Plot: An undetermined amount of time has passed since Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) became the new Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. In that time, this severely handicapped team has continued the fight. Everything is going well until an 084 originally discovered by Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) makes a reappearance. Now the team must fight the seemingly indestructible Carl “Crusher” Creel (Brian Patrick Wade), the Absorbing Man, while working in the shadows.
Marvel’s Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. ended last season with a ton of momentum. Everything post-The Winter Soldier was some truly awesome television as the show’s basic formula was turned completely upside down. As we saw during the opening recap in “Shadows,” this is essentially the first time the team has really rebounded since Hydra’s uprising. Coulson’s promotion has revitalized their operations and now they’re a core group of operatives working in the dark. Director Coulson is only one change though. Skye (Chloe Bennet) is now a full-blown operative, Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) has suffered immense brain damage, and Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) is imprisoned. The team is running on less and less, and it’s their attempt to become fully functional that is the core story of this premiere.
Even though this is hardly a surprise at this point, I’m still amazed at how much this team is able to accomplish with so little. “Shadows” saw our heroes fighting battles on multiple fronts with Hydra on one end and Brigadier General Talbot (Adrian Pasdar) on the other. They are obviously outmanned and outgunned. Yet, they’re able to pull through in the coolest ways possible. Using the Creel chaos to capture Talbot and steal his fingerprints? Awesome. Completely fooling the US Army to break into an immensely guarded base? Even cooler. This team is able to work like a finely oiled machine despite the repeated hits they get. And I just love how Coulson is able to stay so frosty under all this pressure. Way to keep it going Clark Gregg.
There were a ton of new characters and returning guests during “Shadows” as well for both good and bad. For now, let’s focus on the good. In a very wise move, this season actually opens up with Peggy Carter and the Howling Commandos attacking a Hydra base in 1945. This was sort of a backdoor pilot for the upcoming Agent Carter TV series. How will that connect to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? Here’s your answer. Operations performed and discoveries made will resonate with the present day and certain characters, like Daniel Whitehall (Reed Diamond), will exist in both. I don’t know if we’ll see Carter again until her show premieres this winter, but now I’m more pumped than ever.
We also have the official introduction of the classic comic book villain Carl “Crusher” Creel, AKA the Absorbing Man. I’m always happy for the show to utilize some B-Level villains and Creel is no exception. The special effects utilized whenever he absorbed matter was stunning, for a start, but the real stuff came whenever he fought the team. His ability to blend into surroundings makes Creel a very dangerous antagonist. This does the job of elevating every fight against him. How can our heroes beat a man who can literally change his body into pavement to stop a speeding car? I’m sure they’ll find a way but I’m happy with this for now.
Unfortunately, the new S.H.I.E.L.D. additions weren’t that great. Despite being a heavily promoted and an extremely popular actress, Lucy Lawless was absolutely wasted as Isabelle Hartley. This apparently “tough as nails” character is killed within the hour. Sure, that brief amputation scene was intense, but when you bring someone in like Lawless and only make her an easy plot device, you did something wrong. The show won’t kill any of the principal cast either so naturally they use a one off guest character to fit the bill. And her teammates didn’t do that much better. Lance Hunter (Seriously. Lance Hunter), played by Nick Blood, got enough screentime to let us know he’ll be around for a little longer, but I had to look on IMDB to learn about his teammate Idaho (Wilmer Calderon). And there’s this random guy named Mac (Henry Simmons, again going to IMDB for this stuff) who was just there. Who are/were these people?
I am a fan of the big core team changes though, specifically Coulson, Skye, Ward, and Fitz. I love Coulson as the Director and it’s about damn time Skye became a competent agent. Finally! No more bumbling around. Ward, after the shit he pulled last year, does a good job as the angry prisoner. Dalton really sells how mentally unstable this character is now and that talk between him and Skye about his many attempted suicides was bone chilling. And Fitz…poor, poor Fitz. Saving Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) left him severely brain damaged. The entire episode we see him talking to her and barely completely any sentences. The real heart breaker comes at the end when it’s revealed that Simmons really left months ago. Fitz has been talking to no one this entire time. It was a tragic and unexpected twist that really proved how broken he is. Of course, now we have to wonder where Simmons is, and question why the team isn’t doing more to help him. That’s no good.
“Shadows” starts this season off on the right foot. This team is smaller but stronger than ever, and the enemies they’re fighting are even more dangerous. The re-introduction of Peggy Carter opens a ton of doors too, giving viewers a small taste of what’s to come this winter. As for the changes, they’re mixed. The core team has progressed in very interesting ways but the new S.H.I.E.L.D. additions around them are useless. For now, these characters exist for one reason and one reason only: to move the plot along, likely by their death. At least Billy Koenig (Patton Oswalt) is around. That’s guest acting done right.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.