How I began falling out of love with Superhero TV


One…

As long term readers of this blog will know, I have been a long-term comics reader, with a lifelong allegiance to DC Comics, going back over fifty years. I’ve even had a soft spot for Green Arrow, going back to the days when he was still a non-entity with a Robin Hood costume and nothing but elaborate trick arrows to his name.

To see these characters being put on screen, these past few years, starting with none other than Green Arrow, has been delightful. The kid in me, still lying on his bed in the back bedroom of the long-demolished 41 Brigham Street, Openshaw, Manchester, is forever awed by the fact he’s watching these colourful characters ‘for real’, without having to turn the pages.

Since those early days of Arrow, which maintained a substantial distance from the actual comics to portray a gritty, urban outlaw drama, the cast has expanded, and the palate has broadened. First off was The Flash, given a backdoor pilot in Arrow series 2 then unleashed to its own brand of goody, good-time fun, showing the underlying excitement and fun of having such crazy, more-than-human powers.

Then the hodge-podge that is Legends of Tomorrow, a ragbag, shambling assemblage of characters, none of them massive successful but most of them dating to the years of my youth and adolescence when my enjoyment for this genre was at its most pure. And Supergirl, initially kept separate, with the delightful Melissa Benoist and that short-skirted costume.

…two…

And off to one side, because it derives from Marvel, I have from the first enjoyed Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and over its first four seasons I have particularly relished the performance of Ian de Caesteker as Fitz: he has been knocking it out of the park on a regular basis for years now.

So during the main American TV season, I have regularly been watching five superhero shows. And enjoying myself immensely, especially when I spot an Easter Egg, designed for us long-term knowledgeable fans, planted in such a manner as to not interrupt the enjoyment of those not in the know. Two of the finest of these have come in The Flash.

None of the series have been perfect, nor have they fallen exactly into line with my own, longstanding impressions of the characters, even where I understand the imperatives the series are working under. I don’t like the way Mr Terrific is being handled in Arrow, because the character is a long-term favourite of mine, but he’s also an obscure figure and I’m weird.

And like all series, there are good and bad episodes. Supergirl had a lot of the latter in season 1, mostly in relation to the Girl Power side of things, but it upped its game in season 2, at least to start with.

…three…

The first real problem started with Arrow season 3. One of Green Arrow’s problems is that the character doesn’t have an impressive Rogue’s Gallery. The show has compensated by ripping off a lot of Batman’s mythos to cope, which is irritating yet somehow approriate, given that Oliver Queen originated as a knock-off of Bruce Wayne. Season 3 used R’as al-Ghul and the League of Assassins for its arc.

Not many people liked Matt Nagel’s portrayal of R’as, but I was an exception. Nagel played the character very low-key, with an air of world-weariness. This is someone who has lived long enough to have seen everything, done everything and worked everything out. He can’t be surprised any more, he is completely in control and whilst slightly bored with his absolute command of everything, has no intention of relinquishing that control.

The problem was with the overall arc, Oliver Queen’s actions, and the feeling that Arrow‘s characteristic grim’n’gritty approach was getting a bit too heavy. Having such a superficially passive villain contributed to the general downbeat tone. Much the same could be said about season 4, though Neal McDonough’s vigorous performance as Damien Dhark was a much-needed uplift.

Frankly, the series was getting boring. I decided to stick with it through season 5, just to get to the end of the flashbacks, though these had dipped into the ridiculous with the revelations that Oliver’s five years of exile on Lian Yu had been interrupted by a year in Hong Kong, and another in Russia. Oi!

Back at The Flash, I thought season 2 was excellent. This had a lot to do with it featuring Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash, which is going back to my roots with a vengeance: the scene where the two Flashes both respond to a call of ‘Flash!’ and run either side of a wall, was Easter Egg number one, a glorious chocolate extravaganza with its deliberate echo of Jay Garrick’s first Golden Age appearance in The Flash 123, unveiling the DC Multiverse and starting a revival I lapped up avidly.

But even this season had problems. Barry’s romance with Patty and its abrupt cut-off, the increasing angst being developed in Barry himself, moving the show’s tone closer to that of Arrow when it’s ethos should have remained the opposite. But it was still fun and I still looked forward to it avidly.

