I knew I’d miss Grant Ward and his ability to instigate both plot and relationship events when Agents of Shield killed him off at the end of season 3, but holy cow, it’s like both dried up completely when he left the building. He was a complex character with an ability to draw different groups of characters together. He was one of my favorite characters for that reason, but I didn’t think the show would suffer all that much from the loss. It’s a show full of interesting characters, with a comic book universe to draw more from.
Except, for most of this season, all of the returning characters have been separate, chasing random macguffins and/or being chased most of the time, or becoming or dealing with “ghosts”, who turned out to have no plot significance whatsoever long-term. It feels like we took 8 episodes to say wow, we’ve got a guy who’s head catches fire, the movies have magic so we get to have it too, especially this extra evil book, and the world hates inhumans even more than they used to. That looks like an episode or 2 worth of plot to me. We didn’t need any of the red herring distraction of Eli’s accomplices. We could have gone straight to Eli, although even his plot was cut short and explained in very broad strokes.
Not only has the team been separated, most of them have been at odds. The friendships, relationships, and playful banter of the last three seasons were pushed aside, with character development on the whole taking a back seat. May and Coulson were hardly together, nor were Daisy and Coulson, or, well, Daisy and anyone. Fitz and Simmons didn’t do much more than check in with each other at the end of episodes to make sure they were both still alive. Mack and Yoyo were also on pause. The dynamic and chemistry of the team that made it a fun show to watch was lost, not to mention all of the missing characters this season.
The show has also suffered from its schedule this season. With so many competing choppy, thin plotlines running, a show can’t afford to also spread the episodes out over an inconsistently long schedule. It’s too easy to lose track of plotlines altogether in that situation, nevermind where we are in each one.
I’ve read that they want Agents of Shield to be more like Netflix Marvel series, but is that really necessary? There are already so many of those and soon to be more. Can’t Agents of Shield be its own thing, closer to the movies in tone? Or are they building up to moving it to Netflix? I may be in the minority, but I haven’t liked the Netflix shows as much. They are too dark, too gritty, and, especially, too focused on plot and editing tricks, and atmosphere, and not enough on good characters and storytelling for my taste. I’m all for dark, intense, gritty stories, but not at the expense of a coherent plot and well-developed characters. Jessica Jones did that type of storytelling well, but on AoS it was half-assed. Those characters aren’t right for it. It just comes off muddled and confused, like the show doesn’t know what it wants to be.
Radcliffe is a fun mad scientist, but it took too long to integrate him with the rest of the cast. It would be cool to see him and Fitz working together full time, with Jemma trying to keep things sane. AIDA is obviously our next big bad. The LMD storyline seems like it has more potential to become a long term, wide-ranging storyline, the way the inhumans storyline has, than the Ghost Rider storyline did. The darkhold story is a wildcard at this point.
I haven’t warmed up to Jeffrey Mace yet, even though I want to. I get that he’s supposed to be a Steve Rogers-like character, but so far the actor isn’t bringing Chris Evans’ warmth, charm, and humor to the role. Up until episode 8, the guy just seemed like another annoying, rule-oriented mid-level manager who is a decent guy and cares a bit about his people, but cares about the rules more. If that’s not what they’re going for, they need to show him caring about someone. Give him a personal life, or have him get close to someone at work. Steve always had Bucky to keep him from getting lost in self-righteousness about his causes. Mace needs that too. If he’s not going to stare into Coulson’s eyes soulfully, give him someone else. He’s an inhuman, he should be able to connect to the rest of the inhumans at SHIELD, especially if he’s going to be going out into the field with them.
The watchdog/inhuman storyline was one of the better plots this season so far. It’s relevant to the real world and fits well within the continuity of the show. It gives all of the characters, old and new, human and inhuman, and in different locations, reasons to interact. Continuing to have that simmering as an ongoing, series long arc, which occasionally comes to a head, from here on out makes sense (if there is a series after this season).
In the end, I feel like what I should be doing is writing a review of the fall season finale. That episode had everything that the first 7 episodes were missing. The entire team was back together again, on speaking terms and working together. Coulson and Daisy re-established their bond, and Daisy was re-instated as an agent. Fitz and Simmons spent most of the episode in the same room working together. Elena and Mack remembered that they have a connection. Jeffrey Mace became more than a dry administrator. He even got a superhero suit. Radcliffe has become a charming but ambiguous and possibly villainous character, since we can’t be sure of what he knows about AIDA’s activities. Even if he knows nothing, he’s dangerous in his obliviousness to what’s happening around him. Coulson and May moved forward in their relationship, except that’s actually LMD May. The fact that she was showing emotion should have been a clue, damn it. All of the various relationships between the team members got at least a minute. Even Daisy and Fitz’s friendship seems to be on the mend. The characters had all of those interactions, and Eli was taken out, Robbie Reyes/GhostRider’s story was wrapped up for the moment, Jeffrey Mace was confronted about his dealings with the anti-inhuman senator, and the AIDA/Radcliffe/May/LMD storyline was set up for 4B. There were several action scenes, and Robbie had one last chance to show off his burning skull. Whoever wrote this episode deserves a medal. More of all of that, please.