There Are Not No Strings On Me

This past Tuesday night saw the airing of the latest episode of Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD, a television show that exists in the same universe as Marvel’s popular films, the newest of which, The Avengers: Age Of Ultron, premieres today in the United States. The most recent episode of Agents Of SHIELD was intended to lead into the movie, but the only thing accomplished here was proving how bad of idea it is to tie together movies with an ongoing television series.

Television, compared to film, is a different beast entirely. While films have to compress a story into a single 2-hour dose, a television series can run one 40-minute episode per week for anywhere from 16 to 23 episodes in a season. That’s equivalent to ten and a half hours at the low end of the scale to more than fifteen hours at the high end of a season. Clearly, such an extended amount of time over films offers greater opportunity for meatier character development and carefully crafted story arcs.

However, this advantage that a television show has in terms of storytelling is hampered in the case of Agents Of SHIELD because of the desire by Marvel to have the show co-exist with the movies in the same universe, with the show mentioning events that take place in the movies.

By the way, I’m going to be discussing freely the latest episode of Agents Of SHIELD along with The Avengers: Age Of Ultron. So if you have yet to see either and don’t want to run into any spoilers, then please don’t read any further. You have been warned (he said with an ominous stare).

Agents Of SHIELD has the potential to be a greater experience if it wasn’t subservient to the movies, a relationship that’s clearly one-sided since the movies don’t do anything to tie back into the show. This is why the latest tie-in the show attempted felt more like a shallow promo for the new Avengers movie than a weighty lead-up to the events of the film. Because this door swings only one way, the films reap the benefits while the show suffers all the drawbacks.

When the series must conform to the movies, this can be quite disrupting for the television viewer. These pitfalls were discussed briefly by show co-creator and The Avengers: Age Of Ultron writer and director Joss Whedon in an interview with IGN, which can be seen below.

Most recently, in the television show, there was a nicely built storyline involving rival branches of SHIELD butting heads in the reconstruction of SHIELD following its near-collapse (which was mentioned by Whedon in the above clip). One of the two branches of SHIELD was headed by a character played by actor Edward James Olmos, of Battlestar Galactica fame, who brought an instant bump to a show sorely lacking in charismatic characters (but that’s a whole other article).

The rising drama and conflict between the two branches of SHIELD, which began back in late March of this year, ultimately culminates in Olmos’ SHIELD being brushed aside quite unceremoniously, in a single exchange of dialogue, leaving one to have to imagine what could’ve come of this conflict had it been allowed to play out to its fullest extent rather than cutting it off abruptly so that the show could be tied into the current movie featuring one unified SHIELD headed by Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury.

Not to mention, the show’s strongest actor, Olmos, is reduced to bowing his head shamefully while the head of the ‘good guy’ SHIELD – the branch of SHIELD the audience was supposed to be rooting for the whole time – smiled in victory. This, before a scene in which Olmos’ character is ridiculed for promoting democracy in his branch of SHIELD versus the happy dictatorship that viewers are encouraged to believe that SHIELD should be. In other words, the good guy dictators won out against the evil democracy and we’re all joyful about that.

But that’s not really what has me irked. It’s not the result of the journey I care about as much as that the journey was ended in such a dull way. The fact that the writers had to put a lid on their strongest character so quickly because they had to bow their heads to the timeline of the new movie’s release date speaks to how this once cool idea of tying together the movies and the show has so proven to be a complete failure, especially since the writers of the movies are the ones dictating the general direction of the show rather than the writers of the show, who are hand-cuffed into following along. It’s like the latest story arc was written as a metaphor to give voice to their creative suffering.

The show writers should be able to create their own storylines that follow their own timelines. Story arcs should begin and end naturally with characters progressing and/or regressing along the way. The show writers should not have to say, ‘Okay, we have this nicely grounded story but the new film’s coming up in May, so let’s just fuck this good thing we have going now, cut it off before we can truly develop it, and tie it up nice and neat so that what people will see in the movie coming out after this episode makes sense.’

One glaring weakness of Agents Of SHIELD throughout its two-season run is that it has never featured a worthwhile villain to threaten the peace. With two distinct versions of SHIELD, they had the foundation for such a villain: a vast disagreement between credible leadership who each were willing to fight for what they believe was the right way to proceed with the rebuilding of SHIELD. With two distinct versions of SHIELD, they had an opportunity to exhibit the strengths and weaknesses of SHIELD run as a democracy versus SHIELD run as a dictatorship. And with the nature of a television series, the writers could have had many hours in which to unfold the story and build to an enjoyable and spectacular climax.

But because the television show has to tie-in to the events of The Avengers: Age Of Ultron, the present story arc in Agents Of SHIELD had to be canned just as it was getting off the ground.

It’s a shame that this recent storyline had to become evidence in an argument for why DC – who is keeping their movie narratives separate from their television shows – is doing it right.

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