'Agents of SHIELD' Debrief: The Ups and Downs of Season 1
'Agents of SHIELD' Debrief: The Ups and Downs of Season 1
Bill King
Bill King
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV
Oh, what a different world we lived in back on September 24, 2013. Syria was on the verge of civil war, a huge earthquake rocked Pakistan and Grand Theft Auto V became the fastest video game to earn $1 billion.

We were still talking about Breaking Bad finally winning the Emmy for best drama, Katy Perry's "Roar" knocked "Blurred Lines" from the top of the Billboard charts, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 dominated at the box office.

Heck, Nick Fury was still acting director of SHIELD. It feels like the stone age.

Then, on a highly-anticipated Tuesday, Agent Phil Coulson brought the Marvel Universe into our living rooms and changed everything. Er, well, sort of. It would be quite some time before Agents of SHIELD would redefine what it means to be a branded franchise and turn the concept of crossing over mediums on its head. Back then, it was merely an introduction, the creation of a team of non-superheroes determined to keep the world safe from those -- domestic, foreign or otherworldly -- who wished its citizen harm.

A SHIELD Team Comes Together

We had no idea what to expect in the beginning, and for those who foresaw a theatrical-like experience, the pilot was a bit jarring. Really? Some guy named Mike who rescues a woman from a fire and a hottie working for a hacking group are the biggest threats against a world that survived an alien invasion? And the flying car from Back to the Future is the best special effect we can pull off? Yeah, okay, Joss, thanks for trying. 

The first order of business was to get the team together and have each cog prove its worth, and they all stepped up from one episode to the next while growing as a sitcom-esk family, with Coulson and May acting as the father and mother. 

Skye was daddy's little princess who shared a special bond with Coulson, and Ward was the protective older brother who was resigned to show Skye the ropes of being an agent (it's not a completely accurate comparison since he also developed feelings for his "sister" while simultaneously banging his "mother," but you get the idea). FitzSimmons was like the weird nerdy best friend/cousin, like an Urkel-Kimmy Gibbler hybrid or something. Either way, they were all essential, and we grew to love them in their own way.

Story or Serial

It was unclear early on what the format ABC's Agents of SHIELD would be, which led to some uncertainty over how things would progress. Was it set to be a Law & Order-type serial, where each episode is a standalone story that doesn't require prior knowledge of the events that have already transpired? Or would it build on plot themes throughout the season?

The characters' inter-personal relationships could grow just the same, with bits of information leaking out about Coulson's resurrection, but it didn't seem there was any coalescence between missions. First they freed Mike Peterson from the clutches of Centipede, then chased down an 0-8-4, then laid the groundwork for the eventual appearances of Graviton and Blizzard. But it was still missing something, and ratings grew stagnant. I would always watch, but the series didn't feel like it was going anywhere significant. 

Then Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out and blew the doors off.

The Plot Thickens

The release of the Cap sequel was the clear turning point in the first season, and whether by intentional design or lucky coincidence, it injected a much needed dose of GH325 into Agents of SHIELD. I wouldn't argue the first two-thirds of the the inaugural run were intentionally dulled down for after-effect, but it might have just been impossible to go big or go home for 16 episodes when they and only they knew what was coming. 

There were glimpses of grandstanding, with the miniature Thor: The Dark World tie-in, Torch, the pre-Dealthlok return of Peterson, the mid-season cliffhanger in which Centipede captured Coulson, the appearance of Lady Sif, Skye's near death and the continued development on the Coulson resurrection front. 

But it was the appearance of HYDRA and the fall of SHIELD, also known as the best-kept secret in a blockbuster since the end of The Sixth Sense, that really brought it all together, reinvigorated the franchise and helped it become what we all hoped it could be those eight months ago. From the moment "Fear the Reaper" started blaring at the beginning of "Turn, Turn, Turn," we were hooked once again.

Everything is Different Now

The Marvel Universe is big, and from the first Iron Man to The Avengers to all the sequels and trilogies, a largely consistent one. We knew that Agents of SHIELD took place in a post-Battle of New York world, but the level of integration was wholly unexpected and set a new standard for how big the scope of an idea can be. 

It also had to be a risky decision, to find a balance between staying on a timeline while essentially spoiling your own $170 million blockbuster just five days after it hit theaters. I didn't see The Winter Soldier right away, yet I already knew the events that would transpire when I did. It didn't stop me from shelling out $18 for a 3-D ticket (aren't all tickets 3-D?), but it certainly could have kept some people waiting for the Blu-Ray. Instead, Cap was tops at the box office for weeks.  

The ramifications it had on Agents of SHIELD were immediate and enthralling, highlighted by Garrett's somewhat-predictable reveal as the Clairvoyant (though they did a good job of deflecting and creating doubt leading up to it) and Ward's shocking betrayal. It was a welcome twist made better by the depth of character it brought out in Ward. 

His evolution from dull, unemotional vanilla-ness to devious, maniacal and meticulous double agent was a surprising breath of fresh air, and when combined with the who-can-you-trust suspicion cast on the other team members, the will-they-or-won't they interactions with Skye and the ultimate question of how and when the truth would be revealed carried the rest of the season to its satisfying climax. 

Door's Open, Boys!

Renewed for a second season (with a move to 9pm), ABC's Agents of SHIELD is now an established part of the real-time Marvel Universe. Ratings aside, this makes it essential as a bridge between feature films that can also expand upon the everyday effects whatever happens in those films has on the rest of the world.

There are also innumerable opportunities for crossover appearances by established film characters, already seen with the cameos by Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), Sif (Jaimie Alexander), Jasper Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernandez) and, of course, Nick Fury (Sam Jackson), as well as the introductions of any and all comic book characters not big enough to warrant their own movie. Graviton, Blizzard and Blackout are already out there, but the Skye's the limit when it comes the volume of available superheroes and villains.

The level of integration cannot be underscored when it comes to Agents of SHIELD's potential moving forward. We know and care about these characters, who could even make the leap to the big screen thanks to their new found prominence. This is especially true for the recently-absent Coulson (The Avengers still think he's dead), who is now acting director of SHIELD and staked with rebuilding the organization from the ground up.

Fury went to great lengths to keep him alive because he's the heart and soul of SHIELD. And now, thanks to a strong finish, Agents of SHIELD stands poised to become the heart and glue of the Marvel Universe. 

You can watch Agents of SHIELD every Tuesday at 9pm on ABC starting next fall. 

(Image courtesy of ABC)