Agents Of Shield Season 2 Episode 2 'Heavy Is The Head" Review: An Almost Great Episode, Lays Foundation For Greater Conflict
Agents of SHIELD is a show of 'almost'. Every week, it almost gets there. The plot almost clicks. The characters almost feel like real people. But as they say, almost isn't good enough. While I quite enjoyed last week's season premiere, the second episode 'Heavy Is The Head' is almost great. The elements are all in place: the mysteries feel well defined, there is some good character work and even some visually daring effects, but it all gets drown in a sea of almost quality.
I for one am a fan of the secondary SHIELD team the creators had set up in Shadows. They felt like a sudden jolt to the arm, a down and dirty trio of agents who can get shit done. Their lack of soft edges was a nice counter to the often stuffy and straight-backed A-team members. So naturally, two out of three of them were killed off at the end of the very first episode. And the lone survivor was played by someone not named Lucy Lawless. All that build up, for about 10 minutes of screen time.
The main issue with Lance Hunter is that he feels less like a character and more like a plot device. It is as if the writers consulted a checklist and went 'oh, we need some roguish thirty-something to create conflict between Skye and her inevitable turn back to Ward'. At least Hunter has already set himself up to turn, after clearly stating that SHIELD is simply a means to an end. I can't imagine that the creative team will again have one of the good guys turn to HYDRA, but if you stop trying to outsmart Agents of SHIELD, you can enjoy it a lot more. Hunter is running the risk of turning into Almost Ward.
The Fitz reveal at the end of last week's episode was certainly unexpected (see, they can pull that off every now and then) and Fitz has somehow gotten more interesting now that he's lost so much. Though the new science guy Mack, who is the anti-Simmons, helps out Fitz by not talking down to him. One of the best lines of the night was hallucination-Simmons' approval of the way Mack operates. The writers have a good handle on Fitz and have clearly set him up for some sort of triumphant-yet-sad character arc, in which he regains his cognition but at the loss of something else. What that is, though remains unclear and I must say of all the storylines, I am most interested in seeing what happens.
Try as it might, the endless Coulson/Skye mystery map just is not working for me. It makes for a cool visual, but is just a tacked on attempt to replicate the needlessly long and convoluted TAHITI mystery from the first season. Thankfully, Coulson is including others in the great mystery this time around so it is not something that feels entirely disconnected from the week's story. May refers to Coulson's obsessive need to write down the strange heiroglyphs as an "episode", some sort of consequence of the Kree serum Coulson was injected. Skye should start showing signs of the same obsession soon. It would certainly give Skye more to do.
Heavy Is The Head does do an effective job setting up the rest of the season in terms of some of the arcs our heroes are going to encounter. The Coulsonumbers. Fitz's recovery. Lance and his sense of honor. And most importantly, the piece central to the MCU is the reintroduction of Raina, the girl in the flower dress and probably one of the most perfectly realized characters on the show. She exists in a grey zone and never lets onto her true motives, which keeps us guessing. Currently, she finds herself employed by Kyle Maclachlan, the great Dale Cooper, who makes his debut as a menacing, laconic figure who orders Raina to touch the Obelisk, despite its tendency to kill the holder.
For those of you still left wondering, yes, he is Skye's father. But who, or rather what, he is and what motivates him will hopefully be a well realized piece of the mystery. Another story arc that culminates in 'almost' is not something the show can afford.
It is a shame that they captured Creel at the end of the episode. Here's hoping he returns in some capacity, as his skin changing powers have certainly added a dose of much needed style that the rest of the MCU possesses in spades. Say what you will about some of those movies, but you never feel like you're in backcountry Los Angeles. The action of the episode remains quick and dirty, and not necessarily choreographed well. The characters hurry through it because there is so much to try and cram into 42 minutes.
Heavy Is The Head is an almost great episode. Upon reflection, it works better and better. It's not up to the quality that last week (or the ending of season 1 achieved) but it is an absolutely effective, standard episode of SHIELD that does a lot of things right, but never quite as right as we really want. It is almost in every sense of the word. I worry the number of cooks is getting too large in the SHIELD universe. It might be time to start paring down.
Next week, we find out what really happened to Simmons. She may be on the wrong side of this fight...or is she?
Background Noise is GameNGuide's TV column.