Thursday, May 7, 2015

MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. Bear the "Scars" of Ultron

Article originally written for Seat42F.

NOTE: This review is as much about the Marvel franchise as a whole as it is about this week’s television episode.

I hope you made it to the theater to see Avengers: Age of Ultron before watching this week’s episode of MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC. The installment, titled “Scars,” doesn’t serve the movie a lot, but the events are pivotal in how the S.H.I.E.L.D. characters relate to one another now, and there are enough mentions to spoil some of the key things in the movie. Still, MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. is its own part of the franchise, so the majority of the hour focuses on arcs from this season of the show, not the movie.

If anything, I’m disappointed that the movie doesn’t tie in more to the series. There is a flashback to Coulson (Clark Gregg) and an agent Koenig (Patton Oswalt) viewing the helicarrier that Fury uses in the movie, but it really doesn’t go further than that, save some news clips shown on television screens. Shouldn’t Coulson have come to Fury’s aid? Do the Avengers know Coulson is alive? If we’d at least gotten a glimpse of some of our small screen heroes on the helicarrier on the big screen, I’d have been pretty happy. Though, I must say, Avengers: Age of Ultron was awesome!

But while Ultron himself and the crisis he causes does not impact the cast of MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. much directly, seeing the global near-disaster does bring S.H.I.E.L.D. and the “real” S.H.I.E.L.D. together, Gonzales (Edward James Olmos) willing to abandon his coup. For his part, Coulson realizes the value Gonzales and his council bring to the table and that he himself has made some mistakes, and so offers to make them his advisors, even while retaining the director title. Since Fury is involved, Gonzales agrees, albeit a bit reluctantly it seems. Civil war averted.

Or is it? Next spring, we’ll get Captain America: Civil War in theaters, and I can’t help but think some of the seeds of that are being planted in “Scars.” Gonzales compares Coulson to Tony Stark, a man acting on his own, ignorantly putting others in harm’s way. It’s a sentiment echoed in debates between Captain America and Iron Man, and I have to think MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. will play into that, assuming it is renewed. I just hope it plays a larger role than with this year’s film.
Gonzales himself won’t be the one butting heads with Coulson, though, as Jiaying (Dichen Lachman) murders him in “Scars.” Yes, S.H.I.E.L.D. may have come together, but S.H.I.E.L.D. still has an exterior foe in the Inhumans, who won’t make their film debut for a few years, likely when different Inhumans we haven’t seen yet are in charge. The Inhumans are the main antagonist now, with Hydra lying low, and take center stage this week.

Mack (Henry Simmons) would be an excellent replacement for Gonzales in opposing Coulson. He quits S.H.I.E.L.D. this week, unable to work for a man he doesn’t trust. But might Bobbi lure him back to sit on the advisor’s board, no longer being under Coulson? Mack is a great character and it would be a shame to lose him altogether. I hope “Scars” doesn’t mark his last appearance.

One cannot blame Jiaying for protecting her people. She has lived through a lot at the hands of very bad men, and while Gonzales’ offer of peace might be genuine, she would have to make big sacrifices to accept it. He wants to catalogue her people, keeping a database on them. That would make them easier to find and hunt, and she can’t have that. She doesn’t want to be under S.H.I.E.L.D.’s control.

In the past, S.H.I.E.L.D. mainly deals with humans. When superpowers are involved, they have their own heroes, The Avengers, to send in. “Scars” finds the humans of S.H.I.E.L.D. going head-to-head with powered peoples, and that puts S.H.I.E.L.D. at a huge disadvantage. While the Inhumans are generally not warlike and S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are much better trained for battle, I can’t help but think that some of the big screen heroes may need to be brought in to resolve this without S.H.I.E.L.D. being left decimated.

All of this puts Skye (Chloe Bennet) squarely in the middle of the conflict. Jiaying is lying about Gonzales attacking her, and one assumes Cal (Kyle MacLachlan) has juiced up to fight, too, so the Inhumans are the instigators. But they are Skye’s family, and she does feel accepted by these people. On the other hand, Coulson is like a father to her and she is close with several other agents. I can’t see her truly fighting for either side, but she may have to. Which side will she pick, or can she broker peace in a situation that is already falling apart?

And how would things have turned out differently had Jiaying murdered Coulson instead of Gonzales? Jiaying likely wishes she had, removing Skye’s main connection to the other side.
The wild card here is not Raina (Ruth Negga), who Jiaying wisely locks up, but Ward (Brett Dalton) and 33 (Maya Stojan), who kidnap Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki). What do they want with her? What is their plan?

They are involved in my one big complaint about “Scars.” How does no one notice two agent Mays (Ming-Na Wen) in the strike force, and why does Gonzales’ jet not concern itself when Bobbi’s doesn’t check in? Does no one notice 33 has escaped? This part of the episode just doesn’t make sense to me.

Still, that kind of hole is unusual for this program, and MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. has done a great job building up something huge for next week’s two-hour season finale. Not to mention, I mostly like the way the show fits into the Marvel universe, even if I wish it had a slightly bigger role.

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.’s sophomore run concludes next Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

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