The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a complex one. It’s one that’s scheduled out its roadmap of movies for the next five years, and is unprecedented in its thoroughness. No other film franchise has ever even attempted to be as expansive and inclusive as this one, making it a model for any studio looking for its next big cash cow series. Perhaps the most ambitious cog in the MCU machine has been ABC’s Agents of SHIELD, charting the escapades of Marvel’s shady government organization tasked with saving the world.
The way events have transpired in Agents has been nothing short of impressive. The events of the show have run parallel to major events in sequels to both Thor and Captain America, with the plot finding itself directly effected by events of the films in major ways. The Winter Soldier especially changed things up, wrapping up with the complete dissolution of the entire SHIELD organization. The show has existed in a post-Winter Soldier universe since then, where we’ve seen the fallout of that movie change and grow every character.
But things weren’t always running as smoothly as they are now. After a promising pilot directed by Joss Whedon, the show found itself falling into a procedural rut, featuring a new super-powered bad guy every week instead of an over-arching plot. In many ways, it felt as though it was spinning its wheels while trying to find its footing, giving us very little in the department of character development. But then a switch flipped somewhere midway through Season 1. Each episode was finding itself better than the last, until suddenly we had a full-fledged hit on our hands.
So what is it that finally had the show hitting its stride? The short answer: A writing staff full of evil geniuses knew their show would be boring to start. They were well-aware of the tectonic shifts that The Winter Soldier would cause, and patiently bided their time until that huge turning point took hold. Characters who began as typecast clichés gained added dimensions. We had Agent Ward, who at first seemed like white-bread, generic hero material, turn out to be a brilliantly disguised double-agent working for Hydra. Skye, who started out as a whiney after-thought of a character whose main role was as the stereotypical hacker, became the central point of conflict (and eventually our very first Inhuman).
Characters who before were one-dimensional had actually been part of a long-game of complexity that we as viewers had no idea we were even in when the show started. Oftentimes, when a show has a “jump the shark” moment like Agents, developments feel forced. But the way the plot evolved felt carefully planned, revealing the answers to secrets we had no idea were even in play until way later in the run of the series. Imagine if all the good seasons of Alias took place in the Marvel superhero universe, and that’s essentially where we are now with Agents of SHIELD.
With the next Avengers movie set to hit theaters this Spring, there’s a solid chance we could be seeing more examples of the MCU spilling over into the show. Meanwhile, Agents of SHIELD is digging deep into the Inhumans mythos, four years ahead of the planned movie for that corner of the comics. Big things are on the horizon for a series that’s been far more than simply a complement to the movie universe. Very quietly, it’s built itself into its own standalone property, and what a ride it’s been.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickNorthwest