Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Season 2, Episode 5, “A Hen in the Wolf House”
October 21, 2014, 9:00 p.m. (EST), ABC
Agents of SHIELD is one of the most frustrating shows on television, in part because it never learns the central lessons of many of the shows it apes. Though run by three alumns of Joss Whedon shows and clearly emulating his style, the show is surprisingly inept at mimicking the basic structure of a Whedon season. It is clear, too, that this is largely what the show is trying to do: the seasons begin telling one-off, stand alone episodes and slowly accumulate pieces of a master plot that slides into place in time for a climactic final third where everything comes together. In its first season, this meant that Agents of SHIELD had a bunch of filler episodes (most of which didn’t work) before finally coming around to a story that was worth telling and becoming interesting television. Season two opened with a lot of promise, but so far, much of that is being squandered.
Take, for example, the story of Simmons going undercover within Hydra. After keeping her off-screen for two episodes, this idea was introduced in “Making Friends and Influencing People.” Simmons then disappeared last week, only to resurface here, where her cover is blown and she has to escape with Bobbi Morse (aka Mockingbird, played here by Adrianne Palicki). In short, the show came up with something that might have been interesting to do with Simmons, did it poorly for about half an episode, and then decided to cut and run.
Part of what the show seems to be doing is trying to shift away from the episodic stuff it isn’t very good at and toward longer arcs, where it has previously exceled. Yet everything in “A Hen in the Wolf House” feels like set up for something else, or a pay-off that isn’t interesting or dynamic enough to really matter. Raina causes trouble for a while, and is treated like a bigger threat than she has ever really appeared to be. Skye’s Dad teams up with Whitehall for seemingly no reason besides the fact that the story apparently needs them to, and Coulson reveals his carving problem to Skye. The team up is disappointing for the fact that, at least temporarily, it seemed we might be watching a story with several players of differing agendas, rather than another SHIELD v. HYDRA story. But at least this means we will get to watch Kyle Machlachlan and Reed Diamond be wacky bad guys in the same room together.
Over the last few episodes, Agents of SHIELD has become more visually dynamic, trying things it hasn’t before and generally succeeding at creating more iconic imagery than it has in the past. Simmons’ getting ready montage in “Making Friends and Influencing People,” May’s fight with “May” last week, and the rooftop escape tonight all feel distinctive, a cut above the usual drab mediocrity of the show’s visual scheme. This isn’t to say the show doesn’t need to improve further on this front, but if it is going to continue to be so narratively irritating, at least it can start being prettier.
Before this season premiered, I was torn on whether to write about the show again (I covered season one elsewhere last year, until I got frustrated enough to stop watching, only to return to binge the rest of the season once I heard it got good). I came to quite like the series during its “Uprising” arc, where it became fun, fast-paced, and frequently thrilling. I eventually cared about what was going to happen next, even if it took a while to get there. Season two started strong, but has quickly fallen back into the show’s bad habits. I trust that Agents of SHIELD can become interesting enough to be watchable. It has pulled out of a spiral before, and I believe it can again. But where we stand at the moment, this show is in need of a run of good episodes that do something other than mildly divert my attention for 45 minutes. I am writing about this show, and thus trying very hard to consciously engage it, but more often than not over the past few weeks, there hasn’t been a lot to engage. Things happen in “A Hen in the Wolf House,” and it seems like they will probably matter, eventually. This show just has a serious problem connecting A to B with any sort of interesting material. It isn’t that Agents of SHIELD is bad at filler. It’s that the show’s filler just leaves me hungry for something of substance.
- “What in the hell is this about? And why, also in the hell, do you think I would ever let that happen?”
- “This isn’t a tone, it’s my voice when I’m upset with an unreasonable person!”
Everything in “A Hen in the Wolf House” feels like set up for something else, or a pay-off that isn’t interesting or dynamic enough to really matter.