When it debuted on ABC five years ago, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. began with a very rocky start. The first episode was dull, the second revealed a number of budget limitations, and while it was trying its best to get the audiences invested in the characters, its momentum was hampered by a critical connection to Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Around the time of the film’s debut – and definitely after – S.H.I.E.L.D. finally found a voice and an interesting hook: Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his team became the last good agents in the face of Hydra’s infiltration of the organization.
Over the subsequent seasons, the characters charmed a dedicated group of fans who remained loyal in the face of long hiatuses and shifting schedules. Unfortunately, the appreciative fans (and a 95% on the Tomatometer) never turned the series into a ratings winner for ABC, In fact, the current season exists only because of a reported request by high-level Disney executives. Nonetheless, it is definitely a show worth watching, particularly if you walked away before.
Here are just five of the many reasons to give S.H.I.E.L.D. another chance.
As revealed in the two-part season premiere, Agent Coulson and his team have been transported to a time when the remnant of mankind is under the heel of the Kree Empire (the blue people from Guardians of the Galaxy). Their mission: save the human race.
The realigned premise allows newcomers to hop onto the show without much of its previous stories getting in the way. At the same time, it definitely rewards loyal viewers with references to previous antagonists, old aliens, and simmering tensions, but like a comic book taking a bold new direction, the “Agents in Space” premise is definitely something the comic industry would call “new reader friendly.” And if you happen to be a fan of, say, Dark Matter, the new season may take a little of the sting off of that series’s recent cancellation.
Last season, the show adopted a storytelling method it called “pods.” Like a story arc in a comic book series, the “pod” system allowed the show to focus intensely on one idea for five or six episodes and then move to a new story while maintaining one key thematic tie between them. Last year, it was a mystical book known as The Darkhold – apparently one of the missing texts from Wong’s library in Doctor Strange — and with it came the Ghost Rider.
Utilizing the version created by Felipe Smith, Robbie Reyes (Gabriel Luna), and some great East L.A. locations, the series managed to tell the only worthwhile live action Ghost Rider story to date. It even featured a kick-ass cameo by original Ghost Rider Johnny Blaze. Though only appearing in seven episodes, he made quite the impression. So much so, the season 5 premiere teased unfinished business between Robbie and Coulson. When the Ghost Rider story ended, The Darkhold fell into the hands of an experimental android – or “Life Model Decoy” – named AIDA. In reading its pages, she found a purpose which fuels the next two story pods.
The pod system, besides giving the show a great structure, also gave the series a way to utilize a number of Marvel Comics ideas which cannot support television shows or feature films on their own. In fact, the show introduced Inhumans far more successfully than the recent Marvel’s Inhumans on ABC.
Considering the company’s staggering amount of cosmic characters, it easy to imagine S.H.I.E.L.D. will find a breakout character like Ghost Rider among the stars.
(Photo by ABC/Kurt Iswarienkio)
Seriously, Mack (Henry Simmons) is one of the key reasons to watch the show. Joining S.H.I.E.L.D. in its second season, Alphonso Mackenzie was introduced as one of the few loyal S.H.I.E.L.D. agents left after Hydra revealed itself. He was soon part of a new version of S.H.I.E.L.D. led by Robert Gonzalez (Edward James Olmos) and sent to spy on Coulson’s team. Once the two groups merged into a single S.H.I.E.L.D., he quickly became an indispensable member of Coulson’s team.
Physically strong, good with a shotgun, and quick with the quip, he also became a good friend to Fitz (Iain De Caestaecker) as he recovered from brain damage after nearly drowning the previous season. Since then, he’s been Coulson’s go-to guy for almost everything, including serving as acting director, despite Mack’s well-voiced concerns about his methods.
He is also very much the team’s everyman in the face of extranormal threats. Demon drag racers, advanced androids, and Inhumans come as a surprise to Mack, who would love for the ground to just be solid for once. But his shock always gives way to a clever retort and a new understanding of reality. He even faced a demonic possession with grace and aplomb.
As the fifth season opens, he is left trying to convince Coulson that they’re in an Aliens situation and not a Star Wars one. Mack is the hero we need and deserve.
From almost her first scene, Ming-Na Wen has been kicking ass on the show as Agent Melinda May; often literally. As the team’s fiercest fighter and best pilot, the show often goes to great lengths to get her off the battlefield for the sake of tension. Nonetheless, she grew into a sympathetic character with a rich past, intense parents, and one grievous sin which led to her taking on a stoic demeanor and Hydra taking over a digital simulation of the world.
Despite her stoicism, she is fearlessly loyal to her team and Coulson in particular. They have a lot of history together and many of her warmer moments in earlier seasons center on their camaraderie.
The show even dabbled in a romantic tension between May and Coulson, giving the fans a fake-out kiss between the former S.H.I.E.L.D. director and a Life Model Decoy of May last season. It is unclear how much time the series will have to return to this idea, but watching May fight aliens and instantly learn to fly spaceships is definitely a more compelling focus.
But considering she still feels terrible about Bahrain and what she did in the digital world, giving her a reason to smile would be a great turn as well.
While the Kree Empire maintained a treaty with the Nova Corps of Xandar throughout Guardians of the Galaxy, S.H.I.E.L.D. has always presented them as a fairly hostile alien race. In season 2, a Kree named Vin-Tak (Eddie McClintock) infiltrated the team’s base in hopes of learning about the emerging Inhuman situation – a project they themselves undertook thousands of years ago. He discovered Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) was herself Inhuman and tried to murder her, labeling her “an abomination.” It led to a tense fight between Vin-Tak and Bobbi Morse (Adrianne Palicki) with Morse winning only because she used Vin-Tak’s amnesia ray on him. Luckily, Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) was at the base and helped escort Vin-Tak off the planet.
But even in the first season, Kree science led to Coulson’s miraculous recovery from his apparent demise in Marvel’s The Avengers and he later used the same technique to save a key member of the S.H.I.E.L.D. cast.
As the fifth season begins, we see the Kree maintaining an occupying force on an asteroid humanity calls “The Lighthouse.” The humans there live in fear of them, but a select few are chosen to live in luxury with Kasius (Dominic Rains), the military governor who is both fascinated and repulsed by humans.
He definitely put the fear into Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) upon their first encounter. The character represents the first real long-form look at the Kree on the series, who seems more like Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) than either would like to admit.
— Agents of SHIELD (@AgentsofSHIELD) December 6, 2017
Come to think of it, the status of the Kree/Nova treaty has to be fairly shaky at this point, right?
The Kree continue to have a presence in the Guardians of the Galaxy films and will definitely play a key role in Captain Marvel. And getting to know all about background details in the features was once the S.H.I.E.L.D. mission statement.
But these are just some of the big hooks the show uses to become a fun weekly dose of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Of the course of the last few seasons, direct ties to films have waned in favor of thematic ties, like last year’s dip into the mystic arts. The results were compelling and, hopefully, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s trip to space will prove as rewarding.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Fridays at 9/8C on ABC.