Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Head It Comes To: The Second Season Of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Climaxes Adequately In "S.O.S. Part 2!"

The Good: Pretty awesome special effects, Plot resolution is interesting, Decent-enough performances
The Bad: Light on character development (villains turn especially dull)
The Basics: "S.O.S. Part 2" caps off the second season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. by resolving the battle situation between S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Inhumans.

It's a big night for Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.! Following on the heels of The Avengers: Age Of Ultron (reviewed here!), Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is working hard to soften fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe up for The Inhumans (a team that is far more obscure and less popular than The Avengers or The X-Men, so it's like a third or fourth-tier team franchise). To do that, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is going big with the two-part season-finale "S.O.S." to cap off its second season. With "S.O.S. Part 2," it gets its wish; enthusiasm for the next season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and establishing the legitimacy of The Inhumans in the Marvel Cinematic Universe!

Picking up immediately after "S.O.S. Part 1" (reviewed here!), "S.O.S. Part 2" cannot be discussed without revealing where "Part 1" ended. With the big scene between Coulson and Calvin Zabo capping off "Part 1," and the Inhumans having taken S.H.I.E.L.D.'s helicarrier, "S.O.S. Part 2" starts with a clear distinction between the S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents and Jiaying. Jiaying has turned the Inhumans into an angry army that is determined to kill S.H.I.E.L.D.'s remaining agents.

Aboard the Helicarrier, Jiaying demonstrates how she killed Gonzales by killing Agent Oliver to extort Agent Weaver into broadcasting a distress call that will lead the remaining S.H.I.E.L.D. assets to the Helicarrier. While Coulson works with Zabo to prepare to retake the Helicarrier, May manipulates Ward into killing Kara during the attempt to rescue Bobbi Morse. Having seen Jiaying's true nature, Lincoln Campbell becomes wary of sticking with her, though Gordon convinces him to remain with the Inhumans. Campbell runs into Skye and their fight is quickly truncated by Skye talking Campbell into revealing where Jiaying took the crystals she has.

Coulson assembles a team of quinjets to retake the Helicarrier with Zabo's help. Nearing the helicarrier, Fitz realizes that the distress call is a trap (thanks to the Mack-rescued Skye) and Coulson turns back the rest of the team. Rescuing Skye, still leaves the helicarrier in danger as Jiaying is determined to figure out who on the carrier is Inhuman and who is not by putting them all through The Mist. She easily removes Zabo from the mix using Gordon, though Fitz devises a way to neutralize the teleporter. But as Jiaying chooses her Inhumans over Skye, she puts Skye's life in jeopardy and forces a conflict that fractures Coulson's S.H.I.E.L.D. team.

In an episode that belabors the "will they or won't they" (kill her) with Bobbi Morse, perhaps one of the most refreshing aspects of "S.O.S. Part 2" is that it does not cheap out on resolution for some of the big character elements of the season. Fitz has spent the entire season with brain damage and there has been a reasonable expectation that at some point n the season, a rabbit would get pulled out of a hat that would restore his mental prowess. "S.O.S. Part 2" does not reverse the important character shift that occurred as a result of Ward's actions against Fitz in "The Beginning Of The End" (reviewed here!). Fitz being featured periodically through the episode in his diminished state lends credibility to the struggle over whether or not Bobbi Morse will survive her Ward-induced injuries.

At the other end of the spectrum is Simmons and the way she takes charge of her relationship with Fitz. It's somewhat impressive that Fitz remembers that he told her he loved her, but that Simmons tries to broach her feelings in "S.O.S. Part 2" gives viewers a sense of catharsis over the emotional investment in the Fitz/Simmons relationship.

In a similar way, Mack once again becomes a vital and interesting character as he is drawn back into the battle for S.H.I.E.L.D.'s survival by virtue of simply being on the carrier and wanting to survive himself. He rescues Skye and has a chance for his experience to play out in the form of a decent monologue. Well-played by Henry Simmons, Mack is arguably given the episode's big moment when Mack makes a pragmatic decision to try to save Coulson's life when it appears the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. is about to die.

The thing about climactic episodes is that they have to have good villains to make the heroism of the heroes reach new heights. "S.O.S Part 2" belabors keeping Ward around and his final moments in the episode are surprisingly unsatisfying - he finally, explicitly, reaches the point where his character has been going the entire season (and it, frankly, seemed he had reached mid-season). Even so, the trap he falls into is very satisfying to watch.

Unfortunately, Jiaying hardly stacks up as a great villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Jiaying is given decent motivation before degenerating into yet another megalomaniacal adversary in the pantheon. Far more compelling would have been for her to be another good character who just has a different perspective from Our Heroes. Similarly, Calvin Zabo's rising action is abruptly aborted and his resolution makes for an interesting reference to T.A.H.I.T.I. which will go over the head of anyone who is not already invested in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Because the cast of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is so bloated now, "S.O.S. Part 2" utilizes an otherwise underdeveloped enemy who is basically the same as one from X-Men III: The Last Stand (reviewed here!) and The Flash episode "Fastest Man Alive" (reviewed here!).

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. finally pays off the investment in Kyle MacLachlan as Calvin Zabo. MacLachlan has a real character journey as Zabo. Zabo does in "S.O.S. Part 2" what one wishes Jiaying would have done; he listens to reason and the emotional investment Zabo has in Skye leads him to Coulson's team. Zabo has decent rising action in the episode and as the various battles ensue, he acts as a wild card. MacLachlan keeps him engaging and, surprisingly, realistically motivated. MacLachlan's final scene is heartbreaking to watch, even if similar scenes have been done in other genre works.

"S.O.S. Part 2" is the closest Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has done to a big special effects-driven episode. Fights between Alisha and so many other people, the alien artifact (which appears to be the Venom Symbiot), the incapacitation of Gordon and the make-up effects for Calvin Zabo are all pretty intensive on the special effects front and it works. In fact, the special effect front works better than most of the character arcs in the episode. The cast of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is huge at this point and, unfortunately, the climactic events of the season finale do nothing to weed out the character deadweight of the show. That sets the third season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. up as another series of episodes scattered among the large cast, instead of allowing a few core characters to dominate the plots and develop in compelling and complex ways. "S.O.S. Part 2" uses great special effects and complex stunt sequences to distract from the lack of complex or surprising character moments or truly demanding performances.

That said, "S.O.S. Part 2" caps off the second season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. in a way that redirects the series for the next season. Set up to be a Coulson/Skye "explore the world" show, the third season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is prepared for by the way all of the characters are given something to do and the rising plot action between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Inhumans is resolved in "S.O.S. Part 2."

For other big season finales, be sure to check out my reviews of:
"Daredevil" - Daredevil
"Hope And Fear" - Star Trek: Voyager
"The Erlenmeyer Flask" - The X-Files

[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 reviews of elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a listing of all those reviews!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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