Agents of SHIELD, the struggling television show which has served as a companion to the popular Marvel movie franchise, made three surprising moves in last nights episode appropriately titled Turn, Turn, Turn. The first saw one of the main characters switch sides. The second was an attempt at tying the TV show and the movie franchise together in a manner perhaps never before attempted. And the third shook up the backstory of the show so much that the “SHIELD” part of its name might as well be dropped. But how will each of these three moves play with the audience, and what do they mean for the Marvel movie franchise going forward?
The “turn” with perhaps the least impact on Agents of SHIELD, but the greatest impact on the movie franchise, is the fact that the events of the last two television episodes dovetail with the plotline of the newly released film Captain America: The Winter Solider. While they each deal with almost an entirely different set of characters, the changes going on within SHIELD are happening simultaneously within both plot lines. Turn, Turn, Turn more or less assumes that viewers went out and saw the movie within the past week, revealing plot points from the latter parts of the movie. That could prove problematic for those viewers who intend to see the movie but haven’t yet. With numerous additional Marvel movies on the horizon, including Avengers 2, will viewers of Agents of SHIELD feel punished for not going to see the movies on opening weekend?
While that question will take some time to be answered, the “turn” with the more immediate effect on the TV show itself is the essential dissolution of SHIELD itself. Throughout the show’s first season, SHIELD played the role of a dysfunctional bureaucracy which rarely offered Agent Phil Coulson and his team much in the way of help, while often withholding vital secrets in harmful ways. SHIELD itself had almost become the villain, and aside from Nick Fury doing the occasional humorous cameo to give Coulson a hard time, not a particularly interesting villain at that. The dissolution of SHIELD in last night’s episode at the hands of HYDRA, along with the apparent off-screen demise of Fury, means that Coulson and his team essentially are SHIELD. No more orders from headquarters, no more confounding missions, no more red tape being plastered across the team’s efforts at accessing the secrets they need in order to complete their mission. Come to think of it, no more missions period. Near the end of the episode, Coulson is asked what the mission is now. His answer: “Survive.”
But the third “turn” in last night’s episode may be the riskiest one of all for Agents of SHIELD. The rise of HYDRA has set up the show to now be essentially Coulson and his team against the HYDRA team, with the turncoat character portrayed by Bill Paxton ostensibly set up as the default chief weekly villain. But for reasons known thus far only to the writers, Agent Ward suddenly sides with Paxton at the end. Is Ward’s mind being controlled by HYDRA? Did he suddenly decide to choose his loyalty to Paxton over his loyalty to Coulson’s team? Or has Ward been a sleeper agent all along, with his entire first season tenure on the show an elaborate attempt at information gathering?
Suddenly, viewers are left unsure of just what they’ve been watching for the past season, and unsure of whether any of the pieces can be fit back together. Ward and Skye were seemingly about to become a genuine item, but this plot twist calls into question whether Ward was faking it all or whether he ever did have real feelings for Skye. It also likely means the two won’t be getting together any time soon. But moreover, it means that the existing chemistry between the main characters as we know it has been dissolved just about entirely. The only thing more jolting to a team of protagonists than the death of one of them is when one of them turns out to have been a villain all along.
Then again, the creative minds behind the Marvel movie franchise have shown an ability to shift certain characters such as Loki from protagonist to smirking villain back to reluctant protagonist again in a manner that’s remained credible. In fact after audiences watched Loki murder Coulson, only to see Coulson back from the dead and now the de facto head of SHIELD, it’s clear that the Marvel universe is one in which any amount of character evolution and reinvention seems possible.