Agents of SHIELD TV Reviews

TV Review: Agents of SHIELD, “The Magical Place” (S1/EP11) – Is It Time to Give Up On This Show?

To read our other Agents of SHIELD episode reviews please go here.

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  • Airdate: 1/7/2014
  • Director: Kevin Hooks (Bones, Prison Break, The Good Wife, Necessary Roughness)
  • Writer: Paul Zbyszewski (SHIELD, Hawaii Five-0, Lost) & Brent Fletcher (SHIELD, Spartacus, Deception)

In Little Big League, a 12-year-old kid improbably ends up as the owner and manager of the Minnesota Twins, an American Major League Baseball team.  One of the aging veterans on the team is simply not that good anymore.  However, because the kid has been a fan of the player literally his entire life he can’t accept what everyone around him is saying: it’s time to cut the poor guy loose because he’s dragging the team down.  The moment the kid finally sees the light is when the player breaks out of a slump, sneaking a groundball past the infield for a single.  The kid cheers loudly from the dugout, informing his co-manager that this will help the player turn it all around.  Gifted with years of wisdom befitting an actual adult with a long career in baseball, the co-manager calmly asks the kid, “Don’t you think there’s something wrong when you’re getting this excited for a seeing eye [translation: a lucky hit] single?”

For me, the “seeing eye single” of last night’s episode of Agents of SHIELD was a quick joke in the cold open, when our heroes throw in an odd device to briefly stun their enemies.  Before the roomba-shaped electronic device detonates, one of the bad buys looks at it and accurately and hilariously observes, “Is that a roomba?”  That’s a good joke, exactly the type you’d expect from a Joss Whedon show.  They gave us spy thriller stuff while pausing to point out how goofy a little gadget looked while also building up heroes since in actuality maybe the device they used was in fact supposed to have been built out of a roomba, thus making them seem all the more badass.

However, it’s not really that funny, certainly not something most will even remember by this time next week.  Yet I found myself latching onto it as well as the later moment when Ron Huebel’s big tech-savvy quasi-bad guy turns out to not even known where the history folder is on his internet browser.  These were signs of life, signs of the type of show I thought I was getting when Joss Whedon became attached to this thing oh so long ago.  There’s a spark there where there could later be fire.  

Or so I try to tell myself.  I just don’t think that’s actually true.  SHIELD may never be anything more than a rather bland show, the type that does not inspire enthusiasm nor disdain but instead “eh, it was a watchable hour of television” comments.  There’s something wrong when I allow myself to get that excited about a couple of decent jokes.

THE MAIN PLOT

Although not indicated as much in its title, “The Magical Place” was really part 2 to the part 1 that was the mid-season finale, “The Bridge.”  We ended “The Bridge” with Coulson taken hostage by Centipede, Mike “Not Power-Man” Peterson went all ka-blooey, and stupid Ward the sniper got shot in the arm.  We pick up 72 hours later, Veronica Hand has assumed command of The Bus along with a bevy of other nameless background character SHIELD foot soldiers, and our team is eschewing sleep in favor of tracking down Coulson.  Hand wants to take down Centipede, Coulson’s Angels want to save Coulson.  Hand proves herself more capable than Coulson by instantly throwing Skye off the Bus, sadly not while it was still flying mid-air.  May helps push Skye out the door by not supporting her when Hand defers to May’s tactical opinion.

Alas, it’s all part of May’s plan to get Skye off the Bus so that she can do her cyber-hacking and find Coulson without having SHIELD agents looking over her shoulder.  Sure, May didn’t really tell anyone that, but that’s just not how she rolls.  So, you’ve got Skye tracking a money trail on her own while pretending to be a SHIELD field agent (even calling herself Melinda May), and you’ve got Coulson being tortured by Mr. Po before the far more interesting and effective Raina takes over.   Ultimately, Raina convinces him that SHIELD has lied to him, and doesn’t he want to know the truth about Tahiti more than anyone else?  So, he caves, uses Centipede memory machine, and discovers……………..that Tahiti wasn’t an actual place, but instead he’d been operated on with some weird life-saving technology.  No, seriously, that big reveal they’d promised was mostly just a “and Tahiti wasn’t real!!!”  Well, duh.  Before Coulson can finish retaining these memories, his stupid angels interrupt and save him.  Skye’s happy to have him back, Hand is happy to relinquish the Bus to Coulson, and Coulson is mostly just really angry about the whole thing.  The end.

