Spoilers for Agents of SHIELD episode 2.8.
Agents of SHIELD has become an easy show to discount, and for fair reasons. The first season was plagued by cheap production values, lackluster characterization, and multiple episodes spent twiddling its thumbs waiting for the villains to arrive.
Yet perhaps SHIELD’s most damning problem was initially touted as its greatest strength. Here’s one of the very first shots of the show.
Right from the bat, they’re establishing a connection to The Avengers (cynically, through a toy line). This is a decent place to start, but SHIELD’S first season never really evolved past this point. Every episode namedrops a Stark, a Banner, a Romanov, a Barton, so they clearly want the connection to exist. But they were unable to establish a connection to the films that felt meaningful. The biggest film character to appear in the first season is Lady Sif, an insubstantial character from the Thor films. SHIELD’s first season is not building on the foundation of The Avengers; it is wallowing in its wake.
Even the much-ballyhooed Winter Soldier crossover is problematic. You can’t simply watch Agents of SHIELD; at the end of episode 17, you have to go watch Captain America: The Winter Soldier to get the full Agents of SHIELD story. This is not optional: multiple characters & events are referenced offscreen, and footage from the film is included on recaps at the beginning of the episodes. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a standalone film, but Agents of SHIELD needs that crossover to justify the entire season.
The first season has multiple problems, but they’re almost immediately course-corrected. Here’s one of the first images from Agents of SHIELD season 2:
The person in the middle is Peggy Carter, Steve Rogers’ squadmate from Captain America: The First Avenger. This scene, set in 1945, establishes two critical elements for SHIELD’s second season: the Obelisk, a mysterious and deadly Macguffin covered in alien writing, and Werner Reinhardt, the second season’s principal antagonist. Already season 2 is off to a stronger start: instead of just referencing the films, they’re using characters from the films to establish new narratives for SHIELD specifically.
But there’s more to Peggy Carter’s appearance than Agents of SHIELD. In 2015, Marvel TV is debuting Agent Carter, following Peggy’s exploits as a spy following World War II. That’s right: instead of trying to get you to remember The Avengers, season 2 spends its opening moments getting you excited for the next series. Marvel Television isn’t interested in letting you look back anymore: it’s using Agents of SHIELD to build their own corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
There’s a story. A myth from the east of a star that fell from the heavens. Of blue angels who came bearing a gift for all mankind, meant to save the world… These visitors, they didn’t come to save the world. They came to conquer it. (Daniel Whitehall, Agents of SHIELD episode 2.8)
In the last couple episodes, the show has drastically expanded its own mythology. Tonight’s episode could very well see the introduction of Marvel’s most pivotal new property: the Inhumans.
In the comics, the Inhumans are humans genetically modified by the Kree, a race of blue-skinned aliens featured as the vilains in Guardians of the Galaxy. A mysterious blue-skinned alien corpse has appeared a couple of times on Agents of SHIELD. In tonight’s episode, Coulson & SHIELD have to race against HYDRA to find an ancient city / temple with a weapon that could destroy the world.
It seems clear that the show is setting up the Inhumans. The Inhumans will probably be the most significant new franchise in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They could impact all films & TV shows, making superhumans more common throughout Earth. This season has already featured a major supervillain, Crusher Creel, whose described as a “gifted individual.” It’s very likely that Creel, with his absorption powers, could be Inhuman.
It makes a certain amount of sense to introduce the Inhumans on Agents of SHIELD, but some of the foreshadowing is laying it on a little thick. All the cavalier talk of blue-skinned aliens & superpowers seem like obvious misdirection. These blue-skinned aliens mentioned by Daniel Whitehall might not be Kree; they could be the Luphomoids or Centaurians, two other blue-skinned aliens featured in Guardians of the Galaxy.
They might not even be aliens at all: this could be Marvel’s way of introducing the mythological Atlanteans to their universe. Namor, King of Atlantis, is Marvel Comics’ first superhero. Like Hulk, his film rights are partially tied up at Universal. But since Hulk villains have appeared on Agents of SHIELD, that shouldn’t prevent the blue-skinned Atlanteans from debuting on Marvel Television.
Either way, regardless of what the mysterious “temple” turns out to be, one thing is certain: Agents of SHIELD is no longer a show taking place in the background of the films. It is a show at the forefront of its own mythology, representing the most exciting aspects of a shared universe.
With some needed retooling, ambitious planning, and smart writing, Agents of SHIELD has quickly become one of the strongest building blocks of Marvel’s media empire. Ratings have ticked up in recent weeks, but a third season is far from a sure bet. Hopefully if the show is renewed, Coulson & team will finally get a damn Helicarrier.