A Primer on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” As it Hits 100 Episodes

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Tonight, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs its 100th episode. Take a walk down memory lane with us as we get (perhaps undeservedly) excited for the show’s landmark celebration.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Not All Heroes Are Super

Agents of SHIELD
Literal baby curls

In a true show of fan support, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. began when no one could get enough of Clark Gregg’s Agent Phil Coulson. Coulson first appeared in Iron Man, then again in Thor, and then met his untimely death in the first Avengers. The pencil-pushing, awkwardly no-nonsense, Captain America mega fan stole the hearts of superheroes and superhero fans alike.

Coulson’s show celebrated all the cogs that kept the Avengers’ wheels turning—the everyday people who showed up to their job, filled out paperwork, updated databases, and probably filed for higher and higher premiums on the Avengers’ health insurance plans.[easy-tweet tweet=”Coulson’s show celebrated all the cogs that kept the Avengers’ wheels turning—the everyday people who showed up to their job, filled out paperwork, updated databases, and probably filed for higher and higher premiums on the Avengers’ health insurance plans.” user=”@Jenisaur”]

“Not all heroes are super”. That was the tag for season one, and it kicked off strong. Coulson’s team was smart and skilled, but otherwise ordinary. They got around on a giant flying “bus” piloted by Coulson’s old partner Melinda “the Cavalry” May. Newcomers Grant Ward–a cranky and reluctant “I don’t do teamwork” type–and Skye–a hacker caught breaking into the SHIELD network–rounded out the ensemble.
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Season one kept to the show’s heart. Each episode revealed more and more layers to the characters, and the twists felt organic and earned. While Skye struggles to decide where her loyalties lie, Ward turns out to be a HYDRA double-agent. Nothing is really as it seemed.

The show even tied in to the cinematic universe. Canonical fact: Fitz designed and built the “mousehole” detonator that Fury uses to escape in Winter Soldier.

Top Five Episodes:

  1. “F.Z.Z.T.”
    The team recovers a Chitauri helmet that is infecting and killing anyone who touches it. When Simmons is infected, she and Fitz are up against the clock to find a cure and a way to administer it before the effects become fatal once more.
  2. “T.R.A.C.K.S”
    In addition to seeing the whole team go undercover, (and containing the show’s Stan Lee cameo), this episode and its companion “T.A.H.I.T.I.” kick off the Inhuman storyline. Bonus: Iain De Caestecker’s American accent is tops.
  3. “The Hub”
    Throwing Fitz and Ward on a mission together is almost cruel. However, it works out better than anyone could imagine. Seeing the S.H.I.E.L.D. team in the larger context of the organization’s main…hub…also ties the show into the MCU more concretely.
  4. “Turn, Turn, Turn”
    This episode is the only one of the season that has pop music in its soundtrack. Starting an episode with “Don’t Fear the Reaper” is a power move, and it pays off.
  5. “Seeds”
    Alright, this episode is on my favorites list because I love the rivalry between the departments in the academy. It certainly feeds into the main season tag. No matter how extraordinary the agent, they all had to pass some version of final exams.

Honorable Mention:
“The Well”, mostly for Sif’s cameo and the tie-in to Thor 2.

Trust No One

Agents of SHIELD

Post-Winter Soldier, the MCU is a different place to live, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. follows suit. The sub-level of HYDRA agents operating within S.H.I.E.L.D. has surfaced, and S.H.I.E.L.D. no longer exists in the public eye. For the first time in entertainment history, the events of a feature film translated to a television series. The MCU has been re-writing the book on entertainment ever since Iron Man, and their television programming is no exception.
Season two also introduced new characters, including double (triple?) agents Bobbi Morse, Lance Hunter and Alphonso “Mack” Mackenzie. When Skye appears in Afterlife, a resort for Inhumans, another sub-section appears. We meet Skye’s mother Jiaying and her love interest Lincoln, and find out more about the enigmatic Raina.

Finally, we dive deeper into Coulson’s obsessive wall-carvings, which were brilliantly passed on from big-baddie Garrett at the end of season one. Fitz and Simmons try, but fail, to begin a romantic relationship. The season ends on another outstanding cliffhanger when Simmons is whisked away by a mysterious monolith moments after agreeing to a date with Fitz.

Moment of silence for Tripp, who definitely should have lived.Agents of SHIELD

Top Five Episodes

    1. The Things We Bury”
      The Howling Commandos and Peggy Carter show up in this episode. They’re perfect. I love them. Never change, guys.
    2. “Melinda”
      Season two gets away from the “not all heroes are super” theme a little, but this episode really dives into May’s psychology and her history. I am always here for a good character study, and this is an excellent one.
    3. “A Hen in the Wolf House”
      At the beginning of season two, we think Simmons is still following Fitz around, encouraging him to overcome his hypoxia-induced brain injury. As it turns out, she’s all in his head. In reality, she’s undercover with HYDRA, and this is the episode when she finally returns.
    4. “Making Friends And Influencing People”
      Iain’s acting in this episode is out of this world. In fact, as the series continues, it’s made more and more clear that he is among the best actors on the show. He plays Fitz from so many different angles that by the time season five rolls around, he’s easily gathered the most praise for his skill. This is the beginning of “dark Fitz” and he plays it so smoothly it hurts.
    5. “Aftershocks”
      Another moment of silence for Tripp.

    Are You Inhuman?

    Agents of SHIELD

    If I’m being honest (and I suppose I should be honest), season three is where things start to falling apart. The show’s core completely shifts from finding the heroic in ordinary people to creating the Secret Warriors team. Inhuman lore gets sloppy (do crystals kill regular people when deployed or is everyone just afraid they’ll cocoon?) and the Secret Warriors team itself is a flash in the pan. All but Yo-Yo Rodriguez have left the cast since. Daisy’s hard-earned leadership skills give way and she leaves S.H.I.E.L.D., instead stretching her Quake muscles recklessly around the world.

    Too many threads are left hanging in the wind. The Secret Warriors are awesome…for one episode. Ward is finally gone…for about three seconds. The “new” SHIELD members finally assimilate…before 2/3 of them are forced to burn themselves from the agency. The season turns into a rollercoaster of quality and moves away from the character-driven stories that made it such an appealing concept.

    The season *does* have its moments
  1. Top Five Episodes

    1. “4,722 hours”
      It’s pretty much unanimous that this episode is the best of the season. Elizabeth Henstridge carries the entire episode on her back as Simmons tells the tale of her time on Maveth. Her six months on a sunless, largely uninhabited planet was full of surprises. The only character I was glad to see arrive and disappear quickly this season was astronaut Will Daniels—the only other human on the planet and her eventual love interest.
    2. “Bouncing Back”
      Natalia Cordova is a gift to SHIELD. Cordova portrays Elena “Yo-Yo” Rodriguez. She reluctantly became a member of the Secret Warriors and has since become a loyal SHIELD Agent, literally regardless of time or place. “Bouncing Back” is her premiere episode. Since it aired, Cordova got a short web series (“Slingshot”) and was confirmed at the top of season five as a series regular.
    3. “The Singularity”
      Fitz and Simmons finally cross the event horizon. Their words, not mine.
    4. “Watchdogs”
      Mack takes a well-earned break to visit his brother. As it turns out, however, his brother has some controversial opinions on Inhumans and the vigilante “justice” group who call themselves the Watchdogs.
    5. “Emancipation”
      Another strong tie-in episode, this time with the events of Age of Ultron. General Talbot and Agent Coulson discuss how the Sokovia Accords will affect the Inhumans, especially as they become public enemy number one.

    Worst Episode

  2. Do not bring up “Parting Shot.” It’s a sore spot and a sorely plotted episode, created entirely to get Hunter and Morse off the team for their ill-fated spin-off. Marvel’s Most Wanted never saw the light of day.

    Ghost Rider/LMD/Agents of Hydra

    Agents of SHIELD Ghost RiderSeason four is completely different from anything that came before. The season is broken into “pods”, each featuring a different Big Bad and then tied together (rather sloppily) at the end of the season.

    The season three finale teased a big surprise for Fitzsimmons, and Radcliffe’s LMD coming to life. But, showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen gained the rights to Ghost Rider during the summer hiatus. This changed the trajectory of the season for the worse. Once again, stories pick up and then drop, and new characters come and go before there’s time to invest in them. S.H.I.E.L.D. restructures for what feels like the thousandth time. At this point it’s hard to keep track of whether the agency is covert, or working explicitly with the U.S. government. Is Talbot showing up dangerous, or cause for relief?

    I think my head might still be reeling.

    Out in the real world, the show’s future is as tenuous as its grasp on storytelling. Season three is never released on DVD/Blu-ray, and the show’s renewal is not announced until May.

  3. If S.H.I.E.L.D. held off introducing Ghost Rider until after the second “pod” and established the LMD program better, the whole season would be more cohesive. Round out the season three cliffhanger. Introduce a new character (a super bad-ass character with some of the best special effects the show has seen) right before winter break. Then come back with his story. That would lead up to “Agents of HYDRA”, which resurrects Ghost Rider—making the time between his disappearance and return much shorter.
    THEN go to space.

