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The Return of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’

Agents of SHIELD, Season 2It’s Fall, boys and girls, and that means it’s time for the return of some of the hottest series’ television has to offer. The Walking Dead returns October 12th for their last season and Sons of Anarchy kicked off in violent fashion two weeks ago for their final ride. Tonight though, September 23th, is one for the comic book fans amongst us as Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD returns for their sophomore season. A show that grabs at my particular nerd fandom, AoS returns for a second round with looming questions about the central plot (what is GH 325?), character developments (who/what is Skye really?), and cliffhangers (will Fitz survive?), as well as questions about its production: will the writers be able to maintain the level of interest gained in the second half of last season? What new characters from Marvel comics canon will they introduce, and how will the second season tie into Marvel’s film releases for the coming year? We’ll get to all this in a moment, as well as some of the rumors for Season 2 but first, True Believers, let’s take a step back and present some background into AoS for the uninitiated.

In the interwoven world of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), centered around the Avengers, S.H.I.E.L.D. is a secret government organization, headed by Nick Fury (played by Sam Motherfuckin’ Jackson in the films), dealing primarily with terrorism and superhuman threats. It was represented in the Iron Man films almost exclusively by Fury and Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson. As the MCU grew to include the Thor and Captain America movies, along with The Avengers itself, S.H.I.E.L.D. remained a constant, growing in detail over time and finally into its own individual television entity last Fall. The show Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD basically takes its jumping off point from this moment in the movie The Avengers:

Agent Coulson's death provides the central link between Avengers and Agents of SHIELD

The show begins in the “post-New York” world, where the central battle in The Avengers movie took place, changing the world forever with an alien invasion and the introduction of superheroes to the public. It is that battle that sees S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson perish at the hands of Loki, Thor’s evil brother and it is with Coulson’s death that Fury is able to bring the quarreling members of the Avengers together to face the invading foe.  In the subsequent show, the protagonist is a very much not dead Agent Coulson and much of the first season is spent hinting, chipping away at, and then finally revealing the mystery of how Coulson survived. The show sees him head a special rogue-ish group of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, formed personally by Director Fury, that fly around on a superplane/operations base called The Bus to deal with strange, new cases, a few of which have links to the events from the films.

The intertwined Marvel movies are the first of its kind, linking 11 different movies from different series’ (with at least 4 more on the way). Agents of SHIELD is a first of its own, since never before has a television series been built from ongoing intertwined movie canon and it’s one of the most inherent points of fan intrigue. The first season of the show saw tie-ins to two major Marvel film releases, with the show plot reflecting the events of the films in the episodes around the opening weekend of Thor: The Dark World, and more importantly Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Not only is this a well-used device in terms of interwoven plots, it is a brilliant sales tactic for driving up the movie’s opening weekend sales, as many fans of the show made a point to see the film on opening weekend so as to not miss anything in the next week’s tv episode. As the world of S.H.I.E.L.D. came crashing down (literally) in Captain America 2, the show carried on that battle of a virus living within S.H.I.E.L.D. (HYDRA) and destroying it from the inside. In Captain America 2 the themes of government agencies and control are deftly explored, presenting a broken world that is not completely black-and-white in terms of loyalties and right and wrong. At that movie’s close, Nick Fury has gone rogue, traveling to parts unknown, minus the eye patch, leaving the ruins of S.H.I.E.L.D. behind him. In the season finale of Agents of SHIELD, Fury returns to appoint Coulson as S.H.I.E.L.D.’s acting director, another clever tie-in between the show and films.Agent Carter, prequel series to Agents of SHIELD

And while the tie-ins are well done and a great piece of the show’s identity, the two entities exist entirely separately and seeing one is not necessary to enjoy the other (although I don’t imagine there to be very many Agents of SHIELD fans who haven’t seen the Marvel movies). Set to premiere in January is a second Marvel tv series about the agency called Agent Carter, which will center on Peggy Carter, the 1940’s love interest of Captain America and a founder of S.H.I.E.L.D. along with Iron Man’s dad, Howard Stark.

The idea behind an Agents of SHIELD -type show, built off filling out background characters, comes in a philosophical sense from a core concept that brought Marvel so much success in recent films and has driven audience intrigue: the desire to humanize super heroes and explain their existence and motivations in a grounded, real world. With some glimmer of this notion in Singer’s X-Men films, it was really Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy (but fuck DKR) that opened up this search for the people inside the heroes, and it has been carried out, to various levels of success, in some of the Spider-Man movies, the X-Men movies (especially First Class and DoFP), and the entire Marvel canon starting with the Iron Man trilogy and The Avengers.

