Agents of SHIELD now that we’ve seen Agent Carter

Agent Carter took a week off last week, and I’m assuming it was for the State of the Union address. Since Agent Carter is running as a mid-season show for Agents of SHIELD, I thought I would take a mid-season break from the one show to talk about the other in relation to the former… well, whatever, they make sense to compare to one another, right?

There are lots of comparisons that came to mind about the content of the show in the early days, or even before Agent Carter aired. Different eras, relationships to movies, these sorts of things – and I blogged some of my thoughts on that early on. Now that there’s been a few episodes of Agent Carter, the differences seem really stark (pun intended?). So let me look at a few features that I think really stand out between the two, now that they are both officially on the air and part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe!

The Ensemble versus the Protagonist

It’s inherent in the name, I suppose, but Agents of SHIELD is not the story of one person, with no central hero. Sure, the original and ongoing draw to the show is Agent Phil Coulson, brought back from the dead to give us a known leader and a mystery plot – namely, how is he back from the dead?

But he is by no means the only character on the show, just the only known character. Around him he collected a group of agents, who fly the plane, fight the battles, solve the mysteries, hack the computers, solve the genomes (Gene’O’s?), and build the tech. It was not a small team, and they took a lot of time – as they probably needed to – introducing us to all of these agents (and new ones, over time). While Phil Coulson was ever-present, so were the rest of the team.

Agent Carter is much different from that. Sure, she’s not the only character running around, but she is the one we are focusing on. Her partner is not even a fellow agent, but a butler. And there are characters we are getting to know more about – especially Jarvis in the third episode – but not all of them.

For instance, she has some friends she has made outside of work, women who have also been neighbors or roommates. Well, one is dead and the others we might suspect of having nefarious intentions for their friendship – who can we trust? There are also her fellow SSR agents, but they exist to be contrasted with Peggy Carter, to be cliches and stereotypes and not all to be fleshed out and explored.

Sure, part of that is the 8-episode nature of the season: you can’t do it all in that time. But we have solid evidence that we aren’t going to get to know them all, as one of the agents was assassinated at the end of the third episode. That’s a number of friendlies killed in just three episodes – it’s a risky business being in that show! All we know is Agent Carter and Jarvis make it out at the end, everyone else is at risk!

The Marvel Cinematic Universe

Beyond Agent Coulson, the real draw for Agents of SHIELD is its connection to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. These got better over time. There was a ho-hum episode after Thor: The Dark World was out in theaters, with a vague connection to Asgard. Then there was a far better episode with the Lady Sif, and the Asgardian Lorelei. I think this sort of cameo was the sort of thing audiences may have been expecting or wanting more of in the show, and this episode at least showed that it could be done, and done well!

Then the ball dropped with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The SHIELD focus in the movie bled into the show, and the last few episodes of the first season, airing after the movie started playing in theaters, were really incredible, giving a payoff for a lot of the ensemble-cast character development that they had spent so much time on. I think by the end pretty much all of the cast got to be heroes and found their way into our hearts – or at least, more than they had been before.

Season 2 has more seriously delved into the mystery of the Once and Future Phil Coulson, his death and return. After Guardians of the Galaxy, audiences at least knew more about the aliens of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – even if the characters don’t know. So when it starts to turn out that maybe all these mysteries are alien in nature – and we might know who these aliens are and what they might be like! – it got pretty good. The mid-season break ended in some jaw-dropping turns of events, the implications of which have us wondering just how much this will all be a set-up for some of the upcoming Marvel movies – especially The Inhumans, who may need the most setup.

But here’s the thing: with all of that, I think it’s safe to say that Agents of SHIELD is best in the way that it relates to the larger universe. The events of the mid-season-2-finale were great and all, but the implications were better. The minutes of my wife Holly and I theorizing and guessing after the episode was done were a lot of fun, and worth keeping up with the show – but you can’t really say the show and its contents alone were what made us enjoy it so much.

Okay, that’s a lot about Agents of SHIELD. So let me keep my comment on Agent Carter here brief: it hasn’t been like that at all. The connections to the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe have largely just been in the characters who come from it: Peggy Carter, Howard Stark, and Jarvis – known before just as a name and an A.I. named after him. There have been a lot of references to Captain America, largely just in the fact that Peggy and he were almost an item and now he’s gone. And that’s it – so the show is having to stand on its own, and not lean on the films for interest and intrigue.

So What Makes Good Television?

Oh man, what am I doing asking a big question like that? Well, I guess I mean that it is a show you can watch, and it’s good, and it entertains you. In and of itself. There are plenty of shows that people hang on to and watch for a variety of reasons – hoping it gets good again, wanting to know the answer to its mysteries, for love of an actor or actress or cast. If I were to try to define “good television” it would be something where it doesn’t have to rely on you “hanging on” – you just watch it and it’s good and stays there.

I think Agents of SHIELD has created a whole new category of reasons to hang on, because it really is an experiment in shared universe, between movies and film. Sure, there are shows based on movies, but generally as a re-telling – shows like Bates Motel or Fargo come to mind as recent examples. Sure, there are movies based on shows, both as re-tellings and often as end-notes, conclusions to the story or continuation. Star Trek movies seem like the best example of this. But Agents of SHIELD was a show set in the universe of the movies, not a re-telling, but a real-time continuation to keep you hyped and excited between movies.

