Tuesday, November 18, 2014

So Much The Bridge Episode, “The Things We Bury” Simply Reorganizes The Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The Good: Good acting, Some good moments of character
The Bad: Remarkably aimless plot
The Basics: “The Things We Bury” ups the body count and puts the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. closer to their enemies.

One of the nice things about having a decent-sized cast for a television show is that characters who are underwhelming at one point in the series may have longer arcs that allow them to truly grow and develop. In the first season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Grant Ward was a largely unimpressive character until the last few episodes of the season. With his release in the second season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. to the field, Ward has the chance to truly grow and develop again. The latest episode, “The Things We Bury” has moments that refocus on Ward well. In fact, more than a direct sequel to the prior episode, “The Things We Bury” acts as a conceptual sequel to the first season episode “The Well” (reviewed here!), which was arguably the most substantive Ward episode in the first season.

Without viewing “The Things We Bury” as a sequel to “The Well,” Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is at an awkward narrative point. Given that one of the big lingering plot points from the first season and going into the second season was resolved in “The Writing On The Wall” (reviewed here!), the show has the potential to list. Fortunately, “The Things We Bury” works to enrich what came before and move the main plot surrounding the Diviner, the obelisk introduced in the second season premiere, forward.

Opening with Daniel Whitehall, in the 1940s, studying the Obelisk by killing Japanese prisoners, Whitehall realizes that the Device will take a long time to study. In modern times, Whitehall’s H.Y.D.R.A. resources are devoted entirely to studying the Obelisk and Skye’s father arrives to help him. As Coulson’s team reacts to his erratic behavior in tracking down the map of the city, Bobbi Morse interrogates Bakshi. As Coulson and Skye worry about how to find Ward, Ward manages to track down his brother, Senator Christian Ward. May and Simmons uncover archives from Agent Carter while Skye’s father tries to convince Whitehall to give him the resources to find the city Coulson learned about as a result of his resurrection.

Grant takes his brother out into woods where he interrogates him about their past and prepares him to dig up the well. Fitz starts his rehabilitation under Coulson’s care, though he is concerned that the device Coulson wants him to be able to field-build is busywork (which is how he interprets the work Coulson gives Tripp and Skye). Going through the Carter archives, Simmons identifies Whitehall. Grant tortures Christian to get him to admit the truth about their brother, Thomas, and the incident at the well. Coulson and his team head to Australia where they have six minutes to hack the network which would help them find the mysterious city . . . but they discover that H.Y.D.R.A. has preceded them!

Throughout the episode, flashbacks work to fill in the history of the Diviner, at least on Earth. Peggy Carter interrogated Daniel Whitehall in 1945 and she refused to cut him a deal. From “The Things We Bury,” it becomes undeniably clear that Whitehall is absolutely obsessed with understanding The Diviner. His interactions with Carter at “The Rat” are cold and he works hard to maintain a sense of control, though Reed Diamond’s performance subtly illustrates his frustration at being unable to immediately pursue his studies of the Diviner. Whitehall is wonderfully villainous and his mysterious age-defiance is finally explained.

One of the most notable aspects of “The Things We Bury” is the acting. Tim DeKay has been in a lot of things that I have seen and he has never been given the chance to exhibit the range he exhibits in “The Things We Bury.” In the scene where Ward takes Christian out into the woods, DeKay is passionate and gives Christian some realistic depth, which is a lot for a minor character to get and for a character actor to live up to. DeKay exceeds all expectations in what could be a ridiculously minor role. Brett Dalton plays off DeKay wonderfully and at a key moment, it seems like he might take a ruthless turn, but Dalton and Ward go in a different direction that beautifully subverts expectations.

When it focuses on character, “The Things We Bury” actually succeeds. Unlike the Hayley Atwell cameos earlier in the season, her appearances in “The Things We Bury” does not feel so much like an advertisement for the forthcoming Agent Carter spin-off. Between the time devoted to flashbacks and the way the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. are divided into multiple teams, “The Things We Bury” is a pretty aimless episode. On the plot front, key events like Skye’s father meeting Coulson and Whitehall’s lieutenant, Bakshi, getting interrogated are pretty much the big events. Fitz’s arc is continued and he reaches another milestone and Agent Tripplett is put in mortal peril, but the build-up to the events is much more substantive in the episode than the pay-off.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is now a hunt for a temple, according to Skye’s father, and the build-up to the inevitable collision between Skye and her father. If “The Things We Bury” is any indication, the new formula for the show will spread the cast thin in order to slowly move the plot forward and try to devote a little time to every one of them. If that is the case, the result will be like “The Things We Bury;” a generally decent – if average – episode with a few superlative moments but does not add up to much and is not a well-contained hour of television on its own.

For other works with Hayley Atwell, please visit my reviews of:
”Shadows” - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Captain America: The First Avenger
The Duchess

[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 reviews, please check out my Movie And Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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