Supergirl‘s first series was a bit damp, though the revelation that Hank Henshaw – a villain in Superman’s continuity, especially prominent in the Death/Rebirth of Superman sequence in the early Nineties – was actually J’Onn J’Onzz, the Martian Manhunter, was a trick I didn’t foresee and a lovely touch.

Season 2 started more strongly, except for the loss of Callista Flockhart after production and filming moved from LA to Vancouver. It got about halfway and then started to sag, badly. The Mon-El storyline was tedious, and the threat posed by his Daxamite origins and his possessive parents got less and less interesting as Teri Hatcher camped it up as the Queen, and Kara Zor-El/Danvers constantly refused to wise up as to what needed to be done and kept putting a brave ‘we can work it all out’ face on things that manifestly could never be worked out.

Back to that in a moment. Let’s switch to Legends of Tomorrow. This show has problems. It’s clunky, crowded, awkward and silly. And I love it. You can criticise Brandon Routh’s portrayal of Ray Palmer as a socially awkward, shallow and ineffectual person when the comicbook Atom s routinely treated as the scientific expert in the Justice League, and you’d be correct to do so, but I still love every minute of it and my old The Atom comics haven’t been affected.

The thing is, Legends is throwing in kitchen sinks worth of people who I would never have even dreamed I’d see on screen. I mean, Jonah Hex, people! And B’wana Beast! The acting is OTT, especially when Wentworth Miller drops in, but I am having the time of my life with this show and wish it a very long future.

I haven’t mentioned Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. thus far, because it’s the outlier. It’s Marvel, it doesn’t connect in any way to the other shows, it’s perennially in danger of cancellation, but I’ve enjoyed it all along.

Until season 5. I’ve always admored the show’s ability to re-invent itself every season, and indeed every half-season. Season 4, which basically consisted of three different mini-seasons, ended with the gang captured by the authorities. Season 5 started with them in prison. In space. In the future. Orbiting a half-destroyed Earth. Without Fitz.

I really don’t know quite what happened, but I watched the season-opening two-parter with no feeling whatsoever. I wasn’t interested, I wasn’t in the least bit intrigued. I haven’t even looked up what has happened from episode 3 onwards, because I simply have no interest in what happens to the programme. It’s as if it’s under gone a mental cancellation in my head and is no longer there.

…four…

I’ve given up Supergirl too. I said I’d get back to the season finale. To be honest, I was struggling to stay with the show during its second half, but the final episode was the killer. Supergirl and Superman battle it out to see who’s strongest and who will challenge the Daxamites. Supergirl wins. That’s right, Supergirl is stronger than Superman.

Now, I’m not stupid. The show’s name is Supergirl, not Superman, so she’s got to go up against the Daxamites. But in no universe that I can recognise is Supergirl stronger than Superman. This is one of those baseline conditions on which existence is based. So that was that series crossed off the list and no longer of the least concern to me.

So that was already five down to three. I had already made plans to exit Arrow at the end of season five. Though this was much better than the previous two seasons, the show was stuck on a downwards trend. There was little to distinguish one season from the next. Oliver had long since turned into a bore, with his self-obsessed demeanour and his constant gloominess, and whilst I still fancy Emily Bett Rickards more than somewhat, her scatty performance as Felicity is starting to get repetitious.

With the flashbacks finally curling back in on themselves to meet season 1 episode 1, I planned to drop out. But the cliffhanger, threatening to wipe out potentially all the cast, dragged me back in to see who survived (answer: everybody). I decided to give the show a TV.com four-episode test. And was promptly screwed in episode 4 when Michael Emerson turned up as Caden James, the new big bad.

Now, I love Michael Emerson and have done since he first emerged as Ben Linus in Lost season 2, so that committed me.

Meanwhile, back at The Flash. This lost a certain amount of lustre for me in season 3, where the big bad, Savitar, was cleverly but ultimately wrong-headedly revealed to be a twisted future version of Barry Allen himself. Adding to this Barry’s ongoing and ever-increasing insistence on blaming himself for everything that goes on, his slow merging with Oliver was the wrong path for the series to take.

The current season made a smart move by switching to The Thinker as big bad: a super-intelligent villain instead of the usual super-speedster. And Clifford Devoe, even though he bears no resemblance to either of the comics Thinkers, is certainly way ahead of everybody, although we still have no idea what his big, bad overall plan is.