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Oh, wait.  Mike didn’t die at the end of “The Bridge” but instead lost a leg and suffered burn damage.  Dang.  Double dang, he’s now a Centipede agent with an ocular implant, much to his horror.

THE REVIEW

Agents of SHIELD is the blandest show in blandonia, even down to its lighting, costumes, and set design.  I increasingly struggle to muster up any great enthusiasm for the show.  That’s not to say that I flat out dislike these characters.  I’m just not overly invested in them.  If this eventually went the way of Misfits or the UK Being Human and at some point I looked up to see a mostly entirely different cast I’d miss some of those written out, but I’d also likely welcome the re-set.

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Who’s more interesting – Skye or the dummy milk man?

You can tell that they are trying to fix that in “The Magical Place.”  Our largely aimless characters were given a unifying goal, and it animated their actions.  The cold open especially seemed desperate to address criticisms of how the show has not clearly delineated the roles of the agents of the team.  So, they manufactured a scenario whereby Ward and May can provide on-the-ground tactical combat support, Fitz and Simmons can remotely provide sky gadgetry to aid the on-the-ground troops, and Skye can utilize her hacking abilities to mess with an elevator containing a person of interest.  Beyond the cold open, each one of the characters seemed to be taking the initiative more than ever before, Ward with his interrogation, Fitz operating with a laser-like focus on saving Coulson (rudeness be darned), Skye utilizing her field training and hacking knowledge to operate as a rogue agent, and May undercutting a superior officer who should learn to choose her words far more carefully.  Simmons…looked pretty?

It’s all very necessary.  At this point, just because SHIELD stars the guy who was awesome comic relief in Iron Man, Thor, and The Avengers, and we have to keep watching to see how he is even alive after Loki killed him in The Avengers is not good enough anymore.  However, I reacted to most of “The Magical Place” with utter indifference.

Earlier in the episode, Agent Hand has a conversation with Ward in which she questions why Nick Fury and Maria Hill are devoting such energy and manpower to the recovery of Coulson.  He is, after all, merely an agent.  We are, of course, meant to align with Ward’s steely resolve when he declares that Coulson is different.  Plus, this is but the latest hint at Hand’s comic book counterpart whose second guessing of Nick Fury is quasi-legendary.  However, if I am honest, I completely agreed with Hand.  Heck, I didn’t even realize that all of his Angels had such apparent devotion for him, especially Fitz’ out-of-nowhere badass “we have to save Coulson” mode.  It’s not that I wish harm upon Coulson.  It’s just that I am stopping to second guess if they should have ever centered a show around him to begin with.

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This is when Coulson is at his best – alongside a giant like Thor, not playing shepherd to rather bland sheep

Clark Gregg is good in the role, and his line delivery in Thor (“I don’t think you’ve been entirely forthcoming with me”) still makes me laugh every time.  He was a two-dimensional figure whose redeeming feature was his unflappable demeanor when held up against larger-than-life figures.  He was a great supporting character but not one that was really ever cut out to anchor his own show.  He’s even had a recurring role on Disney XD’s animated series Ultimate Spider-Man, upon which he is a reliably amusing presence but still used as he is in the live-action movies: playing off of the larger-than-life characters around him.  But when “The Magical Place” started throwing out revelations about his life, such as his mother being dead and how his ex-girlfriend cried for days when she was informed he’d died in the Battle of New York I realize Coulson’s parentage and sex life is not something I’d ever thought about nor cared to delve into.

The most effective element of “The Magical Place” was probably the conversations between Coulson and Raina.  However, it was not Gregg’s manner of showing Coulson’s resolve and devotion to SHIELD slowly cracking that captivated but instead the incredibly seductive (in a non-sexual kind of way) way Ruth Negga’s Raina converted him to her way of thinking.  She might be the most fun character on the show at this point, with mysteries of her own, thus the line about the memory machine having worked on her.

