Agents Of SHIELD Season 2 Premiere 'Shadows' Review: A Solid Return That Hints At A Darker, Better Turn To Come

By Steve Buja , Updated Sep 24, 2014 04:01 PM EDT

Agents of SHIELD has returned with a new timeslot and a new mandate: go dark. After a rocky first season, the season two remiere 'Shadows' hopes to be taking the storyline in a more serious direction- think more The Winter Soldier than The First Avenger.

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The times they are a-changing at SHIELD HQ, which is an unknown location and populated by only a few remaining agents. Coulson has been given the keys to the kingdom and is trying to handle it; Ward, the Hydra agent, has been captured and locked up; May, well, May hasn't changed much. Skye is shedding her hacker identity and is becoming May 2.0, a decision I am not the hugest fan of (it smacks of not knowing how to handle your main character) and poor Fitz is suffering a traumatic, and heartbreaking brain injury.

The main core of Coulson's bunch are fine people, but when you put them up against the newcomers (who sadly do not get to stick around too long) you can't help but wish the showrunners would pull a True Detective and change-up the cast each season. Lucy Lawless as Hartley commands a chatty merc group that has more life and charm than the SHIELD cast during the first half of last season, and the intro scene featuring Peggy Carter and the Howling Commandos is getting me very excited for Agent Carter, coming out later this season.

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Every 'A Team' scene has this lifelessness to it. The actors stand around and hit their marks and that's it. The antagonists and co-stars are what make the episode stand out above the majority of season one. The intimidating presence of Brian Patrick Wade as the Carl Creel, the Absorbing Man, who says precisely zero words, is the most enlivening part of the episode. His final moments with Hartley are some of the most exciting moments in the show's short history, and none of the main characters were around!

Adrian Pasdar chews scenery and you wonder what the show would be like if his character were in charge. Ward, imprisoned beneath the SHIELD base, has taken on a more Zen-like demeanor, and you almost, almost want to believe him when he says that he will always tell the truth to Skye. It's a touching scene of lost trust and shaky confidence. You understand Skye's point of view, but...

Still, the groundwork is laid for the rest of season two, which will revolve around another fancy MCU MacGuffin: the first 084 object, captured by the Howling Commandos and can force people into some very ill-advised emergency surgery. Even I can admit to not seeing the Fitz twist coming, but even that could have been handled by the writer's a touch better. It seemed so...matter of fact, the way Coulson just off-handedly remarks that Simmons has left.

Though the episode lacks a good deal of tension (at one point the agents pretty much just walk right into a top secret facility and steal a box from what looks like sparsely stocked Amazon warehouse) the premiere satisfies. One hates to use 'it's better than it used to be!' as a serious critical point, but I believe the long hiatus and mixed-reception from audiences has given the writers a new sense of focus. With the Fitz reveal, one hopes they will not tease out certain secrets endlessly like they did in season one. A smaller episode order would do that, but alas, ABC has called for the full 22 or 23 episode season, which is far too many for a show that desperately wants to tell a solid, contained story.

Agents of SHIELD has proven that it can do exciting plots and some decent character work but it almost never did both in the same episode. I hope in season two they can correct that. The MCU (MCTU?) is a great place to play around, but right now it feels like Agents of SHIELD is standing on the edge of the sandbox, waiting for someone to tell them that it's okay to jump in.

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