On Friday, phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe finally got underway with the release of WandaVision on Disney+. The first of many announced MCU shows, WandaVision finally fulfils the promise of a universe that crosses over between TV and film.
The first show to attempt this within the MCU – Agents of SHIELD – came to an end in August, but in the UK we have had to wait for the finale. Fittingly, that final episode will air next Friday (January 22nd), ushering in the new slate of more connected shows and tying a bow on the era of Marvel Television.
It’s All Connected?
SHIELD never truly realized the idea of crossing over with the films – despite the season one tagline “It’s all connected” – and in its later seasons it was essentially taking place in a separate universe. But it still represented the best of Marvel Television and the best superhero TV show to date as well. There, I said it!
When SHIELD first premiered in 2013, many people were left underwhelmed by the first few episodes and viewing rates fell very quickly. Those that left missed out! While the early episodes were a little rough and wooden, the show started to find its feet. The reveal that Hydra had infiltrated SHIELD and the team – in tandem with the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier – really kicked the show into gear and it never looked back.
Slow and Steady
In many ways, Agents of SHIELD was a throwback to the TV of past decades. To retain an audience, shows nowadays often need an incredible first season that gets everyone talking. While this has led to some excellent TV, these shows then have nowhere to go but down. The likes of Stranger Things, Westworld, or other Marvel shows; Jessica Jones, Daredevil and Legion, all burst out of the gates with brilliant first seasons before subsequently disappointing and running out of steam. SHIELD did things a little differently. It built steadily and got better and better as the years went on, rewarding those loyal viewers who stuck around and developing into “the true hidden gem of the MCU.”
The show paired a likeable cast and characters with sharp dialogue and brilliant fight choreography. In its early years, guest appearances from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Lady Sif (Jaime Alexander) tentatively connected it to the MCU. But as the fissure between Marvel Television and Marvel Studios widened, the films and the show started to completely ignore each other. The show was better for it! It allowed SHIELD to stand on its own and explore some of the weird and wonderful aspects of Marvel comics without worrying about the Avengers. SHIELD gave us LMDs, Graviton, Ghost Rider, and even made the Inhumans interesting (just don’t mention their own terrible show). The team travelled to the past, into space, were stuck on a destroyed future Earth and jacked into a dystopian virtual reality. The vast majority of the time, it deftly pulled these concepts off, making engaging TV from increasingly weirder concepts.
Who has a Better Story than Phillip J. Coulson?
Agents of SHIELD also deserves high praise for its mysteries and reveals. Many recent shows have set out crazy mysteries that fans spend hours theorizing, only to give half-hearted answers that satisfy no one, making it clear that the writers didn’t know the answer when they asked the question. Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Game of Thrones, or a thousand other shows have been guilty of this. SHIELD, on the other hand, managed to pull off reveals that were more shocking and satisfying than anyone could have expected. Skye’s search for her parents revealed her to be the Marvel superhero Quake. Coulson’s sleep-drawing turned out to be the map for an Inhuman city (back when they were a big deal). ‘How did May get the nickname ‘the Cavalry?’ ‘What deal did Coulson make with Ghost Rider?’ ‘Did Quake really destroy the world?’ Again and again, the show set up mysteries and every time they delivered exciting and unexpected answers.
Essentially, JJ Abrams could learn a thing or two. This was helped by brisk plotting. Once the audience discovered something, the characters would within an episode, and the show burned through at least two plotlines a season.
Finally, Agents of SHIELD’s greatest weapon – and the thing that I will miss the most – was the cast and characters. Thinly-drawn at first, like the show itself the team grew into themselves. The chemistry between the cast felt natural and it seemed like the actors had a great time making the show. In particular, Iain De Caestecker’s Fitz was a standout, delivering the emotional gut-punches when needed. SHIELD was always best when torturing its characters, but it never split the team. Characters never needlessly kept secrets from one another to provoke drama, and when the team did have tension, it was always satisfyingly resolved. Their camaraderie made a welcome change from the angst and needless drama of other superhero shows. In short, I will miss them.
So on Friday, I will be raising a glass in ‘a spy’s goodbye’ to Phillip Coulson, Daisy Johnson, Melinda May, and the rest of the team.
I hope you will join me.
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