Photo: Kelsey McNeal / ABC

A New Direction

It's time for the semi-annual announcement that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has definitely found its footing and is good now. This time for sure.

Most television shows, if they're bad, die a quick and unlamented death. Some get to stick around long enough to find their footing and turn into good shows. Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. started out sort of promising, then got boring, then got good. Then it went back to being boring until it was time to become good again. Which was this week! So welcome to the semiannual announcement that S.H.I.E.L.D. once more knows what it's doing and is prepared to provide an entertaining television show about its activities!

The first sign that we're moving into the fun part of the season is that we're getting flashbacks with Agent Peggy Carter. She doesn't do much other than conduct an interrogation, but she seems to be enjoying herself while she does it. And frankly, it's just a relief to see someone who isn't dressed in black like all the other S.H.I.E.L.D.ies. S.H.I.E.L.D.-mates? Whatever. You know the ones I'm talking about. Whenever they interrogate someone, it always gets so serious and personal. The flashbacks bring some excitement. And unnecessary gore, when we learned how Whitehall had managed to keep his youth for so long. Apparently all you need to do is find someone else who never ages, and then make a serum out of her internal organs. So already the show is being both fun and informative.

Next, let's consider Agent Ward. He's escaped from S.H.I.E.L.D. custody and is free to do whatever he pleases. And the first thing on his agenda is to threaten to throw his brother down a well. And then to kill his brother and parents in a staged murder-suicide, before meeting up with the local Hydra office. Ward is throwing himself into villainy with a gusto that's quite refreshing to see. It's a shame he spent all that time in a cell earlier in the season, because we were clearly being deprived of some first-class mayhem. We all know there's a pretty good chance he somehow ends up back with the good guys eventually, but he doesn't seem to be in any hurry.

And even the saga of Skye's uncertain parentage has taken on new life. Kyle MacLachlan is chewing the scenery like no one has since...well, since Bill Paxton was doing pretty much the same thing last season. But it's working a second time, so who are you to complain? When Skye's father was an offscreen plot point, it felt belabored. When it's Kyle MacLachlan looking creepy and Kyle MacLachlan-y, it's much more compelling. And Skye's mother turns out to be the lady whose internal organs got turned into serum for Whitehall, so now there's a lot going on. It's kind of a shame that Skye herself isn't involved in any of these fascinating subplots, but maybe that's for the best.

With all this going on, the episode ought to be full. But S.H.I.E.L.D. has a lot of agents right now, so there has to be something for everyone to do. And even the filler is fun! Coulson drags a team to Hawaii, then the Australian Outback, both of which are beautiful, scenic locales perfect for action scenes and swooping vistas. But we don't see either of them, because who has time for that? Instead, we just go to a server room populated exclusively by giant computers with blinking lights, and faceless goons who get shot. This boondoggle gives Fitz a chance to do something vague but useful and it leads to the big turn: everyone knows where the city is! What city? No one knows! But it's where everyone's headed next. It's good to have some direction for a change.

And this time, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. will definitely stay the course and not suddenly turn boring again. Almost definitely. Probably.

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