Agents of SHIELD TV Reviews

TV Review: Agents of SHIELD, “End of the Beginning” (S1/EP16) – SHIELD Go Boom

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

agents-of-shield-captain-america-e1393809368554

  • Airdate: 4/1/2014
  • Director: Bobby Roth (Revenge, Lost, Prison Break, previously directed “TAHIT”/”The Hub” for SHIELD)
  • Writer: Paul Zbyszewski (Lost, Hawaii Five-O, previously wrote “FZZT”/”Magical Place” for SHIELD)

Full disclosure: “End of the Beginning” did not initially have had my completely undivided attention considering how preoccupied I’ve become with everything How I Met Your Mother ever since its series finale. By the end, though, this turned into one of the most important episodes in Agents of SHIELD’s short history. Yeah, but was it any good? Well….

THE RECAP

Deep breath….While tracking Mike “Deathlock” Peterson Coulson & pals finally found the Clairvoyant, Ward killed him (out of nowhere), Skye and Coulson figured out that dude was a fake because the real Clairvoyant is actually an agent of SHIELD, Coulson questioned if Ward was acting on orders from someone higher up the SHIELD food chain, Fitz stumbled upon May’s secret spy phone, Coulson and Skye had a Mexican stand-off with May over that, and then the plane automatically re-routed back to SHIELD headquarters where Agent Hand ordered her underlings to kill everyone on board except Coulson upon its arrival.

Whew. I got it all out in one sentence. Plus, Agent Garrett was back being (a bit too) chummy with just about everyone, Simmons and Agent Triplett are stuck at The Hub where some Winter Soldier-related SHIELD insurrection has broken out, and Agents Sitwell and Blake made extended appearances. All of this after Skye was officially made a Level 1 Agent of SHIELD. You’re officially a part of SHIELD now! Take a moment to cherish this personal accomplishment in your life. Well, you took too long of a moment because if you failed to notice that SHIELD is imploding now.

THE REVIEW

Agents of SHIELD has been in show re-boot mode ever since the calendar turned over to 2014. As part of this process, useless villains have been killed off, long, drawn-out mysteries have been given a kick in the butt (though probably not kicked hard enough), and they’ve come down with Arrow syndrome by begrudgingly starting to throw more characters from the comics at us (hello to Agent Garrett, Deathlock, Lorelei). They even called a mulligan, and tried to do an actual proper Thor cross-over episode, giving away plenty of screen time to Jaimie Alexander’s Lady Sif.

Now, we are entering the home stretch of the first (and potentially only) season of this show. “End of the Beginning” was the first of 7 straight episodes which will run uninterrupted to end the season. It’s no coincidence that this coincides with the worldwide debut of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, opening domestically this Friday (4/4).

Captain American kicking butt in Winter Soldier
Captain American kicking butt in Winter Soldier

Actually, it’s sort of impossible for me to know I would have reacted to “End of the Beginning” had I not been so in the loop on Winter Soldier. I haven’t actually seen the full film yet, but I have seen the first 10 minutes along with the full scene where Captain America fights off an entire elevator full of SHIELD agents. Plus, I have been reading for months now how the events of the film will seriously shake up the status quo in the Marvel cinematic universe. So, when Agent Sitwell references having a boat to get to I knew it’s because [spoiler alert] Winter Soldier opens with Captain America, Black Widow, and a squadron of SHIELD soldiers taking back a ship which has been occupied by bad guys, counting Agent Sitwell among their many hostages. I also assumed when Simmons referenced sudden strange activity at the Hub prior to losing her spy phone connection with Fitz it meant she suddenly found herself  in the middle of a SHIELD insurrection, led by those aiming to remove Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury from power.

I got a little charge out of all those references, and this is the type of Agents of SHIELD should be doing – taking advantage over fan excitement for corresponding film releases.  However, the show-runners recently told THR that their hope is for Agents of SHIELD to be rewarding on its own, not merely functioning as “a webisode that’s filling in the gap between the films.”  In re-reading my review for the Sif episode and working through my reaction to “End of the Beginning,” I don’t know if that’s completely working for me. I cared way more about Sif than anyone else last episode, and I’m more intrigued by what everything in “End of the Beginning” means for Captain America and allies than Coulson and pals.

Maybe since I’ve been so down on SHIELD I’m simply trying to think my way out of having to admit the obvious: “End of the Beginning” was a pretty dang good episode. Everyone suddenly seems to have a renewed sense of purpose (FitzSimmons covertly investigating the miracle drug, May keeping tabs on Coulson, Ward protecting Skye, etc.) Coulson and Skye are now connected and form a united front, with Paxton’s Garrett a vital ally. Coulson’s plan to collect all of the satellite SHIELD characters (Agents Garrett, Triplett, Hand, Sitwell, Blake) in an effort to go after the Clairvoyant was probably a bit more complicated than it needed to be.

