[WARNING: the following article contains spoilers for the current season of Marvel's Agents of SHIELD (including the most recent episode) as well as for Avengers: Age of Ultron. Proceed with caution.]
By now, everyone is aware that Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron is blowing up the box office (as it was, of course, expected to) and it's a pretty spectacular piece of cinema. It's epic. Stunning. Witty. Amazingly well paced. Hands down, it's one of Marvel's finest films to date.
And then there's Agents of SHIELD.
I'm a huge supporter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I'm not here to talk ill about it in any capacity. But if there's a wink link in the chain it definitely lies with Agents of SHIELD. A similar argument can be made for Agent Carter as it didn't help the development of the story in any way. But for that very reason it was actually less of a disappointment. Agent Carter was simply unnecessary whereas Agents of SHIELD tries to play an integral role in the development of the cinematic universe that it is based in.
But is Agents of SHIELD even necessary to the MCU?
Months, maybe even a year before there was an announcement that Marvel was going to develop a SHIELD television series for ABC, I thought to myself that they should do one. At that point fans had been clamoring for a Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD movie starring Samuel L. Jackson but, honestly, the story just isn't there for a movie. Ask David Hasselhoff. It just doesn't work. But a television show? That's where SHIELD's strength lies if you want to depict more than what you've seen on the sidelines of Iron Man, Captain America and Avengers movies.
I envisioned a series where SHIELD would go on "missions of the week" with an alternating cast of core characters (depending on what the mission required) and the occasional guest appearance by Nick Fury (pilot, midseason and season finales...or something to that effect). The series would help build the universe while telling its own stories, independent of the events of the films. Sure...it would allude to the films the way each new installment alludes vaguely to events of the previous one. But it wouldn't depend, necessarily on you having seen that film. It especially wouldn't depend on you having gone to see it opening weekend.
Instead, we got a series with a core cast of characters that are really difficult to care about that is incredibly codependent on you being up to date with the films. It namedrops the like of Tony Stark, Bruce Banner and (especially) Natasha Romanoff like crazy (annoyingly so, in fact) and advertises special "crossover" episodes with whichever film comes out around that time only to have the episode do nothing more than recap the events of said film (because, naturally, you were supposed to have seen it already).
They did it with Thor: The Dark World. They advertised a special episode that crosses over with the movie only to have it simply begin with SHIELD cleaning up the debris of the film's climactic battle in London and then, just as quickly as it started, move on to its own storyline that conveniently also starred an unrelated Asgardian threat.
They did it with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. They advertised an entire substory event that built around the release of the movie. But God save you if you didn't go see The Winter Solider opening weekend because the following Tuesday you were told all about HYDRA, Nick Fury "dying" and Captain America saving the day in DC. I'm sorry, but that was just really poor planning on their part, and in both cases (Thor and Cap) the events of the episodes had little, if anything, to actually do with the films except make you glad you saw them first (or pissed that you didn't).
And then there is the current season of Agents of SHIELD and, more particularly, it's two most recent episodes. All season long, Director Coulson's team has been battling HYDRA (specifically the growing threats of Baron Von Strucker and Dr. List, whom you may also remember from the post credit scene of The Winter Soldier) in the aftermath of their SHIELD takeover whilst also following leads that have now brought them face to face with the Inhumans (sorta...none of the important ones have really been involved yet. It's actually kind of a whole useless let down). A few episodes ago it was revealed that a separate unit of SHIELD has been operating with moles inside Coulson's team. They uncovered a secret plan called Theta Protocol that Coulson had been keeping from everyone.
Episode 19 ("The Dirty Half Dozen") revealed that part of Theta Protocol was locating Loki's staff from The Avengers (previously revealed to be in Strucker and List's possession) and having Coulson end the episode with "It's time to call in The Avengers."
Jump to episode 20 ("Scars") and....it's all over. Strucker is dead. Ultron has been defeated. Theta Protocol was revealed to have been a hellicarrier that Fury and Coulson were keeping under wraps. The staff has been destroyed. All that stuff. An entire season's worth of threads tied off over the course of 2 1/2 hours of film depicted outside of the show itself. Wow...I really hope everyone saw Age of Ultron in between episodes 19 and 20. I mean if not...damn...
Therein lies one of the biggest problems I have with the show. None of the movies are dependent on the series (and I'll touch more on that in a second). But the series is heavily codependent on the movies. From one episode to the next you have to be completely up to date. It's like the show uses the movies as extended episodes of itself, which is a huge issue. An effective television series (even one connected to a larger story) needs to be self contained. If they want to subtly allude to events of the movies then that's fine. But you should still be able to go from one episode to the next without needing to rely on the events of a completely separate movie. Netflix's powerhouse success, Daredevil, does this in spades. It told its own unique, well crafted story completely independent of the films. It wasn't without its acknowledgements to that universe, though. Subtle references like calling the battle of New York "the incident" or that witty bit of banter about "a suit of armor or a magic hammer" were all you needed. That's what Agents of SHIELD needed to be – a series set in that universe but with its own story and little, if any, dependency on the events of the movies.
But I can go on and on about the things that the show has been doing wrong. However, that's not the point of the article. There are good things about the series. It's far from perfect but it's not without it's highlights. For example, it's always a delight to watch Clark Gregg play Agent Phil Coulson. Yes, his death was an important part of the films but there wasn't a single fanboy out there who didn't burst a huge grin when they saw he was coming back. But, unfortunately, that's not enough to salvage the show.
Does the Marvel Cinematic Universe even need Agents of SHIELD?
The simple answer is "No."
In fact, Joss Whedon (now officially done with his involvement in the MCU), got into a lot of hot water recently when he said that Agents of SHIELD is not a part of the MCU and that, as far as the movies are concerned, Phil Coulson is still dead. This is, of course, not true...but you know what? In a way, he wasn't really wrong.
Agents of SHIELD, as I've already stated, is so incredibly codependent on the films. But, in contrast, the films don't need the series at all. Not a single moment, plot line or character has crossed over from the show to the movies. When Captain America: The Winter Solider was over, SHIELD was gone. Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) went on to join Stark Enterprises, Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) joins the FBI and the Avengers go...somewhere...until they're needed again.
But there's still SHIELD. In fact...there are two. The world knows it. Did the people who quit do so because they wanted to? Perhaps. But regardless, it helps create that disconnect.
In the climax of Age of Ultron, Nick Fury shows up with a hellicarrier – the very same hellicarrier that was revealed to be Theta Protocol this week on SHIELD – to help save the day. He says he "pulled it out of mothballs with the help of a couple of old friends." Sure, if you watched the show this week you know one of those old friends to be Coulson. However, for the sake of the film and its non-reliance to the show, Whedon shows a "couple of old friends" on board the hellicarrier. Namely Maria Hill and Launch Tech #1.
You remember Launch Tech #1, right? That guy from The Winter Solider who refused to launch the HYDRA hellicarriers (and probably subsequently wet himself when Rumlow pulled out his gun). Yeah! That guy!
A couple of old friends. No Coulson.
Hell, they should have brought back the Galaga guy, too!
No...no, he was probably HYDRA.
And, as if to add insult to injury, I caught what appeared to be a read-between-the-lines jab at Agents of SHIELD during that very scene in Age of Ultron. After the hellicarrier appears and is rescuing civilians from Ultron's levitating city, Pietro Maximoff asks, "is this SHIELD?" To which good ol' Captain America responds with,
This is what SHIELD is supposed to be.
BOOM! Take that Agents of SHIELD! How do you like dem apples?!?!
Is that what Joss Whedon really meant or intended? Probably not. However, it's this writer's assumption that he made the comments that he did because he realizes that the show hasn't been what the fine people at Marvel intended when they started developing it. I mean, after all, it is a little difficult to build something successful around a series whose actual main character from the comics remains absent the entire time.
Stepping away from Age of Ultron and films past, though, there's yet another glaring reason why Agents of SHIELD seems to be really irrelevant to the development of this universe.
When not fighting HYDRA this season, Director Coulson and his team have also been discovering the Inhumans. This could have possibly been a fine set up and tie in to the Inhumans movie that Marvel Studios has planned...except that it's happening four years too early. AND they haven't introduced any of the core Inhuman characters. No Black Bolt. No Medusa. No Crystal. Instead you get a bunch nameless people nobody cares about. Although, Skye did turn out to be Daisy Johnson (aka Quake) and Raina ended up being Tigra.
Still, with four years left to go before the Inhumans people are actually familiar with grace the silver screen, it's unlikely that the events of this season of SHIELD are going to have any bearing on the story. If anything it will probably have a stronger connecting to Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Infinity War.
But does any of this make Agents of SHIELD a bad show?
And it's not a bad show. An unsuccessful one? Yes. But it's not a bad show. It has had some genuinely good episodes and characters. But at the end of the day you just don't need it to be a part of this universe. If ABC were the cancel it after this season there would be no effect accept for a longer gap of time without Marvel programming between movies and Netflix seasons.
Is there anything salvageable from Agents of SHIELD that could work in the MCU if reintegrated properly?
Adrianne Palicki as Agent Bobbi Morse (aka Mockingbird) has been one of the best parts about this current season. She's a tremendous actress, capable of holding her own with and against some of the biggest names in the MCU and (as a bonus) unlike most of the cast on the show, her character is actually from the comics. Having starred in such action heavy films as GI Joe: Retaliation, Red Dawn and John Wick, Ms. Palicki is primed for the MCU. And since Mockingbird was a regular character in the New Avengers comic series she could easily act as a Black Widow replacement should Scarlett Johansson's contract expire soon.
And then there's Skye, herself. Chloe Bennet has done a great job playing the character since day one. Even when she wasn't really anybody, Skye was that necessary character unaffiliated with SHIELD and super powers that the audience needed to relate to. The Richie Ryan* if you will. But when it was revealed that she was actually Daisy Johnson that made her much more interesting. If you needed to have a bridge between SHIELD and Inhumans when that movie comes out it is definitely her.
That's pretty much all I have for you. I have spent the last two years giving Agents of SHIELD the benefit of every doubt. But when all is said and done I could just as easily do without it. The MCU doesn't depend on it even a fraction of how much it depends on the MCU and that just isn't the way to run a show.
So what do you think?