“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” and the Disappointment of Season Two (2014-2015)

“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” AND THE DISAPPOINTMENT OF SEASON TWO (2014-2015)

I might as well put my cards on the table. I did not like Season Two of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. In fact, I almost despised it. But what I despised even further is this belief among television viewers and critics that Season Two was an improvement over the series’ first season. This told me that today’s society has no real concept of what constitutes good or bad storytelling.

After the Season One finale, (1.22) “Beginning of the End”, first aired, I made a prediction that the producers and writers would respond to the complaints about the show’s slow storytelling and give them what they want in the following season. When I first saw the Season Two premiere, (2.01) “Shadows”, I saw to my disappointment that Joss Whedon’s Mutant Enemy, Marvel and Disney did exactly that. “Shadows” was a travesty for me. But the worst was yet to come. By the time the series’ mid-season finale (2.10) “What They Become” had aired, I was ready to throw in the towel for this series. So, what kept me watching “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” after that horrible mid-season episode? My family. By this time, the members of my family had become regular viewers of the show. However, I did my level best to ignore as many episodes as I could. Unfortunately, I was unable to ignore most of the episodes that made up the second half of the show.

Where there any aspects of Season Two of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” that I liked? There were some performances that impressed me. Both Reed Diamond and Dichen Lachman made first-rate villains as former HYDRA commander Werner Reinhardt aka Daniel Whitehall and the Inhumans’ leader Jiaying. I suppose I have to give some credit to Mutant Enemy and Marvel/Disney for promoting Henry Simmons (Alphonso “Mack” MacKenzie) to series regular, despite getting rid of B.J. Britt (Antoine Triplett) and maintaining J. August Richards (Mike Peterson aka Deathlok) as a recurring cast member. This show’s attitude toward non-white characters and performers is still bad enough to make my stomach turn. And there are at least four episodes that I managed to really enjoy this season, namely:

(2.04) “Face My Enemy” – Agent Melinda May is kidnapped and a HYDRA impersonator takes her place in order in order to lure S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Phil Coulson into a trap. This episode first introduced the brainwashed Kara Palamas aka Agent 33.

(2.15) “One Door Closes” – This episode featured flashbacks on how agents like Alfonso MacKenzie, Bobbi Morse and especially Robert Rodriguez survived the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D., while serving aboard one of the agencies’ aircraft carriers and formed their own S.H.I.E.L.D. faction.

(2.17) “Melinda” – Once again, Agent May is the focus. In this episode, she looks into Coulson’s actions as S.H.I.E.L.D. director, while in control of the agency’s main base. This episode also flashed back to how her first encounter with the Inhumans led to a great deal of trauma for her.

(2.21-2.22) “S.O.S.” -The two S.H.I.E.L.D. teams, now under Coulson’s leadership, try to prevent Jiaying from destroying the agency and mankind. Meanwhile, Bobbi Morse is held hostage by Grant Ward and Kara Palamas in order to coerce her into confessing her actions as a S.H.I.E.L.D. mole within HYDRA.

It is a miracle that I actually managed to enjoy three of this season’s twenty-two episodes without being disgusted, bored or pissed off. Why? Because there is a good deal of Season Two that I heartily disliked. One, I disliked the change in the series’ storytelling. I disliked how Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen seemed more interested in providing as much action as possible, without any real consideration toward the series’ narrative. There have been complaints about the series’ convoluted writing for the past season. But most fans and critics have not been listening or paying attention. Even the season finale, “S.O.S.” reflected this penchant to stuff as much action as possible. I found it unnecessary for the writers to include two major story arcs in this episode. They could have saved the Bobbi Morse kidnapping arc for a separate episode.

And then there was (2.19) “The Dirty Half Dozen”, the series’ tie-in to the summer blockbuster, “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON”. The writers took a break from the Inhumans story arc to bring back HYDRA and do . . . what? Coulson, his team, Robert Gonzales’ S.H.I.E.L.D. team, Grant Ward and Kara Palamas infiltrated a HYDRA base operated by one Dr. List to save Mike Peterson aka Deathlok and Inhuman Lincoln Campbell, who had been kidnapped by the villainous agency. This gave Coulson the opportunity to discover the location of the main HYDRA base and the organization’s leader, Wolfgang von Strucker. This whole episode was about setting up the prologue for the second “THE AVENGERS movie and trying to repeat the critical success of Season One’s (1.17) “Turn, Turn, Turn”. As far as I am concerned, the Season Two episode failed. Why? The Season One episode had a far reaching impact on both the season and series’ narrative. “The Dirty Half Dozen” barely made an impact on the rest of the season, other than driving Ward and Kara away from S.H.I.E.L.D. And the season’s main narrative immediately returned to the Inhuman story arc. I have never known for Mutant Enemy to be this clumsy in their writing in the past.

Another aspect of Season Two that I disliked so much was the unwillingness of the showrunners to take their time with their stories. “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” is supposed to be at its core, a serial drama. The story lines for serial dramas are supposed to take its time … even to the point of them being played out over several seasons. Due to some need for higher ratings and pleasing the fans who seemed to be unaware of what a serial drama is supposed to be, the Whedons and Tancharoen rushed headlong into Season Two’s story arc without bothering to set up the introductions of the new characters. Well, I take that back. They took their time with the Daniel Whitehall and Jiaying characters. But they rushed headlong into the introductions of Lance Hunter, Alphonso MacKenzie and Bobbi Morse without any real setup. Why? They wanted to rush right into the action. Storytelling has now reached a point in which novels, movies and serial television series have to jump into the action without any real set up or introduction. Why? Because so many people have become so damn impatient. Or else today’s society has the attention span of a gnat.

Mutant Enemy also did a piss-poor job of handling some of their characters. For example . . . there is Grant Ward. Why is this character still on the show? Why is he still a regular? He was in slightly more than half of the episodes, this season. In fact, he was missing a lot in the second half of Season Two. He has become a irrelevant character. Mutant Enemy should have wasted his ass at the end of Season One. Most of Season Two saw Brett Dalton portray Ward as some mysterious super spy, while channeling Julian McMahon’s acting style. It did not help that producer Jeffrey Bell tried to claim that Dalton possessed the same level of acting skills and screen presence as James Marsters of “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”. I did not know whether to laugh at the implication or shake my head in disgust. Worse, I was subjected to three episodes of the saga regarding Ward’s relationship with his brother, Senator Christian Ward (Tim DeKay). The entire story arc came to nothing and no future impact upon the series’ narrative. Ward ended the season with accidentally killing Kara and declaring his intentions of becoming the new HYDRA leader. All I can say is . . . good luck. Why? Recently, Marvel and Disney announced that Daniel Brühl had recently been cast to portray Baron Zemo, the new HYDRA leader for the upcoming film, “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR”. If so . . . why is Ward still around?

Another problematic character for me proved to be Skye aka Daisy Johnson aka Earthquake (or whatever her name is). I used like Skye . . . back in Season One. I did not like her very much in Season Two. Her story arc dominated the season just a little too much. She also lost some of her sense of humor. Her martial arts skills developed just a bit too fast for me to consider them realistic. And quite honestly, I realized I could not care less about the Inhuman story line. Or the fact that Skye became a “super being”. I am still pissed that Mutant Enemy allowed Skye to become one without any change in her physical looks. Yet, it was so damn important that another character, Raina, have her looks drastically altered. I guess that is what happens when an actress of African descent appears on this show.

Then again, this series’ treatment of its non-white characters, especially African-Americans, has always been problematic . . . even in Season One. It grew worse in Season Two. At least two non-white male characters – Antoine “Tripp” Triplett and the other S.H.I.E.L.D. director Robert Gonzales – were bumped off. I am still angry over Trip’s death. And I am disgusted over the handling of Gonzales character. I cannot count the number of episodes in which Coulson maintained this smug and superior attitude toward Gonzales, which left me feeling disgusted. The manner of his death also disgusted me. But I was not surprised. Mutant Enemy also managed to kill off three non-white female characters in “S.O.S.” – Jiaying, Raina and Kara Palamas. Three non-white women . . . in one episode. What in the fuck?? Disney/Marvel and Mutant Enemy did make Henry Simmons a series regular at the end of the season. Yet, they did so at least sometime after they had promoted Adrianne Palicki. They also promoted Luke Mitchell, who portrays Inhuman Lincoln Campbell. But for some reason, J. August Richards, who has been portraying Mike Peterson since the series’ premiere, is still stuck portraying a recurring character. Why? Was it really that important to Marvel/Disney and Mutant Enemy to provide a white male love interest for Skye? Let me get this straight. It was okay for Mutant Enemy to have two regular characters portrayed by women of Asian descent. It was okay for the production company to have three regular characters portrayed by British white . . . one woman and two men. But for some reason, they cannot maintain more than one regular character of African descent? Too disgusted beyond words.

I do not know what else to say about Season Two of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. I disliked it. Immensely. The series’ writing struck me as a clear indication that the quality of storytelling, especially for the serial drama format, is going down the tubes. Even worse, a good number of television viewers and critics seem unaware of this. Their idea of good storytelling is to rush headlong into the narrative with a great deal of action and hardly any setups or introductions. This is sloppy writing at its worst. However, I suspect that nothing will really change for Season Three.  Some of the mistakes I had spotted, while watching Season Two, continued in the 2015-2016 television season. Hmmm. Pity.

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Top Five Favorite Episodes of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season One (2013-2014)

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Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season One of Marvel’s “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. Created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, and Maurissa Tancharoen; the series stars Clark Gregg.:

 

TOP FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” SEASON ONE (2013-2014)

1 - 1.17 Turn Turn Turn

1. (1.17) “Turn, Turn, Turn” – All hell breaks loose when the events of “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” leads to the downfall of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the exposure of HYDRA moles within their ranks.

2 - 1.21 Nothing Personal

2. (1.20) “Nothing Personal” – Former S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill helps Coulson and his team track down fellow agent Skye, who has been snatched by HYDRA and former ally, Mike Peterson aka Deathlok.

3 - 1.13 - T.R.A.C.K.S.

3. (1.13) “T.R.A.C.K.S.” – The team’s search for the head of the Centipede organization, the Clairvoyant, takes a troubling turn when they board a train in Italy on which a Cybertek employee is shipping a package to Ian Quinn, a wealthy follower of the Clairvoyant.

4 - 1.10 The Bridge

4. (1.10) “The Bridge” – Coulson recruits Mike, who has become a new S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, to help him and the team track down fugitive Edison Po and the Centipede organization, which is a part of HYDRA. Unfortunately, trouble ensues when Centipede manages to kidnap Mike’s son.

5 - 1.15 Yes Men

5. (1.15) “Yes Men” – The team helps Asgardian Lady Sif hunt down enchantress Lorelei, who has plans to create an army with the help of Human males. Unfortunately, the team and Sif encounter trouble when Agent Grant Ward falls under her spell.

HM - 1.22 Beginning of the End

Honorable Mention: (1.22) “Beginning of the End” – In the first season’s finale, Coulson and his team raid the Cybertek facility controlled by HYDRA agents and receive much needed help from former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury.

“BATMAN BEGINS” (2005) Review

”BATMAN BEGINS” (2005) Review

When Christopher Nolan’s reboot of the BATMAN franchise first made its debut during the summer of 2005, many critics and moviegoers hailed it as the second coming. They also viewed it as a vast improvement over the four films released between 1989 and 1997. Since then, ”BATMAN BEGINS” has been overshadowed by its 2008 sequel, ”THE DARK KNIGHT”. After a recent viewing of the 2005 movie, I must admit that I have a deeper attachment for it. 

”BATMAN BEGINS” was basically an origin tale about the scion of a wealthy Gotham City family, who endured a personal tragedy before become a costumed vigilante. The movie began in a Chinese person where Bruce Wayne was serving time for robbery. A mysterious man named Henri Ducard offered to arrange for Bruce’s freedom if the latter would consider joining his organization called the League of Shadows. Once Bruce began his training under Ducard’s tutelage, flashbacks revealed his childhood; his friendship with Rachel Dawes, the daughter of a family servant; his parents’ tragic deaths; and the murder of their killer. Once Bruce’s training ended, Ducard and the League’s head – Ra’s al Ghul – ordered the Gotham City native to execute a murderer they had captured. They also revealed their intent to destroy Gotham City, due to its growing corruption. Unwilling to become an executioner and appalled by the League’s plans for Gotham, Bruce began a fight that led to the Temple’s destruction. After Bruce saved Ducard’s life, he returned to Gotham City to commence his life as the vigilante, the Batman.

Aside from a few minor problems that I will discuss later, I must admit that after four-and-a-half years, I enjoyed”BATMAN BEGINS” more than ever. One, I thought that Christopher Nolan and fellow screenwriter David S. Goyer did an exceptional job in revealing Bruce Wayne’s childhood and the circumstances that led him to China in flashbacks. Very exceptional. Also, through Bruce Wayne/the Batman, Henri Ducard and other characters, the screenwriters managed to convey the pitfalls of vigilantism. Considering the movie’s title, I thought Nolan and Goyer also did an excellent job in presenting a examination of the main character.

Speaking of the main character, Christian Bale earned a well deserved Saturn Award for his portrayal of Bruce Wayne/the Batman. I only wish that Bale could have received a Golden Globe or Academy Award nomination, as well. He did a superb job of capturing all of the nuances of Bruce’s personality. Even more impressive was the way he developed the character from an immature and vengeful twenty-something young man to the somewhat more wiser thirty-something man who had learned to restrain himself from allowing his penchant for vigilantism to spiral out of control. Unless Nolan used a stunt man for Bruce/Batman’s action scenes, I thought that Bale managed to handle the action – especially the fight scenes – very well. Was this his first time in dealing with heavy action sequences? Someone please let me know.