Now for those that are critical of this show I have to say I understand. Stylistically, it’s very much a WB-type high school drama show (despite the fact that it’s on ABC) and it’s similar to Joss Whedon’s other shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. The mix of drama and goofy humor, the hokey one-liners, the canned action, the look and feel are all very similar. And especially when the show first came out it certainly took some time for it to find its own identity and tone. The Captain America 2 tie-in provided a much-needed shot in the arm, not just as it relates to critical appeal but also it terms of plot depth, as the central themes began to take on a greater gravity.Bill Paxton as Agents of SHIELD's John Garrett

One of the greater joys with Agents of SHIELD for the nerdier amongst us is wondering what characters the show’s creators will bring to life from the Marvel canon. Deathlok (built slowly over the course of the season), John Garrett (played awesomely by Bill Paxton), and Gravitron all jumped from comic book page to screen in the first season. Who will we see come to life in Season 2?

For starters, tonight’s premiere will feature the introduction of Absorbing Man, played by Brian Patrick Wade, and it’s been announced that Agent Barbara Morse, aka Mockingbird will be joining the cast, played by Adrianne Palicki. These two represent a slightly more prominent level of Marvel character, with Mockingbird eventually joining the Avengers (in the comics, at least).  With no new Marvel film set to premiere until May 1st with Avengers: Age of Ultron, Season 2 won’t feature  a major film tie-in until near its end, if at all.  Will the show be able to do all its own heavy lifting?

Which brings us, at last, to the outstanding questions and prevailing rumors for Agents of SHIELD : Season 2. Warning: this part may be filled with what one might call Spoilers. Since I don’t have access to any advanced or inside information the term Spoilers is actually misleading, I am merely regurgitating what I’ve read elsewhere, but I would hate to ruin someone’s sense of surprise and intrigue with my bemused ramblings. Now carry on.

As the events at the end of Season 1 came to their wild conclusions, questions remained for each of our main characters, as well as a few others.

Let’s start with a couple simple ones:

1. Will Fitz survive?  And if so, will he be the same?
When Fitz and Simmons were trapped in a capsule at the bottom of a river, Fitz sacrificed his own life to save Simmons (who were both then mysteriously rescued by Nick Fury).  We know that Fitz at least suffered severe oxygen deprivation, and while recent images from the upcoming season confirm he is alive, it remains to be seen if there is damage to his genius brain.

2. Is Agent Ward now a permanent bad?
As the world of HYDRA and S.H.I.E.L.D. collided into mutual destruction at the end of Season 1, Ward was revealed to be a HYDRA loyalist under the longtime tutelage of Agent Garrett.  With Garrett now disintegrated and HYDRA driven back underground at least, will Ward finally find redemption and a place back at the Good Guys’ table?  My money is on yes, though it’ll have to be one hell of a turnaround.  Actor Brett Dalton is too popular and too much time has been spent developing the Ward character for him to simply be written out of the script.  For a short while there was a rumor that Ward would become the Marvel character The Punisher but that was refuted.

3. How are Skye and Raina (the girl in the flower dress) connected?
In the season finale, Raina mentions to Garrett her intrigue with Skye, saying that she and Skye had something in common, nearly implying that they’re related.

And the big ones:

4. Who or what is Skye? And who are her parents?Has Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. introduced the Inhumans?
With a from-behind reveal of Skye’s bloody-handed father in the finale, curiosity has certainly been piqued as to her alien origins.  Raina told the story of the razing of the Chinese village by two monsters (assumed to be aliens) in search of their daughter who, it turns out, is Skye.  The prevailing rumor through much of last season had her as a Skrull, helping to set the stage for an upcoming Kree-Skrull war.  Another more recent rumor posits that Skye is an Inhuman and possibly the daughter of Black Bolt and Medusa.  There was also a thought that she would turn into Captain/Ms. Marvel but that was more when there was still speculation that our big blue alien was something other than Kree.

5. What exactly is GH 325, what really happened to Coulson when he was administered it as part of his life-saving surgery (and what likewise happened to Garrett), who is the big blue alien, and what is the code that Coulson and Garrett both drew?
Obviously these are all related and we got alot of answers to this mystery last year.  Yes, Coulson survived/was revived through the use of experimental surgeries combined with an infusion of GH 325 from our big blue alien friend (whose identity rumors are well laid out here).  He doesn’t seem to be suffering the lose-your-mind side effects that hit Agent Garrett but he did begin to write the same (alien) code that Garrett was seeing shortly before his demise.  This same code is seen earlier in the season on the wall of a secure facility in Belarus, so what exactly is it?
Garrett experiences enhanced perception before he starts drawing the pattern, cosmic awareness perhaps, and there are some that theorize this to be linked with the Kree’s Supreme Intelligence, which allows its subjects to communicate through telepathy.  This seems well-founded but as for what the code actually depicts (is it a map?), we’ll just have to patiently wait and see.  Or continue to speculate wildly.  I prefer the latter.

So tune in tonight at 9:00 on ABC as Agent Coulson and the crew get set to launch a whole new season of Agents of SHIELD  I’ll be joining the live tweet (@DrProfEsq) during the show, which quite a few of the cast members are know to participate in, so come get in on the nerdy fun. #SHIELDRises

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