After a stupendous fourth season introduced brilliantly overt political subtexts to a wonderfully immersive, illusory and dystopian Agents of HYDRA mirror-universe, I was expecting great things from writers D.J. Doyle, the Zuckerman sisters et al… but alas. Agents of SHIELD Season 5 began with Coulson waking up in a spaceship which, it turned out, existed 90 years in the future after Daisy quaked the earth apart.
What must have seemed a great premise in the writers’ room has turned out to be a massive misfire with many knock-on effects. While the budget has seemingly gone on expensive CGI shots of space trawlers docking, the lack of locations have severely limited the story and normally great ideas.
The production designers have done the best they could making about seven cramped stages pass for “The Lighthouse” but too many scenes have taken place in dark grey or red-lit corridors. The problem is, while dark corridors are the perfect science fiction version of The Haunted House or The Forest doubling as the human psyche, they are too constrictive for a whole season of television.
Agents of SHIELD storylines often contain characters hunting others or being hunted. The trouble is, when the only place for groups of people to hide is, Level 28 and Level 28 looks exactly the same as Level 27, 14, 56 and every other level, the storytelling becomes boring.
Despite our suspension of disbelief, we – the audience – subconsciously understand that (despite the best efforts of the set designers) all these scenes take place in the same redressed studio space as previous ones.
Apply the hunter/hunted relationship to earth and characters can break free from studio sets to go on the run in any number of real, open spaces. Imagine a season of Star Trek: The Original Series staged entirely on The Enterprise and without California’s Vasquez Hills and THAT Universal Studios street stage.
WHERE WE’RE GOING, WE DON’T NEED ROADS
A modicum of season four’s anti-Trump storyline remains. Kassius, a blue-faced Kree alien (for Orange would have been too obvious) son of a bitch – imagine a cross between Eric Trump and Joaquin Phoenix’ Commodus – collects inhumans aboard the floating space rock.
He does this in the vain hope of impressing his as-yet-unseen, all-powerful, draconian father while his more successful brother (Donald Jr) and quasi-sister (Ivanka) wait in the wings. Truth be told, I was hoping the writers would stick it to Trump even more this series, but no…
The Agents of SHIELD arrived on the giant-rock-in-space setting via time-travel. Our heroes immediately tasked themselves with saving earth’s remaining humans from Kassius. Only trouble is, having met just three out of the million surviving humans, we don’t really care about the last of the human race.
The storytelling has not only been limited by the lack of locations and lack of physical room to run, hide and stage action set-pieces; the knock-on effect of these writing room decisions creates repetitive, predictable and down-right confusing TV. The writers had so little wiggle-room to work with on the space rock that they ended having to pull ideas out of their asses. And when environs, geography, everyday physics and quantum rules of time-travel are not made clear or adhered to, those ideas become nonsense.
Case in point, during one admittedly well-shot fight in an anti-gravity storm, Daisy killed Sinara (Ivanka) when the latter jumped, floated too high and was impaled on Daisy’s spear up on a walkway. Yet how come Daisy wasn’t affected by the same lack of gravity as Sinara?
The last episode, Past Life felt so rushed and so paint-by-numbers that its reveals and sacrifices lost all meaning. Enoch may be dead but Deke will be back to annoy the shit out of us all as it will be revealed he was standing near a piece of the time-travelling monolith when it was activated.
Worst of all, all this confusion and lack of cognitive storytelling translates directly to the actors. Ming-Na Wen especially, who looks like she’s sleepwalking through her lines, while the normally effervescent and highly watchable Fitz and Simmons are shadows of their former selves.
Let’s hope it’s the lack of air in space and that the writers can breathe fresh air into the scripts when the team arrive back on erf where there’s plenty of room for car chases, foot-chases and set pieces. If the fresh, California air doesn’t wake them up, perhaps guest star, Disney Club’s Dove Cameron can… whoever that is.
The Agents of SHIELD return in All The Comforts of Home on Friday, March 2nd.