I must admit that I have been a fan of Liam Neeson for a long time, admiring his array of performances that included a randy Irish ghost, a Jedi Master, the ambiguous Oskar Schindler and a determined ex-CIA agent searching for his kidnapped daughter. I cannot honestly say that his best role was Henri Ducard, Bruce Wayne’s mentor. But I would probably view it as one of his better roles. Most people have compared his Ducard to his performance as Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn in ”STAR WARS: The Phantom Menace”. Perhaps. However, I saw major differences in the two roles. Ducard turned out to be a darker character, who despite his words of wisdom, was unable to let go of his past tragedy. Instead, he used it to inflict his desire to punish the guilty and the corrupt through some of the most Draconian means possible. Neeson did a beautiful job in capturing not only Ducard’s wisdom, but also his subtle, yet psychotic personality. In some ways, his Ducard was a lot scarier than the Joker in”THE DARK KNIGHT”. Only, his villainy was not as colorful. And like Bale, he had earned a Saturn Award nomination. Only he lost to Mickey Rourke (”SIN CITY”). Hmmmm.

On the other hand, Katie Holmes was given a Golden Raspberry Award nomination for Worst Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Bruce’s childhood friend and Gotham’s crusading Assistant District Attorney, Rachel Dawes. And for the likes of me, I do NOT understand why. I found nothing wrong with her performance. I thought she did a splendid job portraying Rachel as Bruce and Gotham City’s moral center. I especially enjoyed her scenes with not only Bale, but also her confrontations with Cillian Murphy’s Dr. Jonathan Crane/the Scarecrow. Many have praised Maggie Gyllanhaal’s portrayal of Rachel in ”THE DARK KNIGHT’. Personally? I think that Holmes was lucky not to appear in the 2008 film. At least her Rachel Dawes had not been written as a mere object of desire and a barely irrelevant character.

Speaking of Cillian Murphy, I truly enjoyed his performance as Dr. Jonathan Crane, the cold-blooded and manipulative city psychiatrist who became arch villain, the Scarecrow. He did an excellent job in conveying the character’s subtle villainy and sardonic wit. Another villain that possessed the same wit turned out to be Gotham City’s crime boss, Carmine Falcone. Although Tom Wilkinson portrayed the character with a good deal of wit and verve, it seemed a pity that his performance was nearly ruined by a questionable American accent seemed like a bad parody of a old Warner Brothers gangster character. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman portrayed mentors and allies for Bruce Wayne/the Batman – faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth, Wayne Enterprises executive Lucius Fox and police sergeant Jim Gordon, respectively. And they all did solid jobs; especially Caine, whose wisdom and concern for his employer’s personal life allowed him to be Bruce’s true mentor.

Linus Roache portrayed Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s doomed father. He gave a solid performance, but I found his American accent rather questionable. And I also had other problems with Bruce’s parents. One, they seemed impossibly good – almost pure. And I found that aspect of their portrayal a bore. Two, Thomas and Martha Wayne must have also been incredibly stupid. The Wayne family went to the opera via public transportation. Okay, perhaps I can excuse that on the grounds that perhaps they could not afford a limousine or wanted to save gas. But when Bruce wanted to leave the opera early, they left the theater through the goddamn back door. No wonder that thug, Joe Chill, was able to accost them so easily.

Speaking of problems, I have a few more regarding ”BATMAN BEGINS”. One, I hate the growl that Bale had used, while portraying the Batman. There were times when I found Bale slightly coherent and I also found it unnecessary and annoying. Two, I have a problem with Ra’s al Ghul, the so-called leader of the League of Shadows whom Bruce had killed in Tibet (or China). Apparently, the Gotham City native had killed a psychic manifestation of Ducard’s mind. How Ducard managed to create this manifestation and how Bruce managed to kill it were plot points that Nolan and Goyer failed to explain.

When all is said and done, I must admit that I really enjoyed ”BATMAN BEGINS”. Personally, I feel that Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer had written a better movie than ”THE DARK KNIGHT”, despite its flaws. The movie not only featured excellent direction from Nolan and an interesting score by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, it also had top-notch performances from Christian Bale, Liam Neeson and the rest of the cast . . . even those with questionable American accents. In fact, I would go as far to say that I consider it to be one of my favorite comic book movie ever made.