There was this whole thing running through the first season of Agents of SHIELD where Coulson kept saying psychic powers don't exist. It felt like the set-up for a major reveal that pyschic powers DO exist, but that wasn't the case and it ended up simply being a symptom of the show, in its first season, being exactly the kind of TV series we did not want from Marvel Studios. The show kept both feet firmly planted on the ground and its eyes aimed ever downward, rarely ever getting truly fantastical - and when it did, only in the smallest and cheapest ways. If you're going to bring Graviton onto your show, consider actually doing something with him.
Season two of Agents of SHIELD has been a long course correction, one that resulted in a new course after last night's mid-season premiere. For the first half of the season the team was chasing alien code that unlocked a map of an alien city. At the very last moments of the first half of the season the team got into the city and discovered a mystical object that sprayed out some gas which coccooned three characters - lead girl Skye (aka Daisy Johnson), baddie Raina and heroic guy Tripp. Poor Tripp was killed, but Raina and Skye were transformed. Comic fans recognized the whole thing - they had been exposed to Terrigen Mists and were revealed to be Inhumans. When exposed to the mist latent Inhumans are transformed; some become monsters, some get cool powers.
The mid-season premiere showed us how that worked out for everybody. Raina became a Porcupine Lady, sort of like the character from Nightbreed. Skye, meanwhile, got seismic earthquake powers. The show, being an ABC show, mostly just had things in her immediate vicinity shake (read: a grip was hidden out of frame and shaking a table), but it worked - especially because the episode also introduced a new super powered character, an Inhuman without eyes who can teleport. The teleportation effect is pretty cool - he creates a big blue energy field - and seeing an eyeless guy teleport a Porcupine Lady away from a squad of gun-wielding commandoes makes for good TV. It makes for superhero TV!
The episode also changed up a lot of the character dynamics. The first season of SHIELD was tedious because the character interactions were tedious; everyone was too chummy and the main personality plots fell flat. That all began to change when Captain America: The Winter Soldier was released and it was revealed that one of the main cast was a Hydra agent, and it's only gotten more and more complicated in season two. The mid-season premiere really added some chaos to the mix: Mac, the genial mechanic, has begun to bristle under Coulson's sorta-shitty management style. Meanwhile Fitz and Simmons, the too-cutesy science team, have found themselves on very different sides of an ideological divide. Following the death of Tripp Simmons has decided that all Inhumans should be eradicated, not knowing that Skye is in fact one. Fitz, meanwhile, does know and is hiding her truth from the others, probably for an end-of-season showdown. I like this divide within the ranks, and I like having Simmons, one of the sweeter characters, getting a little darker in this way.
Meanwhile, Kyle Maclachlan's evil Dr. Hyde, aka Skye's dad, has set into motion what will hopefully be the crux of the rest of the season - he's going to activate metahumans on 'The Index,' SHIELD's list of known metahumans. The series had previously downplayed how many people were on The Index, but I suspect now that the show has figured out how to not suck that list will become incredibly large, and full of recognizable Marvel D-listers - like the eyeless guy, who is probably the barely-ever used Inhuman known as The Reader. That guy has appeared maybe half a dozen times in the comics, but it looks like he might play a major role in the show, especially as we got to see his origin.
That new focus becomes possible now that Coulson and his team have smashed Hydra's leadership. They did so using a poorly dramatized but conceptually excellent con where they basically made the leaders of Hydra mistrust and assasinate each other; in a better show that might have been the entire episode, but here it was the B plot. As a result the con didn't get the time it needed to quite land at the end, and as happens so often on this show it felt kind of small. But the upside is that the Hydra menace is neutralized (for now - Baron Von Strucker got namechecked like a half dozen times, so they're certainly building towards the opening scene of Avengers: Age of Ultron, which sees the Avengers raiding Von Strucker's base). The Hydra stuff was fun, but it also was sorta small-scale, and the show was never able to truly capture the sweep of this global conspiracy. I imagine Hydra will show up again in the future, but hopefully Agents of SHIELD is going full metahuman.
By mixing up the character dynamics and finally committing to real, active superhumans, Agents of SHIELD has turned into the show I wanted it to be when I first started watching. Now if they can just fix the horrible Dethlock outfit and turn the endlessly irritating Lance Hunter either into a good character or a red smear on the wall, I'll be really happy. It took a long time, but Agents of SHIELD found its way to the starting line. It feels like a show that actually matters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it feels like a show that's embracing the weird and fantastic, and it feels like a show that can have twisty, fun and juicy plotlines that dance through delightfully morally grey areas.