May 13, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Agents of SHIELD”


The Season 2 finale of Agents of SHIELD was the show trying its very, very hardest–and still not hitting the mark.  A great deal of work has gone into rescuing Agents since it plummeted from the heights of its enormous hype-driven premiere in Fall 2013, and it’s certainly a better series now than it was a year ago.  The plots are more cohesive, actors have joined or been excised, and there’s been an attempt to give key characters sustained arcs.  But still, Marvel’s flagship network series is almost never as enjoyable as its DC Comics competition’s Arrow or The Flash, and while it makes more narrative sense than Gotham (what doesn’t?), it lacks anything like that show’s visual imagination and ambition.

The 2-hour finale (Hour 1 written by Executive Producer Jeffrey Bell and directed by Vincent Misiano; Hour 2 written by series co-creators Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen and directed by Bill Gierhart) provided the culmination to the Inhumans storyline that had been cooking all season, especially since the discovery that heroine SHIELD agent Skye (Chloe Bennet) was an Inhuman herself, with powers provided by the alien Kree that gave her the ability to cause earthquakes.  The Big Bad was revealed last week to be Jiaying (Dichen Lachman), Skye’s ageless mother and wife of crazed former veterinarian Cal Zabo (Kyle MacLachlan).  Jiaying turned out to be hiding a ruthless, warlike nature with no regard for human life behind her pose of zen gentility.  Having murdered SHIELD agent Gonzales (Edward James Olmos), shot herself, and engineered a fake SHIELD attack on the Inhumans’ village to justify war to her “gifted” followers, Jiaying and her team (someone who could clone herself, a teleporter, a guy who could send out bolts of electricity) invaded SHIELD’s aircraft carrier with crystals that would kill any human, even as she told her daughter she was merely trying to protect their kind, while SHIELD Director Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), joined with Cal, tried to stop her.  Meanwhile, in the B story, former SHIELD agent and current sociopath Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) teamed with many-faced Agent 33 (Maya Stojan) to get revenge on agent Bobbi Morse (Adrianne Palicki), who had unintentionally betrayed Agent 33 to HYDRA.  And the show went all the way back to its start for a hint of potential romance between Fitz (Iain de Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge).

By the time it was all over, plenty had happened.  Cal had become a sort of Frankenstein monster thanks to a cocktail of medications, and when Jiaying started sucking the life out of Skye after Skye foiled her plan to unleash her crystals on SHIELD agents and others, Cal relieved Skye of the burden of killing her mother by slaying Jiaying himself.  Coulson saved his fellow agents by catching one of the crystals in his bare hand–forcing Mack (Henry Simmons) to cut off the hand before the crystal’s effects could spread to the rest of Coulson’s body.  Coulson wiped now mild-mannered Cal’s memory and allowed him to go back to a peaceful life as a veterinarian instead of sending him to jail.  Ward vowed vengeance against SHIELD and was last seen trying to re-form HYDRA.  Coulson and Skye were setting off to start their own secret sub-group of SHIELD made up of heroic Inhumans.  Agent May (Ming-Na Wen) got back together with her shrink ex (Blair Underwood).  Oh, and a black morphing shape that also hailed from the Kree and was fatal to Inhumans appeared to devour Simmons, just after she’d agreed to go on a date with Fitz.  (Apparently it was sick of will-they-or-won’t-they TV storylines too.)

But for all the (well-staged) action and (surprisingly decent given the TV budget) CG effects, hardly any of this had much emotional power.  It’s indicative of Agents‘ issues that of all these characters, the only one whose story proved to be deeply involving was that of recurring guest character Cal, both because the character had scale and complexity, and because MacLachlan played him so well.  Despite all the changes that have been made in Shield, the series is still all-in on Skye being the narrative focal point, and neither the character nor Chloe Bennet are up to the task, both showing a fatal lack of nuance.  (Marvel and ABC had been developing a spin-off to star Palicki and Nick Blood, who plays her ex-husband and fellow SHIELD agent Lance Hunter, but as it’s not going forward, Palicki would be a much stronger lead here.)  The plotting is logical enough, within the comic book context, yet pedestrian, without the operatic highs that the DC TV shows, not to mention Marvel’s movies, have at their best.

It had to kill Marvel to watch the DC Comics wing of Warners Television get 3 more series pick-ups this past week from 3 separate networks (Legends of Tomorrow for CW, Lucifer for FOX and Supergirl for CBS), while Marvel, despite all the billions it reaps from its movies, has to settle for its one show, barely on the right side of the bubble, plus the even less-watched winter fill-in Agent Carter.  (Marvel, however, has had a strong success on Netflix with Daredevil, the first of several shows it will launch there.)  Agents of Shield is an adequate series, but it lacks inspiration and strong protagonists.  Its super-powers are still on order.



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."