Wednesday, April 30, 2014

“Nothing Personal;” It’s Entirely Average Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.!

The Good: There’s nothing really bad in the episode.
The Bad: There’s nothing especially compelling in the episode.
The Basics: As the first season moves toward its conclusion, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has a plot-heavy episode in “Nothing Personal” which sees the return of Maria Hill.

By the time Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. reaches “Nothing Personal,” the show is struggling to remind viewers what is unique about the series. In the wake of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (reviewed here!), which was essentially just a spy thriller. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the key to keeping a show about the spy community going is capitalizing on the unique elements of the characters and world of the show. In the case of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the key to keeping Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. engaging, is exploring in a compelling way how generally normal humans deal with spying in a world where there are superheroes, mutants, and teched up supervillains operating on the same playing field.

Unfortunately, by “Nothing Personal,” the show has skewed exceptionally far away from the premise and into pretty generic spy thriller territory. “Nothing Personal” only has the presence of a cyborg, Deathlok, to remind viewers that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is set in a world that is now our own. Sure, they mention Coulson’s resurrection and Man-Thing, but for the most part, “Nothing Personal” is just an episode that continues to work with the fallout of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the U.S. government hunting the Agents.

Picking up immediately where “The Only Light In The Darkness” (reviewed here!) ended, Agent Hill’s multiple tails are incapacitated, by May who tells her that Coulson needs help. While Coulson’s team tries to figure out what happened to the Bus. Fortunately, a note was left behind for the team and Simmons almost immediately finds Koenig's body. With Skye and Ward making it to Los Angeles where Skye begins to decrypt the hard drive, Coulson and his team confim that Ward is a H.Y.D.R.A. agent and they work to track down the Bus. Almost as soon as they find where Skye went with the drive, Providence is infiltrated by General Talbot, the U.S. military and Agent Hill.

While May hunts for the person who actually executed the T.A.H.I.T.I. project, Colonel Talbot threatens the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with prison time. As Skye stalls with Ward, Coulson reveals to Hill that Ward is a H.Y.D.R.A. agent and they leave Providence together. When Skye plays her hand, fleeing the diner puts her in the custody of Ward and Deathlok. While Skye witnesses the brutality of H.Y.D.R.A., the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents contemplate how best to attempt a rescue now that they have fought the U.S. military and truly become fugitives.

“Nothing Personal” is a decent progression episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., even if it relies heavily on the prior episodes to do what it accomplishes. Outside the soap operatic elements in the relationship between Fitz and Simmons and a single leap that Coulson makes (Coulson deduces, correctly, that Skye is playing Ward when he sees the footage of the two of them leaving Providence together instead of worrying that Skye was a H.Y.D.R.A. agent, too), “Nothing Personal” is a smart character study of the characters in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. May continues to be determined and loyal to Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D. and Skye begins her inevitable resistance to Ward. Despite the formulaic nature of the long arc that “Nothing Personal” is a part of (the moment Skye was captured, it pretty much set up a “Skye gets tortured for how to unlock the drive while the Agents come together to rescue her and save the world”), the episode plays out well.

Skye is actually given a pretty awesome dilemma, which was not predictable, in the way Deathlok utilizes torture to get what he wants from Skye. While tormenting another is a very traditional form of torture, there is a cool moment in “Nothing Personal” where Deathlok forces Skye to consider the question of whether or not Skye is a killer, a person willing to do all of the wrong things she accuses Ward of. Throughout the episode, Chloe Bennet plays Skye like a woman whose mental wheels are constantly turning. Fortunately, Ward is not played as stupid in “Nothing Personal,” which makes him a reasonably good antagonist.

Fans of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. might begin to wonder in “Nothing Personal” about Ward’s relationship with the supernatural. In “Yes Men” (reviewed here!), Ward encountered an Asgaardian weapon that tapped into his subconscious. While that episode might be looked at as a bit of foreshadowing for the Ward character, given how evil Ward is supposed to be in “Nothing Personal,” one has to wonder just why the experience with the staff affected the double agent so profoundly.

“Nothing Personal” is notable for the return of Agent Maria Hill, last seen at Stark Enterprises in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Hill has become a professional defendant before Congress in “Nothing Personal” and her easy return to the spy game makes it seem like the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier was mostly inconsequential. I long wondered why Cobie Smulders was not pursuing more of a role in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. while she finished the final season of How I Met Your Mother; it certainly would have given Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hill’s place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe more impact. So, while it is nice to see Hill and Smulders again, the idea that Hill vetted Ward back in the day just makes S.H.I.E.L.D. seem like it was staffed by the least competent people in the world. In fact, the most efficient and smart Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D. so far had his autopsy in the first five minutes of “Nothing Personal!”

“Nothing Personal” is not bad, but it is entirely unextraordinary. The episode continues to be a plot-centered story where the characters are reacting more than motivating the direction of the series. “Nothing Personal” seems to illustrate that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is going for the most predictable reversals (if the pattern follows and Ward is actually killed in the season finale, the pattern would have Simmons actually pulling the trigger). That does not make the episode disappointing, just familiar.

For other works with Cobie Smulders, please visit my reviews of:
"Pilot" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The Avengers
Safe Haven
How I Met Your Mother - Season 6
How I Met Your Mother - Season 5
How I Met Your Mother - Season 4
How I Met Your Mother - Season 3
How I Met Your Mother - Season 2
How I Met Your Mother - Season 1
The L Word - Season 2

[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 and movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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