Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. started hot but stumbled into its mid-season hiatus with lukewarm reviews and falling ratings. However, it was renewed off the back of an improved run of episodes post-break. Here’s how the show turned things around, and how I think it can improve further next season.
The most encouraging aspect of the second half of season one was that the powers-that-be took stock, listened to fans and made changes to improve the show significantly.
The writing stepped up a notch, better balancing character and plot, and drama and humour. Storylines became more ambitious (for instance, the multiple timelines of T.R.A.C.K.S.) and less clunky. And early episodes which had felt disconnected were skilfully woven together into a larger tapestry which ultimately led to the cartoon megalomania of John Garrett.
Most importantly, though, the links to Captain America: The Winter Soldier caused a seismic shift in the show’s mission statement. In early episodes, Phil Coulson’s team flitted around on the periphery of S.H.I.E.L.D. operations. By the finale, however, they had been betrayed from within and put at the heart of the rebuilding organisation. They’re now important and relevant.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a rapid turnaround in such a short space of time, but there are still some issues to be addressed. Here are four things which could transform a good show into a great one.
1. Let Coulson be Coulson
The show lacks a charismatic lead who the audience can really get behind. That should be Coulson, but he spent much of the season either plagued by doubts over his resurrection or being a small cog within a larger machine. It never really felt like we learned much about the man behind the suit.
Now, as the newly installed Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., there’s scope to write Coulson as a dynamic leader making big decisions. Plus there’s the mystery of those weird drawings.
2. Differentiate and expand the characters
We started with the joke of Fitz and Simmons being two halves of the same character, but that rapidly wore thin. However, as the season wore on they developed textures which started to establish them as distinctly different – in particular, their reactions to Ward’s betrayal. With the finale hinting that Fitz has been dramatically affected by his near-death experience, this will help differentiate the pair further.
Similarly, May was too often portrayed as a more experienced version of Ward but with two X-chromosomes, with both being cold and efficient but gradually warming to Skye. With Ward revealed as being HYDRA, we have learned more about him. However, May remains an enigma. Hopefully we’ll see more layers of the onion peeled back next season.
3. More comic book action
We will no doubt continue to see tie-ins with the Marvel movie franchise, but more comic book villainy wouldn’t go amiss either. So far we’ve seen Deathlok, Blizzard and Blackout, and Graviton has been teed up for season two. Let’s see some more.
4. More old school espionage
Super-powered action is great but the penultimate episode Ragtag also showed there’s a place for traditional high-octane espionage action in the style of Mission: Impossible or Alias. More, please!
If Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can get the balance right, season two could be spectacular.