Working Through Agents of SHIELD Season 2

I’ve been steadily watching the second season of Agents of SHIELD on Netflix, and I have to say that on the whole it’s a far superior season to the first.  That comes with the caveat that I’ve only seen half of Season 2, so there’s always a possibility that something supremely stupid will happen in the back end, although I’m doubtful that’s the case.

One of the things that I’ve liked best about the second season is the ongoing plotline with Fitz, one of the team’s techies who suffered brain damage at the end of Season 1 which has resulted in him exhibiting problems with fine motor control and aphasia in Season 2.  I don’t know how realistic his recovery is (at the season’s halfway point, Fitz only occasionally stutters and his motor skills seem to be nearly fully recovered), but I have to give the series props for daring to disable a regular character and stick with the aftermath of that event for so long (I’ve mentioned before that I think the best thing about Agents of SHIELD is its efforts at maintaining a diverse cast, and introducing a plotline about someone coming to terms with a new disability further strengthens that opinion).  Even if it doesn’t hold and by season’s end Fitz doesn’t have any visible markers, I’m glad that the writers went there.

In episode 211 Skye wears my favorite prop from this season, an iPhone inside a fancy case that’s supposed to look like a biometrics monitor. Also, her life kind of sucks. (Image credit: Comic Vine)

Of course, now that I’m getting into the second half of the season, I’m starting to see the payoff that came with setting up Fitz’s arc in the first half.  I had heard rumblings that Agents of SHIELD was developing an Inhumans plotline, but seeing as I’ve never had much interest in the Inhumans (in my mind, they’ve always been associated with the Fantastic Four, who typically exist in a part of the Marvel Universe I don’t particularly care about), I didn’t think too much about it.  My longtime devotion to the mutant parts of Marvel, along with the recent restructuring the publisher’s been doing in the last few years to situate the Inhumans as their new go-to outcast superhumans (all because of movie rights), means that I much prefer the X-Men in the pariah role, and like a lot of fans I have some misapprehensions about the switch leading to Marvel eventually strangling the X-Men completely in their comics, which is the fount from which all ideas that eventually turn into big money for Marvel studios comes from.  What I’m trying to say is that the Inhumans have a place in the Marvel Universe, and in my mind that place is not where Marvel’s put them in recent years.

Nonetheless, I like Agents of SHIELD as a show, so I’m willing to go along with Inhumans as a plot point regardless of how I feel about what’s going on in the comics (this is actually the reason I enjoy superhero television that’s not centered around stuff that I like to read in the comics; passing familiarity is good for geeking out, but I just don’t have the same emotional investment that leads to getting really upset if the plot demands specific changes from the stories being adapted).  Now generally, it’s been pretty well done so far (I just finished watching episode 12, so I’ve really only seen a couple episodes that deal directly with this new problem).  I like the way that Skye and Fitz are bonding over the fact of their sudden change in identity.  The metaphor of discovering one’s identity as an Inhuman for developing a disability works really well for me, especially with the differences between Skye, who’s powers aren’t apparent until she uses them, and Raina, who undergoes a dramatic physical transformation, highlighting attitudes towards various kinds of visible and invisible disability.  Like I said earlier, Fitz has shown steady improvement with the symptoms of his TBI, but he’s still disabled.  There’s a clear parallel between him and Skye becoming marked only through what they can (or can’t) do which allows them to pass for baseline most of the time.  Contrast that with Raina, who gets driven to the point of attempted suicide because she’s immediately and irrevocably marked as different in way that’s always apparent.

Of course, the plotting on this whole story isn’t entirely perfect.  I find the sudden drastic reactions that several of the other members of the team have to Raina’s change (Simmons in particular goes pretty much full throttle on deciding that any Inhuman encountered should be exterminated as a precautionary measure to prevent a potential pandemic before she learns about Skye’s transformation, and it’s really jarring in comparison to her previous characterization).  I suspect part of the severity of the reactions (and their failure to naturally follow from what we’re already shown about the characters) has to do with the fact that the plot line must move quickly in a prescribed direction (remember, Inhumans exist within the Marvel Universe to be the outcasts now, so we need to develop some plausible explanations for why people don’t trust them), and it only has half a season to get there.  I’m not sure what the ultimate goal of this particular development is for the universe as a whole (does Marvel want to incorporate the Inhumans into a film property eventually?), but it feels to me like there’s a definite time table involved here that’s dictated by potential profits over good storytelling (not surprising, but also not unexpected).

Still, I’m enjoying the series on the whole (it got leaps and bounds better on the tail end of Season 1 once Hydra was revealed), and I’m looking forward to seeing more.  Maybe I’ll even be sold on the Inhumans before the series comes to a close.

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