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‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’: Where Do We Go From Here?

SPOILERS FOR AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. & THE MCU FOLLOW

While Joss Whedon hasn’t directed an episode since the pilot, and certainly has ceded the leadership (and creation) of the show to showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. feels very much like a Whedonverse show, not only for its ever-expanding ensemble and similar themes, but precisely because it’s been so frustrating over its first two seasons, mirroring the false starts experienced by Buffy, Angel and Dollhouse (or every show not named Firefly).

AOS has had its impressive highs (particularly at the end of season 1 and start of season 2), and its jam-packed two-hour season finale that featured five deaths and something potentially far worse represents a new high watermark. Before “S.O.S.” I would’ve been okay saying goodbye to SHIELD, unsure if there were any stories left to tell (that needed to be). But “S.O.S.” did exactly that: it Saved Our SHIELD.

But, as is the all-important theme of all MCU entities, what’s coming up next? I spent 800 pages on the future of the MCU, so it’s only fitting that I make some room for thoughts on Marvel’s flagship (and arguably least best) TV show. What follows is an investigation into the various characters involved with AOS. Despite its inconsistency, AOS has always done a commendable job at assembling a deep roster of characters. In fact, they’ve introduced so many interesting people, that I oftentimes wish they could all just show up more. Let’s talk about them.

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The Not-So-Dearly Departed

Agent Oliver (Mark Allan Stewart): For like thirteen seconds during “S.O.S.,” I realized that Agent Oliver’s beard was quite (Doctor) Faustian, and considered that perhaps he was the modern day manifestation of the Doctor Faustus we saw on Agent Carter. It’s the only time I’ve ever spent caring about this character, invented merely as an obstacle for cooler heads and sound decision-making. Thankfully, Mr. Obstacle is no more.

Agent Gonzales (Edward James Olmos): I love Edward James Olmos, but he was the symbol of an uneven second half for AOS. He ultimately went out in style, but was stunt casting that almost backfired.

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The Dearly Departed

Gordon (Jamie Harris): Ol’ No Eyes had a good run, but by the end of season 2, he had worn out his welcome, mostly for blindly (heh) following a megalomaniacal villain and for being too convenient thanks to his teleportation powers. Unfortunately, I feel like his teleportation FX looked so cool that it meant skimping out on other characters that needed it (Mr. Hyde, Raina). The man got a great death though, at the hands of Fitz, Coulson and living action figure Mack with an Axe. He’ll always be remembered as the first Inhuman seen (after Raina/Skye) in the MCU.

Jiaying (Dichen Lachman): When Lachman was first introduced as Skye’s Dead Mother I was disappointed because that intimated that we couldn’t see much more of her. But then again, knowing comic books and the fact that she’s a Whedonverse regular, it was no surprise to see her become one of the more important characters of the second season, the leader of the Inhumans (at least on Afterlife), and by the end, the outright Big Bad. Like Agent Garrett before her, she came out looking like one of the good guys, and turned out to be as much of an opposite of that as possible, to the point where she was happy to try and suck the life out of her daughter, not once but twice. She became one-note and seemingly became a living out to redeem Cal, but it hardly mattered, because it provided the fuel for AOS’ finest hours.

Agent 33 (Maya Stojan): Did anyone in the history of this show get a more raw deal than poor Agent 33? She was a nondescript agent (un-capitalized) of SHIELD who got captured by Hydra, brainwashed and turned into a killing machine, then saved by a sociopath who manipulated her into a creepy-love-y-dove-y relationship that may or may not have had real feelings behind it (I think Ward was as close to being genuine in his affection for Agent 33 as is possible). Plus, she had a tragic death, dying at the hands of her beloved, mistaking her for Melinda May, ultimately succumbing to the oft-used plot device that ushered her into the show in the first place. It was one of the most effective and concise arcs on the show, and while her time had come, Agent 33 will be missed.

Raina (Ruth Negga): When Ruth Negga landed the co-lead in Preacher, I figured Raina was not long for this show. By the end, her death was predictable and kind of necessary, an unfortunate end to one of the more compelling and unpredictable characters on the show in the first season and a half. Once Raina went through terrigenesis, however, it felt like the writers had no idea what to do with her, and kind of ruined her with some mediocre practical FX. I get that she was supposed to look “ugly,” but she should still look cool. Negga was one of the most captivating actors on the show when she first arrived, and her awful “Thorn” persona sapped that energy from her character, and practically took the actor’s face away (I think this is why they went so low key on MacLachlan). Raina was best when she had mysterious motives and was working for herself, and unfortunately, became less interesting the more we knew about her. Even before the terrigenesis, she had lost her autonomy, danger and sass working under Hydra and Cal.

