[Contains a surprisingly well-stocked bar and SPOILERS!!!]
I was quite impressed/excited when I saw that Ch4 would be showing episodes of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. here in the UK, a mere week after their American broadcast… though that excitement dimmed a little when I realised that my tardiness in watching all of the associated Marvel Cinematic Universe movies would leave me at quite a disadvantage, continuity-wise. Of course, I recognised ‘Agent Coulson’ (Clark Gregg) from the first Iron Man and Thor flicks, but I hadn’t gotten around to Avengers Assemble yet*, so the central plot-thread about his tragic death and mysterious resurrection was a huge spoiler for me. Nonetheless, the rest of the cast were all-new, so I wasn’t totally at sea.
The majority of my comic-book readin’, Buffy-lovin’ friends checked out after the pilot episode, and haven’t bothered watching another one since… which is a shame, because if they’d powered through all the table-setting of the first half of the season, there was a lot of fun to be had once the writers started smashing that table apart with plot-twists a-plenty! Obviously I don’t have any secret insight into the behind-the-scenes production stuff, but I would venture that the writers are constricted (to some extent) by their association with the MCU, and the necessity for this series to keep step with the movies, and not blow any big secrets for the theatre-going public… which is why the super-exciting Hydra-takeover plot couldn’t really kick in until Captain America: The Winter Soldier had been released, even if that meant this show had to keep spinning its wheels week after week. Or maybe that’s how they planned it all along? I don’t know. Either way, the season ended a lot stronger than it started, and that’s always preferable to the alternative!
My main reason for hanging in there, long after my chums had called it a day, was the prominence of Ming-Na Wen as ‘Melinda May’, a bad-ass pilot and weapons expert, who kicked some serious butt over the course of the series, and delivered a fantastically intimidating stone-faced performance. I got a little worried when it was revealed that she was spying on the rest of the team… but thankfully, she was a “good” spy rather than an evil one, and was quickly allowed to return to the fold once Coulson had processed her (relatively harmless) betrayal. Hurrah!
From an Affirmative Action stand-point, I was happy to note that two of the three main female cast members were of Asian descent… beside Wen, there was also Chloe Bennet playing ‘Skye’, a civilian hacktivist with a mildly rebellious streak, and a rather trite ulterior motive for agreeing to aid the team after she’s caught red-handed. I rolled my eyes and sighed aloud when it was revealed that she wasn’t just any dime-a-dozen orphan in search of her birth parents, but actually some sort of secret alien-baby! That smacked of mid-season retooling… a desperate attempt to ret-con in a reason for lukewarm viewers to care about her, and justify the importance Coulson had attached to her.** That said, Bennet is clearly a very charismatic and capable actress, so I could still appreciate her performance, even though I was never emotionally invested in the ludicrous turns her character’s story took. And I did like Skye a lot more after she was sworn in as a full-time, badge-toting agent, and started taking on more operational responsibilities.
The third (and least ethnic) female cast-member was Elizabeth Henstridge, who played ‘Jemma Simmons’, a chirpy life-sciences specialist with an RP accent and awesome eye-brows. Bless her. As the most adorable character in the show, I assume she’s going to be killed off at some point in the second or third series, since exec-producer Joss Whedon is a notoriously sadistic serial killer who always preys on the most vulnerable… so there’s no point getting too attached to her… but for now she’s very crush-worthy. Fun fact: According to Wikipedia, Henstridge previously appeared in the abominable British soap-opera Hollyoaks… but thankfully, she was only there for a couple of months, and it doesn’t seem to have done her acting any long-term damage. Phew! [Note: I would normally launch into a rant about the casting of conventionally-attractive actresses in both of the geek-girl roles, but the male cast members (including a corresponding geek-boy) are all very easy on the eye too, so it doesn’t seem to be a gender issue, in this case].
Oh, I also have to give a shout-out to Ruth Negga who played the slightly-creep-but-weirdly-sympathetic (and super-cute) recurring antagonist ‘Raina’… aka the “Girl in the Flower Dress”. Although I thought the finale had about three endings too many, I was glad to see that Raina would still be in the mix for the next season. She may have only appeared in six episodes this time around, but she (and her trademark wardrobe choices) made a very strong impression!
* Why the hell haven’t I watched those movies yet!? Isn’t the promise of Scarlett Johansson as a red-headed Russian hottie enticement enough? Tch!
** By the same token, I’d be interested to know if the writers had always planned for Ward to be a turncoat, since that was literally the only interesting thing about him. I really hope he dies… I hope he dies hard.