But he’s run rings around Team Flash for the first half of the season, and he certainly has a mad on for Barry Allen. The midseason finale had Devoe transferring his consciousness out of his physically failing body into that of a thought-reading metahuman. His dead, stabbed body was planted in Barry and Iris’s flat and Barry has been framed for Devoe’s murder and arrested.

…five

This week, the superhero shows started to filter back from the Xmas break, or at least The Flash and Arrow did. It’s Barry Allen’s trial. And, like it did when The Flash was tried for murder in the mid-Eighties, immediately prior to Crisis on Infinite Earths, he’s found guilty. And it was pure crap.

As a former Solicitor, I am always sensitised to the presentation of trials on TV. I’m also aware that dramatic licence will be flourished and that I can’t expect pure realism, but there are degrees and there are degrees, and this was ridiculous.

The Prosecution has substantial, indeed convincing evidence. Not a single attempt was made to challenge that evidence in any respect. The Defence’s case throughout the Prosecution was literally no more than ‘Barry Allen is a good guy’. Even when this was challenged, by pointing out 72 instances of lateness on his personnel record and his recent unexplained six months absence, the Defence is not prepared for this and has no explanation.

The Defence is being conducted by the DA, by the way, acting as a private lawyer. This is not a novice.

The Defence case is no case. Barry won’t testify. He won’t admit to being the Flash (which everybody assumes will get him off the hook, the Prosecution evidence notwithstanding, because nobody will convict the Flash, gee, the respect for Justice), he won’t perjure himself, he won’t lift a finger. This is beyond stupid. No lawyer with the least amount of self-respect would fight this case in this way. No lawyer who expected to be taken seriously as a lawyer ever again would fight this case in this way. It’s a joke, a complete failing of the writer’s imagination, interest or willingness to demonstrate any plausibility – and in a show based on superhuman powers, everything else has to retain plausibility so as to underpin it.

No, the name of the game is to get Barry Allen into prison (choke, sob, irony, into his Dad’s old cell) with no delay. Now, one assumes Barry has some cunning plan, despite the absence of the least evidence of this. Or is he just indulging his Oliver Queen-esque guilt trip to the nth degree? Where is this going?

I will find out because I intend to stick with The Flash, because it can’t possibly be as bad as this again, or if it is I will bail out.

But what this episode has done has killed me on Arrow.

Now that’s obviously unfair. Why should Arrow suffer for the failings of The Flash? To which the answer is because my enthusiasm for the universe of DC on television has been badly disrupted. I have given up one of their shows because I lost belief in it, and I have been suffering from diminished expectations for this show for several years, and this cord is easy to cut. I cannot recover interest in Oliver Queen, and Team arrow, and their latest horribly convoluted mess. It’s getting harder to access these shows after their original broadcast, and frankly, if I’m going to have to struggle, I’ll do it for shoes that I still have some connect to.

I mean, DC series number five, Black Lightning has started this week, and I’m not even interested in checking it out.

So, from five series, I’m down to two, one of which is limping along on residual goodwill, in the space of half a TV season. What happened to the lifelong DC fan, relishing the fun like a pig in clover?

Some of it is the issues I am dealing with personally. I am growing less and less interested continually on the entertainment of the current day and more and more attracted to what I used to enjoy. The juice is going out of new things for me, and this is part of it. But the shows themselves, and perhaps the fact that there are so many of them, with their inherent limitations, their imperfect representation of my individual interpretations, and the law of diminishing returns are all combining to reduce my interest overall.

But the common factor between The Flash and Legends is that they are the most fun. I’m not too enamoured of the deep angsty stuff. I want the thrill I got out of these gaudy mountebanks. The Flash has been sliding away from fun for a couple of years: Arrow never had any.

I’m slowly falling out of love with Superhero TV. The problem is mutual.

 

Five Finales


It’s not just the football season that’s over, barring the FA Cup Final, but the 2016/20117 television season is now over. Though I’ve enjoyed the latter perhaps a little more, I’m glad of the respite. The week has been shaped around various series for so long that the chance of a change is very welcome. I have things I’m looking forward to watching this summer now that I have free time.

The Big Bang Theory

My favourite comedy series ended its run a couple of weeks ago, with another classic season-ending cliffhanger. I remember the days when sitcoms just came in individual episodes that could more or less be shown in any order and certainly without inter-season cliffhangers. And I’m not just talking about the era before Whatever happened to the Likely Lads?

