Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The big advantage Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s second season had over the first was the lack of a movie tie-in as game-changing as Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This might seem like a strange statement at first, as it’s widely known that Winter Soldier was the catalyst that pushed season 1 from good to great, but that just meant that the writers were often forced to stall until the movie was released. This was not the case in season 2, which picked up the momentum of the post-Winter Soldier episodes from last year and kept it going until the end. It wasn’t a 15-episode slow burn followed by an 8-episode payoff, but rather a single, continuous, well-paced story. A lot happened, and hardly any episodes felt like filler. Questions were answered without delay, story seeds paid off soon after being planted, and the season flowed incredibly well.
Season 1’s deliberate pace allowed viewers to become familiar with the main cast of characters, until the ending threw an explosive wrench in the gears. Season 2 opened with every member of the original team changed one way or another, and they were all the more interesting for it. The now-detached Coulson’s obsessions drove the first half of the season. Skye had become a strong, hardened agent. May’s stoic facade was peeled back, allowing viewers a glimpse at her past, including the day she earned the nickname "The Cavalry"—an incident that was teased for a long time, and still managed to live up to the hype. Fitz and Simmons were broken up, no longer the interchangeable comic relief duo they once were. So many shows would have dropped the ball and allowed Fitz’s injuries to cripple the character, but he actually became more interesting and experienced a great deal of growth this season. And then there’s Ward, who used to be one of season 1’s least interesting characters, but is now undoubtedly one of the best.
The new additions, the kickass Bobbi Morse (aka Mockingbird), the roguish Lance Hunter, and the endearing—if intimidating—Alphonso "Mack" Mackenzie, not only fell into their roles with incredible ease, but developed an instant chemistry with the rest of the team, as though they’d been there all along (see: Hunter’s hilarious bromance with Coulson and Fitz). It’s a testament to how likable they are that at one point, a spinoff show featuring Hunter and Bobbi was in development only to be canceled because they worked so well on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Another gem added to the cast was Kyle MacLachlan as Skye’s father, Cal. The man was utterly crazy in all the best ways and oh so fun to watch.
At first, it looked as though the drive of season 2 was going to be the battle against the remnants of Hydra, with the resolution of the Kree symbols as a side-plot—essentially, the continuation of the tie-ins from both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy from last year. I’d assumed the Inhumans would be hinted at in passing, at best. Then the incredible midseason finale arrived and delivered a big "hahaha nope!" Just like The Flash, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. went all out and delivered more than viewers had dared to expect. For the first time ever, the series was allowed to get ahead of the movies, defining major elements of a mythology whose film adaptation was still over 4 years away. As a bonus, Skye’s true identity was finally uncovered, revealing that the show had up to that point been something of a superhero origin story all along. This development not only opened the door for plenty of superpowers and elements of the larger Marvel canon to make their way into the show, but also sparked a chain reaction culminating in the resolution of several story arcs that had been ongoing for the past two years. It all came to a head in a climactic 2-hour finale that ended the season on the highest note the series has achieved so far.
Season 2 showed just how good Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can be when allowed to function as its own entity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe rather than just a small spin-off on the side. I look forward to seeing it build on the strengths it gained this past year as it enters its third season.
Rating: 4/5 (Great)
Anyone who’d seen the Marvel One-Shot that inspired Agent Carter probably had high expectations for this show, and it did not disappoint.
Hayley Atwell had played Peggy Carter a few times already, so it’s no surprise that she took command of the lead role with apparent ease, but she also showed us a side of the character we hadn’t seen before. The post-World War II era forced Peggy, who’d so far been on the front lines, back into a world that belittled her on account of being a woman and tried to stifle her potential and shove her into a backseat she refused to remain in. We also hadn’t properly seen the impact that Captain America’s apparent death had on her, and the show used that to its advantage. Another highlight was James D’Arcy as Edwin Jarvis, Howard Stark’s butler, who served as Peggy’s partner in crime and delivered some of the show’s best laughs. It was an odd pair to be sure, but that’s probably why they worked so well together. Atwell and D’Arcy had excellent chemistry.
As for the series itself, well, what more could you ask for than a stylish and confident 1940s spy show set in the Marvel universe? The setting allowed for a neat retro vibe with some wonderful costume and production design. The short length of the series (8 episodes) ensured that the plot remained tight and the pacing snappy. The story itself was the usual sort of espionage fare, but with a Marvel twist, including Howard Stark’s dangerous science fiction inventions, a special Howling Commandos appearance, a mind-controlling villain, and best of all, the introduction of the Black Widow program. And of course, let’s not forget the awesome traditional post-credits scene.
For a while, there was a concern that Agent Carter would be a one-season show, but those worries have thankfully been put to rest. Agent Carter had a very impressive first season, and Peggy’s adventures are far from over.