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The Missing in Action

Agent Amador (Pascale Armand): Remember this badass agent who was also screwed up by Hydra? I might be the only one who wants to see her back, but given her background, she could act as the next Agent 33 (with a happier ending, or a more positive alignment), or team up with Deathlok, or just never show up again, but I felt like mentioning her.

Lady Sif (Jaime Alexander): With NBC’s Blindspot getting early raves and a plum time slot, our days of seeing Lady Sif on TV is probably over. Which is a shame, even if AOS Sif is essentially a female Groosalugg.

agents of shield cal zabo

The Living (Non-Regulars)

General Talbot (Adrian Pasdar): The show would be better off without Talbot, but considering SHIELD will have its own mini-Civil War (another?!) when that movie comes out next year, Talbot will likely be the face of the military coming down on the Inhumans. Essentially: Skye and Coulson will be trying to keep the Inhumans Academy/whatever it is a secret, and we all know how secrets go. The government and public will find out about it, and come down on SHIELD. It’ll be lame.

Cal Zabo (Kyle MacLachlan): Of the non-leads, Kyle MacLachlan was by far the MVP of the show’s second season, imbuing a walking mad scientist trope with charm, wonderful insanity and a big thumping heart. It became easy to root for a psychopathic mass murderer because of his portrayal, and certainly, I feel like the writers were swayed by MacLachlan’s likeability as well, removing part of his culpability for his actions in the end, as it was revealed that he was pretty much manipulated and controlled by his wife Jiaying. Cal was willing to do anything and everything to repair the damage done to his family, but it was an impossible mission, though Cal managed to save his daughter and his wife from herself. We did finally get to see his Mr. Hyde transformation, and it proved to be the ultimate let-down. He looked awful, like Marvel’s goofy gangster Hammerhead mixed with a live-action take on The Croods and a Quasimodo-like hump.

But then….he gets put into the TAHITI program?! Was this by choice? Or did Coulson and Skye orchestrate this? If so, it’s evil shit. Cal had shown his true colors and had helped SHIELD, and was getting better because of Skye. When Skye and Cal had their goodbye (before Skye “introduced” herself to a mind-wiped veterinary doctor Cal), it didn’t feel like Cal was heading to Tahiti. I suppose that was something Cal agreed upon way back, but it rubbed me entirely the wrong way. It felt more like a way to put Kyle MacLachlan off to pasture in a way where he could come back, but one in which the audience wouldn’t be wondering why we’re not seeing him (like Deathlok). I know it’s unrealistic, considering MacLachlan’s busy schedule, but I loved the idea of Cal serving in the early Ward Season 2 role, providing intel on “gifted” and Inhumans cases, like a Blacklist redux. Mostly, I just didn’t want to see Cal go.

The Brothers Koenig (Patton Oswalt): At this point, I’ve given up on the idea of the Koenig brothers being Life Model Decoys, merely because they seem to have become a running bit (of fan service) instead. I love lanyards as much as the next Comic-Con nerd, but the joke’s been tapped out for quite some time now. It’s probably all Patton Oswalt can fit into his schedule, but it’s a shame, because Eric Koenig was one of the stand-outs of the first half of season 2 (which feels like FOREVER ago), and his death at the hands of Ward is one of the show’s iconic moments.

Considering our heroes will have an upgrade in bases with the Helicarrier (or the new Avengers facility which I’m sure is big enough to fit everyone, and would necessitate countless “I saw Thor’s abs when I went to the loo” jokes), there’s certainly room for Oswalt to pop in and out, barking about security clearances. I’d rather see The Brothers Koenig get an actual story or subplot, but that will probably never happen.

Deathlok (J. August Richards): WE. WANT. MORE. DEATHLOK. He’s probably doomed to only make appearances during climactic battle scenes when SHIELD needs firepower, and there are worse fates, but there’s certainly more story to be told here, if not an outright place on the squad (or his own pilot). I’d love at least one Deathlok-centric episode next year, or an hour shot entirely through his POV, RoboCop style.

Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders): While the comedy Results looks interesting (and could foreshadow more movies), and Maria Hill has wedged herself into the MCU thanks to both Avengers, there certainly feels like more room for Hill on the TV side. This is all likely up to Smulders herself, because I’m sure ABC/Marvel would love to have her. For now, we can expect to see her say some Macguffin-y things (Theta Protocol Theta Protocol!) before/after a movie crossover episode and leave us kind of ashamed that that actually got us excited.

