ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The Magical Place TV Show Review. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 1, Episode 11: “The Magical Place” answered a lot of questions. On its face, the episode accounted for not only the mid-season finale’s cliff-hanger, but went some ways to explaining Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) resurrection. Some ways, anyway. More importantly (and personally), it provided some answer as to whether I should keep watching.
The pre-credits action was something of a granted wish. Apparently, since Coulson’s abduction, the team had been remade according to Agent May (Ming-na Wen), and whipped into aerodynamic shape. May, Ward (Brett Dalton), Fitz-Simmons (Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge), and Skye (Chloe Bennet) all contributed their respective strengths, and controlled the situation like an X-Men operation run by Xavier, himself. Throw in the direct oversight of the ever imposing Agent Victoria Hand (Saffron Burrows), and this might have been the closest the series has come to living up to its title.
Fallout from ‘The Bridge’ included a bullet wound for Ward, and a commandeering of the ‘bus’ for the sizable operation that orbits Agent Hand’s gravitas. With Hand being Hand, the discovery of Skye, being Skye, called for her being stripped of her status and being given the boot. Ward vouched for her, naturally, but Hand (understandably enough) only cared about May’s evaluation. With May being May, however, Skye got the boot. Serendipity, maybe, but May was still being May. Everybody appreciates something about May being May, including Skye; so now freed to pursue her own leads, Skye decides to do so as Agent May.
Does Skye get paid? I’m certain there are all sorts of ways someone with her skill set can get merchandise without a wallet, let alone a salary; her acquisition of ‘May wear’ was just the first dark-spot-that-may-or-may-not-have-been-a-plot-hole that came out of her free chase. There was a lot to her pursuit and handling of her mark (Rob Huebel, a ‘Bob Odenkirk lite’ character actor that would’ve been a complimentary catch for the series, had it not already been too light-hearted, as is) that really should not have happened. Of course, a sucker is born every minute, and Skye’s not just a hacker, she’s a con-artist with an eye for opportunity. Throw in some retention of her Ward hand-to-hand training, and I guess it was just good to see her acting like an agent. A rogue agent, even. More power to May for cutting the team’s garden weed loose and tossing her on to a well manicured lawn.
Agent Coulson, meanwhile, was putting up with ye olde “good cop, bad cop” routine, as the mysterious ‘Clairvoyant’ issued a rather harsh change-over, from the sociopathic Po (Cullen Douglas), to the more gently persuasive Raina (Ruth Negga). Her method of drawing him out, rather than prying him open, allowed viewers a glimpse of his Matrix styled experience. It did not paint a complete picture, but the implications were pretty terrible. The magic of the Tahiti experience was thought to be the only thing that kept Coulson functional. With that magic somewhat dispelled, Coulson’s future as an agent may be in question.
The pay-off to Skye’s day out (and May’s gambit), came with a pretty damned careless entry to the Centipede site, on Skye’s part (still only so much she can get right, left unsupervised); but the May team rallies to the site. After a brief display of improved choreography, filming, and editing (i.e. decent fight scene), the team got Coulson back, Hand happily turned the ‘bus’ back over to Coulson (she didn’t think it a good fit for her), and Coulson got a measure of closure from a conscientious objector – a member of the ‘Tahiti spa staff’ (Joss Whedon alum Ron Glass).
My eternal optimist side loved the evolution of the team, and the resolving of certain series elements (although, we should have gotten to this point about six episodes back). From the start, they were co-ordinated, competent, complimentary and serious about their tasks. The flash-bang used in the intro didn’t seem to have any real affect, but we would not have seen May’s full team in action, had the operation concluded in the room. Fitz may have been a little outside his comfort zone, as a serious minded taciturn, but it was so gratifying to see May and the rest of the team on the same page. No heavy-handed field agents, scolding support assets; no support team as dead weight on field ops. A full ‘bus’ did seem crowded, but it was great to see a larger S.H.I.E.L.D. op at work, and another glimpse of the show’s potential, given extra resources to work with. Even better was watching the Alpha female interaction between May and Agent Hand. Optimist or not, I think Agents stands to benefit more from cold, calculating grit, than popcorn-thrill wit. More Daniel Craig, less Roger Moore. To that end, we also got another glimpse of Agent Coulson’s dark side. A dangerous field agent, a poker faced rock, on the interrogation seat, and the consummate spook, that appears in the back seat of your car. Likes, all around; wants moar. The revelations of his resurrection will certainly change his dynamic with the agency. I would like to see him go toe-to-toe with Hand – if not Fury, himself; but that would just be crazy (“crazy generous”). What’s a fan-boy without a wish-list? There was also a fairly promising post-episode teaser; so color me teased….
The inner cynic in me thinks this was a momentary exercise in forced evolution, however. Bait-and-switch, really. May’s team only existed in Coulson’s absence; their cohesion achieved through a universal focus on finding and retrieving him. The concern then becomes (and the next episode preview did not reassure) a return to normal. Specifically, Coulson going back to playing hands-off father figure to a band of squabbling, needling, disparates. May withdrawing back to her man-cave until she’s forced to show up at the kiddie table – knock a plastic cup out of a hand, or two. Ward going back to trying to bridge the gap; keeping up with May, while trying to bring Skye and Fitz-Simmons up to speed. Skye making the whole operation about her personal quest. Period. There was also a fairly promising post-episode teaser; but tease is just another word for bait, after all….
So with my inner optimist chomping at the bit about signs of life, and my inner cynic calling bait-and-switch, I decree that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has earned my continued viewership. At least until it doesn’t. Either way, I have to keep watching.
Don’t make me regret it, Agents (there’s no living with my inner cynic when he’s vindicated).