I realise that TBBT is and always has been marmite TV and I know plenty of people who either hate it or at least find it completely unfunny (my ex-wife couldn’t understand why I was laughing so hard, when we usually shared a very close sense of humour). But from the very first, I have got this show. It’s on my wavelength, I know its referrents, I am geek enough to get where everything comes from, and whilst the show has slowly adopted more prosaic tropes about relationships, marriage and now a baby, it’s still funny to me.

This last season has been the last of the three year contract it was handed, and I’ve recently learned that it’s been renewed for two further seasons (hardly surprising given that a spin-off, Young Sheldon, about Sheldon as a boy, has been commissioned: I am pretty dubious about that one). That suits me.

Overall, season 10 has been an improvement over the sometimes lacklustre previous year, though I can wait to hear the outcome of the cliffhanger, which is Sheldon on one knee, proposing to Amy, as a result of being kissed by Riki Lindholm (not the first thing I’d have thought of, admittedly, if I’d been kissed by Riki Lindholm, even if we’re talking about the real Mayim Bialik).

To be welcomed back, whenever it likes.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

This one hit the end last week. Agents has struggled for audiences ever since it started and lives a season-to-season life-style, which was addressed for season 4 by a) making radical changes to the internal set-up and b) dividing the season up into three ‘pods’ or mini-seasons, widely separated and loosely linked. Another massive change of set-up has been trailed for season 5.

The three ‘pod’ experiment won’t be repeated, with the show not returning until January 2018, with a straight-through, no interruptions storyline.

Of the three ‘pods’, the ‘Agents of Hydra’ sequence in the last of these was by far and away the season’s strongest element, being genuinely creepy and, in the person of Fitz (another head-and-shoulders-above-the-rest season performance from Ian de Caesteker) incredibly thought-provoking on a personal level, since Fitz’s regret relieved was having his father raise him, instead of his mother, and what a bastard he turned out to be. If so great a change can arise from so seemingly small a change, what does that imply for me?

Though whilst de Caesteker was his usual excellent self, the real star of the season, acting-wise, was Mallory Jansen, as Aida etc. The range she was called upon to demonstrate, and her note-perfect performance, especially after she became human and had feelings to feel, was incredible. This woman deserves to be a star.

To be welcomed back, as a New Year treat.

Supergirl

This was the first of three DC series to conclude this week, and by far the weakest. Supergirl’s second season, which saw it transfer from CBS to the CW, was better than its first, though Callista Flockhart’s guest appearance in the last two episodes showed just how much the show has suffered from a lack of Cat Grant.

But better certainly didn’t butter any parsnips since the show’s first season set the bar very low. An appearance by cousin Superman, played brilliantly by Tyler Hoechlin, who channeled Christopher Reeve in his Clark Kent persona to magnificent delight, set things off to a great start, but I can’t say the same for his appearance in the last episode, in which the character was demeaned by being made to be weaker than and inferior to Supergirl. No. Just no. Not in any universe is that convincing and whilst I realise that Supergirl having her name on the show demanded she be the champion, this was crap that ruined any good work done this year.

To be honest, getting to the end of the season has been the only thing keeping me watching this series for the last couple of months, and unless and until people are going around shouting, ‘Oh, wow, oh, WOW!’ about season 3, Melissa Benoist in a short skirt and knee-length boots just isn’t enough to get me commit to forty minutes a week.

To be gently ushered out of sight

The Flash

This has always been my favoutite of the superhero series, because of the expert way it blended the sheer rush and excitement of speed and power with the darkness of the drama. That’s tended to slip more towards the basic Arrow package of doom and gloom and guilt, especially with Barry Allen having fucked everything up at the end of season 2 by creating ‘Flashpoint’.

Barry’s propensity to blame himself for everything is taking on quite Oliver Queen-esque proportions, which is a shame because it’s blurring a quite vital distinction between the two series. On the other hand, these two shows, and Legends of Tomorrow (which finished several weeks ago), have settled comfortably into the concept of the shared universe, not on the strength of continual guest appearances, but more the mention of each other’s members.