Lincoln (Luke Mitchell): Unfortunately this electrical Inhuman/walking love interest is still alive, and will likely serve as Skye’s liaison/go-between for the Inhumans and SHIELD. He’ll also probably be upgraded to a series regular, if he isn’t already. I don’t want to know.

Dr. Andrew Garner (Blair Underwood): It’s fair to expect more of Melinda May’s ex-husband and resident psychiatrist to show up more in Season 3, if only because you don’t sign Blair Underwood to barely do anything. He’s going to be useful in the Inhumans/ “gifted” academy thing that Skye will be spearheading, and also will provide love interest duties to May, and could even spark a love triangle, since we all know May and Coulson have something between them. Since he’s a psychiatrist and in the Marvel Universe, and because I have a thing for Doctor Faustus, there’s a non-zero chance he utilizes the Faustus Method, though that seems entirely too…shitty?

Agent Weaver (Christine Adams): It’s hard to fathom, but Agent Weaver was first introduced as the head of the SHIELD Academy and a mentor for FitzSimmons. In Season 2, she became Ms. Contrarian, an annoying representative of SHIELD 2, which was about as reliable as Lucille 2’s walking skills. It’d be nice if the new status quo returns her to her roots, giving her a role in the Inhumans initiative that doesn’t involve her screaming for war and alien destruction.

Grant Ward (Brett Dalton): Ward went from being the lamest SHIELD agent to the most interesting character on the show, thanks to Brett Dalton’s amazing transformation/stubble skillz. When it’s a Ward episode (the best kind), he steals the spotlight, and his presence practically sucks the air out of everyone else’s scenes. He’s that impactful and scary. When he dropped Agent 33 off and told Coulson that she needed someone with more good in them than himself, I wondered if Ward might be on the long path to redemption (and wondered if it was even possible). But that certainly isn’t happening any time soon. Ward is the inverse-Spike, bad to good with a lot inbetween, and he’s just so awesome and so unpredictable. If there’s anyone who can breathe life into Hydra, it’s this guy. I honestly was ready to say goodbye to Hydra (and hello to A.I.M.!), but I love the idea of Ward putting together an evil team to combat SHIELD and give himself “closure,” if only because it promises guest stars (bring on more Whedonverse alums!).

The A-Team

Agent Coulson: For the first two seasons, Coulson was the engine of this show and the heart of the team, but now I wonder what’s next for the Director of SHIELD. In many ways, his story is told. He’s come back from the dead, we learned out why, he weathered the alien writing stoof, grew to Director of SHIELD and dealt with impostors and turmoil from within. He’s still the heart (though Fitz might win that title), even if he lapsed into Fury secrecy mode. Now missing an arm, it’ll be interesting to see what’s next for Coulson. He already seemed pretty chill with the injury in the “S.O.S.” fallout, but there’s always a chance he gets some Ultron tech in his arm, or grows morose watching Mack and Skye drive Lola around (until he gets a mechanical arm). Other than just playing leader and ceding the stories to Skye, Simmons and Ward, the only “dangling” subplots that remain involve a potential relationship with May, making something out of his father and upbringing (everyone’s blah go-to for story) or bringing back The Cellist. Considering Person of Interest is likely wrapping up next year, there’s a chance we could see Amy Acker return, which would obviously make our hearts melt. There probably isn’t a show without Clark Gregg, but in many ways, it already feels like Coulson’s on his journey out of SHIELD, to ride off into the sunset and have a normal life. That likely won’t happen until the last episode of the series, since it’s not like they kill Coulson off again.

Agent May (Ming-Na Wen): May is probably the most consistent character on the show (and perhaps the greatest), the Phil Hartman glue that makes AOS work. Unfortunately, they tried to ruin her too when she made an all too quick reversal against Coulson, taking Gonzales’ side after being lied to about the gimmicky/stupid Theta Protocol. This is someone who was lying to Coulson for an entire season previously, and it just didn’t seem realistic at all that she’d throw away her allegiance so profoundly. Plus, “The Cavalry” origin story just didn’t live up to the hype. At the end, she’s hooked back up with Andrew but also taking a break from SHIELD (with a gun in tow). I suspect we’ll be seeing her join back up in next season’s premiere. Like Coulson, she’s kind of had her arc too. Going forward, I’d love to see more of May’s Mom and learn about that side of her.

