May 18, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Agents of SHIELD”


Every year at about this time, Marvel faces a contradiction.  Even as it has a giant movie dominating multiplexes worldwide (this year, of course, it’s Captain America: Civil War, which is approaching the $1 billion mark), its TV business struggles.  Over the past few weeks, network cousin ABC has canceled hiatus series Agent Carter, decided against ordering the Marvel’s Most Wanted pilot to series, and today announced a schedule moving marquee show AGENTS OF SHIELD to an unlikely 10PM timeslot next fall.  (Marvel’s Netflix shows apparently fare better, although since Netflix never announces audience measurements, the extent of that success is unclear.)   Even though what’s called the Marvel Cinematic Universe seems inherently TV-like, with its recurring characters and serialized mega-storylines, on TV itself the same principles have failed to click.  (Paradoxically, nemesis DC has been much more at home on the small screen than the big one, and today announced a sweeping reorganization of its movie group at Warners.)

This was actually SHIELD‘s best and most cohesive season, even though the ratings kept on sinking.  Series creators Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen (Joss Whedon is also a creator, but apparently a near-silent one) mostly told two interlocking stories, both about humans altered by aliens called Krees.  Inhumans were genetically predisposed to have superpowers, whether for good or evil, if their systems received the call via drugs or other means.  Hive was the season’s Big Bad, a creature that fed on and inhabited the bodies of humans–notably Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), the one-time SHIELD agent turned very bad–and also took over the consciousness of any Inhumans that crossed its path.   Whedon, Tancharoen and the other writer/producers did a skillful job of fusing these stories through the course of the season, including visits to another planet (where Hive, unbeknownst to SHIELD, dwelled) that gave the series what may have been its best episode thus far, “4,722 Hours,” detailing the time that Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) spent on that planet with only one companion.

A lot of things worked this season.  After two and a half years of Will They/Won’t They, the show satisfyingly brought together Simmons and Fitz (Ian De Caestecker) for a romance.  The character of Daisy nee Skye (Chloe Bennet), SHIELD’s own Inhuman and a character insistently at the center of the SHIELD storylines, made more emotional sense than she has in the past, and as an actress, Bennet seemed finally able to fully inhabit the part.  Dalton, an OK romantic lead in Season 1, turned out to be a terrifically effective alien villain.

But as it has from the start, a B-movie sensibility held SHIELD back from being truly first-rate, especially when there’s so much similar material these days in movies and on TV to compare it to.  The evil collective consciousness plot is currently being handled in a much more sophisticated (and terrifying) way on The 100.  The Krees, when they made an appearance, were simply big guys in silly blue body make-up, and the custom-made Primitives, a form of Inhumans who turned up in later episodes, were even worse, with lopsided heads that resembled Mystery Science Theater 3000 creatures.  None of the characterizations went very deep, and none of the plot twists were truly shocking.  The dialogue was mostly on-the-nose and heavy on exposition.

Tonight’s two-hour season finale (Hour 1 written by Co-Executive Producer Drew Z. Greenberg and Consulting Producer Chris Dingess and directed by Billy Gierhart; Hour 2 written by Jed Whedon and directed by Kevin Tancharoen) brought the central storylines to their conclusions.  After a nightmare prologue with Daisy and Coulson (Clark Gregg) marooned on a post-apocalyptic Earth that might have been too effective for its own good–nothing that followed was as impactful–things were fairly straightforward, with plenty of small-scale action.  (SHIELD has wisely learned that it can’t compete with Marvel’s movies when it comes to spectacle.)  It had been established early in the season that Daisy’s vision of a crucifix floating in a space capsule was a prophecy of someone’s death, and the two hours played a game of “Who’s got the crucifix?”  That turned out to be Daisy’s erstwhile Inhuman love interest Lincoln (Luke Mitchell), who sacrificed himself to destroy Hive and save Daisy and the world from Hive’s nuclear-powered device that would have turned most of Europe Primitive.  There was some welcome drollery supplied by the weaselly scientist Holden Radcliffe (John Hannah), who had created the Primitives at Hive’s command, and the good news is that Hannah will apparently be featured in Season 4 as well, since the season’s tag had him creating some living form of AI that will presumably cause much trouble.  Season 4, which follows a 6-month time jump, will also at least begin with Daisy on the run and Coulson no longer SHIELD director, seemingly not so far from where the series began.

Agents of SHIELD has improved from mediocre to fine as the seasons have passed, but in the current superhero pop culture universe, fine doesn’t go very far.  The Marvel masters haven’t figured out how to translate the elite status of their movies to the series, and with ratings likely to drop further in the show’s new late-primetime slot, time may be running out.  The series needs the kind of jolt its Inhuman characters get when they hit the next stage of their evolution, but SHIELD‘s genes may simply lack that ability.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."