This year’s Tom Cavanagh as a Harrison Wells had the propensity to be extremely irritating, but turned out fun in the end, and his sacrifice to get everyone out of the death of Iris West worked surprisingly well, considering it could easily have been seen as a cop-out. And on a shallow level, kudos to the team that, when they finally followed up on the inevitability of Caitlin Snow’s comic book heritage, they put Danielle Pannebacker in a short skirt and high boots.

The finale gave itself a hostage to fortune with Barry sacrificing himself to imprisonment within the Speed Force. Whether this is a stunningly bold change of lead character or just as temporary as ‘Flashpoint’ was this season but with a much higher bar of credibility to clear when reversing this , it certainly creates anticipation for season 4.

To be welcomed back avidly, but cautiously

Arrow

Ah, the daddy. In television terms, Arrow is where it all comes from, and it’s still been mister gloom and guilt for another twenty-three episodes. Season 5 has been a considerable improvement on seasons 3 and 4 collectively, but they set a bar so low that even a three month old baby could clear it.

Of the new team, Curtis ‘Mr Terrific’ Holt has been played as a joke which is a terrible approach to one of my favourite characters, whilst Rene has been surprisingly successful at a shitty character like Wild Dog. As for Artemis and the new Black Canary, neither of them has demonstrated enough personality to be interesting, let alone memorable. In this respect, Katie Cassidy’s return as the evil Black Siren of Earth-2 has finally made her interesting (and dare I say it, even sexy).

And the show has started, towards its season end, to repair the terribly manipulative splitting up of Oliver and Felicity, which was the point at which I decided that I didn’t care any longer.

I only watched season 5 for the closure in respect of the flashbacks, bringing these round full circle to the beginning of season 1, and that’s now taken place. In fact, Oliver’s final hours on the island, facing an implacable opponent on a kill-or-be-killed basis was neatly contrasted with the contemporary set-up, which was pretty much identical, giving us a chance to contrast Oliver-then and Oliver-now and measure his journey.

Whilst season 5 was better, it wasn’t so much better that I want to stay with it into season 6. On the other hand, the massive cliffhanger, with Prometheus detonating bombs all over Lian Yu so that everybody except Green Arrow might be dead, requires me to at least watch episode 1 to find out who lives and who dies. Given the cast announcements for season 6, Wild Dog, Black Canary and Black Siren are givens, so I may be able to avoid that by watching for news.

To be watched to see who survives, and then it’s on its own

So that’s 2016/17. Summer lies ahead. Maybe I can finally fit in that long-overdue Tales of the Gold Monkey re-watch?

Music can still surprise you


I’ve just finished watching this week’s episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, which was book-ended by an extract from a song. I’d never heard it before, and I liked the sound of it. It wasn’t credited, so after striking out at TV.com (that site has gone so far downhill) I googled until I discovered what it was.

The track is by The Moody Blues and is, apparently, “Have You Heard? (Part 2)”.

Now I used to be a big Moody Blues fan, long ago in my youth in the west that is lost (sorry, there’s just something about the Moodies that does things like that to you). It began with the re-issue of “Nights in White Satin” in 1972, when it reached the top 10 at last, and it led me, over the following year, to collect all seven of their albums (excluding the very first album, The Magnificent Moodies, as being by the pre-Justin Hayward/John Lodge line-up, and being a completely different band all together).

They were also my first ever rock concert, at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, one midweek night at the beginning of September 1973. Not a good gig, frankly, though I loved it at the time, having nothing with which to compare it. Ironically enough, it was the last ever gig by the classic Hayward/Lodge/Thomas/Pinder/Edge line-up, so it had historical significance. After that, they split-up for five years, all recorded solo albums and, when they re-convened in 1978, Mike Pinder, he of the mellotron, had relocated to California, and had to be replaced by Patrick Moraz (and there’s another name more recognised in that decade of keyboard-manglers than it is now).

By then, after years of having the Moodies as my favourites (they overtook Lindisfarne when the latter split in two, but were surpassed by 10cc), after years of playing those rich, lush, aurally enveloping albums, often done when lying on the bed, unmoving, removing every other stimulus but the music, so that I could, really, you know, listen, I went off them.

