Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Finds Itself In “The Magical Place,” Which Is Starkly Realistic.

The Good: Fleshes out Coulson well, Adequate performances
The Bad: Somewhat listless and straightforward without much zest or originality, Very plot-focused
The Basics: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns with “The Magical Place,” an episode that is anything but charismatic and interesting, instead focusing on delivering answers to the first major mystery of the series.

When it comes to current television, there are very few shows I watch religiously anymore. In fact, I can count the shows I pay attention to in their first-run (prior to their DVD release as a full season) on one hand. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is one of them. And yet, even though I knew the series was returning from its midseason hiatus with “The Magical Place,” I found myself so ambivalent to the show – based on the first ten episodes of the series – that I actually failed to tune in to it last night. It’s not a good sign for the show when it’s so forgettable or that one does not anticipate it with enthusiasm.

And yet, “The Magical Place” picks up where “The Bridge” (reviewed here!) left off with the promised reveal of what happened to Agent Phil Coulson after he was killed in The Avengers (reviewed here!). In fact, it is impossible to discuss “The Magical Place” without spoiling the end of “The Bridge.” Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns to the story it left off with a cliffhanger mere hours after the climactic events of “The Bridge” . . . and yet the team has gelled in a way that has it working together like an efficient fighting force (much like how the survivors were re-introduced to viewers in the third season premiere of The Walking Dead, reviewed here!).

Opening with a mercenary selling a piece of foraged Chtari metal from the attack on New York, Agents Ward and May from Coulson’s team break onto the scene to recover the alien technology. Thirty-six hours after Coulson was turned over to Centipede terrorists, Agent Hand is in control of Coulson’s S.H.I.E.L.D. cell and she, sensibly, relieves Skye of duty. Given a satellite phone, Skye escapes S.H.I.E.L.D. custody so she can contribute to the team effort to find Coulson without S.H.I.E.L.D. scrutiny (or resources). Coulson awakens in the care of Po, who reveals that his clairvoyant cannot understand how Coulson came back to life and he begins torturing Coulson to discover his resurrection secret.

While Skye works to get access to clues, Coulson stages a jailbreak (which only reveals to him where he is imprisoned) and Ward begins interrogating the seller they captured to find where Coulson is. Impersonating May, Skye interrogates Rathman about his clients, who are dealing in stolen alien technology. Hand’s obsession with putting the heat on Centipede puts the S.H.I.E.L.D. team on edge as she de-prioritizes finding Coulson. As Coulson is tortured for information, the agents work to find and recover him.

“The Magical Place” is one of the better episodes of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., though it is entirely unsurprising for those who have been paying attention to the series. The revelation of what happened to Coulson is somewhat anticlimactic to fans of Marvel comics and films, though it does not make “The Magical Place” at all unpleasant to watch. Coulson’s character continues to be enhanced through some additional backstory elements (it turns out, Coulson is Batman – wink, wink!) and Clark Gregg wonderfully plays Coulson cool. In “The Magical Place,” Gregg is given an understated part to play and he does it well. Even as he is threatened, Coulson is scanning the room, scanning Raina, assessing his situation masterfully. Gregg takes a very limited role in “The Magical Place” and manages to rule every scene he is in.

The relationship between Ward and May gets strained over Skye’s involvement in the investigation. But even as May seems to betray Ward’s interest in Skye, the intuitive viewer will figure out long before she reveals it, that May was cutting Skye loose from S.H.I.E.L.D. scrutiny. None of the performers in the b-plot truly shine, but none of them are bad, either. They deliver for a very plot-centered rescue operation and that does not give the regulars a chance to shine.

“The Magical Place” leaves the first season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. with only one resounding mystery – that of Skye’s parents and backstory. The series began with the fundamental question of how the dead character of Agent Coulson was being resurrected for the television show; “The Magical Place” finally gives explicit-enough answers to that and writers Paul Zbyszewski and Brent Fletcher do what they have to with remarkably little flair or charisma. For a show that started with a real tongue-in-cheek appreciation for what they were creating, “The Magical Place” is not bad, but it is very dry.

The result is a necessary progression of the Agent Coulson plotline and character that leaves the series dangling for the next big arcs, as opposed to truly feeling like it is part of a serious, complicated, story.

[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!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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