Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.





Paul Asay

TV Series Review

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—liaisons 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 that doesn’t mean this, um, relatively more grounded world can’t be plenty weird itself.

Marvel-ous Complications

Agent Ward—who turned out to be secretly an agent for the evil org Hydra—is now dead and gone. The agency itself is rebuilding and, in Season 7, trying to save itself from time-jumping sentient robots determined to destroy S.H.I.E.L.D. before it even begins. One-time S.H.I.E.L.D. director Phil Coulson, after a strange, post-Avengers-like resurrection, died again and has now returned as a state-of-the-art android, ready to help out his old/new mates again. And, of course, the loyal cadre of agents he trained, now under the leadership of Alphonso “Mack” MacKenzie, continues 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.)

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is now in its seventh and, many say, it’s last season, and the line between the world and a “much weirder world” has all but been obliterated. The team has tromped through space and time, conquered aliens and conquered death. While still restrained somewhat by the smaller CGI budgets of network television, you won’t find a more convoluted Marvel adventure this side of Thor: Ragnarok.

And it comes with its share of Loki—I mean, er, loco issues as well.

No S.H.I.E.L.D. From Problems

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 tries to follow suit.

For all that promise, though, Agents has some sizable problems. These agents can do some positively gritty things, and their surroundings have gotten progressively darker. Their story is an inherently violent one—filled with fights and shootouts and occasionally grotesque corpses. Sexually charged double entendres can fly more than the superheroes do. Romance, including same-sex romance, can be part of the mix. And foul language can be an infrequent but unwelcome addition.

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 by a few nefarious elements.

Episode Reviews

August 12, 2020: “What We’re Fighting For”

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. work together, travelling through the quantum realm, to save Earth and win the war against evil.

Agents and evil aliens shoot one another with laser weapons, engage in hand-to-hand combat, unleash superpowers and cause explosions. A robot snaps the necks of a few men. An agent makes a reference to those superheroes who have fallen. An evil robot threatens to kill everyone in sight. A superhero is hooked up to a machine and nearly drained of all her power.

A couple kisses. An agent says she has previously fought “aliens and demons.” We hear profanities such as “h—,” “d–mit” and “d–n” a few times each.

May 27, 2020: “The New Deal”

Old S.H.I.E.L.D. director Agent Coulson returns from the dead (again), this time as a “state-of-the-art life model” imbued with Coulson’s memories (including that of his own death). While he didn’t want to come back, Director Mack believes they’ll need Coulson to stop evil Chronicoms (essentially sentient robots) from destroying S.H.I.E.L.D in earth’s past. First stop: The early 1930s, when Prohibition was in full swing, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was still governor of New York and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s forerunner (The Strategic Scientific Reserve) hadn’t even been invented yet.

Chronicom agents kill several people—literally stealing the identities of a few by taking their faces. The Chronicoms’ technology essentially erases those faces, leaving the victims with completely blank visages. But it seems to be a painful process: We see one scream until he loses his mouth. When S.H.I.E.L.D. agents find the bodies, one (Deke) stabs the dead victims’ faces with their own scanning tool (an effort to identify the dead individuals so they’ll know who to look for).

Agents and Chronicoms get into several fights involving fists, feet, guns and some impromptu weapons. A woman is shot in the gut. Agents are threatened via shotgun. An agent threatens a captured Chronicom agent before another agent takes a three-pronged data cable and stabs it into the back of the robot’s head. A Chronicom melts grotesquely. Superpowers are used to throw people back.

Despite this being prohibition, we see plenty of liquor served, poured and consumed. Agents use a bottle of whiskey to track down an important speakeasy, and Governor Roosevelt attends a boozy party thrown in his honor. (We learn FDR campaigned in part on a platform of ending Prohibition.) Deke, who is painted as S.H.I.E.L.D.’s most dedicated drinker, is both amazed and appalled that the United States would’ve outlawed liquor. “Even the Kree allowed us to make our own boot juice,” he says.

We hear about a time that Deke got drunk and was thrown in jail during a previous adventure. We hear some racist and sexist allusions. Characters say “h—” a few times, and they misuse God’s name at least once.

May 10, 2019: “Missing Pieces”

Out in space, agents Daisy Johnson (aka Quake), Jenna Simmons, Piper and Davis are looking for fellow agent Leo Fitz, who was traveling across the galaxy last season in suspended animation before his ship was unceremoniously cut in half by another craft. Meanwhile, the rest of the team investigates odd reality/energy anomalies back on earth.

The team also hires a new guy—oldster Marcus Benson—to serve as a little brain infusion on the S.H.I.E.L.D. team. And, in the future, he will manage a resurrected S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy as well. Mack—now head of this wing of S.H.I.E.L.D. operations—and his second-in-command, Melinda May, meet Benson in a bar, where he’s drinking in honor of his dead male spouse/lover.

“When he died, this became a way to remember him,” Benson says, explaining what May thinks is a serious drinking problem. “Or forget. I don’t know.”

Someone shoots an agent with a ray gun, perhaps fatally (though it’s hard to be sure). Another evildoer shoots the wing of an aircraft, causing it to crash. (Those on board seem to suffer some bloody-but-superficial injuries.) An explosion sends people sprawling. One victim bleeds from her ear, another from her nose. Someone purposefully cuts her forehead before pretending to be a victim of an attack. A bad guy, trying to go through one of the aforementioned energy anomalies, gets caught in a concrete wall—an accident that apparently turns part of his body into concrete. An apparent villain talks about how people who die turn into butterflies. Quake shakes apart some guns. A man is hung upside-down and threatened with torture and death until he reveals some important information.

We hear about a secret office romance (including an insinuation that the couple is sleeping together). A person injects what seems to be a mind-and-eye-altering drug into his neck. Mack talks about attending a Baptist church. Characters say “h—” and “p-ss,” and they misuse God’s name twice.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Mar. 8, 2016: “Bouncing Back”

Agents go to Bogota, Colombia, to investigate the appearance of a new inhuman who moves at super-fast speeds. Meanwhile, Coulson does his best to track down Gideon—who’s with the entity that has possessed Grant Ward’s body.

The super-speedy inhuman—Elena “Yo-Yo” Rodriguez—is using her powers to combat the corrupt police in Bogota. I wouldn’t use my gifts to commit a sin,” she says. “They’re a gift from God.” Burly agent Mack confesses that he also is a man of faith, and he believes that their “gifts” may indeed be “part of a plan.” Elsewhere, though, we hear that these inhumans are evolutionarily “made” to bring equilibrium to nature. Someone compares it to yin and yang, while someone else refers to it as “actual intelligent design.”

An inhuman zaps people with his eyes, temporarily paralyzing them. Turned stiff, his victims fall to the ground, and one is subsequently shot in the head. Other people are knocked around and thrown about, some being knocked unconscious. A man’s sunglasses meld with his face. Someone gets injured with a knife. Etcetera. We also see a man relive a terrible moment in his life when he was bloody and beaten, in the process of being tortured—begging to be killed. Grant Ward’s body, looking almost skeletal, eats a raw chicken leg.

There’s a giggle about using X-ray vision for sexual purposes. We see a couple kiss. Two people drink whiskey. We hear about Bogota’s problem with “guns, drugs and kidnappings.” Characters say “d–n,” “h—,” “b–ch” and “bloody” once or twice each. God’s name is misused.

Agents-of-SHIELD: 11-18-2014

“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.

Agents-of-SHIELD: 4-1-2014

“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.

Agents-of-SHIELD: 9-24-2013


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.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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