I generally enjoy Agents of SHIELD -- it doesn't do everything right and I have my issues with it, but I've never seriously considered quitting it, like I know other people have. Because it rewrites the rules of its own universe a couple of times a season, I've long been curious about how it would stand up to a rewatch, and the answer is: surprisingly well.
Like most any TV show with episodes mostly meant to stand alone while also telling a season-long arc, this season of AoS plays much better as whole than it did as individual episodes separated by at least a week. I had remembered long stretches of episodes in the middle with no connection to the overarching story, but that's not true at all -- every episode advances either Skye or Coulson's characterization, and some element of HYDRA (not by that name, of course, but the connections are all clear when you know what you're looking for) is almost always present: Centipede, Reyna, Quinn, Mike Peterson. And the few stories that don't tie directly or indirectly to HYDRA and the Clairvoyant usually have some other connection to the larger Marvel universe; I'm thinking specifically of the two Asgardian episodes. While I still think Agents of SHIELD could benefit from shorter seasons, there's far less filler than I remembered, at least when is viewed in marathon form.
The through line of HYDRA being a secret organization hiding within the backbone of SHIELD is built up very well, from the first suggestion of an informant within SHIELD way back in "The Asset" (which is the third episode) through the moment in "End of the Beginning" when Skye realizes that everything that's happened can be explained by someone using knowledge gleaned via high-level clearance. The only mention of HYDRA I noticed in this first half of the season was in Fitzsimmons' speech at the Academy, when they remind the students that their dark counterparts are comprised of equally brilliant scientists -- and HYDRA is already recruiting from among their number, in the form of Ian Quinn's deal with Donnie and Seth. How many other similar deals are already going down? How many of these students are HYDRA already?
My "who is secretly HYDRA" radar is turned up to eleven for this show, especially since we know that the HYDRA reveal was planned from the very beginning of its production (and Brett Dalton knew fairly early on as well). I'm not convinced that they did much, if anything, to set Sitwell up as a HYDRA agent, but Ward is played just right. What read as a flat affect the first time through plays as a clear acting choice when you know what's going on -- Ward is holding himself a bit separate from the team, observing, almost certainly reporting back to Garrett. Knowing from the very beginning that the Clairvoyant is John Garrett and that Grant Ward is his right hand man puts a clear spin on things. The Clairvoyant's agents don't just know Coulson's team from their psych profiles -- Garrett knows everything because Ward is telling him everything, probably in detail. Mike attacking Garrett and Trip is designed to put the team on Mike's trail, eventually leading to the fake Clairvoyant, and Ward's execution of Thomas Nash (and it was so clearly an execution; his impassioned speech about not being able to stand the thought of Skye in danger is so fake -- although I do buy that he has feelings for/an obsession with Skye, he would never have killed Nash if he hadn't been under orders). It all comes together perfectly -- too perfectly, and it cheers me that Skye and Coulson notice it, even if they don't quite see yet where Ward fits in.
Watching Garrett in action is often chilling -- "questioning" Quinn (it's possible that Quinn knows that Garrett is HYDRA, but if so, it was a very good acting job), bonding with Skye (hoping to recruit her to the cause?), making nice with Coulson. It all fits, I think, with a guy who threw in with HYDRA not because he particularly believed, but because he saw it as his fastest way to personal power. I'll probably have more to say about that when I finish the season.
Although other characters get their moments and their arcs -- May in particular, especially in the second season -- this really is the Coulson and Skye show. I love Skye, and the way in which she grows into the role of SHIELD agent. The moment when she finally gets her badge was touching the first time through; it's even more poignant when you know what's coming next. Coulson... I am less sure how I feel about him. I really liked Coulson in the movies, when he shows up to be competent and a little bit mysterious. AoS takes away most of the mystery, and it blows hot and cold on the competence -- sometimes he's the fearless leader, pulling everything off at the last second, and sometimes he seems almost hapless, as though events are controlling him rather than the other way around. I get that this is at least partly intentional, and partly meant to be explained by his experiences of coming back from death. But I sometimes wish that they'd just come up with an entirely new character rather than building a whole show around him (though from a marketing standpoint I understand why that could never have worked). At least he's not the only center.
There are other things I could talk about -- the other characters, the race issue (which is absolutely an issue, at least in terms of African American males, but that would rate its own post, and I want to see how Ultron and the rest of Season 2 play out before I make any overarching statements anyway), the ethics of bringing people back from the dead, the Guardians of the Galaxy connections -- but this post is already long and I'm ready for some Steve time. So that's all for now.
This entry is also posted at http://owlmoose.dreamwidth.org/709644.html. There are currently comments on DW.