Moving to a later timeslot and taking on a far darker tone, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4 has been a tremendous success for Marvel and ABC. Little wonder that the show's future looks increasingly secure! Back In January, ABC President Channing Dungey gave us every reason to be confident about Season 5, explaining:
"I’m very bullish on S.H.I.E.L.D. and we’re also really excited about our production with Marvel, ABC Studios, and IMAX, which we are working on for next fall as well."
Spring, of course, is the season when we'd expect news; small wonder that TVLine took the opportunity to ask Jeph Loeb if he had any news when he hosted an event discussing Cloak and Dagger and New Warriors. Loeb gave a simple answer: "We're hopeful." But those words will undoubtedly bring cheer to the heart of fans worldwide.
As we eagerly await news of the show's fate, though, it's time to ask: what lessons can Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. learn from this year's success? What should this next season look like?
Stick With The Darker Tone
According to Channing Dungey, ABC moved S.H.I.E.L.D. to a 10:00 p.m. timeslot because they had a "big bench of comedies." From a creative standpoint, though, she promised that this change would also allow the series "to go a little bit edgier, go a little darker and take some risks." That promise has been more than fulfilled.
Season 4 opened with "Ghost Rider," an arc that introduced us to the #MCU's newest iteration of the flame-headed demon. The first episode set the scene, with Chloe Bennet's Quake stumbling across a brutal murder — one that would never have happened at that earlier timeslot. Character beats have been dark and intense, and the series has gladly exploited horror and thriller tropes.
In my view, it's essential that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4 stays at the new timeslot. This experiment has been successful; it's allowed S.H.I.E.L.D. to develop a much stronger, more unique character. That, I believe, has been the secret to Season 4's success.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has traditionally had a midseason break, but Season 4 actually used that to the show's advantage. This season has been divided into a series of "pods," each telling a fairly complete story, and each building into the next. It's a smart approach, essentially meaning we've just had three successive miniseries.
Again, this experiment has worked. With only a handful of episodes available for each arc, we've not had any "fillers"; every episode has been crucial to the show's ongoing narrative. It hasn't been perfect, of course; the "LMD" arc dropped a number of minor plot-threads, suggesting that scripts were rewritten to help set up the third arc. Still, on the whole, it's been a tremendous success.
I'd keep the "pod" approach. It breaks the overarching story up into discrete narrative arcs, and allows Marvel and ABC to focus their marketing for the launch episodes. It's been really effective, and again — why change something that works?
The original pitch of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was an intriguing one; these are the adventures of an ordinary bunch of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, non-powered humans who live in the same world as gods and aliens.
That dynamic never quite worked, though, and as the show's progressed it's moved further and further away from those roots. Chloe Bennet's Daisy Johnson is an Inhuman, dedicated to the protection of humans and #Inhumans alike. Clark Gregg's Phil Coulson now has a cyborg hand, and can produce a shimmering energy shield.
Season 4 took matters one step further, with the first "pod" centering on Gabriel Luna's newest incarnation of the Ghost Rider. This was a success from a marketing viewpoint alone; Ghost Rider's always been a fan-favorite character, and S.H.I.E.L.D.'s profile got a major boost with the announcement at SDCC last year. Unfortunately, the expensive CGI meant that the character could only be used for the one "pod."
Whether Marvel originally intended it or not, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a show that's about heroes — including the powered variety. They'd be wise to increase the superhuman aspect in Season 5, although I'd prefer Marvel use something that isn't quite so CGI-heavy; it might mean the character in question can stick around.
Who's up for Blade?
What About The Movies?
Here's the real catch: how should Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. intersect with Marvel Studios' blockbuster movies? This year saw the show take a different approach, eschewing a direct tie in favor of a thematic one.
With Doctor Strange adding a supernatural edge to the MCU (albeit one heavily flavored with theoretical science), S.H.I.E.L.D. dived deep into the darker corners of the comics. Sure, there were subtle ties between the Darkhold and the Book of Cagliostro, but S.H.I.E.L.D. didn't even bother to call those connections out. They were left for the fans.
In my view, it's an approach that's breathed new life into the series. This year, S.H.I.E.L.D. finally cast aside its identity as the 'tie-in show' — and became all the better for it.
The question is whether or not fans will allow Season 5 to stand on its own two feet. The season would end in May 2018, the same month that Avengers: Infinity War would be released. The pressure of fan demands for some kind of tie-in will be absolutely intense. There'll be a very real temptation to sacrifice the end of season plot in favor of a tie-in. Personally, though, I feel that temptation needs to be resisted. Have the timeline of Season 5 come to an end just before the events of Infinity War, avoiding the problem, and allowing the show to continue standing on its own two feet.
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All in all, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4 has given the series a new lease of life. I'm not surprised ABC President Channing Dungey is "bullish" about the show's future; creatively, this has easily been S.H.I.E.L.D.'s strongest season yet. My dear hope is that the lessons will be learned, and that Season 5 will continue on the course that's now been set.
Do you want 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' to tie into 'Infinity War;?
(Source: TVLine; Poll Image Credit: ABC)