Agents of SHIELD: Season 2 Overview
By Louis Rabinowitz.
You may know the story by this point: while Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD started on a somewhat wobbly note with a handful of pedestrian, standalone episodes with a meandering story arc laid on top, it soon generally overcame most of its creative issues with a resurgence following the Captain America crossover towards the end of the season. Though ratings have dropped steadily, did SHIELD keep the momentum up in season two?
The Season Arc
SHIELD took a far more serialised path this season, with the first ten episodes focusing on HYDRA’s threat, and the final twelve seeing the Inhumans come to the fore. This approach to storytelling lent SHIELD an unprecedented consistency – the season may have fallen into a brief lull following the winter break, but the show generally held up a strong standard that rarely faltered, with almost every episode providing a solidly enjoyable mix of engaging character drama and high-octane action. However, this did also have the consequence of the season boasting less standout episodes than last year – with only a few episodes telling a complete story, the episodes were perhaps less immediately gratifying to watch than some of last year’s strongest episodes.
Therefore, the season’s two strongest instalments, fittingly, were finales – both the mid-season and season finales, What They Become and SOS, delivered a flurry of series-altering revelations and satisfying pay-offs that cohered to deliver a satisfying conclusion to both the winter and spring halves of the season. What They Become, in particular, was perhaps the episode where the series truly staked its claim as a true part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, introducing the Inhumans five years before their movie, and revealing Skye to be superhero Daisy Johnson with a stylishly directed final scene depicting the first ever on-screen portrayal of Terrigenesis.
The season’s first half was perhaps slightly stronger, with a single villain in Daniel Whitehall introduced from the get-go rather than the flurry of villains in the second half, ensuring that the first ten episodes possessed a cohesiveness that was occasionally absent in the more chaotic second half. The second half wobbled at certain points as it piled on threats for Coulson and his team to battle among the central Inhuman threat – the sudden re-emergence of HYDRA towards the end of the season to tie in with Avengers: Age of Ultron slowed the rapidly building momentum of the Inhuman plot, and the threat of the Real SHIELD never quite came to fruition before the plot mandated an allegiance between Coulson and Gonzales. However, it was the second half that packed in more exciting and thrilling twists than the often predictable first half, shaking up the status quo midway through the spring run and delivering a truly satisfying endgame – so while the second half was perhaps less cohesive as a whole, there was still plenty to enjoy.
The New Characters
SHIELD introduced a slew of new faces in season two – both heroic and villainous. On the heroic side, the additions of new agents Lance Hunter, Mockingbird and Mack all yielded a great deal of success – while the reveal of Bobbi and Mack’s traitorous nature as moles for the ‘real SHIELD’ was a tediously uninteresting twist, both were likeable new additions who proved to be valuable new additions to the cast; Mack for his endearing friendship with the brain-damaged Fitz, and Bobbi for bolstering the show’s array of strong, complex female action heroines. Likewise, Hunter, though perhaps not the most original character, was an equally fun new addition that brought a sardonic and acerbic humour to episodes that often delved into quite dark territory.
As for the villains, SHIELD followed up Bill Paxton’s charismatic John Garett with a handful of intriguing new foes. Daniel Whitehall, the main villain of the first half of the season, was probably the least interesting villain – Reed Diamond was sinister enough as the HYDRA chief, but Whitehall was regularly overshadowed by his more colourful partners in crime, such as Kyle MacLachlan’s Cal and traitor Grant Ward. Unfortunately, after receiving a strong plotline that delved into his family history and explored the repercussions of his betrayal of SHIELD in an impressive manner, it seemed as if the writers didn’t have much of an idea what to do with Ward in the season’s second half – leaving him off-screen for several episodes, and eventually settling on a contrived conclusion to his character arc this season that felt almost entirely tangential to the Inhumans plotline.
Cal fared somewhat better – entering as an entertainingly psychotic figure, Cal’s reunion with his daughter, Skye, triggered a patiently told and emotionally compelling redemption arc that concluded with a moving and truly satisfying payoff as Cal was forced to kill Jiaying. With his memory wiped, and MacLachlan off to star in Twin Peaks, Cal probably won’t be back for a while – but MacLachlan’s performance, which expertly blended affecting innocence with heightened comic-book-villain insanity, was one of the most rewarding and well-executed elements of the season.
As for the season’s villain, Jiaying, things weren’t quite as successful. Though Jiaying had nuanced enough motivations to warrant a shred of sympathy from the audience, her transformation into a full-on villain in the finale was overly rushed – if Jiaying had been revealed as a villain at least a few episodes before the finale, more time could have been given over to developing and justifying her villainous nature, and her murderous actions would feel logical and perhaps even slightly understandable. Unfortunately, as it was, her true colours were revealed far too late, and the finale therefore lost a little of the intended impact due to Jiaying’s actions jarring with her characterisation just an episode before. However, Dichen Lachman’s performance was strong enough to paper over some of the cracks, and the villain’s exit was an effective and meaningful one, so the villain was hardly a failure.
Predictions for Season 3
The finale, though not ending quite as inconclusively as The Flash, left a few cliffhangers that pointed towards the direction of the show’s third season. Though Jiaying’s rogue faction has dissipated, more Inhumans are certainly on the way – with Terrigen-laced fish oil (the most fearsome oil of them all) clearly shown being shipped around the world at the end of the finale, it’s likely that season three will see a huge emergence of new Inhuman friends and enemies, both for SHIELD to recruit and fight against. Skye’s secret powered team is also likely to play a major role – with Luke Mitchell’s Lincoln signed up as a regular, it’s extremely likely that the electric Inhuman will book a spot on the team, which will likely tackle some of the less cuddly new Inhumans.
The threat of HYDRA should also rear its head once more after a break in the second half of the season, with the villainous organisation under new management in the form of the revenge-seeking Grant Ward. In addition, with Captain America: Civil War on the way, the usual crossover episode is likely in the back half of the season – however, considering the menagerie of powered people on the show, it’s possible that the impacts of the Superhero Registration Act might be explored as a major theme of the season leading up to Civil War.
And finally, there’s Simmons – sucked into a Kree rock in the stone-cold (I’m so sorry) cliffhanger ending of the finale. Given that Elisabeth Henstridge has signed up for season three, it’s doubtful that she’s dead, but a major change should be expected for Simmons once she makes it out…