Who do we blame for the absolute embarrassment that is Agents of SHIELD? Is it Jeph Loeb at Marvel? Is it someone at ABC? Can it be Jed Whedon and Melissa Tancharoen, the show runners? Someone has to take the fall for this show, because this is a bad show. And it is not improving.
This week's episode should have been where Agents of SHIELD righted itself. After flailing for ten episodes, the show finally got to the big mythology question that needed to be answered: how was Agent Coulson still alive after being obviously killed in The Avengers? This is a show that takes place in a comic book science fiction world, one where characters have been returning from the dead longer than many of us have been alive; Marvel has a whole arsenal of possible resurrection techniques available, any of which would be fun and a world-expander.
So of course they whiffed it. Hard.
It isn't like the answer to the Coulson mystery (or part of the answer, anyway. This being a modern TV series they're already teasing further fallout and answers to come) was the only bad part of the episode. This was an episode that featured comedian Rob Huebel in a terrible, bland, throwaway role. It featured Agent Melinda May disabling a scifi brain scanner by unplugging it. It featured Agent Banana Republic engaged in a really boring hand-to-hand fight in a generic Old West set barely redecorated to be a bomb test town. It featured a plot point predicated on the idea that no one in all of SHIELD would think to do what Skye thinks to do, which is follow the money being paid to terrorists to see where it's coming from, and that once she brings it up no one in all of SHIELD is tasked with this simple, obvious job. It featured a pretty amazingly painful moment where ten heavily armed SHIELD agents just walked off the show, basically saying "We're going to do something way more exciting offscreen. See ya!"
I will give the episode one thing: I liked the image of Coulson's open brain surgery. But even that makes so little sense and is a great image in search of any meaning. Could the open brain surgery be a sign that the truth isn't as pat as it seems? Maybe, but I don't care anymore. The show lost me in such a big way this week.
Let's talk about how Coulson was resurrected (as I'm sure some of you are reading this just to get that answer). It turns out he was dead for days, but Nick Fury 'moved heaven and earth' to get lots of experimental - maybe evil! - surgeries performed on Coulson. At least seven, and they were so traumatic and horrible the final surgery was the open brain one, where they implanted a false memory in him of Tahiti. All of this is so vague there's plenty of room for them to wiggle in it and soft retcon it, but who cares? The show certainly doesn't present this as a starting point for a new angle on the 'mystery' (which has, by the way, been among the least interesting aspects of this not-very-interesting show), which would have been nice. They can pick up that thread next week, I guess, but I won't be there to see it.
I mean, the answer was 'Surgeries!' Would it have killed them to mention the techniques came from Hydra files, or used Chitauri technology or anything that gave me a hook? This is a show set in the Marvel Universe, a world of hulks and super soldiers and gods and yet it again and again shies away from anything imaginative or big. Budget's clearly an issue - this episode looked like half of it was filmed in the hallways outside the writer's room - but the parade of stunt-men in camo and generic interiors would be bearable if they gave me something imaginative. If Ron Glass (and yes, Barney Miller's Ron Glass was the brain surgeon. You knew he showed up earlier in the season for a reason) had dropped any sort of hint that we, the slavering fanboys, could play with in the coming weeks it would have opened up the scope of the show in our minds. They can't afford to put some of this stuff on screen, but Brain Surgeon Detective Ron Harris could have dropped a name, a hint, a morsel to tide us over. A nudge, a wink, an indication that this show has something under the surface more compelling than the endless, pointless, uninteresting tease of who The Clairvoyant is. It's funny to look back at Lost and see how that show, in the early seasons, kept moving the goalposts in a way that felt thrilling and satisfying; Agents of SHIELD moved the goalposts of the Coulson mystery but in the least interesting, least involving way possible.
It's bland, uninvolving storytelling, a TV show that is not as good as the summary of the TV show because it takes way longer to watch the TV show. It is clear by now that nothing that happens in Agents of SHIELD will have any bearing or impact on the Marvel movies; this might as well be taking place in a pocket dimension. Maybe it is, and that'll be the final answer, that this whole stupid fucking show is Coulson's death dream in The Avengers. This week we had Clark Gregg yelling 'Let me die!" and I couldn't have agreed with him more.