This was all the fault of Justin Hayward and John Lodge. They were first out of the blocks as far as solo albums go, with a collaboration entitled “Blue Jays”. It was good, traditional Moodies, an ornate, gatefold sleeve with the lyrics printed on the inside, and I bought it from the first Virgin Records shop in Manchester, a little, scruffy, hole-in-the-wall far removed from the later Megastores. I crossed the road to the bus stop for the 95/96, climbed up to the top deck, sat at the front and started to study the lyrics.

That’s where it all went wrong. As I read the lyrics, I got a distinct impression of what each of its ten songs would sound like. And when I got home and put the record on the deck, damme but if I wasn’t exactly right! That wasn’t good. Music that was that predictable wasn’t good. I ended up looking hard at all the Moodies albums with a more sceptical eye (so to speak). I still vividly remember a quote in relation to Seventh Sojourn, some long-gone late-night DJ on BBC Radio Manchester describing the band as ‘long-winded but never boring’, and starting to question the second half of that statement. I became uncomfortably aware of how many six minutes songs were actually a three minute song played twice.

And I didn’t buy any of the others solo albums after that.

Hayward and Lodge had a hit single in 1975, with a non-album track, ‘Blue Guitar’, which I did love. Ironically, I now discover that Lodge did not appear on the track, it was a Hayward solo. With 10cc!

In 1976, I began selling off my Moodies albums. There was one further track, ‘Driftwood’, a gorgeous 1978 single that got airplay but not sales, but that was it. The Moody Blues have been but an era, a past enthusiasm that holds nothing but nostalgic appeal for me now, and not much of that.

So here they were again, sounding half-decent out of the blue. When had they recorded “Have you heard? (Part 2)” Which later album had it come off? None of them. It was recorded in 1968, it was the closing track on On the Threshold of a Dream and I had played it dozens and dozens of times and it wasn’t in the least bit familiar to me at at all.

Music can still surprise you.

The YouTube clip below is actually a medley. Technically, nearly every Moodies album was a medley because of their annoying affectation of running all their songs into one another, which was bleeding annoying on vinyl, when you’re trying to play one specific track. It comprises the last four tracks on side two of Threshold, starting with ‘The Dream’, written and spoken by Graeme Edge, the drummer, and followed by Pinder’s trilogy, ‘Have you heard? (Part 1)/The Voyage/Have you heard? (Part 2)’. It’s perhaps a little more understandable once you listen to it, that a song I listened to so many time should not ring the faintest of bells.

Enjoy it though, if you can.

The Fall is falling into place


It’s been a quiet summer in many respects, especially this last fortnight when I’ve had a number of issues that have kept me away from the laptop. But the Fall season is nearly upon us and my regular round of television commitments will be resuming, and I haven’t made half the use of the summer months to catch-up that I had planned (though a recent few days off ill have seen me half way through the seventh season of Homicide: Life on the Street).

That’ll start to change soon, as the Fall line-up has been announced, and the weekly round of fitting everything in resumes.

First out of the blocks is my long-term favourite, The Big Bang Theory, starting season 10 as early as a week on Monday, September 19. This is the last of the current three-season order, so the season will count as to prospects of further renewal in 2017. Me, I’ll just be glad of the laughs to be had on Tuesday 20 September. This will only be a five week deal, after which the show will revert to its regular Thursday night/Friday morning slot.

Then Marvel’s Agents of Shield picks up the next night for season 4, with many changes. It’s also been pushed back an hour in the original schedule which, together with the cancellation of Agent Carter and the non pick-up of Most Wanted despite two pilots, suggests that I might have a slot needing filling this time next year.

Speaking of which, Lucifer will also be back on the 19, but we shalln’t be watching that any more.

Those are just the precursors: the remaining shows won’t be back until October. The DC line-up on the CW, now with value-added Supergirl, starts the first week of the month, with The Flash and Arrow on Tuesday 4 and Wednesday 5 respectively, with Supergirl (Monday 10) and Legends of Tomorrow (Thursday 13) bracketing them from the following week.

That takes care of the surviving shows from last season’s menu, but in the spirit of lose-one-gain-one, I am adding iZombie to my weekly fare, though the third season of that won’t air until ‘midseason’, so whether that means this side of Xmas or the other, I don’t yet know.

Six shows, five of them hour-long superhero dramas: you don’t think I’m getting to be a bit predictable, do you?

End of Term Report: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D


Hail, hail, the gang’s all here

And there goes another one, safely into hibernation until next September.

