Saturday, January 3, 2015

"AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D." Season Two - At Mid-Point



"AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D." SEASON TWO - AT MID-POINT

Ever since the second season of Marvel’s "AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.", many television viewers and critics have waxed lyrical over their belief over the series’ improvement from Season One. And yet … the ratings for the show seemed to reflect differently from this view. Regardless of the opinions of others or the ratings, I have my own views about the show’s Season Two.


I am going to be blunt. I do not like Season Two of "AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.". In fact, it has turned out to be a major disappointment for me. Last season, many fans and critics complained about the show’s pacing and slow revelation of the season’s main story arc. For them, Mutant Enemy’s handling of Season Two’s story arc has improved a great deal. I disagree. I had no problems with the development of Season One’s story arc. For me, it was no different from the formats for previous Sci-Fi/Fantasy serial television shows like "BABYLON 5", along with Mutant Enemy’s "BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER" and "ANGEL". All three shows began their story arcs for each season slowly and eventually build up the story arc to a mind boggling conclusion."AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D." did the same. Many fans, critics and even Marvel claimed that Season One’s slow build up and occasional breaks had more to do with allowing the season’s story arc to build up to the plot for "CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER". I say bullshit to that.

"AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.", like many other television shows with twenty-two (22) episodes per season, usually took occasional breaks in order to stretch out 22 episodes within a time period of seven to eight months. This is nothing new. These breaks have been going on for many television shows for a long time. In their impatience and occasional stupidity, many forgot that. Many also seemed to have forgotten that "AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D." was a serial drama about government agents that work for an intelligence organization … not about superheroes and superheroines. For some reason, many fans ignored the show’s title and honestly expected the constant appearances of costumed Marvel superheroes and superheroines. Why? I have no idea. But Disney (who owns the ABC Network), Marvel and Mutant Enemy decided to heed the complaints for the sake of ratings and change the series’ style.

What did they do? Well, they introduced new characters - especially new agents - in the wake of the downfall of S.H.I.E.L.D. from the spring of 2014. How did Mutant Enemy introduce these new characters? Actually, they did not. Instead, new characters such as Alphonse “Mack” McKenzie, Lance Hunter and Isabelle Hartley had already been recruited as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents when the first episode, (2.01) “Shadows”. The episode also quickly introduced a new villain, a HYDRA official known as Daniel Whitehall, with a flashback to the past. The new characters, along with familiar characters such as Phil Coulson, Melinda May, Skye and Antoine Triplett, were quickly thrust into a new mission, which quickly morphed into part of the season’s new story arc - the recovery of an alien object known as the Obelisk. Everything about this episode seemed to hint "speed". Missing from "Shadows" was Agent In fact,"speed" seemed to be the essence of the plotting and pacing for the first half of Season Two.

I find it ironic that many fans complained about how certain characters like Akela Amador, Chan Ho Yin and the Asgardian refugee Dr. Elliot Randolph seemed to have come and gone with the wind. Yet, they failed to realize that similar characters in Season Two did the same … or appeared in at least two to three episodes before disappearing. I refer to characters like Isabelle Hartley, Carl Creel, and Senator Christian Ward. But this did not bother me … except for their handling of Agent Amador and Senator Ward. What really bothered me was the handling of certain recurring or main characters.

There have been complaints about Mutant Enemy’s handling of its minority characters … well, its African-American characters. I never understood why it was so important for the Mike Peterson character to disappear after the Season One episode, (1.22) “Beginning of the End”. What the hell happened to him? Ten Season Two episodes have aired since and not once has the series revealed his whereabouts. Come to think of it … what happened to Akela Amador? She was imprisoned by Coulson’s team … even after they had learned that HYDRA had coerced her into pulling off several robberies on their behalf. HYDRA had released prisoners such as Raina and Ian Quinn, after the S.H.I.E.L.D. Civil War. What about Agent Amador? What happened to her? Off all the new S.H.I.E.L.D. agents introduced during Season Two, only two got the shot end of the stick. One of them was Isabelle Hartley, who was killed off in "Shadows". The other character was Alphonso “Mack” MacKenzie, who was more or less used as some kind of therapy tool for the Leo Fitz character, before being transformed into some kind of zombie in the episode, (2.09) “…Ye Who Enter Here”. As of the season’s mid-season finale, (2.10) “What They Become”, Mack is no longer a “zombie”. But no one knows if he has fully recovered. I fear that Mack’s fate will become similar to the fate of the Elam Ferguson character from AMC’s "HELL ON WHEELS".

Ruth Negga continued her role as Raina, the mysterious woman who had aligned herself with HYDRA and later, a man named Calvin Zabo who might be an Inhuman. As it turned out, Raina is also an Inhuman … like Skye. However, she underwent a physical transformation:
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And Skye … did not:
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Why? Why Raina and not Skye? Why did a character portrayed by an actress of Irish and African ancestry transformed into a non-Human form?
Finally, I come to Antoine “Trip” Triplett. The show’s “Legacy” agent, who had played a major role in the defeat of John Garrett, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent-turned-HYDRA mole at the end of Season One, seemed to have been shoved to the background by the writers under showrunners Joss and Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen and producer Jeffrey Bell. Why? Mutant Enemy and Marvel claimed that Britt was under contract to the BET series, "BEING MARY JANE", which meant in their eyes, they could not use him as much as they “wanted”. Hmmm … more bullshit. They were able to use a great deal of Britt in the second half of Season One. And the actor appeared in less than half of the latest season for "BEING MARY JANE". In fact, the latter has been scheduled by BET to end in 2015. What was the point in sidelining Britt in that manner? And why did they killed off Britt’s character with some of the most contrived writing I have seen on this show in "What They Become", without allowing him to have a major appearance in said episode? It was just disgusting to watch.

