Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Make Your Move, Fitz! "Many Heads, One Tale" Is Another Fractured Episode Of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.!

The Good: Decent performances, Good plot progression
The Bad: Light on character development, Plot threads seem very disparate
The Basics: "Many Heads, One Tale" mortgages a solid Ward plotline by spreading out the various Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. characters and once again trying to deal with all of them at once.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is at a weird place when "Many Heads, One Tale" begins. After "Chaos Theory," fans of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. might hope that Agent Coulson would have some serious civil liberties issues to raise over the treatment of Inhumans or that Daisy would get on his case (especially given where Skye began the television series). Instead, the show goes back to the HYDRA plotline with "Many Heads, One Tale." That plotline is diluted by Fitz and Simmons working to get back Will Daniels and Coulson and his people getting closer to learning what the audience already knows about the ATCU . . . without overly delving into the character-based philosophical issues.

"Many Heads, One Tale" picks up after "Chaos Theory" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the new episode without some allusions to where the prior episode ended. Coulson discovered that the ATCU is capturing Inhumans and placing them in suspended animation and storage in "Chaos Theory." In "Many Heads, One Tale," Rosalind Price continues to pretend that the ATCU is attempting to cure the Inhumans they have captured, while apparently getting closer to Coulson.

Opening with Gideon Malick having dinner with Grant Ward, Malick reasons that Ward is searching for the mythical Von Strucker vault with the ultimate power HYDRA possessed. Ward dispatches the assassins Malick sets upon him before continuing his hunt for the vault. Fitz continues searching for a way to bring Simmons's astronaut friend back from the distant planet upon which both were stranded. After Mack confronts Coulson, Coulson announces Operation Spotlight, a mission to learn everything they can about the ATCU. So, while Coulson is showing Rosalind Price around the hidden S.H.I.E.L.D. base, his people are tasked with infiltrating the ATCU. While Ward tortures his would-be assassins, Coulson brings Rosalind Price to the secret base.

Daisy causes a blink on the servers at the Advanced Threat Containment Unit, which gets Morse and Hunter into the ATCU facility masquerading as FBI I.T. professionals. While Morse searches the ATCU facility, Gideon Malick interrogates Dr. Garner. When Hunter recognizes Banks at the ATCU facility, the HYDRA connection to the ATCU is made and Coulson locks Price into a S.H.I.E.L.D. containment suite to interrogate her. While the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents extract themselves from the ATCU, Coulson has a showdown with Price.

"Many Heads, One Tale" once again diminishes the power of HYDRA. After decades of being smart enough to completely evade S.H.I.E.L.D.'s notice, Gideon Malick - the last surviving Old Guard head of HYDRA - is revealed to be the idiot of the bunch. The assassins Malick sends to kill Ward have even peripheral knowledge of the vault Ward is searching desperately for. Your people can't betray you if they know nothing of your plans . . . I'm not a spymaster and I know that.

Similarly, when Hunter enters the ATCU, it seems inconceivable that the head of the ATCU technical support brings Hunter in without any sort of radio dampening. How Hunter maintains a connection to Daisy seems unrealistic, as does Morse's ability to walk around the ATCU facility (having worked at an innocuous Treasury Department facility in my past, that Morse can walk around unescorted is entirely unrealistic).

The character arcs in "Many Heads, One Tale" are once again fractured. Agent May, who was seriously traumatized in "Chaos Theory" by learning the truth about her ex-husband, is minimized in "Many Heads, One Tale." To be fair, the writers attempt to keep some semblance of focus by having the three main threads, but none of the characters truly develop in "Many Heads, One Tale." At this point in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., Ward is pretty much a generic psychopath and Coulson is inscrutable. Coulson is finally given a hint of real backstory when he talks about being recruited out of college, though it is hard to believe that he is being completely honest with Rosalind Price. Fortunately, the latter half of "Many Heads, One Tale" Coulson reaffirms that he is as smart as viewers might hope and that he deserves to be the head of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Arguably the greatest amount of character development comes from Fitz and Simmons. Simmons has to confess her feelings for Will Daniels to Fitz. Simmons has a deeply human moment when she expresses frustration about how hard Fitz is working to get Daniels back now that they lack a portal. Fitz, for his part, struggles with the idea that Simmons might love Daniels and he expresses his feelings that their relationship is cursed. He also, finally, makes his move, much to the delight of those who have been watching since the show's first season.

"Many Heads, One Tale" helps to reaffirm that a one-hour drama is the wrong medium for Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. The series is playing several plotlines at once and in forty-three minutes, there is not enough time to tell a decent story that actually develops well. To wit, Grant Ward has a dominant role in the first two acts, but is entirely absent from the third and fourth acts. The characters are unable to truly develop and each episode usually has only one significant new fact presented. "Many Heads, One Tale" is very much the archetype for the sense of reversals and plot progression of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. If the series was transitioned to half as many episodes, which were twice as long, the series might feel more satisfying.

Instead of strong character arcs and impressive progression, "Many Heads, One Tale" has hints of character development, reversals and a couple of kick ass fights. The season might end up being impressive, but its component parts are hardly incredible and "Many Heads, One Tale" suffers from being so underdeveloped.

[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 Third Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the third season here!


For other Marvel movie, television season and episode reviews, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a listing of those reviews!

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