Reviewing a season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is always difficult because the show, from the outset, has always gone for a split season pattern, with a two/three month winter break, meaning that it basically functions as two mini-seasons, with changing themes from front to back half. It was especially so this year, with the first half being dedicated to rescuing Agent Simmons from the planet to which she got transported by the Monolith when season 2 ended, and the second to saving the Earth from Hive, the latest way to keep Brett Dalton in gainful employment on the show.

Basically, the show had a very good, very taut, deeply emotional first half which diffused rapidly once it came back out of cold storage.

Once again, I seem to be in a minority in enjoying Dalton’s cold, emotionless, very contained portrayal of Hive. There seems to be a low tolerance for anything that doesn’t at least nibble the scenery, but I’ve found it very effective.

Nevertheless, this year’s star has been Iain de Caestecker as Agent Fitz, who has been knocking it out of the stadium every single episode, not less in the second half than the first when he was driven every second by rescuing Simmons, and Will for her even after learning she had fallen in love with the latter.

So it’s been a particularly taut time in the back half when de Caestecker has been the rock on which the series has stood, and has finally got it together with Gemma (though he can’t yet quite believe his luck) and it’s been teased that he might have been for the chop.

Originally, this series was supposed to be about the Inhumans, and Daisy’s collecting the Secret Warriors. But, just as Marvel is now starting to row back on their determined push to have the Inhumans replace the X-Men as their leading franchise, that’s gone to the wall, and instead everything in the back half has been built up to her vision that someone on the team would die in an exploding shuttle. And you shall know them by their quite tasteful gold cross on a chain.

Said gold cross entered at the end of the penultimate week’s episode, donated to Mac. It duly bounced round half the team before settling upon Daisy, originator of such vision.

Now that would have been a bold and indeed dramatic ending, and I confess that it had been high in my thoughts. And her portrayal as a pawn of Hive and her piercing guilt for it seemed to leave her with nowhere to go except a conclusive and permanent redemption, and indeed the character herself was hellbent on that route.

But Chloe Bennett is an attractive young woman and let’s not pretend that that has no influence. Even though the Chekhovian gold cross ended up in her possession last, the show bottled on such a decision, and the Agent in the rocket doomed to explode turned out to be Lincoln.

This was a cowardly and disappointing choice, given that Luke Mitchell had only been in the cast this season, and had struggled to integrate with the team, but there was another death at the same time, which was more than due by this time: Hive was also killed, leaving Brett Dalton nowhere to go. Ever since he stunned everyone with the unforshadowed revelation that he was a double agent, the former Grant Ward has been a fascinating element of _S.H.I.E.L.D._, and they’re going to have to do a lot to replace him in season 4.

At least it wasn’t Fitz or Simmons. Elsewhere this season, I have had stern opinions (on which I will elaborate next week) about the manipulations of relationships on certain shows, and if this show, having carried the Fitz/Simmons story so successfully thus far had decided to snap it in two with the death of either character, it would have gone a long way towards destroying my anjoyment of the show.

The series ended with a ‘six months later’ flashforward to set up the new parameters for season 4. Dr Holden Radcliffe (a splendid, late season guest role for John Hannah, who would be welcome as a new regular in this quarter) has emerged from his heraings a vindicated man, and also a very successful one who’s about to introduce that long-term S.H.I.E.L.D. device, the Life Model Decoy.

Daisy has gone rogue, which is a completely logical development given her portrayal in the last couple of episodes, but also a regression to pre-Season 1 status when she was still Skye. She’s being hunted by Coulson and Mac, on the instructions of the Director, so at the very best Coulson’s suffered a demotion.

I wouldn’t get too attached to S.H.I.E.L.D. next season. It’s lost four cast members this year, two of them – Bobby and Hunter – very much to its detriment. ABC have already announced it’s to be pushed back form 9.00pm to 10.00pm on Tuesday nights, a slot everyone is describing as a ‘garbage fire’, so not conducive then. Add to this that ABC have definitely cancelled Agent Carter, whilst twice rejecting Most Wanted pilots (so much for spinning Annette Palicki and Lance Hunter into their own series), and it doesn’t argue much faith in the ongoing Marvel TV universe.

Nevertheless, I will be back for next year. It’s going to be very different, it seems, which has potential for both great new ideas or for utter disaster. At least I’m interested in finding out which it will be.