SHIELD Meet
Agent Hand: I would just like the record to show that when I was running The Bus I threw Skye off of it, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Plus, how do you guys not know I’m the villain? You call yourselves spies?

Still, it gave us wonderful character pairings, and quick, fun scenes like Blake casually hitting on May, and Paxton channeling his True Lies character in boisterously recounting a bit of a tall tale to Coulson. Plus, it showed our characters being far more proactive than normal, and used a known yet disposable entity like Blake to establish some actual stakes by having him nearly murdered by Deathlock.

As with everything SHIELD, though, you have to take the good and the bad, and holy crap is there nothing but bad on the surface with Deathlock right now. I’m not the first to say it, but he looks like he’s gearing up to play laser tag just with a Mega Man attachment for his arm:

Barney Stinson playing lasertag
Barney Stinson playing lasertag
SHIELD Deathlock
Okay, so it’s a nicer laser tag vest than How I Met Your Mother’s.

If you can get past that, though, J. August Richards is doing his best, giving weight to “Mike Peterson is dead!” line as well as providing intriguing little asides like the implication that not even he knows what they’ve done to him (he gets shot, but does he even feel pain anymore?).

I’m similarly conflicted about the utilization of Skye and Ward in this episode. I don’t dislike the current version of Skye, but I do tire of the show’s overstatement of her importance, as “End of the Beginning” featured yet another moment in which Coulson spoke of her so glowingly that he’s become like the father who won’t shut up about his awesome daughter. It’s not necessarily inconsistent that Coulson would be so easily manipulated by Brad Dourif’s fake Clairvoyant, coerced into anger due to threats against Skye. I’ve never completely bought Coulson’s connection to her, but that’s been what the show has been running with for a while. On the other hand, surely there must be something more to Ward’s decision to murder a paralyzed (read: defenseless) man in cold blood than his crush on Skye.

Ward: I will literally kill for you.  Skye: I don't know what to with that.
Ward: I will literally kill for you.
Skye: I don’t know what to do with that.  Um, thanks?

I want to believe that we will discover Coulson was correct, and Ward was ordered to take the shot by Agent Hand. However, that’s not how this was played, and it seems to have been done more to introduce even more doubt in a paranoid time but ultimately provide long-term impact on Ward’s potential union with Skye (e.g., what will she do with the knowledge that he will kill a defenseless man for her?).

We’ll have to wait to see how that turns out just as we can’t pass judgment on Agent Hand as the Clairvoyant just yet. In the comics, Hand is basically Marvel’s Amanda Waller, a heartless bureaucrat more willing to do things for the better good than the good guys could (not unlike Harriet Jones murdering the Sycorax on Doctor Who because The Doctor can’t always be around to save them). So, there may be more to her, although you wouldn’t guess as much from Saffron Burrow’s robot-like performance thus far. However, I will wait, and I will be back to see how this plays out.

THE BOTTOM LINE

For some reason, they hired Brad Dourif to appear in just one, albeit effectively creepy scene before being killed off, and their Deathlock costume is unintentionally hilarious. Those criticisms aside, it’s long since been rumored the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier will blow-up SHIELD as we know it in the Marvel cinematic universe thus trickling down in a significant way to Agents of SHIELD. We saw the start of that in “End of the Beginning,” an episode which featured Agent Hand revealed as the big bad, May actively stalking poor Fitz on the plane, and Ward either having been masterfully manipulated or acting under orders from someone above Coulson. None of it necessarily makes complete sense yet, but other than Ward’s killing of the Clairvoyant none if felt false/hollow/forced either. Captain America sure as heck isn’t going to show up next week, but his actions in Winter Soldier might blow up Agents of SHIELD as we know it. It’s about dang time.   

THE NOTES

1. Have you seen the ratings lately? – Neither absence nor promised Captain America: The Winter Soldier tie-in made the heart grow fonder as “End of the Beginning,” SHIELD’s first new episode in 3 weeks, matched a series low in overnight ratings, scoring a 1.8 among adults. Of their ratings, co-show-runner Maurissa Tancharoen told THR, “We are [happy with our ratings], especially with DVR. Our audience isn’t able to be there on a Tuesday night at 8 PM, but they definitely do watch. We have a loyal audience.”

2. I desperately want Bill Paxton as Agent Garrett to at some point next week describe the future of SHIELD as being, “It’s game over, man.  Game over!” ala Aliens.

3. Was it really the best the move to completely undercut Deathlock’s bad-ass status by having him so easily dispatched by Garrett and Triplett in the cold open?  I guess that did at least play up Garrett as a bad-ass.

Well, I’ve said enough.  What about you?  Join the comments section to let us know what you thought of this episode.

Second Opinions

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