Agents of SHIELD Has Lost It (What it looks like when you break up with a TV show)

3 minutes

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

It’s Tuesday again, and for the first time in a few years this is how I feel about there being a new episode of Agents of SHIELD tonight:

carey mulligan mug

Agents of SHIELD has become the most uninteresting, flat portrayal of superpowers in the entire MCU. Even The Incredible Hulk, which is utterly terrible in every way, has more nuance about powers than this. Did I say this last week? Have I said this before a million times in a million places? It’s worth repeating ad nauseam. The main premise (and a lot of the charm) of Agents of SHIELD is that it was always an investigation of how non-powered people deal with a superpowered world. Even Skye’s development of powers in season 2 was about self-discovery and self-acceptance. The superpowers were not plot devices but expressions of character traits or handy practicalities. Now, each episode feels structured around how to best show off nifty tricks that have no bearing on character. They feel cheap, like I’ve been cheated out of emotionally resonant stories about characters I care about in favor of flashy explosions and bizarre turns. You can’t even call this tactic “deus ex machina” because every story is built around how best to exhibit the powers. They’ve become the point rather than the premise.

Coulson, May, and Mack are perfunctory set dressing. Bobbi and Hunter are actually gone. Fitz and Simmons chill in the background and mouth jargon without actually serving any purpose in the story. (This charge was lodged against them at the beginning of the series. Know when they started to be relevant? When it was obvious they were madly, stupidly, profoundly in love with each other and incapable of expressing it. That is an essay in and of itself, but mostly: way to nuke that one.) Skye, or as they insist on calling her, “Daisy” slashes through human and civil rights simply because she has the power, with Lincoln as her romantic-plot-tumor sidekick. The problem with this is that the narrative never questions her. She’s framed as in the right at all times. She’s good, pure, high-minded, authoritarian Daisy. Bow before her coolness and girl power. Don’t question her or you’re a misogynistic hater.

This show sucks. I’m sick of it. It’s seriously currently as bad as it was in 1×01-15. Oh yeah, I went there. It’s over-reached and made itself irrelevant. Even though supposedly there’s a global crisis, everyone is in peril, and all of humanity is about to be enslaved by an Inhuman parasite there are no stakes. None of it matters. For Agents of SHIELD to matter, the villains need to be personal. Arguably, an Inhuman parasite infecting Ward’s body is personal, but that’s not what I mean. The danger itself needs to be personal. The people potentially harmed by failure need to be the agents themselves. There is absolutely no way that the entire world will fall victim to Monster!Ward. You know the good guys win. They have to. This show cannot affect the universe status quo. When SHIELD fell, that became a personal story for the show’s main characters. Coulson’s alien writing and Skye’s superpowers were both personal stories that affected the entire team. Saving the world from an alien contagion is too much. Our contingent of SHIELD agents isn’t in direct, immediate danger so much as everyone is in danger and Daisy’s Secret Warriors have to stop it because they’re so wonderful. The thing that made it work is gone. Even the character details and small background quirks are missing.

Maybe they’re twiddling their thumbs waiting for Civil War the way they did for Winter Soldier. One can hope. But Winter Soldier had six post-movie episodes with which to tell a coherent narrative. Civil War will have three. Currently, the series is hit-or-miss with it’s greatness, but in the past four weeks I’ve felt either apathy or hatred for three out of four episodes. That’s a terrible record. Maybe I’ll change my tune tonight. Maybe they’ll blow me out of the water, bring back all the character dynamics and stories I love, and make me care again. But maybe not. Maybe I’ll just stay profoundly sad that the coolest, smartest, most fun little trope-destroying, transmedia experiment of a series has self-destructed and doesn’t even seem to know it.