Agent ‘Mack’ Mackenzie (Henry Simmons): “I’m the guy who kills Gordon.” Mack was the coolest fucking character on the show in the final two episodes, not so much as oozing badass but gushing it out at levels impossible for most humans. Aside from his healthy/unhealthy skepticism of alien tech and his penchant for backstabbing, Mack is pretty much the most dangerous blank slate for the series going forward, and a wonderful foil for FitzSimmons. For awhile, it seemed like they were intent on ruining Mack, but with “S.O.S.” they found a character with nearly limitless upside.

Agent Morse (Adrianne Palicki): So, her spin-off with Agent Hunter didn’t happen, but I don’t think anyone thinks that’s bad news. At times AOS feels spread thin already, and I don’t think Marvel needs to water it down anymore by taking away two of its most interesting new characters (though they haven’t known quite what to do with them yet). Plus, there should be a limit to Marvel shows, or at least if we’re going to see more Marvel shows, I’d much rather it be something much different than another spy show. Mockingbird is one of many jostling for biggest badass on the show, and while I love Hunter and “Bob” bickering, it’ll be nice to just see them make an honest go of it, the Wash/Zoe of the show. Which will probably mean Hunter dies next season.

Agent Hunter (Nick Blood): Hunter, for me, went from annoying to essential over this second season, mostly for being one of the few characters who acted realistically and on-point throughout. I also loved and appreciated his evolving relationships with Fitz and Coulson. Given his “free agent” status until recently, there’s likely an untold number of bad people ready to kill him given the opportunity.

Skye (Chloe Bennet): Clark Gregg might be considered the lead of the show, but AOS consistently revolves around Skye. Now that she’s discovered (and quickly controlled) her powers, she seems primed for a position for leadership among the Inhumans, while working with SHIELD. I’m excited for this if only because Skye won’t be apprenticing, or learning, or training all the time, which was her MO for both seasons. Now she’s in charge, and she’ll finally have agency. Sadly, she’ll probably always be jockeying between her allegiances to SHIELD and her people.

But given that there’s an Inhumans movie planned, it’s fascinating that ABC has been allowed to do so much with the property already. Is AOS actually slowly building up to that movie, or will it all be window dressing for when Black Bolt belches on Attilan? They’ve already done more than I would’ve expected, to the point where they’ve become an awkward and inextricable part of the show’s narrative. In all likelihood, the Inhumans will serve as “gifted”-of-the-week fodder rather than focusing on their greater mythology, but considering that a Kree weapon will propel us into Season 3, I’m not sure.

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Agent Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge): That fucking Kree Goo, man. FitzSimmons was going to happen, but the universe (and Whedonverse’d writers) has snatched that away from us, perhaps forever. After Fitz had asked Jemma out for dinner, she looked happy, ready to leave the friend zone behind. Instead, she got absorbed by the Kree goo, in a move that feels like we’ve seen the last of the Jemma Simmons we know (and mostly) love (aside from her bout with Hitler-esque alien racism and extreme cowardice dealing with the adorable Fitz). This is Fred becoming Ilyria. This is Willow becoming Dark Willow. This is the Dark Phoenix of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and what’s going to bring the Kree, Inhumans and SHIELD into a war that might actually take place in space. It’s undeniably the coolest and scariest and most fascinating subplot heading into season 3, and is likely what will drive the entire season. I know one thing: it’s not going to end happily. Which bodes poorly for…

Agent Fitz (Iain De Caestecker): We finish with the show’s soul  and true MVP, who stuck with us through the thick and thin of season 2, giving us one of the most satisfying arcs. Along with Hunter, he was the only character who never “broke.” He went from having hallucinations about Simmons and being unable to talk to a guy finishing Hunter’s sentences and yelling “Science, beyotch!” before killing Gordon. He’s only in for more pain and suffering considering whatever’s going to happen with Simmons, but Iain de Caestecker has proven he’s up for every challenge, and if Simmons is going the Fred –> Ilyria route, Fitz might be taking a dark turn of his own, like Wesley, in response.

Looking back at two seasons, it’s truly remarkable how much has happened to these characters, and in a year from now, I bet almost none of this will ring true anymore.

AOS has been fearless tackling change, and fucking with these characters. That bold and daring always gives it the upside that we saw with “S.O.S.” Sometimes it backfires, but clearly, the show is better for the attempt. I can’t wait to see their next attempt next fall.