Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Takes “The Bridge” Back To Enjoyable Television!

The Good: Decent acting, Engaging-enough plot
The Bad: Light on character development, Somewhat unimpressive until the final act
The Basics: “The Bridge” brings Mike Peterson back into the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. mix and twists in a way that promises a better next episode.

The more my wife has been watching Torchwood around the house, the less excited I have been about upcoming episodes of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. The two have remarkably similar plots and Torchwood beat the Marvel show to the punch by years. But as I watched “The Bridge,” the latest episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., I started to recall how different an experience it was to watch episodes of Angel (reviewed here!) as they aired, as opposed to on DVD (which is how I watched most of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and other Joss Whedon television projects). “The Bridge” is a “middle act” type episode and until the final act, it does not go anywhere particularly compelling or at all original (it’s remarkably familiar, especially for fans of other Joss Whedon productions or Torchwood).

But, fortunately, after middling around playing the various lingering character threads (something that I’ve discovered plays much better for Whedon productions when one is able to sit down and spend a day watching the entire season of his work), “The Bridge” turns and starts to reveal how serious Joss Whedon and his creative team on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. are about playing a long arc and building a villain worthy of devoting hours to building to. While the obvious highlight of “The Bridge” is to bring back to the forefront Mike Peterson, the antagonist from “Pilot” (reviewed here!), the real thrill of “The Bridge” is in the concept that there is an anti-S.H.I.E.L.D. working in the world and its infrastructure is being built. Just as one of the big thrills of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (reviewed here!) was the build-up to the Dominion, an organization described by the executive producers and writing staff as “an anti-Federation,” Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been alluding to different individuals (like references to “the Clairvoyant” in “The Bridge”) who are part of the shadowy organization who corrupted Project Centipede in the series premiere and have been behind at least one other major storyline in the first season. Bringing Mike Peterson back to the plot gives the show a chance to reflect on where it has been the prior nine episodes and tease new big elements. And the ones that do not feel remarkably familiar are quite enjoyable.

After the Edison Po is broken out of Havenworth Prison by Centipede Soldiers, Coulson continues to monitor Skye. Skye is still looking into who her mother might have been, while May and Ward flirt. To capture the three Centipede Soldiers, Coulson enlists Mike Peterson, who is still training to be a S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent. Despite the cold reception given to Peterson, Coulson plays it safe as the team looks for Brian Hayward, who might have clues to who would break Edison Po out of prison. Getting footage of Edison Po, Peterson is able to identify the woman in the flower dress as the woman who tried to recruit him.

When Grant Ward approaches Hayward’s sister, the team learns that the Centipede Soldiers have been moved to California. With Peterson on the team, the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents descend upon Oakland. In defeating the Centipede Soldiers, the enemy learns exactly what they need to stabilize their supersoldiers. Raina uses Peterson’s son to arrange an exchange and when the Agents arrive for the trade-off, Coulson learns just how much Mike Peterson needs his son.

The unfortunate aspect of “The Bridge” is that is does not advance any of the main characters of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and it further diminishes S.H.I.E.L.D. S.H.I.E.L.D. is supposed to be an intelligence agency and as such, the members of the organization give up certain civil liberties as a matter of course. In order for an intelligence agency to remain less vulnerable to moles, there must be a counterintelligence division that monitors its agents. S.H.I.E.L.D. either has the least effective or least competent counterintelligence division of all time in that Skye has previously rendezvoused with Rising Tide agents, back in “Girl In The Flower Dress” (reviewed here) and with Mike Peterson in “The Bridge.” Peterson started the series as a threat, so the idea that he could communicate with his son (and Raina) without S.H.I.E.L.D. counterintelligence reacting is beyond the suspension of disbelief . . . even for a series with telekinetics and alien artifacts!

That said, “The Bridge” does a decent job of keeping the loose ends flowing and in the mind of the viewers. Skye’s search for her parents and the increasingly complicated relationship between May and Ward are referenced enough to keep that fresh. As well, “The Bridge” seems to lead the viewer to the promise that the nature of Coulson’s resurrection will finally be made explicit, especially considering how the episode finally resolves itself.

The performances in “The Bridge” are fine. J. August Richards is a solid performer and his return to the show as Mike Peterson plays well, though he is not given any greater range to play than his fans have already seen from him before. An irksome amount of the camera’s attention is still pointed on Chloe Bennet’s Skye (even when her character is not doing much), but she does not flub any lines or waste her time on screen. Ming-Na Wen continues to dominate the versatility department by playing Melinda May as layered and complicated. Clark Gregg continues to bring a withholding quality to the role of Coulson that is enough to keep those not in the know guessing and those who have a clue as to how his character was resurrected laughing to themselves.

Ultimately, there are no real deeper themes or concepts relayed in “The Bridge.” It is a plot-centered Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. that is good and, one suspects, will hold up as a more necessary episode in the context of the full first season as opposed to on its own.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season here!


For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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