This week on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D … Centipede’s new super-soldiers enact a daring prison break. A familiar face returns to help the team go on the offensive. And several lives are left hanging in the balance.
This week’s mission
Aided by Mike Peterson, Phil Coulson‘s team attempt to shut down the Centipede threat but quickly discover they may have attempted to take a bridge too far.
The mid-season finale of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pulls together threads from several earlier episodes. Nonetheless the whole ends up as less than the sum of its parts as a decent action story gets bogged down by uneven character interactions which feel like little more than filler. Like so many previous episodes, there are too many flaws which mean we end up with something which is merely okay rather than the greatness to which it aspires.
The Bridge is at its best in its action and effects sequences. The opening reveal of Mike as the team’s additional muscle (as he uses a full-size bulldozer as a tackle sled), the fight sequence involving Peterson, Ward, May and the three Centipede super-soldiers and the final showdown on the bridge are deftly executed, but where the episode falls down is in the details and in the scenes in between.
It’s ironic that Centipede use their super-soldiers to break out Edison Po, a tactical expert, because S.H.I.E.L.D’s plan to take down the organisation is fundamentally flawed. There’s nothing unknown about the tactical threat, as they have video footage of the three Extremis-fuelled soldiers in action. And yet the extent of their backup for Coulson’s team is to effectively set up one-against-three odds. Capable fighters though Ward and May both are, we saw in the pilot how outmatched they are against such super-powered foes. Whatever brains they are using to plan operations at the Hub, they could do with some better ones.
Also, I understand that it’s important to present Peterson as a changed man, but was it really necessary to lay on his “I owe you guys so much” speech so heavily? As for the explosive effects of his Extremis being counteracted and stabilised somehow by the night-night gun, that one’s straight out of the box marked ‘senseless technobabble’. How convenient.
In between times, we have the fiercely independent May castigating the overprotective Ward for supposedly taking a punch for her because of their after-hours relationship. They’ve just had their asses kicked into next week, and that’s all she’s concerned about? Really?
And was it really necessary to spend so much time on Skye‘s quest to find her parents? Yes, it’s an ongoing storyline, but it doesn’t really progress this week. We know she’s sniffing around. We know Coulson and May are hiding the truth from her. So what was the point of taking up valuable minutes in this episode to revisit ground we have already covered?
It’s moments such as these that brought the pace of the episode to a grinding halt, dissipating tension and generally leaving me a little bored.
The threat of Centipede is ramped up significantly here as we see the now stabilised Extremis super-soldiers in action, although we still need their actions to be externalised beyond simply breaking one of their own out of jail. Exactly how the events of the day after Coulson died will enable the next stage of the Extremis project remains to be seen, but we need the payoff of this ongoing mystery to be (a) resolved quickly and (b) be more than the resurrected Coulson being revealed as a Life Model Decoy, the most obvious explanation which has been already been dissected to death by Marvel fans.
Raina and Po – the recruiter and the tactician – offer two different but equally creepy visages of the otherwise faceless Centipede. Raina exhibits chilling sangfroid, even as a desperate Peterson threatens to crush her windpipe. The po-faced Po is a suitably cartoonish villain, one who is utterly unruffled and will not be diverted from his own dinner no matter what is happening around him. And behind the scenes we have yet to see the mysterious Clairvoyant.
So we go into the four-week Christmas hiatus left to ponder multiple cliffhangers. What are Centipede hoping to prise out of Coulson, and how will his team get him back? Is Peterson dead? What injuries has Ward sustained? The fact that the writers felt compelled to leave us with such a multi-faceted ending suggests to me a lack of confidence that the audience will care sufficiently about any single one on its own. In particular, Ward getting hit felt like unnecessary overkill. Or no-chance-of-being-killed anyway.
Overall, I remain frustrated by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I’m convinced there’s a good show in there trying to break out, but stood against, say, The Blacklist or forerunners such as Alias or Mission: Impossible, the tempo simply isn’t high enough and when it does inject some pace the effect is too staccato to really get the heart pumping.
Mike asks whether he has beaten Captain America’s record for pushing a bulldozer down a football field. He hasn’t.
We later see his son Ace playing with a set of the Avengers’ Heroes of New York action figures, which Mike bought him for his birthday. In the opening scene of the pilot, Mike and Ace were looking at these in a shop window.
The episode also references several earlier instalments, most notably the pilot but also Eye-Spy and Girl in the Flower Dress.
Simmons: When did you stop talking?
Fitz: About three embarrassing sentences ago.
Simmons is a little too effusive about Peterson’s Extremis-enhanced physique.