There’s an obvious divide within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While some at Marvel may claim that “it’s all connected,” the Marvel Studios film don’t acknowledge the existence of the Marvel Television series, and those television shows, in turn, have a tenuous connection to the films at best.
Because of this, it has become easy for Marvel fans to dismiss the television side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as unimportant, a vestigial limb from a bygone era that has ceased being part of the core of the MCU since Marvel Studios became independent of Marvel Entertainment within Disney’s corporate hierarchy.
This is one reason why Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, even after 100 episodes, is still so underrated Marvel aficionados.
Another reason is that the first 13 episodes or so of the series were, admittedly, pretty bland. Agents of SHIELD played a dangerous game by lulling fans into the false idea that this series was and would always be an episodic, “mission of the week”-style television series with little weight.
To hear the producers describe it, they were simply taking the time to establish who these characters were as a baseline before pulling the rug out from under them. Unfortunately, it took the writers a little too long to get to the punchline and many fans abandoned ship before the real story began.
Somewhat ironically, said real story began with one of the Marvel Studios films. Captain America: The Winter Soldier revealed that Hydra had years ago infiltrated SHIELD and was manipulating the organization for its own ends. This revelation naturally had major ramifications for Agents of SHIELD. Not only did the show’s namesake organization collapse, but one of the core team members, Grant Ward, was revealed to be a Hydra traitor.
Starting with the second half of its first season, Agents of SHIELD has grown into one of the best genre fiction shows on television. Some Marvel fans complain that the series doesn’t have any marquee characters and others lament that there aren’t any traditional superheroes in the show's roster, the closest thing being the Inhuman Daisy “Quake” Johnson.
But part of what makes Agents of SHIELD so great is that rather than deliver a serviceable recreation of an already beloved character, it has given to the Marvel universe several fantastic original characters of its own. The show inherited Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson from the movies, but characters like Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), Leopold Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) are new protagonists, and watching them grow has been one of the greatest delights the MCU has had to offer, with May slowly abandoning the stock character shell of a weathered warrior woman to become something warmer and more balanced, and
And let’s not forget Grant Ward, who remains one of the greatest villains of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Watching Ward, played by Brett Dalton, go from secret agent action hero to traitor, to broken man searching for redemption, to terrorist mastermind to host for an Inhuman demigod has been a wild ride. Ward was one the most exciting wild cards on television, and the epilogue his story received during the "Framework" story arc was perfect.
The original tagline for Agents of SHIELD was “Not All Heroes Are Super.” An Inhuman or two aside, Agents of SHIELD has stayed that course, showing the extraordinary heroism of characters without extraordinary powers. While the Avengers might be aspirational icons, Coulson’s SHIELD team is made of relatable heroes, and it is hard for a viewer to not become as invested in them personally while watching as they are excited about their adventures as SHIELD agents.
Which is all to say, don’t let the lack of costumes scare you off. Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD is and has been one of the best parts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The series is on an extended hiatus between its fifth season and its sixth, which is slated for the summer of 2019. Now’s the perfect time to catch up on what you missed.