As such, though, it does not stand on its own as “good television.” You can’t just pick up and watch an episode (or a season) of Agents of SHIELD and watch it and be like “hey that was all pretty great.” I don’t think that was ever going to be possible, but it’s an entirely new thing and as a fan, I am happy it exists and have enjoyed it thoroughly. It’s had rough patches and seemingly filler-episodes, but so have shows like Battlestar Galactica, which I followed all the way through its run.

By following an entirely different formula with Agent Carter, they have escaped that same new type of show that Agents of SHIELD belongs to. It’s a show following a movie (Captain America), but beyond that, it’s just a good, period-piece mystery show. It’s just good television. Not into comics? Not a problem, you can still get into Agent Carter. Okay, if you don’t like mystery shows or spy stuff like James Bond, maybe you won’t like Agent Carter. But no show is for everyone, right?

It’s a great mystery show so far, and if you haven’t been watching, there’s only 3 episodes to catch up on right now – out of only 8 this season! Not a lot to catch up on, so give it a chance! I’ll be back next Tuesday with my review of episode 4 – The Blitzkrieg Button!

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33 thoughts on “Agents of SHIELD now that we’ve seen Agent Carter

  1. Although I haven’t yet seen Agent Carter, I agree with your considerations about the show – I imagine there are plenty of viewers who know nothing about the Marvel universe and enjoy it regardless. They might miss how cool it is that Jarvis was based on an actual person, but they will like the character for other reasons. Similarly, they may not know about Peggy’s history with Steve, but they will be rooting for her because, let’s face it, she’s pretty awesome in her own right 🙂 I’m torn about Agents of SHIELD, though I don’t disagree with your views about its development. I was like a kid on Christmas morning when I found out about the show, and over the moon to have Phil back (I was gutted when he died!), but the first season felt a little flat. It’s only because I’m a fan that I continued watching it. Thankfully, it got better and I too am looking forward to what the future holds for the team. In fairness to the show though, I must point out that I can be a little impatient sometimes! I know it takes time to gel with new characters, so I should take the rough with the smooth and be grateful we have a show at all 😉

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    • I think they have realized that shorter seasons could be good… I think Agent Carter will stay strong for being a short season, and actually Agents of SHIELD should be better for being delayed right now – and coming back closer to when the next movie comes out. They’ve hopefully set themselves up for a win-win!

      The other thing they have to rely on is that they now have a LOT of fans. Between how many movies there are, and how big those movies have been, there are a lot of people that they can now bring along to everything new they make. Still, it’s very possible to lose us, so it’s a good thing they’ve been getting better over time!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. @infinitefreetime. This seems a good thread to hijack for a conversation with you. I saw a Walking Dead commercial tonight. When does it come back? And yes, I could look that shit up, but I am lazy and I am sure you already know.

    The info I am needing is when are my Saturdays going to involve zombies again? Because Saturdays are good here. Too good for just a music video, if the truth be told. And Zombie-Saturdays are even better!

    Let me know and feel free to PM me or email me or something. Just however.

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  3. Interesting thoughts between AGENTS OF SHIELD and AGENT CARTER. I’m not super knowledgable about the Marvel universe, so I don’t know if I could nerd-out as well as you over SHIELD. I admit I haven’t started watching it because “so many episodes!” I absolutely love shorter TV seasons, the way the Brits often do it. Like mini-series. Happy to hear that Agent Carter has 8 episodes because it makes me optimistic that they’re gunning for a conclusion at the end, and then would start a new mystery in season 2. Fingers crossed anyway!

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      • I have! I’m enjoying it so far. It didn’t grab me as much as Orphan Black (which is a totally different show but so amazing I can’t help but make it the new benchmark), but I still want to tune in every week.

        Liked by 1 person

        • One of the great things is that you can watch Agent Carter without watching Agents of SHIELD. I was really not expecting that – because Peggy Carter has been showing up in flashbacks on SHIELD.

          My wife and I have thought about Orphan Black but haven’t taken the time yet… Sounds like you’d recommend it? 🙂

          I mentioned Battlestar Galactica in my post… That’s a show that grabbed me. I actually first watched the opening miniseries the same day the first season aired, with the first two episodes. I still think “33” is one of the best single episodes of television I’ve ever seen. That’s my impossible benchmark!

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  4. Sorry for the length, but the topic got me “super” interested (I apologize for the pun).

    I need to see both SHIELD and Agent Carter, but your description of them tells me a lot about how each reflects on superhero movies. Most interesting to me is when you call Agent Carter a good period-piece mystery. It doesn’t depend on the superhero property to tell a good story, while SHIELD does.

    I see this in movies too. It makes me hope the rules you describe in your How to Make a Comic Book Movie series don’t stay true. While we get some good movies out of it – the first two Spider-Man (the Sam Raimi ones), the first two X-Men, and the first two Batman movies – the rules seem to inevitably lead to bad movies, like the third Spider-Man, the third X-Men, and the third Batman. Eventually, the only pull is the property itself, instead of the story (which is when villain inflation occurs – so I really hope rule 5 doesn’t stick around).

    I really like how Marvel is working on this: They’ve toned down the number of villains (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and even Avengers only featured one villain, or group of villains, apiece) and started using the property to enhance the story instead of being the story. We still get the obligatory origin story – no way Winter Soldier happens on its own – but instead of following the comics exactly, the movies make enough changes to keep it interesting (so I hope your rule 6 does stay).

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  5. Pingback: The Comic-Verse: Awesome Art & The Top 15 Featured Links (01/22/15-01/28/15) | The Speech Bubble

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