Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Smarter Than Expected, “Heavy Is The Head” Reminds Viewers There’s Something Worth Caring About On Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The Good: Character work, Direction/special effects, Good performances/establishing new chemistry/dynamics
The Bad: Still fairly plot-heavy
The Basics: The challenge of the second episode of the second season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., “Heavy Is The Head,” is to make viewers care about the Agents and the Marvel Cinematic Universe again . . . and it largely succeeds.

With the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s staying power in pop culture currently resting in the hands of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. (season one is reviewed here!), the show opened its second season big with a plot-heavy episode. For several reasons, the episode was pretty much bound to be more focused on plot than any sort of cerebral, character-centered episode. Given the climactic nature of the end of the first season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., the second season had to reorganize the title organization of the series, now with Coulson in control. “Shadows,” the second season premiere, had to illustrate how Coulson was desperately trying to rebuild S.H.I.E.L.D. and necessitated an episode where numerous characters were introduced and the threat had to justify so many new characters.

So, with “Heavy Is The Head,” Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has its first practical chance to get back into the characters for the show. “Heavy Is The Head” picks up immediately after “Shadows” (reviewed here!) and the nature of the underlying threat in the episode is not made immediately evident. For the first twenty minutes of “Heavy Is The Head,” the episode minimizes the plot stuff, while giving a chance to explore Coulson and Fitz. Moreover, of all the new characters, that Mack is given a decent role in order to start to make the team feel like it is expanding (and give Fitz a new chance to heal) for real (as opposed to in a disposable way). To that end, “Heavy Is The Head” works.

May attempts to rescue Hunter without losing Creel, which leaves Hunter to get captured by Talbot. Coulson recalls May and as his Agents regroup, Talbot makes Hunter an offer: two million dollars and a proper burial for his friends in exchange for delivering Coulson to him. Hunter returns to headquarters to let Coulson know what Talbot offered him, while Mack gets Fitz working on working on the cloaking system from a cloaking device they recovered from a H.Y.D.R.A. plane. With Creel struggling with the material he recovered for H.Y.D.R.A., Coulson works to stop him and neutralize his element-absorbing ability.

When Raina returns to the mix, giving Creel an element recovered from space, she manipulates Coulson into contacting her and reveals that she wants to keep the obelisk from falling into H.Y.D.R.A.’s hands. Mack begins working with Fitz who reveals that the problem they are trying to solve is one he actually developed before his accident. With May, Hunter, Tripp, and Skye going back into the field to take down Creel (thanks to Raina’s tracker), Hunter’s agenda becomes apparent when he goes rogue.

“Heavy Is The Head” does a decent, if subtle, job of illustrating the wear on Coulson that comes from him being the leader who is wholly responsible for S.H.I.E.L.D. In “Heavy Is The Head,” he has more direct interaction with his team than he did in “Shadows” and that (loosely) reminds viewers that he is the familiar and essential character from Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. While the show has an ensemble cast, Coulson is the backbone of the show. “Heavy Is The Head,” at the very least, reminds viewers of that with the 11th hour rescue that puts Coulson back in the field. As the episode reaches its climax, the revelation that Coulson’s resurrection came with a price (visions), makes him into more of a superhero than he has been before and that is an intriguing direction for the character.

Of the new character, “Heavy Is The Head” tries to develop Hunter, but his part in the episode is actually much more of a plot-focused part. Instead, Mack is actually developed in the episode. Revealing new details about what could be a very flat character, Mack starts to bond with Fitz. Fitz, who is hallucinating and distracted (arguably suffering from minor brain damage), was largely an under-developed tech-guy sidekick in the first season. In “Heavy Is The Head,” Fitz and Mack start developing a relationship that is based (smartly) on decent, complex, psychology (Fitz subconsciously knows that Simmons is gone and he needs to connect with someone else, so through his hallucinations, he passes the torch to Mack, minimizing his hallucinations). Mack is smart enough to observe the body language necessary to make Fitz’s hallucinations work in a “real world” setting and call him out on it. Played adeptly by Henry Simmons, Mack is the new character to watch (though “Heavy Is The Head” seems to want us to care more for Nick Blood’s Hunter).

“Heavy Is The Head” has some cool little moments. When Creel is chasing Hunter, he runs through a glass door, as opposed to stopping to open it. That is a pretty refreshing detail that the writers and director Jesse Bochco catch it. This is actually an episode where the special effects accent what is going on in the episode without actually overwhelming the episode.

Fortunately, in addition to seeding Agent Carter and future plotlines for the series, “Heavy Is The Head” is a decent bridge episode between where the show was and where it seems to be going . . . and it works to make us want to come back to see where it will go. Mission accomplished, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D..

For other works with Kyle MacLachlan, please visit my reviews of:
How I Met Your Mother - Season 6
Sex And The City - Season 3
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
Twin Peaks

[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 Second Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophomore 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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