Disney/Marvel/ABC made a really bold choice with the season-long story arc of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The pilot was awesome; it set up the world and the main characters and situations and doodads and was entertaining in its own right. Did what it said on the tin. But they immediately changed speed to do the slow build which put comic book fans and TV enthusiasts off their feed. Entertainment, here, in the 21st Century, is all about the immediate gratification. If you don’t catch lightning in a bottle out of the gate, you’re instantly cancelled.
But Disney/Marvel/ABC/whoever saw an opportunity to mess with the formula of audience expectations. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has a waiting audience. Agent Coulson is a friggin’ poster boy for audience goodwill; let’s literally flip the script, I can hear Jeff Loeb or Joss Whedon or somebody saying. Let’s do the TV equivalent of a comic book. Our pilot will be the cover and the splash page inside, teasing all the big stuff to come, and then let’s do moving all the chess pieces around until we get to the big reveal. Sure, the broadcast schedule is crazy; one or two episodes a month since Christmas seems like a tap-dance, but the realities of timeslots means if they want to give us eight in a row to build tension and payoff, that’s just what you have to do. Sure, you’re gonna lose folks who are just half-paying attention, but the avalanche of awesome in the next two months will bring them back on word-of-mouth, alone.
One of the things I’m just flat-out in awe of is the corporate synergy. Never before has any studio been able to cross-market a cohesive world like Marvel has. They’ve taken the Marvel Universe concept from print and deployed it spectacularly successfully across a range of entertainment platforms. The next couple days are going to be studied in marketing classes five or ten years from now. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a television show existing in the same narrative space as a current series of motion pictures, has a defining episode three days before a major theatrical release that ties into the exact world. Then, in another four days, the TV show picks up the narrative track from the film. This is genius.
Anyway, bullet points from the episode “The End of the Beginning”:
• Agent May is reporting to somebody in S.H.I.E.L.D. over Coulson’s head. They’re making you think it’s “The Clairvoyant,” but I’m going to say it’s Robert Redford from Cap 2.
• I love when Deathlok takes all the bullet hits and then jumps straight up through a foot of concrete in the ceiling, Agent Garrett just turns to Agent Tripplett and grins. HUDSON!
• Agent Hand! Sitwell! Blake! Friggin’ BILL PAXTON! I can’t remember a cooler mission statement/exposition scene in an action show, ever. Talk about throwing down the gauntlet. I see now why Clark Gregg said folks leaving the show were losers. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is bringing it, now.
• Agent May, smiling, is more disconcerting than seeing Coulson’s exposed brain being operated on by robots.
• Find the exploit.
• Every episode that has featured Agent Blake, someone is drinking out of a S.H.I.E.L.D. coffee mug. I don’t know what that means, but it means something.
• Of course Agent Garrett and Agent Hand had a thing.
• Agent Ward just straight-up murdered a guy.
• I love how even in a tactical S.H.I.E.L.D. op where everyone is totally geared up with guns and bulletproof vests and hardware and comma units and OpSitTechDooDads and Skye is left behind guarded by an agent because the stuff is GOING DOWN, Coulson still goes in with just a pistol and a suit and a tie.
• I’m telling you, it’s Robert Redford.