Oh, and it seems silly to have written so much without going into more detail about this, but that big explanation about what actually happened to Coulson?  Not worth waiting 11 episodes to find out.  Not even close, especially since it still feels like they haven’t told us everything.  Clark Gregg, on the other hand, thought it was really cool.

THE BOTTOM LINE

SHIELD continues to be a show which improves one week, then takes a step back the next.  In the process, they have shed a total of over 6 million viewers, losing half of their viewership from their pilot this past September.  It is not altogether terrible nor is it particularly good at any one thing.  It is instead an incredibly bland show.  This week was one of those times when they took a step back, which is all the more concerning considering on paper at least this was supposed to be an episode which offered answers to the questions surrounding Coulson.  At this point, is it time to simply give up on this show?  Over half of their viewers already have.

THE NOTES

1. Have You Looked at the Ratings Lately? 

Agents of SHIELD’s “The Magical Place” (2.1 adults) returned from its break steady with its last original.  While that’s good, it’s also worth remembering that the last original episode, the mid-season finale, set a new series low in viewership.

What did you think?  Like it?  Hate it?  Let us know in the comments section.

All of the pictures used in the above review, unless otherwise noted, came from ABC.GO.COM.

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5 comments

  1. I also liked the Roomba gag but like you mentioned we won’t remember it next week and it’s not a quotable joke we’ll be repeating … ever. Although I like Coulson’s’ personality, I also have my doubts about him as the lead character. This episode could have been a turning point for Coulson but nothing earth shattering was revealed. Thanks for the link!

    1. No problem on the link. I agree with the conclusion you made in your review that this episode could have been the point at which the show started turning it around, setting up an interesting new story arc and changing things up a bit. Instead, they lacked the courage of their convictions and mostly set things back to default. I admit to having been fooled by the trailer at the end of “The Bridge” last month into thinking we were actually in store for multiple episodes of Coulson captured and the rest of the team pursuing him while Veronica Hand hindered their progress. That could have been cool. Alas, they didn’t do that. It seems as if reaction to this new episode as been muted at best. I did see a review or two that argued it was the best episode of the show to date, and I do think that cold open was one of their finest encapsulations of how these characters can function as a team. However, for the most part it seems like we were all at least a bit disappointed. If their big reveal about Coulson does indeed turn out to simply be “he had a bunch of risky surgeries, at least one of them open-brain” then this show doesn’t deserve a second season.

      1. It would have been so cool to see the team without a leader for a few episodes and give each agent a chance to step up, while working around Ms. Hand.

        The opening is good to refresh fans as well as introduce new viewers to the agents as to what their function on the team is. I’m really nitpicking when I say it was a little too on the nose for me.

        I want to believe there is a lot more to Coulson’s surgeries and resurrection. It could have been and there still might be a huge reveal coming to make Coulson a bona fide lead character to build the show around.

      2. I agree that it would have legitimately cool to see the team operating without Coulson for a couple of episodes. I’ve also got to believe that there is going to be more to the explanation behind Coulson’s resurrection. Even if we’ve seen the gist of how he was re-animated we still don’t know why because “everyone really liked him” is not nearly compelling enough. So, I do think they still have at least one more card up their sleeve, with fan theories ranging from the crazy to slightly less crazy. My main question is regardless of when they play their card will they actually get to follow through on it in a second season? Because this is such a high profile release with such varying corporate interests for ABC/Disney/Marvel you’d think it would take a lot for them not to at least give it a second season. However, no one seems to truly be happy with it, and even if the ratings don’t improve some of their forthcoming cast additions better improve the show creatively to give the higher-ups enough of a reason to think it can actually be better next year. Maybe they re-tool behind the scenes, fire Joss’ brother and sister-in-law, and try to find better showrunners. Maybe they try to find a way for Joss Whedon to be more involved. Or maybe no matter what it’s colossal ratings collapse will be too much to justify another year. I’ve seen others who’ve argued that the embarassing failure of this AND Once Upon a Time in Wonderland might have soured ABC to Disney-controlled corporate tie-in shows.

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