    Top Episode: Ghost Rider

    “Uprising”
    This episode finally answers several questions, including my biggest one so far: what the hell is going on? Daisy shows up at Ghost Rider’s house, where his younger brother begs her to back off.  This episode has flashes of character building, and shows Daisy struggling with her decision to leave SHIELD.

    Top Episode: LMD

  4. “Self-Control”Agents of SHIELD
    The last episode of the LMD pod is also the best episode. LMD and human versions of people are playing musical chairs with each other, and the acting in this episode is through the roof. This episode is unique in several ways, not the least of which that it was both written and directed by showrunner Jed Whedon. The fight scene between Simmons and Fitz is particularly heartbreaking. It gets right to the meat of the LMD threat faster than perhaps anything else could have.

    Top Episode: Agents of HYDRA

  5. Agents of SHIELD MackNo Regrets”
    The “Agents of HYDRA” pod of season four is easily the best of the three. Iain once again SMASHES it out of the park with his portrayal of “dark Fitz”. The pod also fleshes out Mack’s backstory, and gives his character not only a signature weapon, but something to fight for. The framework is an old trick, putting characters into a “dream” or “alternate” reality. However, the added stakes of needing to survive lest they die in the real world as well is a clever twist.This episode pulls forward as the best of the pod for one reason: Tripp lives.The “Hydra” pod is a great example of how to keep multiple plates in the air at once, without having them crash into one another on their way down. The overt political commentary as America wades through claims of “fake news”, and the parallels between racism and inhuman treatment add a new quality to the pod that hadn’t been present before.

    Agents in Space

    agents of SHIELD
    It DOES have a really nice poster…

    We’re finally caught up. You still with us? You’re in the minority. It’s alright. Fans of S.H.I.E.L.D have been falling off the wagon since season one. Only the strong survive.

    Season five starts in space. And in case that isn’t wild enough, it quickly becomes clear that it’s also taking place in the future.
    Here’s what’s left from the first four seasons: Fitz is nervous that his framework version still exists somewhere inside himself. Framework lives don’t affect anyone else, except Mack who mourns his lost digital daughter. He also still wants his shotgun-axe back. Coulson is alternately public enemy number one, or S.H.I.E.L.D.’s best-kept secret. (Remember? He’s still supposed to be dead.) May still doesn’t like dancing.
    A monolith (yep, another one) transports the agents (sans-Fitz) to space. Fitz is left behind thanks to a prophecy that says he will eventually rescue the rest of the team. The timeline, even without its wibbly-wobbly jumps, is a little fuzzy. The teaser at the end of season four indicated the Agents were stuck in space, acting as worker bees, for months . But then the team is only in space for a few weeks? Meanwhile Fitz is in government custody for six months before Hunter returns and breaks him out.
    With the help of a creature who is the living embodiment of the Prime Directive, Fitz is put into cryofreeze. He takes the “long way” to save the Agents trapped in the future. Cue Captain America jokes.
     
    Every time someone makes a definitive statement about the rules of the future, the opposite turns out to be true. The remains of Earth are uncomfortable, but survivable. The dead come back to life (but not Tripp RIP). Overlord Casius harvests Inhumans to make them fight. And then Fitz arrives and things get REALLY crazy.

     

  6. Top Episode

    “Fun & Games”

    Agents of SHIELD
    started from the bottom

    Clark Gregg’s directorial debut on the show is delightful. Once again, this episode zooms in on character building and features an adorable double-proposal between Fitz and Simmons.

    What Comes Next?

    So what does episode 100 have in store for us? The teaser included clips of every Agent’s worst nightmare. It plays like a “greatest hits” of the worst bad guys, including an LMD version of Simmons and HYDRA. THIRD monolith was revealed last week in yet another underground super-secret SHIELD bunker, and there is plenty of talk about inter-dimensional travel. I have a sinking feeling that we’re in for a rehashing of some old tropes.

    Recently showrunners Jed and Maurissa confirmed that they are writing the end of this season as though it were a series finale, on the very real chance that this is the end of Agents. Considering the last thread of this season still hanging is the extinction-level event caused by Daisy “The World Destroyer” Johnson? There may be no way out.

Jen Schillerhttp://jenrose.writerfolio.com
Jen is a writer with a penchant for nerdy subject matter, and a nerd with a penchant for writing. She is into theatre, Disney, Harry Potter, books and her cats Sif and Dinah. She can be found all over the internet, or in your backyard catching Pokemon. Jen's favorite Batman is Adam West, and she can't be convinced otherwise.

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