After nearly a full season of feeling very much like a television show, Agents of SHIELD finally felt like a Marvel movie this week in an episode titled Nothing Personal. As expected the evening was all about betrayal, awareness, double crossing, friends getting ugly with each other, and finally some hint toward where the series is going next. But it was also something else: cinematic.
The show has had its ups and downs in the first season, with most episodes taking the Scooby Doo approach of having the band of agents chase down a random designated bad guy while being placed in some level of peril themselves, before saving the day and having a group laugh about it. But three episodes back that all blew up to coincide with the events of Captain America, which saw SHIELD fall to pieces thanks to the rise of HYDRA. Shockingly, Agent Ward was revealed to have been a double agent all along, and a murderous one at that. Nothing Personal finally had Skye revealing to Ward that she knew he was evil (and calling him a Nazi – ouch).
But there was to the evening than that. Phil Coulson’s car, mostly just a set piece thus far, turned out to be an actual core part of the plot when he and Skye used it to escape (machine guns under the headlights and all) from HYDRA. The car ended up flying, and while the special effects were clearly within a television budget, the show finally had some real cinematic action instead of the usual action sequences which mainly just involve punching or the firing of weird weapons. Don’t worry, there was plenty of that as well.
But with Coulson now aware that he himself was originally behind Project Tahiti, and that he had tried to shut it down because the transfusions didn’t seem sustainable, he must now live with the fact that he himself ended up being the unwitting pilot program for a project that he had already concluded was a failure. That makes him simultaneously powerful as the de facto leader of what’s left of SHIELD and very vulnerable in more ways than one.
Can the show continue making more cinematic episodes like Nothing Personal? Should it even try? In any case, now that Ward is officially burned and seemingly beyond redemption, the battle lines have been drawn and will remain drawn. Coulson and what’s left of his team finally have a worthy adversary to fight against. As for how Coulson handles it all, his closing line after learning of his true fate said it all: simply a resigned “Huh” as he pondered what might come next.