SPOILER ALERT: This review contains spoilers for the film Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
I can’t thing of a single case of synergy working as well as what Marvel Studios has going on right now. Besides two films a year, it has an hour-long weekly series on ABC, and more coming to Netflix. Last fall, when Thor: The Dark World hit theaters, the connection to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was minimal. But this week, Captain America: The Winter Soldier fits right in between two episodes, and has a huge impact on the show by necessity, given that the movie, an intense political thriller co-starring Robert Redford, blows up the universe the studio has spent years carefully crafting.
Last week’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. focuses on the hunt for a mole, an arc that plays out over several weeks, then caps off with a quick scene featuring Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) being attacked in D.C. Captain America picks up that ball, basically uncovering a huge conspiracy that results in Hydra, which has been covertly operating within S.H.I.E.L.D. for decades, dismantling the good guys’ organization as it goes public. This week’s S.H.I.E.L.D. shows us what is happening with our cast while the events of the movie are going down, and their scramble to save their own lives as Hyrda attempts to kill off any significant S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who could stand in their way.
Is it fair to ask fans to see a film opening weekend just to keep up with a TV show? It’s true that the Hydra plot unfolds within the series, too, so perhaps the movie isn’t required, but the higher-level stuff about the story is presented on the big-screen, including the exposure and explanation, as well as the fate of Nick Fury, while the show is a smaller-scale story, so it is best consumed in order of air date and release date.
I think Marvel will not only get away with this, but do it again in the future, assuming Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. keeps running. While it’s an inconvenient to see the movie in a limited window, most of the fans of the franchise will do so anyway. Besides, it is exciting ton be caught up in a multi-platform tale, allowing the universe to become much more epic than is possible in keeping things separated. The show gets me excited for the movie, which in turn gets me excited for another episode of the show. So it only makes sense to keep the relationship going, and the weekend’s box office returns back up that viewpoint. I just hope it will translate into bigger ratings on TV, as the series has not quite lived up to expectations.
In the latest episode, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” The Bus is hijacked by Victoria Hand (Saffron Burrows) at The Hub. Victoria believes Coulson (Clark Gregg), and possibly his team, are Hydra. Coulson is immediately convinced that Victoria is Hydra, and confused by shifting allegiances. It doesn’t help that Coulson’s best friend in the gang, May (Ming-Na Wen), is exposed as reporting to Fury behind Coulson’s back, further clouding Coulson’s view of the situation. With the dynamics of S.H.I.E.L.D. shattering around him, Coulson rescues his pal, John Garrett (Bill Paxton), and decides to take a stand on Victoria’s home playing field.
The entire hour may be more melodramatic than the movie, but the writers effectively manage to keep us guessing as to who the villains are. For much of the installment, Victoria does look to be evil, especially given the red streak in her hair. But it’s a shocker when Garrett comes out as Hydra, and even more so when one of the central cast, Grand Ward (Brett Dalton), joins him.
Some may have seen this coming because, after all, Ward used to work for Garrett. Others may wonder if Ward is playing the long game, getting in with Garrett just to stop him, though Ward’s murder of Victoria Hand in the final moments of “Turn, Turn, Turn” would make that hard to swallow. Whatever ends up happening, it’s clear Ward has done things the rest of the characters will not approve of, and could very well be permanently separate from the rest from here on out.
There aren’t many television shows that would take their golden boy and make him a villain, in the first season, no less. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is absolutely correct in doing this because the stakes set in the film demand sweeping changes in the show’s make up, too. While it would be safe to keep the group at the heart of the series intact, turning one is even more bold than killing him off, certainly telling viewers they cannot trust anyone or anything again. Given that Joss Whedon, the brilliant bastard who gave us Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Serenity, and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, is behind this only makes it seem more likely that Ward’s defection is for real, as Joss is good at plucking the heartstrings and getting his fans to grieve.
“Turn, Turn, Turn” is pretty good on its own. It’s not The Winter Solider quality, but it may be the best episode of the series thus far because of the major changes that occur and the level of mystery that invades the proceedings, keeping us guessing on the edges of our seats right up until the ending credits and its chilling Hydra logo replacing the familiar one. I’m very much hoping that the future entries are just as unpredictable, and that Joss was just playing the broadcast-network game with safer stories previously, having been burned by risky storytelling on multiple occasions before. If it should maintain this level, a little lower budget, and thus not quite as impressive as the movies, but still very good, it should have a bright future, at least in terms of earning the audience’s love.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has five episodes left this year, and has not yet been given a renewal or cancellation notice. Tune in if you’re the least bit interested in what Marvel can do with a second, expanded, very different season, made necessary by the excellent “Turn, Turn, Turn.” It airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC.
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