Wednesday, April 02, 2014

End of the Beginning

Just what does the title of this week's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. mean? Is this the moment where the show finally and irrevocably moves out of the awkward "good, but shouldn't it be great?" phase where it's lived up until now? Is this the moment where the show starts consistently just being "great?"

If this episode set the new bar, the answer could maybe be yes. It was definitely my favorite episode of the show so far. It wove around the characters a strong and believable net of suspicion bordering on paranoia, and even managed to rope the audience into feeling it too.

Why are they separating Fitz and Simmons now, of all times, when those two can probably trust each other more than any other two characters can? What is the nature of May's betrayal? It just doesn't seem likely that's she's a flat out villain. Why did Ward kill the "Clairvoyant?" Coulson's right, it seems awfully unusual. What's really going on there? Why cast Brad Dourif for a role where he's not even going to talk? (Oh... wait... that really is his voice speaking the computer's dialogue. So then...) Why cast Brad Dourif to kill him off in five minutes? Ah! To try to make the audience believe he really was an important character. And so on, and so on. Every turn of the episode had you actively working to look around the next turn to guess what was coming next, putting you in an effectively sympathetic situation with the characters.

But there was plenty more to like about the episode. We finally got full-on Deathlok action, and ultimately it was probably worth waiting for. By building the Mike Anderson character up over time, giving him essentially an "origin story" more involved than, say, your average two-hour superhero movie can do, his corruption actually meant something -- and to the characters even more than the audience. Plus, they definitely made him a badass, and squirreled away enough of the budget to show that.

We got the return of a raft of established S.H.I.E.L.D. agent characters. The most entertaining were Blake (played by the always effective Titus Welliver) and, of course, Garrett (can Bill Paxton be on the show more?).

All that, plus we got a revelation as to the true nature of the Clairvoyant -- which to me seems like a much more interesting story angle than the road we'd been apparently headed down until now.

Now we'll see if the series can keep the momentum moving. And if it does, then hopefully avoid being canceled by ABC just when it started to get good. I give this episode an A-.

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