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Marvel's Agents of SHIELD S2.01 Shadows Review

“Go dark,” demands Phil Coulson in the precredit teaser. He’s telling his team to go off radar, but you can’t help wondering if it’s also a mission statement for season two. After all, this is the post-Winter Soldier SHIELD now, bruised and battered, but not beaten, forced to rebuild in secret while HYDRA grows ever more heads. Things must get darker, right?

Well, possibly. A little. Fitz certainly seems in a bad place, his oxygen-deprived brain leaving him stuttering, aphasic and hallucinating his best buddy. A post-suicidal Ward is now locked up in a SHIELD vault delivering intel to Skye like some bargain basement Hannibal Lecter. Coulson is using work as a shield (ahem) against having to deal with his alien graffiti compulsion. And half the potential new agent characters die at the end of the season’s first episode.

But it’s best not to get too carried away with tenuous foreshadowing in throwaway lines. After all, during the climactic action, Skye implores Coulson, “Do we go dark?” to which he emphatically replies, “Negative.” And new guy Hunter also complains that he hates being left in the dark. So if you’re looking for metaphors, this one’s decidedly mixed.

And, let’s be honest, the show hasn’t suddenly become The Walking Dead. What it has done is take a step nearer to being that small screen version of the MCU that we all hoped it would be at the start, before we had to suffer half a season of The A-Team meets Torchwood. While there’s still something a little small scale and unambitiously “TV” about the show as times (too many talky scenes in grey offices and shooty scenes in dull warehouses) at other moments it strikes the comic book action vibe perfectly. Having Creel as the henchman-of-the-week helps – his absorbing powers make for some visually appealing action set pieces, especially his fight in the park and the car crash. Without a doubt he’s the show’s best villain so far.

True Blue

What was that we caught a glimpse of in the crates that Agent Carter’s men were packing? A blue alien responsible for GH-325, perhaps?

Invisible planes, plastic prisons, powerful artefacts and hapless Nazis all help add to the comic book feel, partly because they’ve all been comic book staples for decades, but also because the show benefits from embracing them and running with them. All we need now are a couple of superheroes in the regular cast. They don’t have to fly – we know that’s expensive to achieve effectively week in week out – but someone who can walk through walls? Or who’s pyrokinetic. Or who can teleport? Pretty please?

Of the new characters, Hunter is clearly being lined up as the main addition to the revamped roster, which is a shame, because Trip – who was developing nicely towards the end of season one – now seems to have been put on hold as secondary character. The other new guy, Mackenzie, appears from nowhere, mumbles something about tech, then stands about looking tall. It’s good to see a couple of black faces in an ensemble that was worryingly white at the start of the series, but a shame they’re not being given more to do.

As for Hunter, the jury’s out. He’s cocky and British and never shuts up. So far, so irritating. He may calm down into an more endearing, fully-rounded member of the team in coming episodes. Actor Nick Blood certainly has charisma, but he needs to stop delivering his lines like he’s waiting for the canned laughter to kick in, and the writers need to stop giving him lines that come with a neon warning light that’s flashing, “Character insights! Character insights!”

On the other hand Whitehall already looks like a promising villain even though he’s only in two scenes. He has a great, evil way of cleaning his glasses, and even manages to overcome a really silly German accent in the opening flashback scene set in 1945. In fact, the entire sequence seems to suggest that the forthcoming Agent Carter series will be a remake of ’Allo ’Allo (could the fallen Madonna with the big boobies in fact be another alien artefact of great power?). It’s a fun, unexpected way to open the new season, but could have benefitted from a little more action; Carter and her Howling Commandos just wander in and the Germans immediately surrender. Wusses.

Fitz, meanwhile, is a far more interesting and sympathetic character now he’s damaged property. Although it sounds mean to say it, hopefully his recovery won’t be quick, because a swift return to the FitzSimmons status quo would be a retrograde move.

So, it’s a little bit darker, but conversely it’s also a little bit more comic booky. The show is building on the vast improvement at the end of season one, and there’s a lot of promise here. Hopefully it fulfils it before it gets cancelled.

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Stand Out Special Effects

The moment when Creel causes the car to crash is a bit of a sci-fi action cliché, but the combination of effects and stunt action here remains very impressive for a TV show.

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Banksy Was Here?

Having said that, the episode has a lot of fun with Creel’s powers throughout; the moments when he turns into transparent plastic to become invisible, and when blends in with a wall are particularly effective, though his breathing when he turns into wood looks a bit creaky.

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Remember This Moment

The scene in which Skye lays down on a desktop display showing the alien doodles seems a bit contrived (especially as she looks so uncomfortable), and it may not just have been included just because it looks “cool”. What’s the betting it turn out to be a bit of foreshadowing or a visual metaphor of some kind?

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Trophy Boy

We’re not sure if this was the intention of the writers and director, or an odd acting choice by Brett Dalton, but Ward actually looks like he’s showing off when he points to his self-inflicted injuries. Perhaps he was trying to elicit sympathy, but he just comes across as a bit of an attention seeking freak.

Agents Of SHIELD airs on Channel 4 on Friday nights in the UK and Tuesday nights on ABC in the US.

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