Speaking of contrived writing, I encountered a good deal of it in Season Two. The writers for "AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D." went through of minor story arcs with the speed of a ballistic missile. I realize that Season One had its share of one-shot episodes - especially in its first half. Again, I have no problems with this. One-shot episodes were pretty common in televised serial dramas like"BUFFY" and "BABYLON 5". But in Season Two of "AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.", the writers would set up a story arc with a great deal of build up and end the story arc within two to five episodes. The series ended up wasting potential characters and story arcs like Carl Creel, Jemma Simmons’ role as a S.H.I.E.L.D. mole within HYDRA, the introduction of Senator Christian Ward and the Daniel Whitehall character. Mind you, Whitehall lasted for ten episodes. Only, I had not expected him to be introduced so fast … and killed off so soon. Speaking of speed, I had no idea that the Skye character would be exposed as an Inhuman - part of a race of superhumans who had been engineered by aliens such as the Kree - so soon. Halfway into Season Two? I found this rather quick, considering that Marvel has plans to release a movie about the Inhumans in 2018, four years from now. Do they really expect"AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.", with its sketchy ratings, to last that long? If so, they could have waited a little longer.

One last example of the show’s fast-paced narration was its tendency to shove two or three subplots into one episode. Other television shows have done this as well. But in a serial drama format, most writers would include the main story arc and a minor subplot that had little to do with the former. Mutant Enemy’s writers did not utilize this style. In order to keep the story arc going at neck break speed, they would shove two plotlines that had a great deal to do with the main story arc into one episode. This resulted in several episodes coming off as convoluted and very confusing. Several critics have complained about this, but most viewers and critics are pretending that this is a sign of improved writing from last season. Apparently rushed storytelling is now Mutant Enemy/Marvel’s idea of writing for sci-fi serial drama. Really? Speed writing for viewers or critics with the attention span of lice?

Another problem I had with Season Two of "AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D." is the character of Grant Ward - former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and HYDRA mole. Why is he still alive? Why? I suppose Marvel and especially Mutant Enemy still want actor Brett Dalton around. Just recently, producer Jeffery Bell said the following about the character and the actor:

"What we love is that Brett Dalton is this actor that brings this complexity to this guy, a lot of the way that James Marsters brought it to Spike on Buffy and Angel."

Okay, it is official. Mutant Enemy has a hard-on for Brett Dalton. But when I read the above quote, I did not know whether to laugh or upchuck. Look … Dalton is a tolerable actor. He is pretty solid. But I CANNOT believe that Bell had the nerve to compare Dalton with the likes of James Marsters. To this day, I consider Marsters to be one of the best actors or actresses I have ever seen in a Mutant Enemy production hands down. One of the best … ever. Dalton is nowhere that good. Now, I will admit that although Spike proved to be one of my favorite television characters, I have no love for Grant Ward. I disliked Ward when he was one of the “good guys” during most of Season One. When he proved to be a HYDRA mole, my feelings for him did not change on whit. I realize that Mutant Enemy was trying to make him complex. But thanks to Dalton’s performance, I simply failed to be impressed. But my dislike of the Ward character has nothing to do with my opinion of Dalton as an actor. I also disliked the vampire character Angel, also featured in"BUFFY" and "ANGEL". But despite my dislike, I cannot deny that actor David Boreanaz’s portrayal of the character was superb. Another actor that made a name for himself portraying a morally questionable fantasy character was Julian McMahon, who portrayed the human-demon hybrid for three seasons in "CHARMED". Like Marsters and Boreanaz, McMahon was superb in the role, despite producer Brad Kern’s shabby handling of the character during his last year on the show. Hell, he proved to be the best actor during the show’s eight season run. I noticed something else. Ever since the premiere of "AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D." Season Two, Brett Dalton seems hellbent upon impersonating McMahon. Why, I do not know. Brett Dalton is no Julian McMahon. He should simply give up the effort.

Also, Mutant Enemy’s efforts to retain the Grant Ward character has resulted in some seriously contrived writing. After Ward’s capture in "Beginning of the End", new S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Phil Coulson decided to keep the former agent at the new hidden base. Why? So that he can provide the new S.H.I.E.L.D. with information on HYDRA? What could Ward possibly know? He was a low-level HYDRA mole. I doubt that John Garrett knew everything. Hell, I doubt that Garrett, who can be very manipulative, told Ward everything. Anyone with brains or common sense should have realized this. Why keep Ward around? So that Dalton can do his Julian McMahon impersonation every now and then? Then Mutant Enemy decided to hire actor Tim DeKay to portray Ward’s older brother, Senator Christian Ward. DeKay appeared in two episodes - (2.06) “A Fractured House” and (2.08) “The Things We Bury” - before his character was killed off camera by Ward. Aside from giving the writers an opportunity for Ward to escape imprisonment, what was the purpose of DeKay’s presence on the show? I cannot decide what was more wasted - the Jemma Simmons w/HYDRA mini arc, Antoine Triplett’s Season Two presence, or the use of the Senator Christian Ward character. Even when the writers finally had a chance to rid the show of Ward in the mid-season finale, "What They Become", they kept him alive with some ridiculously contrived writing. I suspect this is Mutant Enemy and Marvel’s way of giving Ward some kind of redemption by the end of the season. If so, this will proved to be the fastest redemption arc in television history. And right now, I found myself feeling disgusted over the whole matter.

I really do not know what else to say about "AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.". Other than I have washed my hands of this show? I cannot believe this is the same television series that I had fallen in love with, last year. I have to end this article before I find myself in danger of upchucking again. Dear Mutant Enemy. You have become such a disappointment to me.

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