! It paints a desperate, gloomy picture for this new era of S.H.I.E.L.D., but one that is far more thrilling.

Coulson and his team are in hiding, always “dark,” cowering from General Talbot (Adrian Pasdar), who looks ripped out of the comic books, and is the kind of stubborn military blowhard who won’t go away quietly. This becomes clear when Coulson and company save his life from Creel, and Talbot only gets angrier, probably because they kidnap him (to lift his fingerprints and voice). The team attempts to capture the object before Creel can get his shifty hands on them, a plan that backfires catastrophically.

Somethings never change: Fitz is back, and bickering with Simmons, as per their usual. Except Fitz is having trouble with words, is on meds, and is not his self. He’s “almost there,” but struggles with trying to cloak the Bus and working his techno-magic. Except Simmons has left the team, and Fitz is talking to himself, imagining her, permanently damaged. He’s so far gone that Coulson risks his entire operation to steal a Quinjet, rather than waiting for Fitz to fix the Bus’ cloaking. It’s absolutely heartbreaking and one of the moments on the show that cemented my confidence in the show’s new direction.

The best scene in the episode comes when Skye comes down to visit Ward for intel on Creel. Ward apparently went through some dark times, attempting to kill himself in his prison several times (the matter of fact way in which he describes his travails is chilling). Now he’s accepted his actions and place, “clear-headed” and promising absolute honesty. He just wants to help. Brett Dalton’s transformation has been incredible since we learned that Agent Ward was Hydra; he went from a milquetoast leading man to a probable psychopath, one we want to trust and kill at the same time. He’s super creepy here, and it’s clear that Ward will not be easily accepted back into the fold, if ever, thankfully. The show is positioning him as possibly the Spike of the ensemble, and while that may not be possible, Ward is probably the most fascinating character on the show right now, impressive considering I thought the show would be better off killing him, than exploring some tired redemptive arc. So far, I couldn’t have been more wrong, and the fact that he might hold some knowledge about Skye’s father is icing on the cake.

On the lighter side, Billy Koenig (Patton Oswalt) is still around, and apparently has been in every episode the show has shot so far. Hell to the yes. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. not only is the most improved show on TV, but it’s changed so much over one season, that it’s clear we’re getting a show that isn’t afraid to shake up the status quo. I can’t wait for more.

GRADE: A-

Agents of S.P.O.I.L.E.R.S.: Theories On What’s Next

  • When poking around the Hydra base, we see a glimpse of something bright and blue in one of their boxes. Quite obviously, it’s the blue alien body that was used to reboot Agent Coulson. We still haven’t gotten confirmation, but considering Clark Gregg considered it “un-kree-lievable” when approached for comment, the inference continues to be clear: this is Kree, and I still haven’t heard a better explanation than it being Mar-Vell.
  • Well, that was quick: Lucy Lawless’ Hartley appears to be dead already. Considering her pedigree and permanent fan-favorite status, she seemed locked into a recurring role this season, and instead, she stupidly grabs the obelisk, has to have her arm amputated, and then dies in a car accident anyways when the Absorbing Man gets in the way. I kind of doubt we’ve seen the last of her, since there’s certainly some interesting past between her and Coulson considering her implicit trust and almost reverent way she spoke about him, and of course, she TOUCHED the 0-8-4/magical mcguffin for this season, potentially linking her to what’s to come. This reminds me of how quickly the show killed off Victoria Hand, when we all expected her to be a persistence presence in the narrative. Tragically, Hartley and Hand were lovers in the comics, something that doesn’t appear likely right about now.
  • Lance Hunter is the only mercenary who survives, clearly a part of the season-long fabric. I could do without him, mostly because of his name, but hopefully there’s more to him than that.
  • We’ve gotten the first look at Adrianne Palick’s Mockingbird/Bobbi Morse…and she has brown hair (the character is known for her blonde locks) and works for Hydra. Hurm. Theory: she’s in deep deep cover, or she’s another character with a massive redemptive arc, a Whedon staple. I wonder if Ward and her have a past (and by that I mean have had sex)?
  • In the comics, Absorbing Man first appeared as a lackey for Loki, and the guy’s taken on Thor, Hulk and even Odin, and almost won (except for the latter). He has a history of getting a bit too cocky for his own good, so I’d expect him and Daniel Whitehall to fight over the obelisk before the season’s over. He’s been affiliated with the Masters of Evil, a villainous team with the likes of Baron Zemo and Titania. Here’s hoping Baron Zemo shows up in AOS. He’d be a great Big Bad for Season 3.
  • Skye has been tasked with investigating the symbols that Garrett was seen scribbling last season, and even more eerily, what Coulson was working with in the final moments of the season finale. So far, no hits.
  • Coulson’s team manages to steal a Quinjet, a plane with the ability to render itself invisible. We’ve seen Quinjets in the Marvel Cinematic Universe before (they’re basically the Avengers equivalent of the X-Men’s Blackbird), but I still think it’s possibly telling that the Quinjet’s origins are Wakandan, the African nation that Black Panther calls home.