Let’s Talk About Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

One last hooray.

So this week saw the premiere of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 7, the final season for long-running Marvel TV show. I think this is a good opportunity to talk about the series, to talk a little about my history with the show and also to answer a question that has been rolling around in my head lately: how will the show be remembered?

The beginning

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. started airing in 2013 on ABC and was the first live-action Marvel TV show since the company was bought by Disney. It's initial marketing campaign focused heavily on two things: that it was part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and would thus serve as a connective tissue between the movies and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson, played by Clark Gregg, who first appeared in the MCU in the original Iron Man way back in 2008. The premise of the show was simple: you'd follow agent Coulson and his team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents while they handled strange, superpower related, cases. Aside from that, the show also had a mystery at its core: Coulson had died during the Avengers, yet was alive and well in the series. While it was initially brushed off as 'my heart stopped for around a minute, Fury just lied to motivate the Avengers', it soon became clear that there was more to this than even Coulson knew.

The shows debuted with strong ratings, the premiere attracting 12.12 million live viewers to good reception. The ratings fell episode to the episode though, while the critical reception likewise dropping to become more 'decent' than anything else. Still, the show remained one of the better-watched programs of its night and the demand of the show on DVR and social media remained high. While maybe not the critical darling or ratings juggernaut Marvel and ABC had hoped, the show's future still looked bright. With some time for the show to find its footing it could become something of a 'superhero NCIS'. A series about a set of characters investigating a murder and other heavy crime with a high focus on its characters and the relationships between them, with superpowers thrown in a nice little bonus to boot. Wouldn't have been a bad direction if I do say so myself.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

But then, out of the blue, Captain America: The Winter Soldier happened. For those of you who might not know, which considering the subject matter of this blog I feel aren't many of you, S.H.I.E.L.D. plays a vital role in that movie. It's revealed that the terrorist organisation known as HYDRA, introduced in the first Captain America movie as a rogue Nazi scientific division, had infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. and the movie ended with the S.H.I.E.L.D. crumbling to the ground. Suffice to say, that put a lot of attention on the show and it was at this point that I started watching.

I had seen some MCU movies and liked them, but it wasn't until Winter Soldier when I got 'hooked' so to speak. It was around this time that I was also reminded of the show's existence as I saw part of the mid-season finale on TV (which aired around the time of the movie in my territory) and I was wondering how the show would handle this reveal. They handled it the best they could I feel. Coulson's team essentially became the one last group of S.H.I.E.L.D. still standing, with agent Ward, played by Brett Dalton, being revealed as a HYDRA agent himself and the story of the first half of the season getting connected to HYDRA. Samuel L. Jackson even guest-starred in the season final as Nick Fury, which takes place directly after he left graveyard where he was talking to Cap, in a cool end to the season. It also established the new status quo: Coulson became the new S.H.I.E.L.D. director with the task of rebuilding the organisation.

The boys be like...

The Inhumans

The 2nd and 3rd seasons of the show kept this new status quo but introduced the Inhumans to the mix. Skye, played by Chloe Bennet, was revealed to be an adaptation of the Marvel superhero Quake with the show adapting her to be an Inhuman. With her, the show had its first superpowered main character. Seasons 2 and 3 are very similar to one another. They're both focused on the Inhumans, have an increase in superpowered individuals on the show as a result, they're very similar in tone and the series became more standalone. In the first season, the producers tied the show into the movies as much as they could but this caused some problems. While the MCU could and would interfere with the show, the opposite wasn't allowed and its 'reliance' on the MCU hindered the shows story potential and kept it from really carving out its own identity.

The amount of connection between the series and the MCU was reduced in season 3 so that the show could stand better on its own merits, which was the right decision. The show finally started to build up its own identity and you can see in both the ratings and critical reception how much better of the show was. The ratings stabilized to around 2-3 million live viewers and the critical reception became much higher and managed to outperform many of its competition shows on that aspect. Story-wise, the season tied up many of its already established plot-points and the cast and crew regarding the end of season 3 to be the closing chapter on the first 'book' of the show. The next season marked the start of a new creative wind through the show, so to speak, and that wasn't the only change.

