Agents of SHIELD’s New Kids

Estimated Reading Time: 13 minutes

(This essay is #5 of 9 in a series on Agents of SHIELD.)

With all the griping at the beginning of Agents of SHIELD about the underdeveloped original characters, the series learned its lesson and introduced three agents adapted from the comic book canon for season 2. All three are presented so effectively that I adored them instantly. This in contrast to the disaster of a first season where I still didn’t care for some of the characters by the end. Two things are in play here: the first is that Hunter, Mack, and Bobbi are fully developed when initially presented to us and even have their own history and business together separate from the main narrative. The second is that all three are introduced by treating our old friends kindly, helping, or saving them.

This is less an essay and more a collection of brief character analyses, but I love the new kids so much that they definitely qualify as one of the reasons I adore Agents of SHIELD on the whole. Trying to articulate just what I love about their personalities results in some nebulous commentary, so bear with me.

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Grant Ward Don’t Need Your Bullshit, He’s Got Plenty of His Own

Estimated Reading Time: 17 minutes

(This essay is #4 of 9 in a series on Agents of SHIELD.)

Most of you have probably made it here because you know me for my very public Agents of SHIELD meltdowns which are 95% 97% 99.9% over Fitz and Simmons. So I know how strange it sounds when I say: this one is about Grant Ward and it is by far the most personal of this series.

Ward’s character development is a complicated, ambitious undertaking that ultimately Agents of SHIELD just doesn’t care about dealing with. Let me take you on my armchair psychology tour of messed up childhoods and identity crises.

Warning: if you bring the word “woobify” at me I will knock you in the teeth. Character analysis does not automatically mean woobification. Additionally see this please and stop demonizing abuse victims, thanks.

xoxo
-Tumblr Refugee

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Rambles On Romance

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

I’ve been thinking lately for a few years about the way various fandoms castigate and canonize different kinds of relationships. Now, me, I very rarely go in for romance stories. I find them generally infuriating, reductionist, and unnecessary. But there are those few that hit me like a truck and I sit around trying to figure out where they went right for me and where all the others go wrong.

Back up a bit: I was a Tumblr addict from 2011 to 2014. I quit cold turkey. I’m glad I did. In all seriousness, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the Tumblr Agents of SHIELD fandom’s treatment of Leo Fitz which is mostly a topic for another day, but it comes into play here. What I find so fascinating is that the same group of people who angrily reject the notion of “the friendzone” are also furious to the point of character assassination when two characters who are friends realize that they have strong feelings for each other. It’s fascinating to me that there is even such a hard delineation in our culture between feelings of friendship and feelings of romantic love. That’s not how feelings work.

I’ve always been a shipper. No shame in it. Every time I find a new ship I say “nothing could ever hurt me as much as these two do.” And then the next two waltz into my life. It was Mulder/Scully once. It’s been Ron/Hermione forever. Buffy/Spike have their place in my heart. Kara/Lee destroyed me for actual months in what I can only describe as the worst breakup of my life. I swear it off after every decimation. Never will I ever get sucked into some fictional relationship again. After every emotional murder it gets that much harder to slip past all my locks, laser grids, and insurmountable walls. FitzSimmons slid in there like ninjas. The thing with those two is that I love them so specifically that I can’t really discuss it with other people because other people are wrong.

So, back to Tumblr: there is a lot of projection onto Fitz. The bits of fandom I was privy to projected every gross, cliched, overdone trope of unrequited dudebro pining in existence onto his head. There was much opining about how here was yet another example of hetero platonic friends falling in love. Le sigh, why can’t they ever just be friends? Okay, well, 1.) this ignores Jemma Simmons entirely (and if you think they weren’t in love for years you are wrong; ship manifesto likely forthcoming), but 2.) who has ever fallen in love with someone who is not their friend? And had it turn out even halfway well? Men and women can be friends. “Just” friends, though why friendship is somehow “lesser” I’ll never quite understand. But there’s also nothing quite as satisfying as a romantic arc that starts from a realistic place of friendship, commonality, and shared interests. Every ship I’ve ever captained has history. They have mutual respect. Even if the two meet for the first time during the story, the history builds over the narrative to a point where romance makes sense, rather than just suddenly having kisses. (Example from Agent Carter: Sousa and Peggy have history; Jason Wilkes and Peggy have sudden kisses.) I agree that a male friend realizing he’s in love with his female friend and then spending years pining after her waiting for her to “notice” and believing he’s entitled to her love because he “put in the work” is disgusting. The prime example I can think of is Ross and Rachel on Friends (a show I despise) though the trope is annoyingly common. But that’s not what was happening here, so I can only conclude that a large swath of people needed Fitz out of the way to further whatever agendas they champion.

This is also why the dudebro notion of “the friendzone” and “getting friendzoned” is so hysterical to me. Hello, idiot: if a girl would like to be your friend that means she would like to know you as a human being because (gasp) she is one as well! If you rail about being “friendzoned” that means you saw her as nothing but an object of sexual and emotional gratification and aren’t worth the time anyway. Romance only works if it’s between two human beings on an equal footing. Don’t come at me with romantic or sexual intention, bro. That shit hangs around you like a ten-thousand mile wide funk. It’s off-putting. It immediately declares to me that you don’t care to know me, you just want to use me.

