Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Bringing Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. To The Edge . . . “Ye Who Enter Here” Teases Well!

The Good: Ming-Na Wen’s acting, Plot progression, Character work
The Bad: Plot is a lot of build-up without paying-off!
The Basics: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. pushes the Marvel Cinematic Universe forward well with “Ye Who Enter Here” but finishes before the potential can be fully realized.

One of the potentially weak aspects of serialized spy shows is that most of those shows do not capitalize on their ability to do long arcs. Long arcs in spy shows usually have characters getting only one key component or clue per episode and it is tough to draw that out over a full season. For the second season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., the basic mystery has centered around alien writing that Coulson has been writing since he was resurrected. Learning what that meant has consumed the first seven episodes of the season. By the ninth episode, “Ye Who Enter Here,” the writing is gone and the understanding of what it is has put Coulson and his S.H.I.E.L.D. team on course to find a subterranean city. “Ye Who Enter Here” has Coulson’s S.H.I.E.L.D. team at its most fleshed out and actually starts to move the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a way that one can only hope has an effect on the upcoming Marvel movies.

Picking up where “The Things We Bury” (reviewed here!) left off, “Ye Who Enter Here” pushes the plot of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. forward well. With so many characters to service, there is the potential the episode will lose something. Fortunately, “Ye Who Enter Here” manages to keep focus on characters viewers actually care about, like Simmons and Skye, with Coulson actually appearing as a fully-realized leader.

Opening with Skye having a nightmare about Coulson and May leaving the baby version of her to die in a lab, Coulson’s team prepares to visit the city that they discovered at the climax of the prior mission. While H.Y.D.R.A. mobilizes to put Skye’s father and Ward in the temple in the city to create an extinction-level event, Coulson prepares his team to destroy the temple to prevent that apocalypse. In Vancouver, a pair of Koenigs rescues Raina from H.Y.D.R.A. With Coulson heading off to San Juan to enter the alien city that is buried below it, Skye is sent to rescue Raina, though she ends up having to fight Agent 33 to keep Raina safe.

Bobbi and Coulson get to San Juan, where Morse is concerned that Coulson wants to recover the alien weapon from the city, as opposed to destroy it. When Raina reveals that she has the ability to hold the Diviner, Skye believes her. Fitz, Simmons, and Mac get into the garrison at the San Juan fort that should give them access into the alien city. Raina tells Skye the story of the Cree, who seem to be the aliens whose blood resurrected Coulson, and how they protected their city. Unfortunately, before Skye can warn Coulson’s team, Whitehall’s H.Y.D.R.A. team surrounds the Bus to recover Raina. As a result, one of Coulson’s team encounters the City’s defenses . . . with disastrous results.

“Ye Who Enter Here” does a good job of remaining focused on character. Coulson is a true leader in the episode and he works well to differentiate himself from Fury and Morse responds well to that. Coulson illustrates that he is thinking ahead and determined to be a good person, in addition to being a great leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. Coulson is also creative enough to consider the potentials of other people having tracked down the location of the city. In addition to trying to save the citizens of San Juan, he wants to protect Skye and that makes him a decent, ethical, leader who is enjoyable to watch.

The fallout between Fitz and Simmons continues well into “Ye Who Enter Here.” Simmons talks to Morse about exactly what happened after Ward tried to kill them at the climax of the prior season. Fitz tells Simmons that he plans to go work with Mac at the garage, freeing Simmons up to take full control of the S.H.I.E.L.D. laboratory. “Ye Who Enter Here” translates well the elements that could be simple melodrama into deeply human conflicts. Simmons talks about how she did not have a chance to process what Fitz told her and that makes her seem realistically tormented in a way that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has not taken much time to explore.

“Ye Who Enter Here” has wonderful performances all around. While Brett Dalton is minimized and put in a very simple villain role for his brief time in the episode, Henry Simmons and Adrianne Palicki are finally given the chance to shine. Simmons brings subtle shades of backstory and depth to Mac and Palicki illustrates once again that she is an awesome physical actor.

Ming-Na Wen pulls double duty as May and Agent 33 and she is incredible in both roles. In fact, Wen is so good in her role of May that it ultimately undermines “Ye Who Enter Here.” With the S.H.I.E.L.D. team about to lose serious ground, May seems like she would realize what the viewer does; that Raina has become such a liability to saving the world that the obvious, ethical and expedient solution is to kill her before she can rejoin H.Y.D.R.A. Wen plays May with such intelligence and professionalism that the fact that she does not pull the trigger before Whitehall’s team even boards the Bus seems inconceivable.

Reed Diamond plays Whitehall with an appropriate level of menace for his brief part in “Ye Who Enter Here” and his cameo serves to accent how the episode is more tease than pay-off. Whether the dead stay dead after the episode is the function of the next episode, but “Ye Who Enter Here” is an odd mix of well-constructed and frustratingly unsatisfying. So much of the current season has been a tease and “Ye Who Enter Here” puts almost all of the characters on the verge of realizing their potential before the episode ends. This makes for television that feels like must-see and sets up for a great next episode, but is harder to recommend as a stand-alone piece.

For other works with Patton Oswalt, please visit my reviews of:
”Shadows” - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
22 Jump Street
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 1
Young Adult
Observe And Report
Failure To Launch
Blade: Trinity

[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 Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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