Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - “Missing Pieces”
Directed by Clark Gregg
Written by Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen
Produced by Marvel Television
‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10
With Avengers: Endgame in our rear-view mirror, it’s easy to look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe in terms of endings and beginnings. And while not as bombastic or spotlight-grabbing as its film counterparts, you could look at Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which kicks off its latest season May 10, in much the same way.
The arcs of Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, or the rest of the Avengers might be seen by just how far these characters have come from their comparatively down-to-Earth origins — but for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the trajectory remains frustratingly the same. What is the connection of this series to the greater MCU? What is its purpose, and who is its target audience? And can it appeal to new viewers, or at least draw in fans of the hit movies clamoring for more?
If Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s sixth season premiere is any indication, the answer is not likely. Indeed, even a lapsed S.H.I.E.L.D. viewer like me - a diehard fan of the rest of the MCU - wasn’t so much bewildered by the ongoing storyline so much as deeply ambivalent. The scattered debut of “Missing Pieces” felt emblematic of this show’s ongoing problem: namely, what was once a halfway solid tie-in for a cinematic blockbuster has become insular, appealing less to fans of the MCU and more just to fans of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. itself. Like a snake swallowing its own tail, this show has never really justified using the Marvel name, nor has really given itself a striking individual identity from which to pursue memorable or exciting plots of their own.
The thing about season premieres is that they serve two purposes: they get veteran viewers adjusted to the new status quo, while also summing up exactly what’s most exciting about the series as a whole to draw in new fans who might be wandering in thanks to word of mouth (or simply forgetting where the remote control went). Yet there’s no tension to this premiere, there’s zero stakes — even when the series allegedly takes place a year after Thanos’ rampage in 2018's Infinity War, there’s no sign of the mind-bending guilt that’s turned the Avengers up in knots.
And furthermore, even if there was even a half-hearted tie-in to the MCU at this point, all we’re seeing is S.H.I.E.L.D.’s day-to-day — and that day-to-day feels about as routine and bloodless as a trip to the mall. New S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Mack is doubting himself following Coulson’s demise between seasons, seeking new recruits to build up his braintrust; Daisy, Simmons, Davis, and Piper are out in space searching for a cryogenically-frozen Fitz; Melinda is on the hunt for interdimensional fugitives. This should all be exciting, right?
And yet everyone feels like they’re just going through the motions with these scattered storylines, which wind up cutting out the momentum out from one another with little wiggle room — plane crashes or interstellar incidents, the stuff that comic book action is made out of, is glossed over almost immediately, with no one seeming in any sort of real danger. If you’ve already invested a lot of time and emotion into Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., you might feel something — but if you’re coming out of Endgame and are itching for more stories told in that universe, you’re going to be disappointed with a show that really feels like a Marvel property in name only. When literally the biggest hook in this S.H.I.E.L.D. premiere is the return of Clark Gregg as “Sarge,” there’s something wrong here — the idea of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents has always been a hard sell when compared to the Avengers, but the fact that this show is set in the Marvel Universe and is unable to tap into that 70+-year tapestry makes it difficult to justify watching.
Which is a shame, for a few reasons. For one, you can tell that the show is definitely working hard to improve its production values — there’s a surprising amount of CGI going on here, focused primarily on its effects with its jets and spaceships. Yet the idea of placing this series a year after Infinity War is some prime real estate to tell some heart-wrenching stories in the wake of Thanos’ snap — and yet it’s a deeply missed opportunity here, with Mack and Melinda moping about Coulson’s loss, while Simmons weeps over the missing Fitz. I get the instinct to tell your own story, but when you’ve got Marvel in the title, it’s hard to take the stance that this is meant to be standalone — even the Marvel Netflix series had substantial tie-ins to the first Avengers film, with Daredevil kicking off in the wake of the New York City attack.
Despite having barely survived the ratings bubble last time, there has been announcements that this is not the final season of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but after six seasons of only tangential connections to the mega-popular Marvel Cinematic Universe, I would certainly rethink that proposition, at least as a viewer. Most TV shows have to succeed on their own merits — they have to actually excite their viewers, be accessible to new viewers, to engage their viewers emotionally. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. instead rests on its laurels, when all it has going for it are the faintest vapors of continuity — and this premiere shows it’s unable to capitalize on any real human stakes, instead diving into the shallowest of comic book tropes. If you’re looking for some real super-spy action, you’d be better served waiting for Nick Fury’s return in Spider-Man: Far From Home — but only diehards need apply for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.