“The Magical Place” was my last episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I stuck with the show much longer than I intended because I wanted to like it, but I finally stopped because the show just was sort of middling in quality. If it had been a bit badder, it might have fallen into “So Bad It’s Good” category, but unfortunately, it was only so-so—which for me is a waste of time.
Lately, there’s been a bit of hoopla about the writers, actors, and producers justifying the choices made on the show. I don’t understand a lot of what they’re talking about because it seems there are actually people out there who are annoyed about the lack of superheroes in the show. That’s a bit incomprehensible to me since that’s obviously not what the show was ever going to be about. The writers and producers might try to explain that sort of stuff away to the fanboys, but that’s not actually the reason why a lot of people are leaving the show. For me, at least, the show’s actual weaknesses are not its lack of superheroes but its lack of characterization and intelligent commentary.
First and foremost, the showrunners don’t seem to understand the difference between interesting characters and dull ones. I’m a fan of spy shows (Alias, 24, Nikita, etc.) and I have never seen a spy show before with such a plethora of uninteresting characters before. Looking back at Alias, there’s plenty that makes Sydney Bristow interesting. She was a graduate student in English trying to juggle her real job with her education, she had friends, a complicated relationship with her father, and a dead fiancé. Look at Skye now. What is there really to say about her? She’s a hacker trying to find the truth about her parents. That’s it. She has no friends from her past who reoccur on the show. She doesn’t appear to have any outside interests or hobbies. She doesn’t even question S.H.I.E.L.D.’s reach anymore. She just has her sentence long back story to guide her and that’s about it. Sure, I’ve heard the audience finds out more about her past, but that’s still not all that helpful in making her interesting as a person. On most spy shows, characters have families or some semblance of a life outside of their job. None of the characters on S.H.I.E.L.D. do. S.H.I.E.L.D. is their life and, while that’s certainly easy for the writers, it’s boring. And that’s what all the characters are: boring. I watched the show over half a season and I still can’t remember most of the characters names. I really can’t say I would care if any of them died either. (I hoped beyond hope that the boy half of FitzSimmons would go all Dr. Horrible, but that hasn’t happened yet so. . .) What’s worse is that none of them have eccentricities (think Dean Winchester’s love of pie or Will Graham’s plethora of dogs). I want one of the agents to have a cat poster on their wall or a love of obscure Hollywood movies. Character quirks are usually not absent in a Joss Whedon shows, but here only Coulson has any semblance of personality (thanks, in part, to his collection of Superhero memorabilia). The show seemed to be trying to get better at this halfway through by explaining some of May’s past, but the truth still remains that a character’s history doesn’t always make them interesting (like with Skye). I’ve found contradictions of character, inner darkness, and goofiness draw me to a character. That’s one of the reasons why Sleepy Hollow works and has gained such a following and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t and hasn’t. Sleepy Hollow spends time allowing Abbie and Ichabod to have fun and talk to each other about non-Apocolypse related stuff. The writers on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. never give their characters any sort of opportunity to be themselves. Every moment is spent on plot instead.
S.H.I.E.L.D.’s other main fault is that it seems to want to be an intelligent show while failing to intelligently address the issues it raises. The biggest failure of this kind is in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s presentation of the agency’s power. The show basically says “Trust the Shadow Government” (here represented mostly as S.H.I.E.L.D.), claiming that it has your welfare at heart. We’re not supposed to worry that S.H.I.E.L.D. has access to alien and human technologies that in the wrong hands (or maybe even the right ones) could destroy the world. What makes it worse is that when people begin to question whether S.H.I.E.L.D. should have so much power, they are shot down and presented as villains. I expect, however, many of the audience members agreed with the “villains” about S.H.I.E.L.D.’s abuses of power because not only does S.H.I.E.L.D. horde tech and ration secrets but they also watch everyone all the time. In the way this is presented, however, it appears that the audience is supposed to be okay with this. With the NSA existing in the real world, that just doesn’t work. Intelligent people don’t want to see a show that basically tells them to shut up and trust the government. Personally, I would much prefer a show that examines and maybe even embraces our culture’s paranoia about government’s reach rather than simply shuts it down. I’m unsure who Jed and Marissa think they’re audience is, but this audience member had no patience for the black and white world in which S.H.I.E.L.D. exists.
(On a side note, I originally did want to believe that all of this “Trust in S.H.I.E.L.D.” nonsense was just nonsense since all of Joss Whedon’s other shows were primarily anti-establishment. I had hoped Coulson’s team would break off from S.H.I.E.L.D. proper and start their own crime fighting team. Unfortunately, the more I watched the show the more I realized that it was incredibly unlikely that this was the writers’ intention. I wanted S.H.I.E.L.D. to be the bad guy, but in a show called Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., that twist was exceedingly unlikely.)
While I’m not a fan of Marvel in general, I did come into Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. wanting to like it. I’ve enjoyed all of Joss Whedon’s other shows (excepting Angel) and I had hoped that some of his tone and style would exist in S.H.I.E.L.D. even if he was a producer and not a showrunner. Jed and Marissa, however, have failed to meet my expectations. I wanted to connect with the characters and grow invested in the storylines but the characters were just too dull and the S.H.I.E.L.D. agency itself just left me feeling icky. S.H.I.E.L.D. is looking good to be renewed next season (which is nice for the people who actually like it), but I won’t be sticking with it for the rest of this season let alone another year.