Things changed that day when an army of mechanized aliens burst through a rip in the sky and invaded New York City.
That day—at least in the Marvel universe where the Avengers reside—people realized they were surrounded by near-incomprehensible forces and powers, things that we mere mortals have very little control over.
The agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. inhabit that smaller world filled with larger-than-life characters—a liaison of sorts between Avenger wannabes and the rest of us. "It means we're the line between the world and a much weirder world," says Agent Grant Ward in the first season. "We protect people from the news they're not ready to hear. And when we can't do that, we keep them safe."
But what if S.H.I.E.L.D. can't protect itself from itself?
Agent Ward is emblematic of the organization's state of flux. Unmasked as a Hydra agent in Season 2, he's now apparently working for the enemy—doing his part to bring the world to evil's heel (or perhaps destroy it altogether). The agency itself has been officially disbanded and discredited. But Director Phil Coulson and his loyal cadre of agents continue to fight the good fight, and you can bet they won't stop crusading for the cause of truth and justice until all the world's calamities have been cleansed. (Or until ABC cancels the show, whichever comes first.)
The second season revolves around an alien obelisk that could remake the world in frightening ways. Daniel Whitehall—an ageless Hydra bigwig with a penchant for cruel experimentation—aims to use its power for his own nefarious purposes. A mysterious doctor also wants access to the obelisk. But his main goal seems to be to reunite with his daughter, Skye—who also happens to be S.H.I.E.L.D.'s creative conscience.
Along with Skye, Coulson's bright, flawed and distinctly non-superagent-filled team includes Melinda May, who reluctantly offers her own near-lethal abilities; Lance Hunter and Antoine Triplett, who provide some much-needed brawn; and the tech duo of Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons, a Rosencrantz & Guildenstern-like pairing that collectively answers to the moniker FitzSimmons.
While big-screen plot points from Avenger members' various escapades impact the program's direction, don't expect Thor to make many cameos here. While bedazzled superheroes look just fine on the supersize movie screen, the more episodic confines of television demand a bit more subtlety (if only a bit). Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is as much X-Files and The A Team as it is The Avengers, and cosmic superpowers take a backseat to nifty gadgetry, agent interplay and ground-bound adventuring.
Superhero stories have proven to be an effective conduit to poke at some profound questions. What is good and evil? What makes us heroic? What makes us human? And with Agents being the brainchild of Avengers director Joss Whedon (who's also known for having done some serious thematic probing with television's Buffy the Vampire Slayer), this show seems prepped to follow suit.
For all that promise, though, Agents still has some sizable problems. These agents can feel positively gritty, and the show has gotten progressively darker. It is inherently violent—filled with fights and shootouts and occasionally grotesque corpses. Sexually charged double entendres can fly more than the superheroes do. And foul language can be an issue.
One could say, then, that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. makes an effort to try to do the right things, and that's important. But just like the agency itself, the television show has been infiltrated with a few nefarious elements.
"The Things We Bury"
In flashback, Whitehall forces someone to touch the obelisk, which turns the man into a charred corpse. But Whitehall's next victim resists the obelisk's killing powers. Then, decades later, Whitehall sees that the woman hasn't aged. So he dissects her to find out her secret (the camera showing needles drawing out fluids and doctors ripping off skin and weighing organs). Her corpse is later dropped in the forest and found by her mourning husband.
A fight between Grant Ward and his brother, Christian, results in shovel smacks and tree thumps. (Christian's face ends up covered in blood.) Later, a reporter details how Christian was found dead, along with his mother and father, in the flaming wreckage of their home. A man interrogated by S.H.I.E.L.D. ally Morse smashes his head against a table, breaking a cyanide capsule embedded in his cheekbone. (The suicide attempt doesn't work.) People are shot. Someone has an artery cut, leading to bloody battlefield surgery.
Morse and Hunter (who were once married) kiss passionately and strip off their shirts before ducking into a vehicle to have sex. We hear a reference to a story involving a gift from above brought by angels; Whitehall alleges that the "angels" in the story are aliens, bearing the obelisk. Characters say "h---" five or six times, "d--n" twice and "b--tard" once. God's name is misused.
"End of the Beginning"
In this episode—which takes place right before the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier turn the world of S.H.I.E.L.D. upside down—Coulson and Co. are in search of the Clairvoyant, an evildoer who seems to know every move they make before they're made, and his cyborg protector Mike Peterson (aka Deathlok). But after Deathlok leads them to the Clairvoyant, and Ward decides to kill the supposed psychic instead of taking him in, Coulson suddenly fears that all is not what it seems. Turns out, the Clairvoyant might not have been psychic after all—just someone with supersecurity clearance (and certainly not the guy Ward shot).
S.H.I.E.L.D.'s been compromised!
We see Ward kill a man who is supposedly in a vegetative state. (Blood stains the man's shirt.) Deathlok installs a new piece of equipment on his person—a weaponized wristband that painfully melds itself with his body. He throws an agent around and stomps on the guy's chest, leaving him in critical condition. We see grotesque burns. Lots of guns are fired (with several rounds hitting Deathlok to no apparent affect). Walls and columns are blown up. A man blasts through a ceiling and jumps several stories.
Wine is poured, and someone tries to recall how much he drank when he was in his 30s. Duplicity is more the rule than the exception. An agent speculates as to what another's zodiac sign might be. We hear "p‑‑‑," "d‑‑n" and "a‑‑" once or twice each, and "h‑‑‑" a half-dozen times. God's name is misused.
A killing explosion rocks the top floor of a building, and a man imbued with artificial superpowers climbs up and saves a woman from the inferno. In a later slo-mo simulation, we see a man exploding (which sounds far more gross than what's seen onscreen). A charred, nearly skeletonized body lays on the floor of the laboratory. The men infected with superpowers glow underneath their skin when they're in danger of blowing up. A man is shot in the shoulder and plummets from a great height. He survives and is later shot in the forehead with a heavy tranquilizer. Agents and others get into fights: Fists fly, blenders are thrown and drawers are used as shields (without all the cool periods). An agent is injected with truth serum.
Women show cleavage and suggestive double entendres are said. Coulson mentions that he drank mai tais in Tahiti, and Simmons is seen downing a beer. Someone mistakes a picture of a porcupine for feces. Characters say "b‑‑ch" (twice), "h‑‑‑" (three or four times) and "a‑‑" (not quite fully once). God's name is misused a small handful of times.
Speaking of God, Agent Hill refers to Thor as a god. When someone says that, technically, Thor is not a god, Hill responds, "Well, you haven't been near his arms." Coulson says he saw a "white light" when he was on the edge of life and death.