It’s true that it’s fairly rare to see men and women in platonic friendships on television, but it’s also true that it’s rare to see any truly platonic friendships on television. Supernatural fandom is of the opinion that all relationships are sexual. All of them. It’s a fault of our culture that we’ve been conditioned to believe the only relationships with value are sexual ones. Granted, I watch a thin slice of genre TV, but off the top of my head some platonic male/female friendships: Joan and Sherlock on Elementary (the best example because it’s deliberate), Doggett and Scully on The X-Files, Mal and Zoe on Firefly—male/female friendships are more common than you think. It’s just that it seems they’re rarely noted both because there aren’t that many well-rounded female characters and they’re friendships with men are (zomg?!) commonplace. To be honest, female friendships are probably the rarer bird here.

Anyway, I was just thinking how weird it is to me that there was such griping about FitzSimmons being cliche when they are (or at least were until this season) a trope-busting bulldozer. And Fitz never “pines” after Simmons, give me a break. Even once he realizes how he feels about her, he never forces himself on her, doesn’t believe he is entitled to her, and never demands that she reciprocate his feelings. Simmons is another thing entirely, but I’m also projecting in her case, so I’ll save that for another day.

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Nobody’s Nobody (Except When They Are): Agents of SHIELD and the Problem of Coulson (v. 2)

Estimated Reading Time: 12 minutes

(This essay is #3 of 9 in a series on Agents of SHIELD.)

It’s time to talk about our fearless leader: Phil Coulson. Agents of SHIELD was conceived entirely as a vehicle for Coulson, a minor character from the film continuity with a large fan following. Coulson was Jossed (aka “killed for plot reasons”) in 2012’s The Avengers and the outcry was so enormous that an entire series was built around resurrecting him. Agents of SHIELD‘s genesis is more complicated than that (experimenting with different media formats to optimize all available revenue streams has a lot to do with it too), but without Coulson there is no Agents of SHIELD.

Which is why it’s too bad that Coulson was never really a character at all. It’s doubly too bad that it took nearly an entire season of Agents of SHIELD for them to fix that problem. (I wrote a much shorter piece about this before season 2.) Advance warning that almost all of the links in this piece are to TV Tropes.

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Agents of SHIELD as Accountable Cult TV

Estimated Reading Time: 18 minutes

(This essay is #2 of 9 in a series on Agents of SHIELD.)

Agents of SHIELD is the glue that holds the Marvel Cinematic Universe together. Not exclusively, and sometimes not entirely successfully, but there’s no denying that the work the series does is deeply enriching to the MCU as a whole. Through its utilization of cult TV conventions, the pioneering transmedia interconnectivity in the MCU, and its own nerdy sensibility, Agents of SHIELD is a (nearly) ideal example of cult television and the storytelling potential of modern media. I love cult TV, meta, intertextuality, and transmedia storytelling so much that a lot of times I just start squealing like people can understand what high-pitched piggy noises mean. So, here I’ll unpack it in human English with as little jargon as possible.

Additional spoiler warnings for: The X-Files, Battlestar Galactica (2003), Lost

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The Line Between the World and the Much Weirder World: The Two Faces of Agents of SHIELD

Estimated Reading Time: 13 minutes

(This essay is #1 of 9 in a series about Agents of SHIELD.)

I have a deep and abiding love for the Marvel Cinematic Universe that has veered wildly into obsessive territory. So much so that I have what I refer to as my “fake PhD”—a meticulously outlined media studies research thesis related to media franchises, cult television, cultural history, science fiction, and a multitude of other nerdy things. Consider this series of posts the colloquial, abridged, and topically focused version of my fake PhD.

My favorite thing to talk about, if not possibly my actual favorite thing, is Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD—the first of Marvel Studio’s television endeavors which began airing in fall of 2013. Now, there are two separate but simultaneous love affairs going on here: my love for Agents of SHIELD itself and what it does with transmedia storytelling and cultish convention; and my love for the characters Fitz and Simmons which is another beast entirely. I’ll get to it all, but it’ll take a lot of words.

Agents of SHIELD was originally backed by Joss Whedon, geek royalty extraordinaire. While the show was developed in response to fandom outcry at the death of fan favorite Phil Coulson in The Avengers, Whedon’s premise was that Agents of SHIELD be a series-length version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “The Zeppo”—an episode which follows a peripheral character through an apocalyptic event. If Agents of SHIELD was intended to be about the people behind the scenes of the superheroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, what they first served up was an emotionally lifeless series of low-stakes jaunts around the globe that couldn’t decide if it was a children’s adventure show or a more serious exploration of what being powerless in a world with superpowered individuals would actually mean. Trust me: they fixed it later.

Because Agents of SHIELD objectively sucks for the first fifteen episodes of the series, I’ll start there. This isn’t quite as intellectually rigorous as the topics to come, but it needs to be addressed before we can go on. (I wrote a similar article before Season 2.)

spoiler warning

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