For a show that's designed to appeal to the broadest possible demographic and make basically no waves, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has managed to get quite a few people pretty worked up in the first half of its freshman season.
Aside from the obvious fanboy gripes about every little nitpicky detail that kind of comes with the territory of being a comic book series, S.H.I.E.L.D. has taken the ability to raise controversies to a new level, engaging religion and politics in a way that you really don't expect from a show that anchors ABC's Tuesday primetime lineup.
Sometimes, it was accidental and sometimes it seemed like it was done quite on purpose--but it seems as though Marvel Studios's first foray into live-action television can't get too far from controversy. Here are the ones that stuck out to us, in no particular order:
On AMC's The Walking Dead, the highest-rated comic book series in recent memory, there was a cynical running joke for a while that the show could only have one black, male character at a time and that introducing a new one was a kind of pre-emptive obituary notice for the one that came before.
S.H.I.E.L.D. has taken that one step further, as critics and audiences have noticed that all of its black actors and actresses have been brought in for one-off appearances--and almost all of them are villains. That reaches out to the South American villains of the series' second episode, as well, and led a lot of people to ask early on whether S.H.I.E.L.D. had a "race problem." In spite of Ming-Na Wen's presence on the team, Coulson's strike force just...feels...lily-white, and when the good guys are almost all white and the bad guys are generally of color, you're going to get a few sideways looks, even if there's absolutely no malice intended.
Of course, that was all made better when they brought back Mike Peterson, elevating him from "scary black man with powers" to a genuine hero who sets a good example for his son by...
...oh, crap, he sells out the team, gives Coulson to the bad guys and then apparently goes on a failed suicide run to redeem himself? Well, there goes that.
With Arrow making an entertaining show with a coherent narrative that also manages to pack a dozen or so DC Comics reference into every new episode, a lot of fans wondered why Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. couldn't do the same thing--especially when it came with a ready-made Marvel Cinematic Universe, rather than creating the world from scratch, like Arrow.
Making frequent, shallow references back to Marvel's The Avengers really only served to further aggravate the fans, although the time they actually used concepts from that movie in the story ("F.Z.Z.T.") was arguably the season's best episode.
Never was this lack of a feeling of Marvel continuity more of an issue than when there was a heavily-promoted "tie-in" with Thor: The Dark World, that dealt with the general concept of Asgardians, but had virtually nothing at all to do with the film itself or even the alien invasion at the heart of its story.
In "The Well," the Thor: The Dark World tie-in episode that aired shortly after the film hit theaters, an offhand remark made by Skye offended a Hindu group--and unsurprisingly their response caused a reactionary defense by fans of the show, who got way more offensive than the actual in-story comment.
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the gods of Norse mythology were established in the first Thor film to be inhabitants of an alternate dimension–essentially aliens, who were worshiped as gods for their superior technology in a primitive world. In last week’s episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., titled “The Well,” Skye learns this and immediately suggests that gods in other religions could be explained the same way. She specifically singled out Vishnu, the Supreme God of Vaishnavism, one of the three main sects of Hinduism, as a likely candidate due to his unusual appearance.
Of course, the difference is that Norse paganism is all but dead in practice, and has long seen been relegated to the status of “mythology.” Hinduism is an active religion with a billion adherents–the world’s third-largest, behind Christianity and Islam. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Universal Society of Hinduism president Rajan Zed called for an apology and was hoping that the network and the makers of the show to post information about Vishnu and Hinduism on their websites.
Unless something happened and we missed it, ABC and Marvel never responded at all and the USH didn't press the issue further.
In "The Girl In The Flower Dress," an in-story firestorm was created by a hacktivist being ripped for going after the spotlessly white-knight S.H.I.E.L.D.
There were accusations of this being water-carrying or propaganda for those in power, when it's really the ages old dichotomy of superheroes meting out justice with methods that wouldn't fly in court. The conversation between the two hackers in holding could have just as easily been in the back of the Batmobile, with the cry of rights violations being met with the counter of they're the good guys.
Here's where it started to raise a few hackles in the real world: When Skye's beau throws out the names of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, they aren't labeled misguided (as he has been, and the Rising Tide continually are) and Skye's final condemnation for him is saved for the revelation that he was motivated by profit, rather than transparency.