Joss Whedon Can Do No Wrong (…and his latest show is still going to be cancelled)

Editorial Note: I wrote this yesterday but never posted it. So the “yesterday” references within the post are now a day out of sync. Sorry. 


It’s time to talk again about Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Okay, first of all, let me dispense with some obvious things:

Yes, I know I am writing too much about geekery and Marvel in particular (partly because my literary focus is on a new novel, so sorry, those energies are otherwise engaged of late).

Yes, I realize that Joss Whedon is only an executive producer and that it’s his brother and sister-in-law who are the bona fide show runners.

Still, Joss’s fingerprints have been all over the SHIELD show from the beginning. Quippy dialogue. Artificial family (although, for the longest time this dimension felt quite forced). Strong butt-kicking female characters.

And really, though I’ve complained about the show in the past, even the fact that it was a slow starter is very Joss-like. After all (as I was saying to a friend recently) even his finest creation, Firefly/Serenity can only be fully appreciated when taken as a whole. You don’t judge any component of the Whedonverse based on a single episode (well, unless that episode is “Once More, with Feeling”); you have to pay attention to the long game.

So, this is me admitting that I was wrong about SHIELD.

Very, very, oh-so-very wrong.

Be warned, I’m about to get spoilery in regards to last night’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode, so if you haven’t seen it yet, then go get caught up…oh, but watch Captain America 2 first.

In my original review of the early stages of the show, I singled out Agent Ward as a complete waste of the viewer’s time.

But damn.

Last night it seemed like they were delivering Ward right into cliché valley. Before rushing into battle, he confesses his budding romantic feelings for the young, attractive female character (as opposed to the only slightly older attractive female character and the much older but still really attractive female character) who then bestows this warrior of righteousness with a good luck in case you die kiss. The scene was pure hokum. At the time, since I was enjoying the already twisty plot so much, I though to myself, “this is crap…forgivable crap, but crap.” Adding in my brain, “I hope they’re not going all-in on this Skye-Ward romance angle.”

They were not.

In fact, the whole scene was a total fake-out. It turns out Ward, literally the first character we met on the show, has been an enemy plant THE WHOLE FREAKIN TIME.

I saw this turn coming a few minutes off and watched it approach with the same breathless dread and awe I felt as the Red Wedding drew near in last season of Game of Thrones. Ward’s betrayal of SHIELD (via triple homicide, no less) was probably second only to that notorious nuptial scene in its visceral impact among recent genre fair. (Yes, I’m putting it up above any death in Walking Dead because death on that show isn’t remotely shocking anymore. You just expect it on a weekly basis.)

It was marvelous TV precisely because this was a show that, until then, had played it safe, taken no chances.

Therein lies the lesson against rushing to judgement. Joss Whedon has talked about how in screenwriting, certain moves can “buy” you later impact on your viewers. Killing Book and Wash in Serenity, “bought” Whedon the catharsis of the others’ survival. Here, all the times that characters were improbably saved–from expulsion or death–“bought” the ground shift of Ward going bad. It made it all the more powerful that SHIELD had never danced this way before.

By appearing to not take chances in the past, the show runners were setting the stage for a massive upset.

It is one that was planned as part of the larger Marvel universe from the beginning of the series. Now, the SHIELD agents are rogue. Ronin without a master…but with enemies who they used to call friends.

There is rich story-telling potential here at last. Everything else could be seen as mere prologue…if only it were going to last.

The bad news is that the ratings for last night’s clearly superior episode were the lowest yet for the series. This was pretty much the show’s one best hope for renewal, to pick up a bump off Captain America’s film outing. Sadly, that’s not to be.

So clear off a space on your shelf for the Blu-Ray set of “the complete series” of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and take heart, the producers say they intend to wrap up season one in a “nice little bow” so that the only loose ends will be the connections back to the larger universe.

Since these characters are part of a story that Marvel and their Disney overlords don’t want to see end any time soon, perhaps we will see them again at some point…

Just don’t count on that being on ABC.

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