Now first thing, despite the heading I like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and watch it religiously each week. The major reason is due to it being part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but also there have been great stories, characters and reveals which I’ve enjoyed, but at times they don’t quite align. The reason for this, I believe, is that there is an issue with Scheduling, Focus and Consequences.
In essence Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a show about the agency which deals with “enhanced” people and major events. As such I believe to get the most out of this program it needs to align with the major events that impact it, namely Marvel movies.
Currently Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. aligns with a programming schedule of October-December, mid season break (Agent Carter), then March-June. In the age of digital media and Netflix, programming schedules need to be flexible and adapt to the needs of the show and its viewers. Airing this program at a time when it can connect and leverage from marvel movies will be more beneficial than sticking to the old ratings system structure. A “good” show will only ever be a good show, but a quality show with something extra can grow it’s popularity.
The Walking Dead is a prime example of this, starting in season 1 with 5 million viewers it has grown to over 14 million in season 5. Agents however has been the opposite, from a strong start of 12 million on debut down to below 4 million average in season 3. For Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to grow its popularity like the Walking Dead, a significant change needs to occur.
S.H.I.E.L.D. as an organisation has close ties to both the Avengers and Captain America movies. Scheduling Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. around these movies would immensely benefit the show as it would allow a clear half season leading up to the major event (Marvel Movie), then a half season dealing with the consequences of that event. This could work to strengthen both the movies and AOS, providing extra background and context for the movies. Questions like, “Why the Avengers are attacking Von Strucker? What other events (beside Sokovia) lead to Civil War?” could be alluded to in the lead up to the movie, then the consequences of the movies, Hydra reveal and Civil War outcomes, could be fully explored.
This re-scheduling would increase the meaning and consequences of each mission/season, giving it a defined structure with which to exist in and allow the show to have more focus.
Agents of shield has produced many good stories and surprising reveals, but at times it feels like there are too many stories and not much focus or depth on a specific story or character. This lack of focus can be seen with multiple stories reaching their conclusion at different parts of the season, one in mid year, one to coincide with a Marvel movie, and one for the end of year. Aligning the series with a major marvel movie would help focus the series into two main stories (before and after event) and through this framework other interesting stories can be told.
Imagine series 1 had 10 episodes leading up to Captain America: Winter Soldier, the pace and story would have been a lot quicker and many of those “filler” episodes could have been cut or merged into others. Then in series 2 Coulson’s issues with alien writing could be tied up with his secret work on the Theta protocol, giving both his team and the audience real suspicions about his allegiances. Then after Avengers: Age of Ultron, the series could focus on Skye, her father and Inhumans. Finally season 3 would focus on Inhumans, how their appearance has changed public perception, and we might actually get the Secret Warriors as promised leading into civil war where the team would split.
Focus within Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is also needed with its characters. Agents has a lot of characters, which is fine, but with so many characters you need to be able to focus on one or two through any given storyline and have their character undergo growth which changes them as a character. With more focus on a central character, or two central characters, the storylines and outcomes could be enhanced. The lack of focus on specific characters within AOS has become more prevalent as the cast has grown.
Currently during Season 3 the main cast has grown to 10 central characters not including peripheral cast members including Andrew (May’s husband) and Charlie (New Inhuman). Over a 10 episode series that leaves 40 minutes per character, basically 1 episode dedicated to each. There’s not much personal growth to be attained in 40 minutes, unless you’re at a Tony Robbins event. In order to have major characters become more central, each half season need to focus on 1 or 2 characters (not always the same character). This focus will leave the rest as supporting characters, 8 or more is a large supporting cast, therefore to avoid this glut we’ll need to increase the stakes and increase the consequences.
Consequences - Raising the stakes
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. misses the mark when it comes to raising the stakes and realising the consequences of being an agent. This is partly due to not being strongly linked to the Marvel movies, but just as important is that nobody of significance (from the “good guys”) has died. The two main “good guys” to have died are Trip and Rosalind Price. Neither were major characters but their death helped change others characters (Simmons and Coulson). It’s not often that whilst watching an episode of AOS I think, “I wonder if they’ll make it out of this situation,” they always do (sometimes very easily).
I’ve always believed killing off supporting and main characters was a good thing. It creates dramatic scenes and episodes, moves current characters into new areas and allows new emerging characters to flourish. The success of shows such as Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead are partly due to the imminent spectre of death hanging over every character during every episode. I don’t think Agents should go to this extreme but introducing death to supporting and main characters will both increase the tension within episodes and clean up the roster allowing new characters more screen time to flourish.
With 10 main characters, including Ward, there is a need to free up air time. My thoughts are that the main characters in the show now are Coulson, Skye, Fitz with Bobbi and Lincoln slowly joining them. This means that the rest of the characters could be in the firing line, some will survive as supporting characters, but not all. The ideal time to have had this clean up was season 2 part 2, where battles with inhumans could lead to the loss of agents, which convinces Coulson that he needs to create a team of super powered individuals, the Secret Warriors.
I will admit that the writers have proven my want of killing off characters wrong many times, firstly I wanted Ward gone because he was boring, but his hydra reveal injected life into the series. I then wanted Fitz gone, you really only need one scientific genius, however after his brain injury he became the most interesting character, so then I decided it was Simmons who needed to go.
The writers may have some really interesting character arcs that will prove me wrong again for May, Simmons et al, but evolution of the cast is needed with some fresh blood (and powers). My ideal hit list from Season 2 would have been; Simmons (killed by Ward in Dirty Half Dozen), May (during the final battle), Mack (during the final battle). These deaths would have rocked the show into a new space with high drama, consequences and finally some super powers.
Finally in Season 3 there is one final person that needs to go, that’s Coulson. Though great playing the straight man, and a good character for the show’s genesis, Coulson’s arc needs to end and allow Skye, Bobbi etc to grow into the role of leaders, perhaps Coulson’s death during civil war could be the catalyst for the split within the team.