Enter: Ghost Rider

Season 4 not only saw a change in how the writers approached the show, but also a much more practical one. The show moved from its 9pm timeslot to 10pm. This allowed the show to get darker and was done to help increase the ratings. The writers used this change to get Ghost Rider on the show. They hoped that bringing in a (relatively) popular character would generate buzz and would bring attract a bigger crowd. Ghost Rider was chosen as he fit the darker tone the season was aiming for and because there weren't any movie plans for the character (yet). Season 4 also saw another, very refreshing, change which I feel is something other shows should take notes of.

Usually with these type of shows the main threat, or at the very least the big story of that season, is set up at the beginning and lasts the entire season. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 did something different and divided the season in three separate 'pods', each with their own unique story and threat yet all connected through B-plots, call-backs and characters popping up. All of these factors made the season feel fresh and, to me at least, somewhat of a soft-reboot. The darker tone, something the MCU itself can't really go into, the new story structure and the inclusion of some more recognizable comic book aspects made it, to me, the best season of the show. Sadly though, these changes didn't have the desired effect of increasing the ratings. The live-viewership remained in the 2 million, not too bad but not really great either.

When season 5 rolled around in 2018 many people, including the shows developers, felt that the end for the show was near. The writers were uncertain if the show would get even get a fifth season and that it would be "by the seat of our pants." The season did have a sense of finality to it. The agents went to the future, saved the world from literally falling apart and Coulson went off to Tahiti to spent his last few weeks he still had to live in peace. Fans and critics alike loved this season, but this is where my experience with the show ends. It was around this time that watching the show became much more difficult for me, I didn't have much free time, so I had to drop the show. I can see why people like the season though. From what I've glanced it was very character-driven and having been envisioned as the shows last, many moments fans had been waiting for like the Fitz/Gemma wedding finally happened this season.

'The astonishing Match-Stick Man! Now with limited edition flaming car! (While supplies last)'

With the show tying up so many loose threads and writing out its main lead, in quite a beautiful way actually, you'd think that the curtain for the show had fallen but fate had one last surprise in mind. Against everyone's expectations, ABC renewed the show for a 6th and even 7th season, though not without some changes. The episode count got reduced to 13 instead of the usual 22/23, got moved to the mid-season and it was announced that those two seasons would truly be it's last. Still, that's a surprising comeback for a show that seemed to be over with, but hey, I'm not complaining. Even though I haven't watched the show for a while, I do plan on revisiting it and the time-travel aspect of the final season interests me greatly.

The series' Legacy

So, after all of that, we've finally arrived at the question I asked at the very beginning of this post. How do I think that the show will be remembered? From how it looks now, I think that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is going to be a bit of black sheep amongst its fellow Marvel shows and maybe more of an afterthought than a conversation starter. It has a small, yet loyal, fanbase and it has gone in its own direction, giving content that you can't find anywhere else in the MCU. It didn't manage to live up to its initial promise, but I feel that's okay as it became a worthwhile endeavour nonetheless. But still, that initial promise and season are what most people will probably remember the series by as that's the period when it had a large audience.

The friction between the series and the higher-ups, with crew members feeling underappreciated by the larger Marvel machine and the difficulty it had to justify its continued existence to ABC will probably colour the show's legacy as well. But what I feel is most telling at the moment in regards to its memory is the impact the show already had on the greater Marvel universe, which sadly shows that the show just doesn't seem to have much-staying power. For starters, there were spin-offs in development, Marvel's Most Wanted and a Ghost Rider series, but both shows ended up on the chopping block before a single season was ever produced. There has been a comic tie-in. Two actually, the original one and a relaunched version under the All-New, All-Different Marvel banner. Both didn't last long. The characters of the show have shown up in other Marvel properties as well. Fitz and Jemma appeared on the Ultimate Spider-Man TV show, while multiple characters have crossed over with the video games such as the Lego Marvel game, but those are more small tidbits for fans than anything substantial.


So yeah, that's how I think the show will be remembered. As a bit of a black sheep, an outsider (which isn't bad on its own I think) and mostly by its small but loyal fanbase. But, it might just not be the last we see of it. Quake's profile has risen a bit, she is still kicking about in the comics, with the integrations from the TV show intact, and Coulson is still there as well (sort off, at least). Plus, there's always a chance that a fan of the show might become creators themselves and look back at it for inspiration. Maybe they might even come to work for Marvel, or even work there already, and we might see them adapt characters and aspects or even relaunch an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. book. Is it very likely? No, not really. But a man can dream.