Last year, Marvel used the dizzying success of their film franchises to launch a new expansion of their cinematic universe, through “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Though initially it struggled to find loyal viewers even within the die-hard Marvel fanbase, the last batch of the first season’s episodes introduced us to a never before seen crossover connectivity between film and television. The release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier dramatically changed the landscape of the show and mixed up a lot of character dynamics. In Season 2, the show picks up the pieces and crafts new thrills, new characters, and even new heartbreaks.
It’s a strong start. So strong it’s difficult to pin down any serious flaws or faults. Coulson and the gang are rebuilding S.H.I.E.L.D. in the wake of Hydra’s reveal and the collapse of the whole system – leaving plenty of work to be done. This includes hunting down remaining Hydra cells, trying to recruit loyal agents, and following the unresolved threads from season one’s mysteries – which the writers have no qualms dangling in front of us by teasing at Skye’s parentage during the episode. While continuing the ongoing story arcs, the premiere centers around a cool (and deadly) new enemy – Creel, The Absorbing Man, a Hydra mercenary who can absorb any substance into his skin.
Speaking of Skye, her development as a character is one of the highlights of the episode. She’s gone from the team hacker/techie to a full on field agent, trained by stone-cold ass kicker Agent May. Not only has Skye taken on her fighting skills, but apparently some of May’s frowning demeanor too. A slew of other old characters go through dramatic changes as well. Coulson is no longer the warm father figure of the team, but the distant, overworked new Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. after taking the mantle from Nick Fury. Ward, after his outing as a Hydra agent, (hands down, the best plot twist of the show to date) is now imprisoned underneath the team’s base. He’s gone from the generic and somewhat bland action hero to a genuinely interesting antagonist, which is also a great testament to Brett Dalton’s acting. My personal favorite Fitz is now not quite the genius he used to be after his injury last season, and the center of his own tragic subplot with Simmons.
New characters are brought on board as well, running the risk of losing the focus of the first season had with the main characters living on the same plane together. But, with one of those newcomers being Lucy Lawless, I can’t find the heart to complain. With the inclusion of big-name actors and vastly improved special effects, it seems like Marvel might be using some of the income from box-office breakers Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy to put a little more oomph into the show. There’s also a nice segment at the beginning of the episode set in Austria, 1945, featuring characters from the upcoming tie-in show “Agent Carter”, cementing Marvel’s tactic of using each new release as marketing for the next.
Overall, while the quippy dialogue typical of Whedon shows stays alive and well, there seems to be a grittier direction with heavier themes, grimmer characters, and surprisingly brutal action sequences (Lucy Lawless ends up being all-RIGHT). With S.H.I.E.L.D. hitting the ground running, and the potential for more much-wanted crossover content with Avengers: Age of Ultron on the horizon, there’s never been a better time to be a Marvel fan.